Wednesday, December 5, 2007

New Zealand

It was a fairly easy sail down to New Zealand. It only took us 6.5 days. That’s what you can do in a big fast boat. We pounded her straight into the swells and some broke as far back as midship. That’s a distance of 35 feet. Those were big swells. We broke everything; the water pump – no showers or available water (We flushed the toilet with bottled water). The propane sensor – the alarm screamed continuously. The forward hatch – John had to sleep in his foulies with water pouring over him. The forward head – that meant Suzi and I had to share with 4 stinky men. The batteries were wasted – that meant hand steering during your watch. I greatly missed my autopilot. No matter, we made it and Mike completed his circumnavigation. It took him 7 years and 2 boats.

“New Zealand is not such a wide country, but she’s rather long.” This was said to me in failing light by John Gillespie, the captain’s father, just as we saw land for the first time. (I love this guy cuz he handed me the perfect rebuttal to the Euro jabs re WW2: “Well, you came in a bit late mate.” Try to dispute the war with me now you British dandies, and I’m gonna smoke you). It was delivered in an almost apologetic tone. He has nothing to apologize about. It was a lovely country and so long, in fact, that it has palm trees in the north and penguins in the south. That makes for some dramatic landscape. With it’s flora and geography, it looks like a cross between England, Norway and the Land That Time Forgot. Jurassic ferns and blooming hand grenades of burning orange punctuate the countryside’s dense forests. I have no idea what they were called but I couldn’t get enough of those, or the fiery red bottle brush trees. Here’s a bit of trivia: On the narrow side - It’s so thin in spots that Auckland is the only city in the world that occupies both coasts.

Cultural Identity: They have the Queen of England all over their money even though they call the currency “Dollars” and not “Pounds”. Hmm . . . makes you think. I reckon they want the British decency and the Yank economy. I know they think they are culturally different from either, and in the microscopic view they are, but in my mind – they’re Brits with a passing hope for good weather. I’ll share with you my developing “Continuum of Britishness” scale. It looks a little like this: Brits to one extreme side. Kiwis (New Zealanders are called Kiwis after their mascot/zoo bird. I know it’s real but even few of their own citizens have ever seen one in the wild) one inch to the right. Australians 18 inches to the right, Canadians 36 inches to the right, and Americans 72 inches to the right. Don’t get hung up on right vs. left. In this example it has no correlation. I’m just trying to show that the Yanks are very unBritish while the rest of them are more British. Not sure where the South Africans fit yet. I’ve only just perfected their accent.

The Kiwis are extremely nice and polite and generous and welcoming. I had a wonderful time. My friend (and gracious host) Graeme, thinks that there is a direct relationship between country culture and size of landmass. Kiwi’s are very similar to the English (small countries of roughly the same size), Aussies are more like Americans (big countries of roughly the same size). I think he’s on to something.

Suzi rented a car and drove us around a bit. We stayed in hostels, and for the first time in a long time we weren’t surrounded by other long haul sailors. It was an ego trip whenever we met a fellow traveler.

“So how long have you been traveling around?”
“2 years.”
“Holy cow! What, you bought an around the world ticket or something?”
“Nah – I bought a sailboat. I sailed here.”

I never get tired of that conversation. Then the circle would draw in a little tighter and we'd hold court until the scope of the trip would finally dawn on them and they'd go silent. Either that, or they'd realize we were full of ourselves and couldn't think of a polite way to get out of the conversation.

I had surgery while I was there. My finger is now straight again. The exercises feel like torture, but the mobility is coming back. Suzi was a good sport and did all the heavy lifting and back washing. The doctor told me not to use that hand for the next 6 weeks. Yea – right. “Doc, I live on a sailboat. Are you kidding me?” Consequently – I hurt it daily. The pain just gets boring.

You are probably already in love with the HBO show “Flight of the Conchords”. I think it’s magic. Kiwis have a sense of humor (I left out the u on purpose) that can be wickedly clever. I had a great time with them even if they do pronounce “Best” as “Beast” and make “Tennis” rhyme with “Penis”. My parting experience was at the airport. I had 2 bags and 1 was way over the weight limit. The nice female employee helped me shift the weight around and then she looked the other way when the scale still said I owed an extra $60. It was very kind of her. She did find one tube of flammable adhesive that she confiscated, but didn’t notice the other 3 tubes cuz her attention was fixated on the CO2 cartridges. Take note: When smuggling, always have a legal diversion or a cheap illegal diversion you are ready to relinquish.

The modern world is always a nice respite from the primitive one that I’ve chosen to live in. However, NZ has McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Mobile, KFC, and lots of strip malls. White people love to pave things. Tarmac planet. Why not!?! I’ll tell you why not; It’s ugly. Not NZ, NZ is pretty. What’s ugly is the fact that they’ve made some poor choices in what to emulate from the US of A. I think “ugly” stands on it’s own as a solid reason to rebuke convenience. Sorry – Am I preaching again?

Then I came back to Fiji.

And we had a cyclone. It had a name. Daman threatened to rip my boat apart. I busted my butt taking down everything on Barraveigh and stowing it. The cyclone turned east and wiped out another island instead. It was a good drill. Life then returned to normal. That means big plates of Tikka Masala and super cold Fijian Bitter for a grand total of $4 US. Did I mention NZ was incredibly expensive? Fiji is cheap. Cheap is good.

It feels like I’m following the Survivor television program. They did The Pearl islands of Panama, the Marquesas Islands and also Fiji. I think I might have it a little better than they did. Today I bought and installed a 9000 BTU A/C unit. It’s blowing cold air down my companionway as I type. Unlimited electricity now means air-conditioning and ice cubes. In fact, I only left the boat today to watch the 7pm movie that they project onto a big screen in a grassy area near the bar (which overlooks the sea). This is dangerous. I may never leave the marina again.

Bobby
P.S. / Please shoot me if you catch me listening to Jimmy Buffett

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I haven't been in a marina in exactly 2 years and 3 days. This is weird. Completely still, endless fresh water, endless electricity, and my neighboring boats are inches away. The sidewalk is the highway that all residents stroll and it’s maybe 5 feet from my open front hatch. It’s now impossible to talk about my fellow cruisers without being over heard. Pros & cons, right.

Suzi and I added a new friend, Dan to the ship’s manifest and sailed the 24 hours from Savu to Vuda Pt. No wind, then too much wind. It was the obvious last voyage before wrapping up Barraveigh so she could sit in the slip while we rush off for more adventures.

The plans have changed once again. We were planning to fly to Australia and rent a camper van for a couple weeks. Instead, we just accepted 2 paying crew positions on a gorgeous 72 foot 1.6 million dollar yacht going to Auckland in 2 days. The skipper is a friend of mine from Panama. Part of the compensation package is a free flight out of the country. I’ll fly back to Barraveigh and Suzi will fly on to Oz for her flight to England. I never wanted to sail to New Zealand in my own boat shorthanded, but in this thing with 7 crewmembers – sure! We’ll then rent a camper van and tour NZ for a couple weeks. Same thing, different country. Plus, we get paid and airfare is covered. I think I’ll fly to Australia sometime in Feb or March maybe.

There is every chance this is going to be a wet and wild ride. The adventure continues!

Crewman Bob

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I Love Fiji

Fiji is inexpensive, interesting, physically blessed and my new home.

The 4 day sail from Tonga to Fiji was hardly a sail at all. We only had the wind in the canvas for about 15 hours. That means the sea was flat & calm but we burnt $300 worth of diesel. That hurt a bit but I prefer it to some of the teeth grinding passages we’ve had lately. At this point, the passage making is all behind us for about 6 months. Nothing but day hops now! The only traveling I’ll be doing is island skipping and riding that big 747 to Australia (Adam M – We gonna party!)

Suzi and I are going to get this boat to the marina, belt her down for bad weather and fly to Oz. We’ll camp around in a rented van for a couple weeks and then I’ll have my hand surgery. She’ll fly back to England and I’ll return to Barraveigh. I’ll recuperate, work on the boat, island hop, drink too much, and enjoy my bro and mom when they come to visit and then in April we’ll leave Fiji for Vanuatu, the Solomons, Papua New Guinea and Micronesia. ’08 should be as exotic as ’07.

Fiji is a wonderfully strange place. The people are made up of 2 ethnic groups: ½ are Fijian and ½ are Indian. The Indian’s came as cheap labor 3 generations ago and now run the place. Every time they win an election there’s a coup. I think they’ve had about 30 of them now. Each one is bloodless and as civil as it gets. Everyone is extremely kind and friendly. We’ve been here for 2 weeks and never lock anything. None of the cruisers have had any thefts. “BulaBula!” is how you greet someone so you hear it all day. Try it. It’s fun to say. Here’s the thing that I wasn’t expecting: The Fijians aren’t Polynesians. They’re Melanesians. They’re black. I’m talking afros and African features. After so many Polynesian islands it’s strange to have such a drastic change in the physical appearance of the inhabitants. From Tonga to Fiji the races just abruptly altered. I’d love for one of you amateur anthropologists out there to explain this to me (Just me. Plz don’t hit reply all).

If you like curries and roti then Fiji should be on your list. I’ve been digging (“tucking” for my English audience) into bowls of delicious spicy foods every day. A beer in a bar costs US $1.50, and that’s in the yacht club which is the most expensive in town. This place is ½ the cost of Tonga and 1/3 the price of French Polynesia. I’m living like a king.

I lied earlier. We have a 24 hour trip to make to Suva from Savusavu. We left a couple hours ago. Then one more overnighter to the marina, but that is definitely the end of the black night sailing.

Capt Bob

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Nuie

Thank you for your letters of concern. I appreciate it. All is well and nothing hurts. I haven’t removed you from this list. I just don’t have any drama to report. Our life has been one of day sailing with multiple anchorages to choose from. After a few days we head back to the main town and reprovision. There are always friends there, so we end up drinking and staying longer. Plus the restaurants and the televised rugby games are hard to pass up. It truly is a cruisers paradise. Sorry to have neglected this Vicarious Dispatch for so long.

We are in Tonga, the Vava’u chain of islands to be exact. This is where the humpback whales come to teach their calves to swim and play. As I said earlier – it really is an amazing place. The best we’ve seen so far.

Now for the catch up:

Niue – “Please” is fakamolemole, and “thank you” is fakaway. It’s real easy to get yourself in trouble.

While we were at anchor in Niue, a boat named Journey was caught in a storm. Their head stay broke and they were in danger of losing their mast. If that stick comes down, then so does their backstay, which is their antennae for the SSB long range radio. That would mean they would lose all communication over 15 miles away. That includes all wx reports and email capabilities. Very bad. It could, in fact, hole the boat and be the end of them. It was obvious they were exhausted and desperately trying to get into port. We had been in those shoes only a couple weeks before. We set the alarm and Suzi and I took shifts waking every 2 hours through the night to talk to them on the SSB. The connection was not the best and they heard “Barraveigh” as “Faraday”. I wasn’t about to correct them in their current state. When they finally got into Niue 24 hours later we met them on the dock and introduced ourselves as “Barraveigh”. No discernable reaction. “Wait – you know us as Faraday!” Their faces melted. They hugged us and thanked us. There was no reason to speak of the horrors that they had come face to face with hour after hour. Their expressions were familiar to us. We’d seen them on our own faces. There was a calm knowing glance shared by all of us who had been there and back. It was a moving experience.

When we crossed the International Date Line we lost a whole day. Saturdaythe 8th of Sept never occurred for us. I hate losing a Saturday.

I went to a Tongan feast. In French Polynesia the dancing was all hips. Here it’s all hands and no hips. It’s that gentle story telling with the most graceful of wrist rotations and finger dances. The food was all native and wrapped in plantain leaves and steamed in an underground dirt oven. They served it in palm shoots which look like over sized celery stalks. No utensils. Fingers only. For my taste, it was either too fatty or too sweet. Then the power shut off and I couldn’t see what I was eating at all. That’s when the drinking really began. I ended up at a Spanish restaurant on a different island having a shoving war with a tame goat while some Spaniards “rocked out” on a flute jam. Very surreal. While making our way home my buddy Chris Miller on Barefeet managed to fall in the water again. That’s 4 times now and he holds the record in the entire Southern Fleet.

A South Pacific notation – These people are islanders. They live surrounded by the sea. They respect those that sail on the sea. That’s rather different from those in Spanish land. Those people live on the coast but they also live on a continent and don’t quite understand why people would take top the sea if they didn’t have to. They don’t understand crossing oceans because they really aren’t seafaring people. A cruiser gets respect when arriving at one of these islands, and that makes for friendly exchanges. I prefer this leg of the trip over the previous by a gigantic margin. Here, not only is there zero theft, but actually genuine friendliness and respect. The SPac is going to be hard to beat.

I’ve made a big decision. I’m not sailing to Australia. I’m staying in Fiji for 6 months to wait out the cyclone season. I have a reservation on a slip at Vuda Point Marina. Check it out. http://www.vudamarina.com.fj/. It must be one of the best cruising grounds ever. Island after island and a big city close by with unlimited power and water when I am in the slip. That means air conditioning, ice and freshwater showers. Wow! Now for the scary part; Fiji is the heart of the cyclone zone. On the plus side – this marina is supposedly cyclone proof and this year is a La Nina, which means that the chances of getting hit are diminished. It’s a lot cheaper and exotic in Fiji. I’ll take my chances.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Palmerston Atoll

In 1862 an English whaler named William Marster convinced 3 women from the northern Cook island of Penrhyn to move to a deserted atoll in the southern Cook Islands named Palmerston. He had 3 separate families with a total of 26 kids. He died in 1899 and is buried on the island. He has over 5000 descendants. Only 68 live on the island. The rest have immigrated to NZ or Oz. Those 68 are the most welcoming and hospitable people I believe I’ve ever met. Get this – when you arrive, they race to be the first to reach your boat so they can “host” you. There is no airstrip so the only way to get there is by ship. Their supply ship comes once every 3 months and this time it was over 3 months late. So if you’re getting the picture that they crave human company, you might be getting close to the fact. They are bored out of their minds and they’re all related to each other in at least 2 ways. Lots of wonky eyes, stutters and signs of inbreeding. “Hosting” – means they come out in their launch to bring you in to their island whenever you want. They cook large extravagant meals, play the ukulele and sing songs for your entertainment, do your laundry, give you ice, water, filleted fish, whatever you want and wouldn’t even think of asking for money in return. They really just want to hang out. Now – if you are a little too jaded to believe that, fine – I can give you the rest of the story. Yes – they want your expertise. I don’t have any, but some of the other cruisers know how to fix stuff and can jury rig two capacitors into 1 or can compute the structural load on the next community building. They want your education. Of course they’re happy to take a little fuel and some provisions if you can spare it, but they will never ask. They speak English but the accent is really hard to decipher (it’s even harder here in Niue).

We had a wonderful time. I wanted to believe that places like this still existed. That people will give without taking. That I can stay some place where everyone is much poorer than I, and never once try to sell me anything. It won’t last. Some of the cruisers were suggesting they start selling t-shirts. Believe me; I know first hand – once you start selling t-shirts, your soul rots and you end up driving an orange Tracker.

Now let me tell you about the whale. Our first night in Palmerston we were utterly exhausted after fighting the savage ocean for 48 hours, but I was awakened by this rude enormous mammal blowing air about 5 feet from my head. We got on deck and watched her rubbing up to Barraveigh. She was sleeping. One little nervous startle and she could have crushed us. Finally she bumped her nose and swam off. Exhilaratingly scary. They next day she was just lying on the surface about 100 yards away from the boats. I went in the dinghy with the Mexicans off the boat next to me and we rowed over to her. We slowly got in the water and I took the most amazing video. I’ll post it on my website when I get to civilization. She turned around and faced me. We were nose to nose. That thing is bigger than Barraveigh. Turns out she was pregnant. She had her calf on our last night right next to the boat, and then the next morning they took a victory lap around the anchorage to show off a bit.

Oh the things I’ve seen!

Why aren’t the rest of you buying yachts and learning to sail? You can’t get this stuff on the Discovery Channel my friends.

Captain Bob

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

FP Wrap up & Tonga!

I delayed writing this dispatch until we were underway so I could type the words; “We are sailing to Tonga.” Those few words have caused me a lot of regret. We’re being tossed around so much that it’s very difficult to type at all. I spend an inordinate amount of time banging on the backspace key. And, trust me – it’s no fun to be down in this cabin when all the hatches are shut (the boarding waves make closing up the boat imperative). It makes it hot and stuffy and the green gills creep up rather quickly. That led to my latest mistake. I’ve only been seasick once. I was 15 years old and my father had taken my brother and me on a deep sea fishing trip out of Mazatlan Mexico. I lost it all, but that was 25 years ago, and I thought it would never happen again. Well, I felt it coming on so I took a tablet and now I can’t keep my head off the pillow.

We are sailing to Tonga! We’ve bid adieu to the peaceful beauty of French Polynesia. Now the question has become: “Will we go direct or stop off at an island or 2 along the way”? The voyage from Bora Bora to the northern chain of islands that is the Kingdom of Tonga is 1250 miles as the crow flies. In reality it’s more like 1400 for my wandering vessel. I can sail in a straight line, but it isn’t always the most comfortable and I decided long ago that I’ll take comfort and safety over speed. Along our path there are the options of a few atolls in the Southern Cook islands (named after Captain Cook), or Niue (which Cook originally named “Savage Island”). I’m pointing Barraveigh toward Niue but will decide whether or not we stop based on conditions. Tonga is only another 200 miles and I’m excited to get to the only kingdom in the South Pacific. Originally I was going to take the northern route and stop in Suvarrow which is in the Northern Cook’s but the conditions ahead didn’t look favorable so we altered course. It’s important to stay flexible and with all these island adventures to choose from, it’s easy to change one’s mind.

Back in French Polynesia (that was so 4 days ago!); Raiatea is visible from Huahine and was a pleasant day sail. The main reason for anchoring there was to fill our propane bottles as we were about to run out and then Suzi’s baking would come to an abrupt halt. I can’t have that. From Raiatea you can see the high volcanic mount of Bora Bora, and once the propane was replaced with butane, we were off to embrace it.

Bora Bora – What a place. It’s too hyped to be that good. Or is it? The water is perfectly clear and teaming with life. I did numerous dives and snorkels. For the first time I saw the little Nemo fish hiding in the anemone. We borrowed bikes and cycled around the east side of the island. Its hotel after resort on the most tranquil clear water beaches you’ve ever seen. The bungalows over the water are rather cliché but adorable none the less. Yes – it’s a honeymooner’s paradise, and that’s all you’ll meet too – Honeymooner’s and sailors, but it is stunning. We spent our time near Bloody Mary’s, which is a restaurant / bar that has built a beautiful dock, put in free mooring balls, and gives away free water and ice. They’ve done this to attract the yachties. “Yachties”, in this case, doesn’t mean the cruisers on budgets who catch rainwater and ferment their own booze. It refers to the mega yachts that are all over the place. Some even have helicopters on the deck.

Yes- Bora Bora is really that good. I didn’t want to leave but the bottom was scrubbed, the extra chain was cut and stored in the stern, the SSB radio had been repaired, and our tanks were topped off. I was out of excuses. So it’s once again into the great abyss.

We’ve got 587 miles to go until we decide whether we stop in Niue or push on to Tonga. You can bet I’ll keep an extra reef in the sails and my harness on at all times. The furling line for the headsail chewed thru again and that put me at the pointy end of the boat tying knots as she crashed headlong into the next swell. It was much easier this second time around. Harken has a big design flaw with that drum. We’ve got very confused seas. The waves look like Keystone Kops running around and colliding with one another. No order. Chaos is the norm. The wind is 25 with gusts to 30 and the moon has turned his back on us. These black nights always unhinge me. Wish us luck.

Captain Bob

Update – The previous entry was written 6 days ago. Shortly after, the wind piped up to 40 and the seas grew to become 15 foot breaking waves. All the fuel jugs I keep lashed on the port side of the boat were ripped loose from a giant wave that exploded on our broadside. All the fuel jugs I keep lashed on the starboard side were ripped loose an hour later when another wave knocked us over so far that Barraveigh’s right side was completely immersed. The wind was so strong that it ripped our mainsail and the bimini. It was 48 hours of hell. The final night, we were so exhausted and the conditions were so dangerous that I closed up the companionway and we both laid down below to rest. We put all our trust in the autopilot as we screamed along at 7 knots falling off of waves. We had no plans to stop in Palmerston but “any port in a storm”, so I radiod ahead as we entered the anchorage and a boat came out and 2 friends jumped aboard to help furl the headsail with the broken line. Finally – we were safe, and at anchor.

I’ve repaired everything and in a few hours we will go back to sea and head to Niue.
In the next entry I’ll tell you about Palmerston – the most amazing place I’ve been yet in the SPac

Friday, August 17, 2007

Motoring to Bora Bora

There’s zero wind. We left early this morning after grabbing some free water. Getting the anchor back on deck was a piece of work. It was extremely difficult for the windlass to hoist it off the bottom and since the visibility is so clear I could see the giant coral head as I was lifting it from the depths. The boat that was anchored next to us came over to take pictures and help to free it from our anchor. I now have more respect for what that windlass can lift.

Bora Bora will be our last stop before leaving French Polynesia. Too bad – we really love it here and I’m now perfectly fluent in French. Well, it was true about the love we have for this part of Polynesia, but I can’t speak more than 3 words of French after 3 months.

Huahine was one of my favorite islands. It’s a surfer’s paradise and all our friends were there. We spent the evenings going from dinner party to cocktail party and the days snorkeling, surfing, and diving. There was of course the odd job that had to be completed. I had my rematch with the dinghy – she won again. She still leaks both air and water and I hate her more than anyone can hate an inanimate object. Then I cleared the obstruction from my bilge hose by using my dive tank as a pressure blaster. I was quite pleased with that magic trick. So much for work.

We took an archeological tour of Huahine. Apparently it rivals Easter Island for archeological significance and ruins in Polynesia. We saw many of them with our transplanted American guide Paul. He was extremely knowledgeable in multiple disciplines and gave us a wonderfully comprehensive narration of the culture, history and structures we visited. Then we ate hamburgers and French fries.

The last few islands were almost where the trip ended. On Moorea we got caught in a nasty night of 25+ knot winds while in a tiny anchorage with razor sharp coral closely surrounding Barraveigh. The wind clocked around and fortunately the anchor chain wrapped around a coral head and stuck fast. We didn’t drag and it was the wrap around the coral that saved us, because the wind shift had dislodged the anchor. I could see it laying upright on the bottom and the reef only 1 boat length away just gnashing it’s teeth. That was close and nothing but pure luck. Its amazing Barraveigh isn’t flotsam right now.

Even closer was the judgment error I made while surfing the pass near Fare on the island of Huahine. I looked down the lip of the big roller as it dumped on the shallow water beneath it, pulled back and let it roll under me. “I’ll catch the next one.” I should have, but I didn’t, and the next thing I knew I was too far inside and the waves were now breaking. I was between the reef and the wall of crashing water. “This is bad. This is not going to end well. Stay calm.” 1 minute later I was standing on the reef waiting for the next roller to break in front of me. I focused on not being thrown over or getting rolled, and when I did I protected my head at all costs. I smashed my knee into some coral. That brought searing pain that made my mind focus more than ever. “Ok, get back on the board and paddle paddle paddle. I need to make some distance before the next one comes.” I was talking myself through it, but in the back of my mind I didn’t think I had a chance. Usually these reef accidents aren’t so serious and I’m mostly concerned with my board not being damaged, but this situation developed so quickly that suddenly I was in a horribly dangerous predicament and the waves were substantially larger than my previous errors. I never thought of the board. I figured if I was lucky, I’d get away with being torn up real bad and hospitalized. I just didn’t want to be broken and drowned. If I could just stay conscious and not get my head smashed I might have a chance. Every crashing wave thrashed me on the reef like a rag doll and every lull gave me a chance to paddle north a few more yards. “There. That was the end of the set. Now go go go!” I tore into the water as hard as I could to get as much distance from me and the killing zone as possible. Once I felt safe, I took a few more paddles just to make sure I was again in the deep water of the pass. I knew I was going to live. Chris and Fielding from Barefeet had watched my struggle and were waiting in their dinghy to make sure I was safe. They hoisted me in and drove me to Barraveigh. My feet were chewed up and I had a bruise on my knee that would make me limp for the next couple days but I got off easy. And the board? Not a scratch.

I met an English sailor named Tom back in Panama, and we ran into each other again in the Galapagos. His boat was named Magic Roundabout. He was 22 years old and having the time of his life. He drowned 2 weeks ago. They found his body beneath his boat. Apparently he was spear fishing. It can happen to anyone. That, and the couple near misses I’ve had have sobered me up lately. I’m moving the needle on the meter to “very safe” and keeping it there. Sometimes it’s good to be scared.

You folks make sure you stay on the planet so we can meet again.

Bobby

Monday, July 16, 2007

At Anchor Moorea

Ah, Tahiti. What a delicious word. The language sounds like Japanese dusted with Hawaiian sugar, and the very name itself, conjures thoughts of the Mutiny on the Bounty, Paul Gaugin, and an exotic tropical paradise. It's all these things. It's also a major city called Papeete that's thousands and thousands of miles from any other. It's fascinating.

French Polynesia consists of 3 island chains. Moving from East to West you will find the Marquesas, then the Tuamotu, and finally the Society Islands. They are radically different geologically, but to my eyes, culturally identical, though I'm certain that the natives would disagree. It's hard to penetrate the cultures on a deeper level when we don't have a common language, but the kindness & warmth that these people exude matches one another. The drastic geological differences are obvious to any navigator. The Marquesan islands are tall dead volcanic remnants. Everything is colored in green or black. The Tuamotus are atolls. That's a fringe of reef that denotes the outline of the now missing volcano. In its place is the lagoon that the reef encircles. They are flat and sandy. From a distance, it appears the palm trees are growing right out of the sea. The Society Island chain has the big name allure of places like Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora. Geographically, they are a combination of the previous 2; tall and verdant with a surrounding reef. I'm typing this from a perfect anchorage on the island of Moorea, just north of Tahiti. But first let me backtrack.

The pearl culturing process: They begin by dangling these black plastic strips in the lagoon until tiny oyster polyps develop. After a few years the oysters are large enough to have a nucleus of shell implanted. The "surgeon" is a Japanese man who opens the oyster, inserts this perfectly round shell (that comes all the way from Mississippi) along with a tiny bit of the oyster's own shell. A couple years later, the farm manager delicately opens the oyster, pops out the pearl, and if the oyster has done a good job, he inserts another nucleus. Years later - repeat again. If the oyster hasn't produced a satisfactory pearl then he makes it into a stew.

A wave is a frequency you can see with the naked eye. No oscilloscope necessary. When the waves are long period swells the size isn't much of a problem. However, when you get short period steep waves that are wind generated over long distances, the conditions can become horrible. Add to that 30+ knot winds that are only 10 degrees off your nose, constant squalls and time at sea becomes rather unpleasant. The passage from our paradise that was Kauehi to the island of Tahiti was ugly. Real ugly. It was the first time I ever saw Suzi look like she might be sick. And we had it easy. We beat the really bad weather by a day. Our friends, who left a day later, had 50+ knots and everyone broke something. That's the real problem with bad weather - It isn't the fear of losing your life (Well, I haven't been in any weather that severe, and I try with all my brain power never to be), it's the cost of repairs and the time out of your life it takes looking for the material and then doing it all yourself. The truth is, I avoid rough weather because I'm cheap and lazy.

Though it was a tough passage Tahiti was well worth it. I took my first hot shower in 5 months and 9000 miles. Hot running water is a luxury of the first world (But are you really a 1st world country without toilet seats? Come on France), and Tahiti is absolutely the first world. It's France without any neighbors to make them feel insecure. The people here have been wonderful. Get this - Suzi and I were hitchhiking when 2 young French guys, who are doing their internship in marketing, stopped to give us a ride. (It helps to stand next to a hot blonde). The next day they picked us up to take us surfing, cook us lunch, serv us French wine and then lend us a scooter for 2 days. Suzi and I circumnavigated the entire island. It's extremely expensive. There are food wagons that set up in their own spots around the city once night falls and you can get fantastic fare for "reasonable prices". Poisson cru is my favorite. It's not unlike Mexican ceviche but they use a lot of coconut milk and add cucumber. Public transport costs $2 one way. That's hard to swallow when I was paying 25 cents all over Central America, and is why we hitchhike everywhere. These people are so warm and kind that they just can't stand to see you wanting anything so a free ride doesn't take long. Even the friendliness that the South Pacific Islanders are famous for hasn't become jaded in the city of Papeete. It's the middle of nowhere and you can get anything you want (except replacement springs for my Lewmar winches). The French have done a handsome job of building a real city thousands of miles from any other. Of course, they had a stunning island to begin with.

On the subject of navigation: We were anchored in the shadow of Point Venus which is where Captain Cook erected a fort to watch the transit of Venus in 1769. He spent the majority of his life at sea, and made 3 voyages to the South Pacific that resulted in 3 circumnavigations. As of July 1st I have been living aboard Barraveigh for 2 years. I've only covered a fraction of my circumnavigation, but I love my mobile island of fiberglass and look forward to each new anchorage. Right now we are the only boat anchored in the most perfect water. 65 feet of visibility and a short ride away there are manta rays that swim up to take food from your hands. Yesterday, while kayaking, Suzi found some ancient tiki heads laying on the bottom in white sand. We couldn't believe it. Some were as big as the dinghy. I guess the ancient inhabitants changed gods and dumped the old ones in this glorious bay. Lucky us!

Captain Bob Friedman

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More Pearls

Pahua is the name of the giant clam and we ate it in curry and coconut sauce last night at Francky’s with his family. Then we traded for another 200+ pearls! I love this place. No tourists, because there are no hotels, or motels, or bed & breakfasts or even youth hostels. Not one single restaurant or bar. If you don’t sail here, you will never see this place. The moon over the lagoon with that gin colored water is utterly astonishing. This one fringed atoll has made the whole trip a jackpot.

Todd G never thought I’d leave San Diego. Belinda S thought I’d last 18 months. I won the second bet 25 days ago. I can’t imagine ever living in one place again.

Your fan,

Bobby (it’s just oyster snot) Friedman

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tuamotus

My first atoll – Kauehi in the Tuamotu archipelago. There is only one pass into the lagoon and the currents can run up to 8 knots. It’s only 100 yards across so there isn’t much room for mistakes. We obviously made it and then rhumb lined it for the village, being careful to miss the coral heads. The clarity of the water makes spotting them easy as long as the sun is over head or behind. Hence, timing any passage now involves: the position of the sun, the cycle of the tide, and the wind direction (because waves will break if the tide and wind direction are opposing). These used to be called “The Danger Islands”. It’s better now with the advent of GPS, but some of my charts haven’t been updated since 1839 and coral heads can grow a foot a decade. The pucker factor still exists.

Here’s the scoop on the pearls: it’s completely illegal for anyone to take them out of French waters without the proper paperwork that you can only get from an “authorized dealer”. It’s like the Debeers family trying to control the diamond trade. “Authorized dealer” means that everyone got rich on the sale since these things sell for up to $300,000 US. Boy did I short circuit the system! – I traded 7 tiny drill bits for 24 pearls (Yes Colin – you get a cut of the booty). I threw in a plastic storage box with dividers, and he gave Suzi 2 extra necklaces. I wish all transactions were so generously concluded. Actually, I was so overly pleased with the experience that I went back and gave him a bag full of limes (they won’t grow here with their thin soil and salted water table). The most interesting facet of our negotiation was that we couldn’t speak one word of a common language. I keep trying to speak Spanish with a generic accent in hope that it will have a few words in common with French, while he grunts vowels in his low island dialect. It was a perfect human experience. We’re going to go back today and fly kites with his retarded son.

After scouring the boat for articles of trade and a new strategy for pearl acquisition, I went in search of the owner of the pearl farm that is visible from my anchorage. It’s a series of houses on stilts built on the edge of the reef as it drops into the azure blue waters of the lagoon. His name is Francky and he was at work removing a pearl from a “nack” when we met. We exchanged pleasantries and arranged a time for me to return the next day with my precious belongings. I traded a bottle of rum, a jar of hot sauce, a can of hairspray, a Donald Duck clock, some scented vermiculite, and 2 of Suzi’s worn out bikinis for 302 of the most gorgeous pearls you have ever seen! We are stinking rich with pearls! We look at them before we go to bed. We look at them when we awake. We pause at midday just to run our fingers through their gun metal gray and black metallic hues. I chose each one individually and as silly as it seems, I think I can now understand how women are fixated on baubles. What is happening to me? Today I will return with a hammock, a flashlight, a broken headlamp, and more booze. I am a pearl whore.

Also – I’ve now eaten the giant coconut crab and turtle. Turtle is absolutely gourmet. Tastes like venison with the softness of tender brisket. I love turtle, but coconut crab. . . . eh, not so much. You gotta boil it for an hour (I hate burning that much propane) and it’s a ton of work for meat that doesn’t even approach Snow crab let alone Alaskan King.

Best to horde pearls and ask around for anyone having turtle tonight.

Bobby

(I sent all the pearls home with my mom in Feb of 2008 so if you’re a thief – forget about them. She’s got them in a safe deposit box back in the USA)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tattoos & Pamplemousse

I jumped off the boat and paddled in. It was every surf enabled cruiser’s dream. The swell comes into this bay and breaks right on the rocks. However, there is a secondary wave that’s formed when the big stuff bounces off the jetty. This wave runs perpendicular to the beach so when you take the left you are actually going away from the beach, back into the bay. First time I’ve ever seen that, and probably a contributing factor for what happened next. I broke another board. I snapped it right in half. I gave it to some kid who didn’t have one. I was strangely philosophical about it. Boards are born to break, and besides, I’m only here to create stories. If some kid thinks he just won the lotto cuz of my bad luck, then I can ride that karma boost for the rest of the day. Besides, at dusk his family drove him out in a boat and they gave me a huge potato sack full of pamplemousse, and a stalk of bananas as an extra bonus.

Captain Cook was here in 1769, and his men must have been terrified by how these natives appeared with their tattooed faces and huge powerful bodies. I have a tattoo on my right ankle that says “USA” in red, white, and blue. Before I was a dirty sailor, I took a turn as a filthy biker, and one summer, at the tender age of 19, I drove a motorcycle around the States with my friend Mark. I guess the similarities between sailing and cycling are readily apparent; the sense of freedom, the wind in your hair, etc. The tattoo seemed like the right thing to do, and here I am in the place where it all began. However, the engravings here, are monochromatic with highly stylized tiki-like designs. On an island of only 2,500 people I’ve already seen a few with face tattoos. Think; Mike Tyson, but with more ink, and on bigger men.

These people are behemoths. The first characteristic you notice are their feet (since everyone is barefoot). They are utterly huge. Like Hobbits, but with bodies to match. Then you notice the calves (30 lbs), and so on, up to the shoulders. You could put an oxen yoke on these men and it would fit. Most of the women look the same. They smile all the time and are so eager to converse, I hope they never see a Western fashion magazine.

I’ve anchored in some of the same bays The Endeavour did (I wish I had a metal detector), and tried to imagine what it must have been like for Cook and his sailors to discover this place. The direct translation for the Marquesan word for white man is, “long white pig.” They ate us, even though our calves are so small. We were the other white meat. The sense of wonder is still astounding 200+ years later. There’s no industry here. No resorts. No tourists. It’s so very inaccessible, that it’s remained unspoiled. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands LESS people now, due to the diseases that the European explorers brought. The population still hasn’t recovered more than 2 centuries later. You can’t say that about the rest of French Polynesia. It makes hiking a ghostly experience when one discovers an entire city that’s been left crumbling. So in a distorted way, the Marquesas Islands are even more untouched by man now, than they were.

These people are inherently kind. They take care of their appearance and property (rarely do I see litter), and the flowers in their hair are very charming. Have I witnessed drunks on the street or loud aggressive teenagers? – I’ve never seen even one. Anyone would be happy to have them as neighbors. The only problem I have with them is their infatuation with vowels. Just look at the names of their islands: Fatu Hiva, Tahuata, Nuku Hiva & my favorite, Oa Pou. Then there are the unpronounceable: Taioa, Meituua, Vaiehu, and of course; Taaoa. It sounds like Navajo, with the endless glottal stops. I can’t understand or be understood. Who cares? I smile and smile. These Marquesas Islands are utterly wonderful.

And now we are leaving them. French Polynesia is made up of 3 completely different island chains: The Marquesas, the Tuamotus, and the Society Islands. We’ve just began a 5 day sail to the Tuamotus. I love these long passages. They’re so exciting. I think I’ll grow my sideburns out.

P.S. / The finger healed on its own. Crooked and weak, it gets in the way of typing and knot tying. The doctor told me that I needed to have x-rays and a specialist look it over. Odds are I’ll need surgery, which means it will need to stay immobile for 6 weeks. I think I’ll leave it until I get to Australia, where I plan to wait out the cyclone season. Let’s hope I can get by with this goofy paw until then.

I remain,
Salty Bobby

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Paradise

Talk about being on another planet – I don’t speak any French and Marquesan is completely alien to me. Consequently – the communication gap is large. No matter, these people’s smiles are as broad as their shoulders, and they are skilled at pantomime. When going to shore, I find that all the kids ask for bonbons and all the adults ask for whiskey. I think they are conditioned to relate white people with handouts. The French take pretty good care of them.

With children, you’re foolish to pay them before they deliver. Once they have the bonbons they will never “take out the trash”, or “mow the yard”, or in this case; bring the bananas, bread or pamplemousse. When I was a kid, I did the same thing. I tracked 40 year old Jean for 2 days. I needed him to live up to his end of the bargain. He finally did, when the rum was all gone and the hangover had worn off. He even gave me extra as a consolation. You get 1 bunch of bananas per tree so the whole thing gets cut down. It was interesting to watch him wield that machete with expert skill in a remote jungle setting. I’m so glad these people don’t practice human sacrifice or cannibalism any longer.

The really good news is: They haven’t stolen my outboard yet!

They always want to trade. Rum costs $30 a bottle here and it has to be shipped in on the weekly boat. I paid $3 in Panama. I’m so happy I stocked up. That’s not the only thing they will trade for. If they take a fancy to something, they’ll swap. One sailor literally exchanged a paper clip for 3 bags of fruit, another, a whistle. I almost swapped a nearly useless garlic press for a pearl. Then she tried the garlic press.

These islands are so tall they seem to reach up and snag the clouds and create their own weather systems. It rains frequently. Consequently, we spend a lot of time opening and closing all the hatches a few times a day. These towering volcanic columns are so impressive. I implore you to find pictures of the Marquesan islands since it will be a long time before I find an internet connection and can send pics. I can’t seem to transmit on the HF radio from behind their looming slabs so even this form of communication is rare.

Suzi has perfected square pizza and in anticipation of it becoming a hit with all the other cruisers we’ve given it the code name “squeaky pete”. Her dishes are popular and I hate sharing food. I’m just too hungry all the time! Finally I have a use for that pizza cutter I brought.

Today we need to: fix the headsail, patch the dink, kayak the point, and after night fall, snorkel for lobster.

What are you up to?

- Capt Bobby –

P.S./ Forget the snorkeling. I just saw an 8 foot hammerhead shark swimming alongside while I was kayaking.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Day 24 - Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

We made it. We anchored in paradise about an hour ago. Google this place cuz words will never do it justice. The water is pleasantly warm, and so incredibly clear that I can see the bottom in 100 feet of water. The cliffs soar 3000 feet over the anchorage with nothing but green green green.

Being here has been a dream of mine now for 16 years. I can’t believe it’s finally real.

We don’t know what to do with ourselves. The gauges and meters are all off. The sails are all furled. All the hatches are open and we are sitting peacefully still. What do we do now?

I’ll let you know later,

Bobby

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Day 22

Will this ever end? Wrestling practice, my dad, Sun Tees, and now this cursed crossing. If I can survive the above challenges, I can survive anything. I once traveled from a Danish island to a Greek island non-stop. It was 5 days of trains, ships and buses. I didn’t sleep on anything stationary for 5 nights. I thought that was a big deal. Cheese and Rice! This is punishment sustained. It’s like living full time, in one of those inflatable houses that children jump in at carnivals (minus the padding and kiddy germs). The constant sensation of motion is exhausting. Your muscles have to flex while asleep just to keep you in the bunk. There is no respite from the yawing and pitching and rolling. We both just want stationary. You take it for granted living on land.

I have pestered Suzi nearly to death. I’m out of material. Now I have to reach out to you. Can you imagine being confined to 200 sq feet of living space with one other person and no one gets to leave for 24 days? That water better be perfectly clear and warm and filled with gorgeous fish cuz I’m gonna kill ‘em all.

We are 209 miles out and the wind has completely died. We are now motoring. So much for tradewinds. “You’ll have 15 knots the whole way.” “You won’t ever have to adjust a sail.” “Smooth sailing on flat seas.” “It’s the coconut milk run.” Ha! When you guys sail this stretch, be armed with the truth.

Because I’m 38% insane at this point, I thought I might share the musings of my corroded mind:
1.) One English expression every Hispanic knows: “Take it easy.”
2.) Driving cars is fun
3.) Ice is your revenge against the elements
4.) It’s not Barraveigh, it’s Oye Veigh!
5.) “Llama llamada. Por una quada”
6.) When I’m in Vietnam I’m going to pick a fight with someone, so that I can truthfully say from that day on, “I fought in Nam.”
7.) Why do people like Mike Mayberry? He’s not a good friend to any of us? Let’s stop Mike Mayberry.
8.) “Hair and lips” are the only things on a girl you can get away with calling fat
9.) Iron Bru is made with girders
10.) We call it “cursive”, and the ever efficient English, who invented the language, call it “joined-up-writing.”
11.) Southern Cross my ass. I can find 150 crosses without even trying. The real deal is a let down

I’m gonna catch that reuben sandwich!

Bobby

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Day 17

I downed the shot of vodka, I swallowed the 2 red Columbian pain killers, I stuffed the sock in my mouth and only then, did I place my left hand on the table.

My uncle Bill, via long range email on the single side band radio, had described the process for realigning a dislocated finger, and it didn’t sound like a bucket of joy. This one was seriously out of joint after trying to loosen a jammed headsail in 20 knots of wind. It pointed violently toward my thumb with no accord to the harmony of the other 4 digits. Suzi’s instructions were to pull it out so it can reseat itself. We tried several times, and to no resolve. No pop, no straightening, just ripe pain searing along the length of my ring finger every time she gave it a yank.

Then the alarm on the GPS went off. I had programmed it 10 days before when we left the Galapagos Islands for the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia. The alarm denoted the halfway mark. I was 1,500 miles from land. That’s the farthest you can get on this planet from terra firma. My engine was leaking oil & diesel, the generator only continued to run if you hand pumped the fuel ball, and the headsail had jammed in the track in such a way that I couldn’t reef it entirely. And of course, I have only one functional hand.

As I type this, we are currently on a heading of 325 degrees. 360 is due north so you can see we’re not that far off. Why am I pointing this thing north when the goal is west? Good question. I can’t keep the winds directly behind me due to this misshapen headsail that’s jammed, and my previous course before we gybed was going to take us to Pitcairn Island instead of Fatu Hiva. Had that happened, I would have had a mutiny on my hands that would have made The Bounty look like a Sunday morning “row”.

Our inability to sail directly downwind was further compounded 2 nights ago by the fact that the furling line had chewed through a point of chafe (that I had somehow missed) and parted at midnight in 28 knots of wind as it completely deployed itself. When it’s howling 28 knots you reef to expose less sail to the wind. The last thing you want is more sail. I suddenly had a lot more. The boat accelerated almost immediately. I needed to get this situation under control at once.

“Suzi! Wake up and suit up! I need you!” We put on our harnesses and I clipped into the jack lines that run the entire length of Barraveigh. I crawled forward with fresh batteries in my headlamp in order to inspect the situation. Once I put the repair plan together in my head I pulled myself back towards the cockpit and shouted to Suzi what I would need: 2 oversized carabineers and the new green furler line. Again I crawled forward with the vessel awash up to the mast every time she sped into another green wave. If I go overboard, there is no way Suzi will ever find me, let alone get me back in the boat. In an ocean this large with help so far away, if you can’t save each other – you’re done. Every move was literally life or death. I had to tie the frayed line to the new one and use the carabineers to redirect the angle of pull so it wouldn’t chew through again. Damn. I should have caught that days ago, then I wouldn’t need to be up here risking my bacon now. Sheets of water conspired against every step I needed to complete. The pain in my dislocated finger was a constant reminder that I couldn’t trust that hand to hold me should I bounce over the rail. I moved slowly and deliberately, careful not to drop anything or overextend my balance. I got the lines joined, and screamed for Suzi to start furling it in. She did, and the boat came back into control as her speed diminished. Good – now I needed to find a place to secure the carabineer. The toe rail hole was perfectly located; I just couldn’t get enough body weight on the line to push it into the jaw of the carabineer. I took a calculated chance and lifted myself up quickly and practically sat on it. It worked.

It looked good. It still does. I now check it regularly, and I adjust all lines a few inches every other day, just in case I can’t see if they’re wearing. That was harrowing and I never want to repeat it. I sense inwardly though, that in some way, I am stronger for having lived through it. This trip is like a 5 year “Outward Bound” program, except, this is the extreme version on steroids, with zero “do overs”. We expose ourselves to our fears in hopes of overcoming them. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said, “…sailing is chess with pull-ups.” That’s the honest truth. We need to think at least 2 steps ahead and physically live up to the challenges as well.

The finger hurts constantly, and we won’t be out of danger until we’re anchored 10 days from now, but I know we can do this.

- Captain Bob -

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Day 7

We’ve just completed our 6th day and have covered over 900 miles. We have 2100 still to go. She’s fast, even when she’s loaded down. I love the performance I’m getting out of her. Yesterday we changed headsails (what a nightmare that was in 15 knots of wind without the engine on). With this younger and larger headsail, I’ve yet to post a speed under 7.0. This is going to be a most expeditious passage. I’m predicting my Mother’s day gift to dear Jere Mae will be landfall on May 13th.

I didn’t play the Mahi Mahi (I’ve changed names from dorado since I’m headed to the SPac islands) well enough and my 40 lb test line parted before I could land him. He was a powerful fish. He launched himself 3 body lengths into the air. He’s the one that got away. He’ll remember me too, since he has my favorite lure in his jaw. Most days it just seems like too much work to fish, especially when we still have all this fresh food that needs to be eaten. Lately though, all the strenuous activity has reawakened my hunger for fresh meat. Life as a savage - I love it. My tan is darker than it was in Mexico and my hair is growing back and lightening with the sun & salt. I wouldn’t even shower if Suzi didn’t insist.

In the mornings I sweep the desiccated flying fish off the deck, patrol for signs of chafe, and squint into the rising sun through heavy cumulus clouds. At noon I lead a radio net with 5 other boats. We set it up before we left. The goal is safety and strategy. The safety part is obvious, the strategy is really for the following vessels so they can decide which lead boats they want to emulate. In the evenings we play cards, read, run the generator to replenish the batteries for the night and offer praise to Otto. Who’s your best friend? A long haul sailor will answer that question only one way, “My Auto Pilot”. This 3 week journey would be an entirely different experience without Otto. Thank you Otto.

Since the swell is running beneath us faster than our speed and because the wind and waves our on our stern quarter, Barraveigh yaws and dips and tosses us around a considerable amount. It would be stupid to try and eat off a plate. Bowls only. Suzi has her two step crab shuffle perfected, and we both show off our bruises. I couldn’t help but smile when she took a tumble after a big roller and she declared at the top of her lungs, “Ow! My arse bone!” So cute. She was able to laugh about it today.

It’s a routine, we’ve found a rhythm, it’s trying and rewarding. It’s sailing.

Captain B

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Next Stop: French Polynesia

I think I may have spoken my final words of Spanish. I’ve got less than 30 days to learn how to make those French noises. It sounds to me like “Z’s” and “F’s” with a heavy nasal murmur. I think I’ll opt for faking it by speaking Spanish with a ridiculous accent.

We left the Galapagos island of Isabela April 24, 2007 at 11:30 am. No wind and calm seas with a 6 second swell from the south. The conditions haven’t changed in 12 hours, except for the heavy cloud cover that now blots out the stars. Suzi is sleeping. I’m pulling the 10 to midnight watch. We’ve caught a favorable current and are riding along at 7.1 knots with only 1500 RPMs. My strategy is to head more south than west in hopes of finding wind. I’m still too far east to drop straight south and catch the trades so there needs to be some westing in my trajectory. I’m hoping to shave a week off the 30 day passage. Wish us luck.

Did you know that there are penguins at the equator? They are absolutely adorable, too buoyant for their own good, and fast under water. They are good friends with the seals, and can often be seen playing around the anchored boat. I called to a seal one day and he swam over and tried to jump aboard. He was inches from my face. Other yachties have had to shoo them out of the cockpit. This morning as I was underwater scrubbing the prop I felt something behind me. I looked over my shoulder to find a small seal, submerged, yet vertical, with curious head cocked and gazing at me, wondering how I was going to eat that piece of metal.

I saw enough tortoises to last a life time. They live so long it’s possible that some of the ones I met may have met Darwin.
And yes, they are gigantic.

The marine iguanas are as black as the lava rocks they lounge upon. They’re perfectly camouflaged, with a face that looks stern and dignified even though their pajamas don’t fit quite right. Sometimes you’ll see them lazily swimming across the bay, late for a nap.

The Galapagos Islands consist of 19 islands with about another 100 islets. Only 4 of the islands are inhabited. 30,000 people live there. There are discos, bars, restaurants, home appliance stores, jewelry stores, art boutiques, and more tourist boats than Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlan combined. The infrastructure is excellent and the science centers are free and very well done, but despite its isolated location, the place is highly developed and expensive. If you are planning a trip there, do it sooner than later.

My mom was born on Bastille Day. I think of it now, only because it’s one of the few French words I know and Barraveigh will be my prison for the next 20 - 30 days. Let the stir crazies begin.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tax Day?

A pint of bleach and a dozen rags, and I can clean anything. Trust me. I just lived through an effluent nightmare. There is a one way valve inside my nemesis, and it’s called a “joker”. It’s aptly named, as it’s the only humor in the whole procedure. I am, of course, referring to the pump I had to dismantle, that evacuates the holding tank. That’s black water. Not so nice. I’ll stop with the details immediately, but suffice to say, it was the worst chore I’ve performed yet on Barraveigh. It was one watermelon seed that was my undoing. Can you believe that? One watermelon seed. We now joke that we need to chew our food a bit better.

Sorry – but you need to know that it isn’t only a life of extroverted sea lions circling the yacht as we sip sundowners with ice. Sometimes the black tip reef sharks appear in the form of a clogged head. But – there really are black tip reef sharks that swim our perimeter hourly. Cool huh!

Prior to writing this dispatch I went back and read the very first one from over 16 months ago. I was at 30 degrees north by 116 west. I’m envious of the later. I’m currently at 90 and won’t reach the Marquesas until I hit 138. I’ve got a long trip just to get back to the westing I had when I left San Diego. We are only 10 days away from the beginning of that voyage. 3000 miles. That’s 3 times the distance we just pasted onto our charts. We are standing on the edge of an abyss called the Pacific Ocean. I will never forget these days.

I also don’t think I will ever forget the level of consciousness one attains when at sea. It’s a level of awareness that I (and I can only speak for myself) never approached when I lived on land. The music that the water makes as it fingers the hull, and what its changing octaves mean in terms of acceleration and heel. I can accurately guess the speed of the vessel within a tenth of a knot from the sound alone (as I lie sleeping, no less). I am deft at spotting the “cat’s paws” on the water, and how to pursue the elusive zephyr. I have a special relationship with the clouds now, when never before did they reveal their intentions to me. I’m a palm reader if you don’t believe, but if you’ve been out here, and lived this existence, than you know it’s not snake oil I’m selling.

My cousin Don recently emailed me and he wrote of planting bird seed millet and getting the corn crop in the ground. He’s the real deal; a farmer in Nebraska. That’s a man that has an intimate relationship with his surroundings and the forces upon them. I’ve spent the majority of my life in cities of over 3 million. And most of those cities never had 4 seasons. I was detached from the rhythms of the wilderness. I was an uninvited gate crasher when I stuck my toes in the big salty to test the waters, and I am just now beginning to feel like I have the playbook for this Sunday’s game. There is a brotherhood between those who depend on the weather. Tonight I’m lifting my drink to the dazzling array of brilliant stars that can only be seen from the outskirts of civilization.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Latitude 00*00

Let me tell you about a very brave woman named Suzi Roberts. She took a leave of absence from her career, rented her flat in Brighton England, said good bye to all her friends and family and flew to Panama for a completely different life. And she did all this in spite of the fact that her sister, just a year younger than her, was killed only 6 months ago in a horrible accident in Africa.

She worked long hard hours, full of frustration, without speaking a drop of Spanish, just to get Barraveigh ready to cross an ocean. And she did it all on someone else’s boat with a stubborn captain who likes to make rules. Up until departing Panama she had never done an overnight passage, let alone a 1000 mile journey that would have her all alone, at night, in the cockpit, with total responsibility for this 12 ton beast, as she raced full nose ahead heeled over making 8 knots. She was then allowed only 2 hours of sleep before having to do it all over again and again. She was scared, and she was alone, and she cried, but she never quit, and she never so much as missed a watch, and if she had to wake me to help with reefing the sails when the wind went over 20 knots she would let me sleep an extra 20 minutes to make up for it. On top of it all she cooked and cleaned and wore that bulky harness/PFD, with clacking carabiners without complaining every night.

She is now about to cross the equator. In sailor jargon, that means she is about to graduate from “Pollywog” to “Shellback”. It’s a big deal for any sailor and Suzi Roberts takes the titled on her first over night passage. You want to talk about courage, about tenacity of spirit, and having a never quit attitude – That’s my Suzi! None of it has been easy. She’s exhausted and in need of a real shower, but she dug deep and she overcame. Victory to you Suzi Roberts! You are only a day away from anchoring in the Galapagos.

Bobby

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

What an Anniversary!

It was 1 year ago today that Suzi and I met. We decided to celebrate by going to the middle of nowhere and to deal with 20 knot headwinds and 5 foot swells. We know how to live it up.

We are now 300 miles from the Galapagos Islands and 600 miles from Panama. Yesterday a US drug spotting plane flew above, circled twice, and wished us well. Apparently we don’t fit the profile of drug smugglers. He did tell us the whereabouts of our friends who are ahead of us. Good to know the Norwegians without the radio are ok.
The weather forecast calls for more of the same for the duration of our trip, but with increasing swell size. Fun. What’s even better is that the swells are about 8 seconds apart so it’s a constant hobby horsing effect. That really made Suzi’s omelet appealing this morning.

I can’t complain too loudly. Yesterday we watched Finding Nemo in the cockpit and laughed about Suzi’s new approach to the toilet. It’s still a dream and we are still making 4 knots. At least I didn’t report to a cubicle today (sorry Mike).

Captain Salty

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Killer Whales


That's right. I didn't think it could be true either but they're here and they look terrifying. We had 2 pods circle Barraveigh today. I just finished reading a book called "Surviving the Savage Sea" about some Scottish family that survived in a life raft for 40 days after their ship was holed and sunk by killer whales. My mom's on a plane to Tokyo right now or else I wouldn't have told you. By the time she gets this email we'll be safely out of their zone. Apparently it's easy to run over them when they are sleeping, and then because of territorial macho bravado they have to, by the code of the killer whale, sink your boat. It's all animal kingdom stuff dude. I'm going to learn a lot more about that in the Galapagos. Like which turtles you can't eat.

No wind at all. We are sweltering in the tropical heat and the motor only makes it hotter. The stove is even worse, but Suzi's upside down pineapple cake is worth it. That girl bakes daily. Awesome.

We've been motoring for the last 24 hours. We've covered 280 miles and have another 620 to go. The sea is so calm it looks like oil. This is the ITCZ. The Inter Tropical Convergence Zone. You've probably heard it referred to as the Doldrums. The Spanish explorers of 500 years ago called it the Horse Latitudes. They would chuck their horse into the sea in order to lighten the boats when their provisions ran low. I'll bet that freaked out the Orcas.

Capitan Bobby

Friday, March 30, 2007

7 knots in 14 - on the way to the Galapagos!

We weighed anchor yesterday at 13:30 (that’s 1:30 pm). We’ve been in transit for 24 hours and have made 123 miles. That’s an average of 5 knots, if you don’t have a calculator handy. She did it all under sail. We only used the engine to leave the anchorage and charge the batteries. That’s pretty good for this old girl, weighted down like she is. I think it was the bottom cleaning that she appreciated so much.

Suzi’s first night at sea went smoothly. She only had to wake me once and she followed all the rules perfectly. It can be rather daunting for a neophyte but she is doing very well. We’re both a little sleep deprived but catching up throughout the day. We have to; we probably have another 9 nights of this.

Suzi’s on watch while I’m down below typing this. We had a “row” early. She was being “stroppy”, but she was sure that it was I who was being “stroppy”. How cute is that word; “stroppy”? I start liking her again every time she says it (even though it was her who was stroppy). Then when she cooks a meal – oh yea, all is forgiven. Who says the English can’t cook? That might have been true a couple generations ago but she might even be better than Colin. Sorry Colin.

We saw dolphins, watched a shark catch and eat a fish, and I even spoke to the captain of the biggest containership you ever saw.

“Sir, do you see me on your radar?”
“Yes. I have you on the radar.”
“Sir, are we on a collision course?”
Long pause. “No.”
“Thank you for checking.”
“Snowdrift standing by on 16.”
“Barraveigh clear.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Return to Saltwater

Time to Leave

I have been issued my zarpe (exit papers) and the kind lady at the Port Captain’s office waived the $500 fine that I should have incurred due to my lapse in cruising permit coverage. In fact, she went so far as to fabricate new entry papers so I couldn’t be fined. Then the immigration lady banged her final stamps into our passports, and we were ready. No oil pressure.

10 days later we have a new zarpe and updated stamps next to the canceled ones. I think I’m almost a diesel mechanic now. But that’s a dead end story that isn’t any fun to relive. Suffice to say that I am typing this enroute to Las Perlas. I just spotted land 10 minutes ago. We’ll be anchoring before sunset.

Barraveigh is sitting quite a bit lower in the water. The 350 pounds of new anchor chain I put in the bow makes her look like she’s dipping her head to the Emperor. She is, in fact, so loaded with the year’s worth of provisions that we have stowed aboard that she was seriously heeling to port – an issue I remedied with diesel and H2O placed on the starboard side. The future sailing will no doubt be sluggish, but I’ve been warned that the prices in the South Pacific islands can be 10 times what we’re paying here, if you can even find it to buy. I want my 15 cases of beer, 5 gallons of rum, 6 gallons of wine, and 1400 pounds of canned everything. I’ll pay the price in speed to save the cost of provisions. It is, after all, a pleasure cruise, and I’m still doing 5.6 knots in 18 knots of wind on a beam reach.

Goodbye Panama
Panama City is the place pirates would come to replenish crew. This place looks like the bar scene from Star Wars. White, black, brown, and then there are the Kuna Yala Indians with their psychedelic blouses and skirts. Not to mention the wildly colored leg beads. They are all exactly the same height, 4’ 8”, and add even another language to this mash of linguistic stew. The buses are large, aggressive and constant. They cost only 25 cents and are very convenient to use as they choke the air with smog. The other pollution is the noise. There is no sensitivity to volume. Your ears are constantly assailed, but at least it’s never boring. If you want to play “USA”, you can go to Albrook mall. It’s like the Mall of America. Everything us Yanks love. They even have a Pricesmart here.

On the other side of the coin, you can lock your doors and take a cab to the questionable slums of Casco Viejo. The French based themselves here when they took their shot at the Canal back in 1881. The architecture makes it look like New Orleans, with old Spanish churches punctuating the plazas. If you’re feeling bold, get out of the cab and drink a lot of ice cold 24 oz. Balboa beers for $1. A couple weeks back I went with Jimmy and Caroline from Bluemoon on a pub crawl. First bar we went to, a drunk threw his bottle across the room. It exploded on the wall next to us. He was ejected, and as our seats were wet, we left too. It was clear he wasn’t welcome back in the cantina and in my inebriated condition I reckoned the polite thing would be to invite this antisocial violent drunk to come along with us. He later stole $20 and ditched us at a brothel. But meeting new and interesting people is why we travel, right?

There really is nowhere else in the world like Panama. It’s the only place I can think of where two oceans meet, two continents meet, it has European history dating back to the 1500’s, and the US purchased it into existence less than 100 years ago. Then there’s the Canal. You need to see that for yourself. And the story behind it – utterly amazing! Get here and soak it up. I’m sure going to miss it.

Life On Barraveigh
Here’s a little candy for you techie gear heads: all electrical connections have been lubed with dialectric grease, we have the brightest cockpit after the sun sets thanks to my directional solar lights and their own dedicated panel. We’ve re-stitched the mainsail, chafe is constantly hunted down and eliminated. I've backplated the padeyes and strapped all the new containers in place so no matter the sea state, all our provisions in that forward head should stay put. I have noted all the net frequencies and the emergency channels and they are posted next to the long range radio. I've installed the replacement batteries for the house system and they are strong and powerful. New is good, and amp hours are luxury. The water collection system has been perfected and all the hoses and couplings are brand new. I changed the tranny fluid, all other oils, and filters, rebuilt the sewing machine box, bought a brand new outboard (5 hp and it won't touch saltwater until we get to the Marquesas islands), lashed 10 more jury jugs to the rails (we'll have enough fuel onboard for 1000 mile range), replaced a frayed halyard, perfected a complete paper library of all charts from here to Papua New Guinea. I bought a new kayak and paddle, padded the stern ladder so Suzi can't complain anymore due to her tender city feet, installed a new tach (this one complete with an hour meter and inbuilt light. Nice!), filled the scuba tanks, upgraded to a 1500 w inverter and bagged the 700 w for future use, belted down all batteries, fixed a leaking sink, made copies of our friends movies, mounted a swivel bracket in the aft cabin for better movie viewing, and stowed ample spares for the next 18 months. We’re very ready. The waiting is over. Let the trip continue.

Captain Bob Friedman

P.S. / Our friends are already waiting in the anchorage ready to wash us in sundowners. It’s so good to be a cruiser again.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Back in the Tropics

Wow – it was great to step off the boat and revisit the First World. I completely lost the elastic imprint from my headlamp. Endless fresh water and unlimited electricity, was that real? Did I really sleep in rectangular beds with down comforters? Civility is a pleasant distraction when you live the life of a near barbarian. The recent niceties were highly appreciated and I give thanks to all who gave me a bed, couch, ride, meal. Someone told me that I’m an “advanced beach bum”. Yep, that’s about right. I guess I like that better than “global layabout” or “international ne’er-do-well”.

“Previously on Barraveigh”

I left San Diego Dec 1 of 2005 with Ryan and Colin. They have long since left for new adventures. Leg 1 got me to Panama City. Colin and Ryan both deserve standing ovations for their contributions to the effort.

The gear is expensive, the lifestyle isn’t. Theft is now built into the budget, and when it happens again I’ll try to be philosophical about it.

Leg 2 began 5 days ago when I returned to Barraveigh after 2 months traveling to Europe and the States. My English girlfriend Suzi turned in her police badge a few days ago and will be joining me on the 24th. Together we will provision Barraveigh and sail to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and then make the long crossing to French Polynesia. That could mean 30 days without even seeing land. We’ll end the year either in New Zealand or Australia. How’s that for a reality show!

Stay tuned.

Captain Bobby