Monday, June 16, 2008

The Volcano

There are few things I've experienced that have absolutely taken my breath away. Standing at the rim of an active volcano and peering over the lip (that could collapse at any time) was beyond awe inspiring. We could see the molten red lava slosh upward, and hear it pound on the rocks around it, sounding just like waves crashing on a beach. Deliciously terrifying. That immense gaping maw with the white smoke that bellowed out and temporarily obscured the far rim made it seem otherworldly, verging on the brink of evil. I heard my lips push out a sound like I was punched in the stomach. That is literally what they mean when they say, "It took my breath away." "Wow", and "Oh my god" were the only words I heard anyone repeat for the next few minutes. Our native guides stood close by, I imagine they were prepared to grab us if we fainted. 5 billion years old and the core is still molten rock. Being this close to it reminds one of just how thin the mantle we stand upon truly is. There is something within the human psyche that craves fear. It's why amusement parks and ski resorts can charge $100 for a day pass. The ocean does it to me regularly and now the earth itself has shocked me into seeing how small and finite I am. It's a beautifully humbling experience. My suggestion to you: Seek it out.

Before I left on this trip, I, and the world famous "Monkey Brothers", climbed the highest peak in the 48 lower States; Mt. Whitney in CA. It was a 3 day exercise in suffering. This climb was 11 hours of the same. For the last 3 hours of down climbing I was in excruciating pain and last night Suzi moaned in agony at regular intervals. Today we are hobbled, yet proud and enriched. Tomorrow we'll be fine, and we'll sail to the island of Pentecost where the natives perform a ritual we call, "Land Diving." You've seen pictures on "Ripley's Believe It Or Not". This is where they tie vines to their ankles and jump off enormous towers of scaffolding to crash into the softened earth below.


What an amazing window on the world this cruise has been.


Bob


P.S./ I was asked a question about my last dispatch. I apologize if my response is boring and technical. It's attached below if you are interested.


VMG - It stands for velocity made good. SOG is speed over ground. VMG computes the speed I am making relative to my target waypoint. SOG is merely the speed the satellites are tracking me at.


Example - My target waypoint is 100 nm due north. If I was sailing at exactly 360 degrees and SOG was 5.0 knots then my VMG would also be 5.0 knots. However, if I crack off 20 degrees for comfort and my speed stays the same my VMG will no doubt drop. In other words: I might still be moving at 5.0 knots, but I'm not moving in exactly the correct direction at 5.0 knots, so my VMG is less than my SOG (the computer has a program for computing this). Flip side of the coin: If I crack off 20 degrees to increase speed it's possible that as my SOG increases to, let's say 8.0 knots, my VMG might actually rise above the 5.0 knots I was doing even though I'm 20 degrees off course. This later point is less probable the closer to the target I am.


Hope that helps.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Havannah Harbor

We moved around Pango Point in 35 knots of wind. I don't think we'll ever get another easy sail. The trades are mighty this year. We were in the process of anchoring when a local named "Bill" zipped over in his launch and told us to use the big gray mooring. "Boss man catamaran is outawata. It wan bigfala. You live there plenty ok." We did as we were told. The next day our new best friend Nelson paddled over in his handmade dugout canoe. With the exception of a few nails it was made of all natural materials, nightmare to paddle though. I traded him a paint brush for a bag of lemons and I threw in the mineral spirits for free. He lives on 1 island and farms his plot on another, so he crisscrosses this channel everyday. This is Havannah Harbor. It's where the US parked its huge battle wagons during WW2. His grandfather remembers the war and has told Nelson good things about the Americans. Nelson showed us where the TV show "Survivor" held their "Tribal Council Meetings". He didn't quite understand the rules of the game show with its 2 tribes and contestants competing to be the last person thrown off the island. It sounded goofy as hell to a native, but he agreed with his grandfather that the Americans are good and generous people. It's nice to come to a place where people finally like us!!! He came back later after collecting veggies and stayed to eat the lemon cake Suzi had made. It became clear after a while that he wasn't going to be leaving anytime soon, so we set him up with his local newspaper in the cockpit, topped him off with refreshments, and as he read out loud, we went back to completing our chores. He finished the paper and then wandered around checking on us. It was really quaint how comfy everyone was with each other. We kayaked to shore and then snorkeled off the reef. All the while, he paddled his outrigger next to us making sure we were alright and that all our questions were answered. When you make a friend in the SPac, you really make a friend. I knew this from my months in Fiji. I printed out a picture Suzi had taken of him and me earlier and gave it to him. Nelson Parro our first friend in Vanuatu.

That night we ran the generator and the ice machine. After shutting it off, we had cocktails, and watched a movie in the cockpit beneath a night sky of black velvet. The stars so bright you could almost hear them.

I bought $200 worth of duty free booze back in Port Vila. The customs officer came out to the boat and packed up the hootch. Then he put his royal stickers all over it. We can't open the box until we depart Vanuatu waters. There's the rub. I stare longingly at the box, knowing that, inside, the Southern Comfort 100 proof needs me too.

Port Vila is a city worth leaving. It's overwhelmingly ex-pat and full of the same old people I keep running into. The Au Bon Marche grocery store is rather amazing though. Where ever the French have ruled, they leave their 2 hour lunch breaks and excellent selection of cheese and meats behind. I don't pick on the French or power boaters any more. I like them both. And the open air market will blow your mind. The vendors come from all over Efate and even other islands. They set up on a Monday morning and stay 24 hours a day until it all sells or Sunday rolls around, whichever comes first. You can wake them up at midnight and buy a pamplemousse. They'll be sleeping on a mat next to their taro and husked coconuts. Fascinating how different lives can be.

I recruited a couple of Scandinavians and we went off in search of kava. I'd been told throughout my whole time in Fiji that the Vanuatu kava is a crippler. And it was. 3 bowls later the stupor was around my neck like an ascot. I felt flush and nearly nauseous. It was nothing over powering, or physically debilitating, but definitely stronger than the Fiji waka. A strong serenity was forced upon me. I'm aware those are contradictory terms. I would imagine, that taken to it's logical extreme, kava would end in a peaceful coma, or maybe a Parkinson's disease freeze out, in which you are imprisoned in your own body. . . but in a good way. I better try it again. I'll let you know. 2 things that were absolutely better and worse than drinking kava in Fiji: 1.) Better - You get your own bowl. 2.) Worse - the savages hawk and spit everywhere.

We're sailing comfortably in 1 foot swells making 4 knots in 9 knots of wind speed. Sure, we're 30 degrees off course but I can keep the sails full and our VMG is only a knot off of our SOG. We'll gibe at midnight. This is heaven. I guess we can still get lucky on passages. It's been 7 hours of these conditions, so I have every hope it will continue for the next 15 until we get there. We're headed to Ambrym in the northern islands. It's a double headed volcano. I'll bet it'll be something worth writing about.

Your man on point,

Bobby

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Ah . . . The New Hebrides

What are the New Hebrides? That's Vanuatu baby! This island chain was ruled by a succession of foreign governments. French, Brits, and then with WW2, the Americans came in and built real roads, deep water ports, and airstrips. That gave rise to one of the most interesting aspects of this exotic locale: The Cargo Cult.


Turns out the locals witnessed first hand the immense production capabilities of the mighty USofA. They watched as tons and tons of cargo arrived daily. Trucks drove out of airplanes and Coca-Cola was stacked in piles taller than the chiefs house. It was overwhelming for these primitive people. When the war ended and the Yanks packed up and left, the cargo dried up. They did the math, and reckoned that if they made wharfs and landing strips, and stood around like soldiers with fake wooden guns, then the cargo would come back. They're still waiting. When asked about the waiting period, one believer said, "How long have the Christians been waiting? It's only been 60 years for us."

2nd most interesting fact: They speak Bislama. That's pidgin English. There are only 200,000 Ni-Vanuatu (what the people are called) and they are very isolated from each other on their different islands and secluded villages. Hence, they speak a myriad of languages and can't understand each other. Somehow, English won out, and they adopted it as their national language, but not the English we speak. Check out these examples:

"Long God yumi stanap" - "In God we stand" You see this one everywhere. Money, buildings, everywhere
"Lukim yu afta, tata" - "See you later, goodbye"
"Tank yu tumas" - "Thank you very much"
"Wannem taim plen i fall down?" - "What time does the plane arrive?"
"Mi laikem" - "I like it"

And my personal favorites (remember, "blong" means "of". As in "belong"):
Eagle - bigfala brown pijin
Dawn - taim san i kamup
Unconscious - ded
Dead - ded finis
Spear gun - muskat blong solwata
Snorkel - paep blong pullem wind
Too fat - fatfat tumas
Too skinny - bonebone tumas
Womb - basket blong pikinini

Eve Mecham was the governor of Arizona and was impeached for many reasons, but one was that he referred to a little black kid as a cute pikinini. Here they say it all the time. Perfectly acceptable, and man are their pikininis cute.

See if you can figure these out:

Piano - i gat tith, sam i waet, sam i blak
Violin - yu scratchem belli i kri

They look like pygmy Fijians. They seem more reserved. No big "Bula!" upon meeting them. That's ok - their goofy pidgin English keeps me laughing nonstop.

We ended that damn passage early on the morning of the 5th. I was prepared to come into the bay in the dark since I didn't want to hold off and wait for the sun to come up. It seemed very straight forward but all of sudden there was a flashing red light right in front of us that wasn't on my charts. We stood off in 25 knot winds with boarding seas just powering into it for 2 long hours. Sometimes everything sucks and you just need it to end. We were spent, and 4 days of sleep deprivation makes you do stupid things. After we got the anchor down in the quarantine zone and passed inspection, I pushed the button on the throttle to disengage the tranny so I could rev the engine to pump up the amps that I would need to lift the anchor with the power sucking windlass. So stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. That goddamn button sticks and I know better, but again, my head was on overtime and all synaptic nerves were sleep and food starved. Stupid. We had to get towed to a mooring ball.

I fixed it all, and actually, it's better than ever. That button will never stick again. I changed all the fuel filters and mopped out all the water under the floorboards. Barraveigh is ready for the next slugfest. Do your worst yu freakin solwata!

Capt Bobby Bislama

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Barraveigh Travelogue - Fiji to Vanuatu

It's June 1st 2008, 11:50 am. At 09:00 we pulled up our anchor at Mana island. Creola escorted us through the pass, and we motored along the western side of Malolo with 20 knots on the nose the whole way. We're still inside the protective reef and the waves have us slowed to only 2.7 knots. It's going to take another 3 hours at this rate to get out of the Momi pass. Suzi is sleeping in the cockpit. It's the first time either of us has been to sea in 7 months. Ok - we've motored out to the Mamanuca islands but nothing outside of the protected waters, and even as protected as it is in here I think the poor girl is feeling it. Strange cuz she never gets seasick. I'm about to take the Fijian courtesy flag down from the spreader. It just feels wrong. I hate saying goodbye to this country and all the friends we made. It was tough waving goodbye to Creola for the last time. They're heading to the Marshall Islands instead. A little depression mixed with a little trepidation about returning to the big blue makes for a foul mood.

Back at the marina we had a little fish that made a home in the scupper tube. He stayed in there all the way to Mana island. We've tried everything to scare him out, but the deep water has him spooked. He's a reef fish, he isn't gonna make it out in the big ocean. He better get out now, or stay all the way until Port Resolution in Vanuatu, which is where we hope to make landfall in 4 - 5 days.

It's 2pm and we just cleared the Momi pass into deep water. We're double reefed in 20 knots of wind on the beam and making 7 knots of speed.

There's a fear that eats in my gut. It's that'll I'll spend so long in harbor that I'll forget how to sail. That I won't remember how to navigate. That I'll screw up and sink my boat. All these fears and landslides of confidence haunt me. You look at a map and you see an innocuous outline of the continents. I look at the same map and I see a chart of all the life threatening waters and reefs I have to navigate to complete this mad dream of mine. My god it's an enormous blue marble. The distances are so far and my boat is so small. It scares the hell out of me. Then I take a deep breath. I focus on how far I've come. I steel my nerves and I push myself back out into the unknown and cast my lot to the big salty. There's still a fear about what to do if the conditions quickly worsen but for now, at this moment, this feels pretty good. I let my tension ease. I'm out here again. I'm a sailor in command of my ship. Barraveigh seems to know what to do, and fortunately, it's coming back to me too. It's muscle memory. The body knows what line to grab, how to work the winch, when to cleat and clutch. We're going to be fine. It's going to be a fast wet ride though. The swells are rolling us over quite far.

It's 450 miles to Port Resolution.

June 3rd 10:30 am. I just changed course to head for Port Vila on the island of Efate instead of Port Resolution on the island of Tanna. After looking at the charts and the wx report, I've decided Res won't be a safe anchorage with these strong SE winds. Suzi is completely dejected. We now have 2 more nights of this and have added another 70 miles to the passage.

The gap in this travelogue is due to severe sea state. The first day out we thought about turning back. It was rough and Suzi was very sick. At this point we've reclaimed our sealegs. Let's just forget that June the 2nd ever took place. We're doing 6.8 knots in 20 knots of wind on the stern. The seas are 10 -12 feet and occasionally breaking. They look like monster puppies running around crashing into each other with the errant large guy trying to jump into the cockpit, and succeeding. We're running a course of 270, that's due west. We have 247 miles to go.

It's 9:00 am on the morning of the 4th. We are 103 miles from Port Vila. It's like living in a virtual sailboat simulator. No wait - this is all real. Nothing is broken but the boat is a mess. No ripped sails, no missing fuel jugs (almost), nor leaks, but we live in our foulies and everything is salt damp. Our appetites are just now starting to come back. We're having a greasy hair competition and I'm sporting a beard. The people at quarantine aren't going to enjoy our olfactory gifts I'm afraid.

And so we have begun Leg 3 of Barraveigh's circumnavigation. Here's the itinerary: The month of June in Vanuatu, the month of July in the Solomon Islands, the month of Aug in PNG, and entering Indo waters on the north side of Irian Jaya Sept 1. I think we'll do 3 months in Indo. That puts us in Bali near the end of Oct, and ending the year in Malaysia or Thailand depending on how much we like Malaysia. The plan now is to meander around those same waters for all of 2009, maybe even make it over to Cambodia and Vietnam.

One more bouncy night and we should be in port. Enjoy your stationary, stable existences because gravity isn't treating us kindly at the moment.

Capt Bob