Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dec 1 2005 - Dec 1 2008

I had lost one of my Birkenstocks on the shore of the Red Sea. It was 1991. My only other footwear was a pair of hiking boots that were too big. I had to wear 2 pairs of socks to make them fit and it was 118 degrees in the shade. That and the fact that I was sleeping on roof tops, eating food off discarded plates, and living on credit card cash advances signaled the rapidly approaching end of my trip. It had taken me under a year to travel from Portugal to Egypt and 30 days later I was back in Tel Aviv being strip searched before my flight home, and though that adventure was over, I see it now as the training for this voyage. As of today, I've been living on the sea for 3 years.
How long can I stay gone?
3 years at sea. It seems impossible. Since I left California and crossed into Mexican waters, I've sailed to 15 countries and hundreds of islands. I've crossed the largest expanse of water on the planet. I've seen the best and the worst that nature can offer. I've exhausted every superlative I could conjure when confronted with the splendor of the world. I've spewed every expletive I could spit when I was shit scared in the middle of the night, beyond exhaustion with systems continuing to break and wind and seas building. I tell myself its all good training. That I'm building a resume, or a book, or at least stories for the bar stool.
We are exhausted. It's been 12 days now on the move. 5 days ago we stopped in Wangi Wangi for a much needed rest. The water was too deep to anchor so we had to tie to the concrete dock. We were up all night fending off. Concrete eats plastic boats real fast. The engine blew an oil cap and I spent the hours from 3 - 5 am cleaning the bilge and looking for the cap. The next night we tied to a big fishing boat and a squall came in. We hand to leave at 1 am when we started bashing into the boat. It broke my secondary outboard. We drove around in circles for 5 hours waiting for the seas to calm so we could tie up again and get the diesel and all the engine maintenance done. 9 hours of sleep in 3 days. As a final, "Thank you sir, may I have another", a very large ferry boat bounced off my port side as he rushed to get to the dock. No damage, just another layer to our perfect nightmare cake. Now it's 5 days later. It's very hard to recover from your sleep starved state when you can only doze for 3 hours at a time.
On Nov 19th while sailing on the north side of the island of Buru, a fast boat with 2 men in it circled us, stopped and stared, raced to catch up with Emelia (the sailboat we were in company with. They've since had total battery failure and are heading directly to Bali), raced back to us, and then moved a short way off and waited. They may have just been curious fisherman, but I saw no fish, no smiles, no waves. It didn't feel right and it looked very suspicious. I notified a group of friends back in the US and asked them to stand by in case we didn't make contact in 10 hours. What great friends I have. These guys rallied the consulate, got a US Navy Admiral involved, and even learned a few words of Bahasa just in case. Happily, it was a very anticlimactic story. Nothing happened, unless you count the rise in the level of respect I have for my "Ground Crew" back home.
I had a very low point in Costa Rica after my brother, mother, crew, and this new girl I'd met named Suzi left me. Couple that with the depression of the rainy season and it was almost too much. I wanted to quit. I'm there, in that horrible place again; this realm in which your dream turns into a nightmare. Be careful what you wish for. My reserves are running dangerously low on stamina, optimism, money, and frankly - courage. Sometimes I feel like I have absolutely lost my nerve. If Bali is the half way mark for my circumnavigation, how in the hell am I ever going to make the other half happen? The low is no longer a depression on a weather map. It's real and it lives inside me and I can't seem to shake it.
I do have a few comforting facts that I suck on when I need a mental lozenge:
1.) Its only 360 miles to Bali. I will make it damn it.
2.) My brother is coming for 3 weeks and that has huge healing potential
3.) 3 months in a marina with a/c can heal a lot of saddle sores
4.) In those 3 months, I'll get this boat back to ship shape. That's the crux for mental security
I can't say that today, the 3rd anniversary of my departure, is much of a celebration. I'm sorry if this wasn't the fanfare email you hoped for. It's been hard, and I'm drained. I can say that I've proven to be resilient in the past and my mom thinks I'm "formidable". Bob Sullivan was my freshman philosophy professor, and his often quoted phrase was, "It's important to learn to suffer well". I'm learning. He also said, "If it's good to be alive, it's better to be more alive". Maybe I'm building more than a resume.
I think I just saw my Birkenstock float by,
Capt Bob









Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We've Crossed the Entire Pacific

The Pacific Ocean covers 50% of the surface area of the entire globe. We entered the Sagewin Straight at 11:00 on the 15th of Nov. We'd timed the currents correctly and the flow pushed us along at 10.4 knots. At 13:48 on the 15th of Nov we'd exited the Pacific Ocean. From Panama City to Sorong, Indonesia, Suzi & I had crossed the largest ocean on the planet. We'd sailed more than 10,000 miles. Add to that the 4,000 miles of Pacific sailing from SD to Panama I'd done before she climbed aboard, and you can see that this boat and her passengers have put a lot of blue Pacific miles under this keel. In fact, as far as oceans go, I've really only known the Pacific. Now we are in the Indian Ocean, and things are a little different. More islands, more currents, no cyclones - but monsoons that baffle the hell out of me. I thought it felt exotic when we got to the South Pacific Islands; now we're in Asia.

"No one speaks English, and everything's broken". - Tom Waits

Sounds like hell huh? There is a cost to putting so many miles on this boat; it's disintegrating beneath our feet. The engine drools so much oil that I have to shut it down every 8 hours and add 2 "glugs". That's scientific right? The rudder and keel leak, the rig just won't tune correctly, and 2 weeks ago in the middle of a 350 mile passage the bilge started filling with water. I found where it was coming from - the anti siphon hose. Why would that be squirting water? I shut the engine down, pulled out every diesel book I have, and started speed reading as the sun went down on a bobbing Barraveigh with no wind to fill the flogging sails. (I ended up rerouted the hose to lead thru a hatch in the aft cabin, and then down the cockpit floor and out the scupper. I later fixed it by cleaning the valve. It works correctly again). A week ago the compressor on the fridge died. It's been reduced to a mere ice box. It's hard to find ice in the tropical 3rd world. Gone are the glorious meals Suzi would pull from that fridge. Gone are the cold drinks. We are becoming the 3rd world.

We'll make it to Bali. I'm sure I can coax another 1200 miles out of this old boat. Once there, we'll fix everything and head off again, but man am I sick of feeling vulnerable. The check list and the problem spots on the boat seem to increase each week. I remember when sailing used to be relaxing. Now, it's no fun at all. The thought of going to sea has become a constant worry in the pit of my stomach. This is a low point. I acknowledge that. I'll pull myself back to optimism, but you should know that this isn't an easy life. It's worth the struggles, but it's not an easy life. I long for a time when my only concerns were mowing the lawn, and driving to Quikilube for an oil change.

Oh the foods I've eaten: Mirone is a pancake with 40-50 whole anchovies fried into it. I could only eat ½. I'd satisfied my salt quotient for the day & just prior I had eaten a squid ball. It took me 20 minutes of chewing and my jaw was finished. When it's a meat dish I ask, "What sound does the animal make?" They are embarrassed to bark, so instead, they mime a dog in repose. The gesture is the best part, cuz dog, to me, tastes too strong to enjoy. At least you aren't stepping in dog crap on the streets; no strays. They serve cow brain, hoof, and fried skin, among 100 other dishes. The other dishes are delicious, and remember - it's really inexpensive.

Toast us for crossing the Pac, and wish us luck in reaching Bali,

Capt Bob

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

I prefer not to have my cultural experiences before the roosters crow, but because the Christian missionaries failed so horribly in this part of the world, Indonesia is a Muslim country (fact: there are more Muslims in Indo then any other country). That means the prayer towers erupt with blaring loudspeakers and the warbled chant of the faithful an hour before the sun rises. We've spent the last month in tiny villages, and to now arrive in a city of 2 million with neon signs and endless honking traffic is quite a shock to the system. Cigarettes, open sewers & diesel; these are the smells of an over populated 3rd world city. We traveled west to reach the east. Usually there isn't any culture shock on a sailboat. Our mode of travel is quite slow. It's the opposite of airline travel, which is closer to time travel in my mind. We have plenty of time to prepare. A smudge in the distance becomes an outline on the horizon, and then it's "land ho!" with many more hours to go until we confront it, and truth be told, usually the differences between the islands aren't that different, but traveling the 35 miles from Vanimo in PNG to Jayapura in Indonesia - that was a dramatic cultural face slap. I'm ready to love it, but a clue to those in Polynesia or Melanesia - don't rush it.

Let me tell you about the toilets: An open hole, a water tap with bucket beneath, and a scoop floating in the bucket. Nothing else. You tell me - how in the world could this be hygienic? My dad taught us not to even touch the tap without a paper towel in our hands. I have a high tolerance for filth but this is ridiculous. It was exactly the same in the Middle East. I've been warned about the left hand. Think about how many times your left hand touches your right hand throughout the day. I fixate on this every time I'm forced through good manners to shake some ones hand. I love the food, but I cringe thinking about the food handlers. However, I haven't been sick yet.

Hollandia Bay in Jayapura is deep. Not too deep for a wee sailboat, but close. Emelia and Barraveigh drove around in circles, mapping the bottom with our sonar to find an acceptable place to anchor. We nosed close to the polisi boat and from the deck, our new best friend Surispan, told us to pick up the mooring a short distance away. We call him Pan, and he's the greatest guy. He instantly became our tour guide and walked us all over the place. Anything we wanted he helped with; diesel, water, and all the officialdom and paperwork that we had to hurtle, he helped to lubricate. It took 12 hours to check in and out. That's a new low.

Apparently throwing rocks is how the locals get your attention. That's a bad habit. Suzi exacerbated it by hanging the laundry in her shirt & panties. That's a bad habit too. Apparently her luxurious bottom threatens these small people. That, and the fact that she broke a major cultural no-no in an Islamic country had us fighting with each other the rest of the day. She will now appropriately contain her lower unit, since, left to run free, it would try to dominate the globe.

We left Jayapura and began the 350 miles to Biak; an island above an island. It was a fine passage except for 8 hours right in the middle when we had 27 - 30 knots on the nose. The seas built up to 8 feet in no time and we were crashing straight into them. Our speed dropped to 2.7. I cursed the sea. We'll never get there. 2 hours later our speed was further diminished to 1.6. I longed for the fast numbers of 2.7. It's all relative, and nothing lasts forever. I sat in that cockpit for 10 hours in soaking wet foulies until it died down enough to go below for much needed sleep. Suzi was extra kind to me the whole next day.

Biak was nothing more than a pit stop. Just a resting spot before we finish this northern leg over the top of what used to be called Irian Jaya (today it's called Papua). We are in a hustle to beat the changing of the monsoons. (As I write this, we are 250 miles from Sorong, which is the safe landfall where we'll make our turn, and begin a southerly course. I think we'll beat the monsoons but yesterday we got clobbered again for 4 hours).

In Biak the first man I met was the Harbor Master's assistant, Rudy, who might even be kinder than Pan. The first thing he did was drive me to his house on the back of his scooter for cookies and Coke. I have the 2nd degree burn from his exhaust pipe to remember him by. Suzi says it's the badge of SE Asia. Then he took me to the copy center (they love paperwork and copies of paperwork really tickle them). Next, he drove me to all the offices I needed to go to for clearance and he served as my translator. He even saved me $5 when I found myself on the wrong end of a green seaman's booklet in front of the corrupt quarantine officer. "No problem. It canceled now. I cancel it for you." Then he drove me to the only tourist attraction, the Japanese cave that the Americans bombed during the war. Very interesting. We climbed down into it and then went to the museum across the street. I showed interest in the dog tags, he said a few words and out comes one that wasn't accounted for. I bought it for the equivalent of $15. "Corupsi" is everywhere.

Dave McGinn is my Stateside research director. Dave - please let me know if you can find out what happened to Bernard Feirstein from 172 E 4th St NY, NY. His father's name was William. I think the heaviest fighting was in '43 and '44. It might be a touching story if you let any survivors know that I have, and would be happy to return his dog tag. It's in great shape. Maybe he survived and merely lost it.

If he uncovers anything I'll share it with the rest of you. Please don't send me emails on this topic. This service is slow enough. Let's leave it to Dave.

After the WW2 museum, we stopped at a roadside cart and Rudy bought me lunch. He refused to take any money, even for the tank of gas he burned. Can you imagine that happening with a bureaucrat back home? Rudy and Pan have made up for all the "corupsi" I will ever encounter. These people are the best.

I have a mobile phone that I bought in Fiji. I activated it here. It cost only $1.50 and the rate is 18 cents per hour to talk. Not per minute, per hour. Does that give you an idea about how cheap it is here? I love it. Let's add it up - Jayapura & Biak: the bay is a cesspool, with plastic and garbage floating everywhere, the city is over run and filthy, but the people are excellent, everything is incredibly cheap, and the food is finally amazing. Death to taro!

Why speculate in the currency market? I know a better one in which you can never lose: Cigarettes. Buy them cheap in the cities; trade them for tons of good stuff in the islands. Yesterday Suzi was sitting in the cockpit sewing the Singapore flag. We were 16 miles off land. I was below. "Bobby! Bobby! Come quick! There are men here!" She was totally nude and a fishing boat with 2 men were yards away. With our engine running they can sneak up undetected if the person on watch is preoccupied (ahem Suzi darling). I jumped topside ready to do battle. The pirate warnings had come true. Nah, just some Indos wanting to trade. I hung 2 fenders and we swapped tuna for cigs.

My new vocab - Bahasa is the language of Indo, and it seems easy. I think I can learn it. I'm making flash cards.
Aman = Safe
Pangkalen = Wharf
Karang = Reef
Bahaya = Dangerous
But my favorite is Air = Water. It looks like some dreamtime equation of illogic, and yet sounds spiritual in a convoluted way. I've been in Asia only 2 weeks, but I've declared myself a Zen Master, as I repeat it to anyone who will listen.

Next Dispatch: "We've Crossed the Entire Pacific!"

Your Captain,

Bob Friedman