Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Nuigini

We've just left our first port of call in the exotic sounding nation of Papua New Guinea. This might be where it starts to turn weird. These people are the blackest on the planet. When I was in Fiji I met some Indians who were actually darker than the Fijians but these people aren't even a skin tone. They're black like plastic. Black like a black hole. They suck light. There is zero brown in their pigment. No whites have infiltrated this blood line.

Buka is the little island that sits on top of Bougainville. It seems like it has potential. We spent 1 night and 2 days there and most of that time was spent doing paperwork with the port authority, changing oil and filters, and refueling Barraveigh. I didn't get to see much but I can report that the money is the prettiest I've seen and that during their civil war over gold, they killed somewhere between 20,000 - 50,000 of their own people. That's a huge number for a little island.

We anchored in Ramun Bay and were quickly warned to move in closer to the city. It seems the "rascals" are still armed from the war and like to get drunk and swarm. We moved immediately. I slept in the cockpit and Emelia ran an all night watch between their 4 on board. It wasn't my first choice in anchorages since we were in a tight channel where the currents ran at 5+ knots. You should have seen me trying to scrub the bottom. Almost impossible. But there were no incidents and we got away unscathed.

Random Update:

Suzi has perfected making rondele cheese from homemade yogurt. How cool is that? She makes yogurt from an Easiyo cylinder the beautiful Belinda Smith gave me years ago, then she "grafts", or "clones" the store bought stuff to keep the strain going with an adjunct of water and powdered milk, then from that she does some other stuff I don't understand involving a mozzy net as a cheese cloth, adds herbs, and voila - fantastic spreadable cheese!

This next invention of hers is even better: Taking a clue from Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail single handed around the world over 100 years ago, she bought a thin plastic place mat and glued thumbtacks thru it. At night we roll it out as a tortuous welcome mat for any "rascals" who want to come aboard.

Did you know she sews & paints our courtesy flags? Yep - she did Vanuatu, The Solomons and the PNG flag that we raised today. And she's not at all stuck up.

Do you realize that we eat only organic food? That's not because the locals go to the extra expense, or because we give a flip - It's because the 3rd world can't afford pesticides. The stuff we buy in the market is all grown in peoples back yards. Good stuff!

Melanesia will always remind me of the smell of toasting copra. If you don't know what I'm talking about then go to Wikipedia and check it out. It's sweet, and perfumed and everywhere.

3rd World - why can't they give directions? They never know the street name and they can't tell you if it's the 1st left or the 3rd left, only that it's left. Why?

Restaurants you'll never find: Panamanian, Costa Rican, Scandinavian, or Melanesian. This food is so despicable (except kokoda) that no one could ever patronize these cuisines except their own people.

We're motoring west at under 4 knots. We just paid over $9 per gallon for diesel and there is zero wind. If I sound like a crabby bastard then I blame it on the fuel price and the fact that under these conditions the trip to Kavieng is going to be extremely expensive. It's 330 miles away and it's supposedly a surf and dive mecca. We shall see. Suzi's pizza is almost ready, gotta go.

Captain Diesel

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Northern Route

You might find it interesting to know that for this 3rd leg of Barraveigh's circumnavigation, we've chosen the path less traveled. Most of the sailboats who pass through the South Pac sail through the Torres Straight, Oz and then travel directly on to Indo (This might be a good time to consult a map). They'll miss Vanuatu, The Solomons, and PNG. This northern route is seldom taken by the cruising community. So far - that's been very rewarding for us, in the sense that these anchorages aren't over run like some of the island nations we've visited prior. I'm sure it will have a lonely side to the equation in the future though. One thing that we've done to offset that, and to add to security is to "Buddy Boat". Emelia is a 48 foot C&C with 4 onboard - Gene & Jennifer, and their 2 sons Ryan and Evan. Ryan can hold his breath even longer than I, and Evan beats me at accents. They are fellow Americans whom we met a year ago in Tonga. This should be a good partnering. We leave today for PNG.

And why do the majority of the boats take the southern route? We believe it's because of the rumor mill and the scare factor tactics that run rampant amidst the cruiser circle and the landlubbers. Let's face it, this is a research vessel. I do my own studies thank you. You heard something second hand? Fine - I'll go there myself and find out first hand. The expensive agent needed for the Galapagos was completely unnecessary. The bank breaking bond in French Polynesia; I avoided it. The notorious NZ customs officials were no problem at all. Fiji was supposed to be unsafe due to the coup - total rubbish. Problems are possible, and on a long enough time line, absolutely unavoidable, but we've found that your experience is often based on your ability to make a personal connection (or not). The only experience that counts is your own. Take all you hear with a pinch of salt. It's all about unlearning preconceptions.

Dispelling preconceptions: There are things that we except as maxims, that upon closer inspection, turn out to be utter fallacies. For example: "Neil Pert is the world's best drummer", or, "It's not gay for cyclists to shave their legs", that's crap! After spending a year in Central America I've now crossed the Pac, and when I faced these islanders I was expecting them to have their hand out like they did all over CA. That pamplemousse came with no strings attached. It was a gift. They have a gift society in this part of the world. It was my assumption (my preconception) which tainted the intro and thus the relationship. I've since learned better.

Hire me to speak at your children's school. I will bring my own soap box.

We are at an amazing anchorage. We're nestled between 2 islands; Mono & Sterling. This was a strong point for the Allies during the war and Frank showed us the Avenger aircraft that the jungle has reclaimed. He also took us to the airstrip and pointed out that the runway is still in use after 65 years and that the roads in Honiara are falling apart after the first hard rain. He loves American quality. Wilson is the local lobsterman. Anyone who has an underwater torch can be a lobsterman. There are usually a couple per village. For $2.15US huge, monster lobsters are delivered to your boat. God those were delicious.

Here's a new sport - Skurfing. It seems to happen whenever cruisers have the following ingredients: a 15 hp dinghy, a surfboard, and a flat anchorage. It's waterskiing on a surfboard, and it's the sport of the frustrated surf enabled sailor who can't find a wave.

Then we shoot the pikininis with water cannons and stage mock marine battles. After, I teach them nonsense words as greetings and make them repeat them endlessly for sweets. They seem to love it. I've always wanted to raise my own army. This would be the place.

Wayne D Gray is a man who works in the bicycle industry, and he's increased my life quality immensely. The dinghy still leaks water, in fact, I believe I've probably pumped ½ of the Pacific by now, but it doesn't leak air anymore. He sent me 64 oz. of Slime. This is the green mucous product that you put in your inner tubes to seal a puncture. It works well on massive tubes also. First I measured the run rate: I dribbled it down a vertical board as a test and timed how fast (or slow) it moved. Then I measured the distance to the internal leak, squirted it in, pulled it up vertically using the halyard, and started my stopwatch. I then laid it horizontal again when the timer told me it was at about the spot I needed it. Everything I just described took place back in Fiji. We had some air escaping recently, but I executed my trick again and she's as tight as a drum. It's a little victory, but it greatly affects our daily lives. Some day soon - I'm gonna get that water leak, and then the "kiddie pool" jokes will be over. Thank you Wayne D Gray!

Capt Bob

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

No One Here Gets to Leave Guadalcanal

I can get to sleep if I slam another beer. This fiberglass dust gets everywhere and the drink is the only thing that quells the itching.

I broke the windlass off its footing while trying to pull up a stuck anchor in 90 feet of water. I was probably over confidant in the footing's ability to withstand the forces applied to it since I'd had the whole thing rebuilt in Fiji. Sabotage. It was truly sabotage. Nothing short of sabotage. The man who did the work made a mistake, and my mistake was in not watching him correct his. He took a massive shortcut and now I'm back in Honiara, the capital of Guadalcanal, Solomon islands, grinding fiberglass and drinking too much. I was supposed to be breaking the Indo border at the first of this month but mechanical mishaps have conspired against me. Now I'll be lucky to get into Indo before mid Oct. Good thing none of this matters and the only reason I exist is to churn up further challenges and then begrudgingly tackle them. This voyage is just an enormous Outward Bound. Have I used that reference before? See - drinking and scratching makes for lousy literature. I promise not to send this email.

Random notes on The Solomon Islands:

1. Men hold hands. They're not gay, just friends. Nixon, the wood carver, tried to hold mine. Awkward. Try to imagine him repeatedly trying to take my hand.
2. Nixon, Kennedy, and my favorite; Aldrin (named after Buzz Aldrin) - they are so enamored with America that you'll find familiar names everywhere
3. Great pidjin expression: "Hem now" - It means "That's it! I'm in full agreement"
4. There are a lot of blonde pikininis. Seriously, some are blonder than Suzi. How does that happen? Is there a geneticist amongst you who can explain this to me?
5. There are very few sailboats up here.
6. The people from the island of Malaita scratch designs into the faces of their children. The scars last their whole lives. You should see some of these people. SCARY
7. This nation had the most notorious headhunters.
8. There may be reason to believe that cannibalism is still practiced on the out islands.
9. The hourly wage for unskilled labor is 60 cents US
10. The hourly wage for a gifted mechanic is $1.40 US

Suzi says she has a great gift for any cruiser - It's called "An Abracadabra Stick". It's a magic wand that fixes all the things that break on your boat. When others complain about their broken systems, we just say,
"Not me cuz I've got this."
"What's that?"
"It's my abracadabra stick! Costs only $39.95"

Suzi was the smart one. She took some local Australian friends up on their offer to stay the night at their place. Super nice people. Jeez, we've been here so many times and for so long that we have friends who offer beds. That's kinda sad.

I'm gonna eat another helping of Vietnamese soup that Suzi left on the stove and open another beer. It'll be a late start tomorrow.

Oh, I'm not bitter. The lessons learned are worth the struggle. I'm slowly becoming a structural engineer without ever taking a university course on the subject. It's a cheap way to earn a valuable degree, if one doesn't count his time and all the clothes he's ruined.

Big cheesy smiles,

Captain Bob

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

War Hero, Tranny, Theft, and A Grounding

His name is Theron MacKay and he's 84 years old. I met him a couple weeks ago on the 65th anniversary of the US invasion of Guadalcanal. His boat was torpedoed and destroyed. Of the 85 crew, only he and 4 others survived. Another 100+ marines died as well. He swam to the bow of the ship which was still floating and climbed up to the deck. The fuel and water on his vessel were nearly depleted and those watertight compartments are what kept the bow from sinking. 36 hours later he was rescued. He almost lost his foot but after healing up was put back into action. Here's the kicker - the bow that saved his life is just across Iron Bottom Sound resting on a beach. After he was rescued they towed it to land and it served as a post office for years. Now's it's too old and rusty, but Theron comes back every year to lay a wreath on it. He's old and rusty too. They just don't make 'em like Theron anymore.
Dave McGinn is an enigma. He taught a class at ASU on how to party, and continued teaching that class at community colleges all over OC. Then he got married and had a kid, but stayed a true friend who always had time for me. 3 weeks ago, I needed help finding the replacement seal for my leaking transmission and he searched the web, made the calls, sent me the PDF file and identified the exact piece I needed. And yes, he has a full time job. My mechanic/good friend Paul Francis Panai put it all back together and the leak is gone. Dave McGinn - one of many back home who has helped. Thank you Dave McGinn! Barraveigh is mobile again.
Chris Miller, Fiona Hart, and my dear sweet mother deserve heaping bowls of thanks as well.

We left Honiara the day after the transmission was fixed and sailed across Iron Bottom Sound in strong winds to make a deep anchorage in Sand Fly Passage next to our friends Katouska, and Emelia. The wind never let up and the locals were a bit of a pest problem. The saying is, "I got canoed". They paddle out and won't leave. They want gifts or to trade and we've got season 2 of "24" to watch. How very rude.
Then we met John Ruka. He only gives. The 2nd time we met him he gave us a papaya, a giant mud crab, sweet potatoes & 4 hands of bananas. We told him of another man named John Piluka who, for $6 per head will feed us and give us a trad dance with pan pipe players. Ruka hates Piluka and matched his offer for free. The next day, all 3 boats pulled anchor and moved over to Roderick Bay. There were 10 of us, and upon arrival on the beach we were corralled into a staging area and then when everyone was assembled moved through a flowered arch, decorated with a fresh lei of flowers, given a drinking coconut (complete with bamboo straw and hibiscus flowers adorning the shell), and ushered to a bench from which we were about to watch the most astounding performance.
They have 2 instruments that the boys play. 1 is a handheld panpipe made of bamboo. They vary in size and produce thick & meaty high and low notes. The other instrument is very similar but much larger and made of pvc pipe & mounted in a stationary frame. They play these tubes by striking the open tops of them with flip flops. They play really fast and the music is unlike anything I've heard before. The Blue Man Group must have visited The Solomon Islands.

Then there are the dancers. They are all young girls with dried grass skirts and woven pandanus bras. It's quite a contrast from the boys who wear a loin cloth with teased stringy tree bark on their heads to make their hair look like long dreads. (I think all of the people in this country encourage each other to go nuts with their afros. I've seen more creative hairstyle's here than on any Snoop Dog video.)
The leader of the performers explained the dances to me: "This dance tells how we clear the ground for the garden." "Here they show how funny it is to see soldiers salute." "This one, it shows, how your wantoks (literal: "those who talk the same", i.e. - your countrymen) open beer bottles and get drunk." Obviously these dances had been past down for generations. The war influence is everywhere in The Solomons.
All 3 boats had prepared a meal and brought it ashore with us. John Ruka announced that we would be swapping. We ate native starch and they ate our protein. Katouska got the short end of the stick on that trade since they brought fresh sashimi, ceviche, and the same wonderfully seasoned fish they grilled for us on the beach a couple nights before. One of the natives popped the whole wad of wasabi in his mouth thinking he had scored a green sweet. Their starch wasn't so bad, and the plates were exquisite.
Gene from Emelia is a fantastic guitarist who has written many country songs for the big names. If you're a fan of C&W then you might know some of his work. He played for us all, and it was a great way to reciprocate and end the evening. We said our goodbyes and motored back to Barraveigh. After drinking wine in the cockpit and ruminating over what a remarkable evening we had experienced, we headed off to bed, and stupid Bob left the camera in the cockpit.
At 2:00 am Suzi and I awoke to the first unnatural noise. When you live on a boat you are on guard even when you sleep. The sound of approaching rain means we must close the hatches. Wind screeching in the rigging means we need to be aware of dragging. Now there is a 3rd fear, boarding by thieves. When we heard the 2nd noise we got up immediately. I got to the cockpit first only to hear a splash as the culprit dove over. I did see his accomplice paddling away with all his strength. "Get the spotlight" I yelled, along with every expletive I could direct at the thief. Suzi did everything correctly; she made an announcement to the other boats on the radio, brought up the light and dropped the dinghy while I burned that 1 million candle power torch into his back. Our friends on Katouska sprang to action and put their spotlight on him while I jumped in the dinghy in hot pursuit. I went to Katouska and Eric came aboard with the biggest death knife you've ever seen. We raced to the mangrove where he had ditched the canoe. Our shoes and clothes pins were inside. Proof positive that we had the correct canoe. He was long gone but we had his most valuable possession. I dropped Eric off, towed the canoe back to Barraveigh and Suzi and I hoisted it onto the deck. Let it be a visible lesson to all future thieves - you will lose more than you can gain.
We were so excited with the flush of adrenaline that sleep didn't come easy. We had recovered all our belongings and confiscated the crook's canoe. We declared total victory.
Until the next morning when we discovered the camera was missing and that the canoe had been stolen from our friend John Ruka's brother. Total victory sunk into total defeat.
Then began the 2 day process of negotiating with the chiefs. When that bore no fruit, we pulled out the big gun; get the priest involved. Emelia raced over to a neighboring island in their fast dinghy and brought back Father Ishmael. The camera was returned and the boats in the anchorage were declared "Tabu". John Ruka put his sons in canoes every night and patrolled just in case. It was a stressful situation but it gave us an insight into how their culture works that we would have never been privy to before.
This is the picture the culprit accidentally took of his big toe
Despite the theft, we like it here so much, and have been treated so well, that Barraveigh, Emelia, Katouska, and Luna helped put in 2 moorings for Ruka, so he could attract more yachts. It was a lot of work but very rewarding. We planned to leave today, so last night John Ruka repeated the same dancing/dining extravaganza as a going away present. While onshore enjoying the festivities an intense squall charged in. We were warming ourselves by a fire when I heard the excited chatter of a frantic girl talking to one of the men we had made friends with. He looked at me and I could see it in his eyes. "What's wrong?" He turned back to the girl and she repeated her speech. He looked back at me and said, "Maybe one of the yachts is on the reef." The worst words a skipper can hear. I raced back to the crowd and made the announcement. All of us stormed the beach in the 25 knot winds and pouring rains. Once off the beach we could see it was Katouska who had dragged onto the reef. It was pitch black but their anchor light was almost on the beach. I put Suzi on Barraveigh with instructions should our anchor dislodge, and raced over to help. It was a huge effort that everyone put their backs into, but we finally pulled her free and they were able to drive her into deeper water. They had to dump their anchor in the process. It was great fortune that we had just finished the moorings earlier in the day. We guided them to it and they were safe once more. Lots of deep gouges, but no holes, and the rudder is intact.

Maybe Roderick Bay should be renamed Drama Bay.
Bobby