Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thank You!

I have many appreciative emails to send. I whined like a little girl and rec'd a tsunami of emails from you; my friends, family, and supportive readers. Those emails that you sent to me in my time of despondency really lifted my mood. I was stirred. The support you sent was very touching. I thank you now and I will thank you again individually.
Then we arrived in Bali. There was a landslide of packages, letters, and large boxes stuffed with birthday wishes and good stuff from home. At a complete surprise to me, Suzi put you up to it, and you came thru in numbers even she couldn't have guessed. I was reduced to a wet eyed little girl again. I'm overwhelmed with gratitude. We've made it to the finish line of "Leg 3", and what a pat of the back you gave me. I am very indebted. I'll be sending the "thank you emails" to each of you as the sunspots and propagation afford (those are some of the limiting factors with Sailmail). What a force you've been behind me. I can't thank you enough. It's been hard, and I've questioned the dream. My resolve was waning, but you've renewed the fight within me. The statements you wrote, and the feelings you shared have re-floated my determination. I can do this. I will do this. The show must go on!
Update: Last Boat To Bali
We left Labuan Bajo and fought against headwinds and currents for 270 miles to an island paradise off the west coast of Lombok called Gili Air. The leeward side of the island has blue warm water, powdery white sand, and plenty of reef fish to stare at. Onshore you'll find raised platforms with comfy throw pillows and giant shade covers. Every structure is a perfect lounge. The food is beyond delicious and I never paid more than $3 for it. We played cards, read books and magazines, and drank dingin (cold) giant Bintangs for $2. The Gili Islands are magic. It was here that I celebrated my birthday. Suzi bought me a scuba dive and we had a wonderful time. Our new British friends bought us dinner and we left the next day, bright and early, for Bali.
We made it to the island of Bali but not the marina. The wx and the currents were too fierce and I was rightfully concerned about steering the doglegged final channel in the dark. We anchored in Amuk and awaited first light. The final 26 miles to Bali wasn't easy. I hugged the shore to avoid the strongest of the currents. A squall dropped out of the sky to insult us one last time and slowed our progress to 1.5 knots. Like an angry drunk, their rage never lasts long, and when the winds and visibility improved, we began our final approach past the beaches where I could see the surfers dropping into the big waves. We threaded the tight channel at slack tide and pulled straight into our slip here at Bali Marina; home for the next 3-4 months.
We've come almost 5,000 miles since we left Fiji on June 1 of this year. We've sailed half way around the world. "Leg 3" is now behind us, and the next chapter of our lives has begun. We're tied up to a dock, we each have cell phones, and yesterday we even rented a car. We've gone from wilderness to extreme convenience, literally over night.
You've thanked me for writing this dispatch in the past, and now I want to thank you for the things you've written to me. The connections we make in life are the bonds that keep us tethered to this spinning globe when we think all sanity is lost. I was on the brink, and you rescued me. We're all in this together.
Your fan,
Capt Bob

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

Friday, October 24, 2008

Goin to Indo

We left the paradise that was Alacrity in the Hermit Islands, and did the 250 miles to Vanimo on the mainland so fast that we shaved a whole day of our projected travel time. Favorable currents are heaven. Vanimo was our last stop in PNG. We left about an hour ago.

We didn't plan to stay long in Vanimo. It was just a needed stop to check out of this country, and to visit the Indo consulate for the last of our paperwork for the next country. Then I discovered surf.

The first 2 days it was just a little right hander a short dinghy drive from the anchorage. As soon as the pikininis on the beach saw Suzi drop me off from the dink, they all paddled out. You should have seen what they paddled. Scraps of wood no bigger than a carving board. Most had rough edges and others weren't even rounded. The oldest boy surfed a door. No kidding. A door. I asked one little boy why he didn't have a "board". "I do. It's there." He pointed to the sea floor and sure enough, lying on the reef was his piece of plywood. It didn't even float. He dove down to retrieve it when the wave came. Here's the part where I have to embarrass myself - they were all better than I! I've come to the conclusion that it takes little talent for a surfer to surf on a surf board. The talent is catching a wave and riding it on a square scrap of waterlogged plywood. Little Dui caught long rides on his plank of wood. He did his best gangsta stance with his knees unbent, arms crossed, and his bottom lip puffed out in a solemn pout. He's 6 and like most of the others, surfs completely naked. They spoke little English except, "You go, you go! No, you go". They weren't afraid, just overly generous. You won't find that in CA. There were 2 dangerous rocks that a non local would never be aware of. They know this, and on their own initiative posted a pikinini to stand on each one. They were dry from the knees up and took turns guarding me from danger. From their vantage point they could see the sets coming in better than I could. "Tripela" means big, and "Liklik" means small. I couldn't understand anything else except, "Chuck Norris" and "American Ninja". They weren't the best waves, they weren't the biggest waves, but the pure joy of surfing was better exemplified here, than anywhere I've ever been.

Then I found out where the big boys surf. The point on the other side of the bay is world class; left handers on the east side and right handers on the west, with a Japanese WW2 wreck lying on the reef, right in the middle. Quicksilver is holding an international tournament there next year. We took the bus and spent the afternoon. I stayed out there so long my shoulders were killing me the next day. I had no business going back, but of course I did. It hurts to type, but god it was good.

As we were leaving the locals gave us bags of fruit. "Come, enjoy our waves, and please, take some food with you." I've never met people better than the Melanesians. Please seek them out, and be kind to them. I'm saddened to leave this fantastic country, but this trip only seems to get better, so Indo - here we come!

Capt Bob

P.S. / Back in Guadalcanal (when we had internet) our buddy boaters; Emelia researched Jayapura, the city we are now heading to. They spotted a KFC in a pic of the city. It was confirmed for us in Vanimo - Jayapura has a KFC. O god I miss fast food. It's only a 35 mile sail. We'll be eating out of a bucket tonight.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Serene With The Knowledge That Paradise Still Exists

I was in Berlin just 8 months after "the wall came down". It was 1990. There were long tracks of the wall still intact as it bisected the city. Along with my pal Jimmy, I bought a chisel and a hammer and secured my handful of hardened concrete nostalgia. I was back in Berlin 1 year later and the only section of wall still standing was in the museum at Check Point Charlie. The city, as I had remembered it, was completely changed. The "no man's land" between the walls (there were actually 2 parallel walls with a mined death section in between, in case you didn't know) was springing to life with the building of condos. For years, it was the sole domain of some light weight rabbits and the desperate few who tried to broach the gap. How quickly it was converted to the Capitalist dream.

If I'm glad I'm taking this voyage of the world now, then I need to admit that I sometimes lament the fact that I couldn't have taken it sooner. The world is changing so fast, and those places that are pristine and faultless are disappearing at a rate that is disturbing to say the least. But I have good news. There are a group of islands in Papua New Guinea called the Hermits. Off the east side of the island of Luf, and on the outside of the reef, there is an anchorage called Alacrity. I am there now. I beg you to take a gander on Google Earth - 01 29 155 S, 145 07 937 E. The South Sea Fantasy still exists after all. The only other boat here is our buddy boat Emelia. In fact, we haven't seen another cruising boat in the last 1,200 miles since we left Guadalcanal. The road less traveled is paying off.

Never in my life had I seen a giant clam. I saw 30 of them in one day. They sit unattached to any rock, just resting in the sand, in less than 10 feet of water and when I say giant - well, a golden retriever could make a bed in one of these shells. There must be 70 lbs of meat in each one. The visibility has never been less than 60 feet and is often double that. We are anchored in 37 feet and I can make out individual grains of sand on the sea bed. We are so far from the village that sometimes a day goes by without even seeing the local natives. When we do see them it's because they come to this spot to fish. They give us lobsters. Just give. You may have seen lobsters as big as these, but I doubt you've ever seen lobsters as brilliantly colored. It looks as if they've dressed for a rave in day glow tiger stripes and psychedelic greens. There is such an abundance of sea life here that it is now obvious why Jacques Cousteau fell in love with this spot.

I've never been a proponent of religion but I think I love the Seventh Day Adventists for one reason only: They are essentially Christians that keep Kosher. In other words, they don't eat shellfish. This whole island chain has been converted. Hence the prolific populations of clams and lobsters, and the reason they give them to us. Let's all face Loma Linda, CA for a moment of silent praise.

There is an uninhabited island nearby that is our own playground. The reefs are so large and the people so few. There are no air strips, no hotels, no running water, and no chance for tourists. It's paradise, and unless the citizens of the world start buying sailboats and forging their own way here, this place will never be trampled.

My graffiti strewn chunks of German concrete are now stored in a box in my mom's garage, a reminiscence of an era that no longer exists. And someday, if I'm lucky enough, I'll be an old man with nothing but wilting memories and photos to remember this place, but I can say this with near certainty - after all I've seen, and I've been at sea for almost 3 years, there will always be spots on this planet that are so remote that they remain pure. We might have to work a little harder to get there, but boy is it worth it. This is the stuff that makes one younger.

I hope you can sleep a little better now,

Lobster breath Bob

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Hermit Island is in the Admiralty chain of islands. Jacque Cousteau listed it as one of his favorite spots on the planet. We'll be there in 6 hours.

But now I must back track.

I like Kavieng. I like it a lot. There are places where sailors will find an archipelago with hundreds of anchorages, protected waters, great snorkeling & diving, and within close proximity to an urban area in which to reprovision, & repair. Las Perlas Islands of Panama, the Vavu'a group of Tonga, the Mamanucas of Fiji - they all satisfy those requirements and so does Kavieng. The difference is, the others have been discovered, Kavieng is a jewel just waiting for a Moorings franchise or an episode of Survivor to ruin it. Check a map - it's on the top end of New Ireland in PNG. It's been a long time since I saw dolphins at anchor. Kavieng's aren't shy. Plus you get Japanese planes lying in 30 feet of clear water. It was a great spot. We ate giant crab claws the size of your fist, drank over priced beer at the Nusa Island Resort, hand fed a sea eagle a bait fish (the resort rescued it and it's now tame. It's the size of Paula Abdul with claws that could steal a pikinini - impressive), and bought more diesel. We also met some Indonesian's who had their fishing boat seized for illegal fishing. The one word of English they could speak was, "accident". Yea right. There wasn't a level deck on that whole boat. It was if it was designed to prohibit sleep of any form. I've seen lots of those boats along the way and they never acknowledged my hailing on the radio. Now I know why.

We left after refueling and anchored just a few miles away to rest up for the next leg of this trip, which is now underway. We should be making landfall today around 2pm, 3 days after we left. The entire trip has been calm. For some of it, we had nice winds and could sail, but for these last 40 miles we're going to motor. There's no wind and if we don't get in before dark we'll have to bob at sea all night waiting for first light.

Full sun and no wind mandate exceedingly hot days. We drag behind the boat to cool off, drink lots of cold water, and hide in what little shade there is, all to no effect. The sweating begins about 7:30 in the morning and doesn't stop until 5pm. Suzi gets mad if I accidentally touch her during daylight. That's why I blow a whistle at 5pm and pounce on her. You can probably imagine how well that goes over "wif me English bird". And yes - I've begun brushing up on my tortuously annoying accents again.

Timely Update: We made landfall about 4 hours ago. Maybe landfall is the wrong term. It looks like we're employees who work at Walmart, and have to park at the extreme outer limits of the parking lot. There really isn't any land around us. We've found a shallow patch in the middle of the ocean and have anchored in 36 feet of water inexplicably protected from swell by the fringing reef. This water is extremely clear. No wonder Jacque loved it so. The natives have already come to greet us. They promise lobster tomorrow. We caught a fish just as we were approaching the pass. Hunger or protein won't be a problem for some time. Now is the hour for easing into this SoCo hundy proof and choosing a movie after Suzi's hummus and my thrill seeking leap off the spreader.

Your salty dog,


Thursday, September 25, 2008


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.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Landfall in Kira Kira, Betelnut, Guadalcanal

I know I scared you with that last dispatch. A few of you asked, "Why in the world would you do that to yourselves?" Here's why -

After dropping anchor and shutting off the engine, there is a quiet and a calm that follows a horrendous passage that is immeasurable. Even though our anchorage in Kira Kira was horribly rolly, slipping into warm crystal clear waters off the stern ladder, staring at pristine jungle running down to black sand beaches, and knowing that we have arrived at yet one more exotic country & that we did it on our own, brings a sense of accomplishment that is as equally hard to describe as the nightmare that was our time at sea. We could fly around the world, but then we'd never see these little villages that exist without tourists, and of course we'd be sacrificing that sense of accomplishment. We chose a different mode of travel, and it has its dangers and its rewards, both are staggering.

In an earlier dispatch I mentioned that 1 of the first things I look for upon entering a new country is how quick the people are to smile (the 2nd is the money and it's stupid here). Upon making landfall in Kira Kira, I immediately noticed a lack of returned smiles. Then I got a smile from an older man. He had a mouth stained red with rotting teeth. The next person looked the same. Then a woman I asked directions from spoke and I saw the decayed red teeth in her mouth as well. I made 2 flash conclusions. 1.) This is a plague island. 2.) They're sick and I need to get out of here. Then it dawned on me - these people chew Betelnut. I now know that damn near everyone here, has a rotten red mouth and spits their drug juice everywhere. It looks like some vandal went nuts with a can of "Rustoleum". They peel the husk off the nut, chew the seed, and then dip the bean into lime and chew that too. Not the kind of lime you'd squeeze into a Mexican beer, the kind of lime the Mafia would pour over your corpse before interning it in a shallow grave. They make it out of coral and wonder why their teeth are disappearing. The combination gives them a mild buzz. The lengths humans will go to for a "high" will never cease to amaze me. Truth is, the stuff tasted so horrible I couldn't keep it in my mouth long enough to feel anything.

Then we sailed to Guadalcanal. We sailed right up "The Slot". Pappy Boyington and his black sheep squadron, as well as 100's of other men flew combat missions through this same gap between islands. Before turning into Honiara, the capital of the Solomon's, we glided over Iron Bottom Sound, thus named due to the 62 huge battle ships that lay on the sea floor. Guadalcanal was the first troop engagement the US had on land against the Japanese. Midway was all planes, but Guadalcanal was a fierce 6 month fight that involved many more islands and tens of thousands of lives. It was a turning point for the war. Upon signing the surrender in 1945, Japan's admiral Tanaka admitted that Japan's fate was sealed when they lost Guadalcanal.

Our new friend Laurie took us to a small village in the Mount Austen area. This is what they call "The Gifu". It was the last of the organized Japanese resistance. I literally jumped from foxhole to foxhole and the amount of material that is still there is astounding. I found 5 live Japanese hand grenades; the pins still in them and ready to be pulled, canteens, teeth, morphine bottles, gasmasks, mortars, eye glasses, bones, buttons, buckles, clothing, helmets, and lots of live rounds. This stuff is all 65 years old and still lying there in the foxholes that those soldiers dug with their bayonets. Now let's talk bayonets - Laurie was given one by his "house boy", and since Laurie will never be able to fly that back into Australia, he traded it to me for 2 Coke bottles I found back in Vanuatu. You gotta see this thing. It's in really good shape and the wooden handle is completely intact. I am 13 years old again!

In 1999-2000 The Solomon Islands had what they call "Ethnic Tension". The island of Malaita seems to produce people that succeed at a rate higher than the other islands, jealousy ensued, tribal warfare broke out, people died, and soon RAMSI was created. "Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands". Almost all the white people you meet here work for it, or through the Haliburton-esque company called PDL Toll. It stands for Patrick Defense Logistics. They go to troubled hot spots like East Timor, after winning the contract. Hmm, I see some parallels here.

So far so good, but it's shocking how many things are out here to get us. Salt water crocodiles. They're all over the place. 30 - 50 Islanders die each year from crocs. I hired someone to clean the bottom of the boat. It cost $9 and he lived to spend it. I was reading up on the next string of islands we are heading to and the notice to mariners warns of sea mines. "Don't anchor here. Don't trawl there." It also says that some of the islands charted may be off by up to 2 miles. Scary as hell! This is also malaria country. Suzi and I started taking 100 mg of Doxycyclin every day, even before we left Fiji. Sunset is called the malaria hour. Suzi sewed 2 types of screens before we left the marina. The top hatches all have billowy covers with shock cord around the edges so we can open and close the hatches without having to remove them when the rain comes. She also made some semi-rigid screens for the water line hatches. She should patent those. Then she went on to sew a complete barrier that we use in the aft cabin as a secondary buffer. On this net she used an even tighter mesh and it even keeps out the "no-see-ums". Our bedroom has now become a "no fly zone".

We left Honiara 24 hours ago and we will be back there in about 7 more. The transmission is leaking fluid at an unacceptable rate. I hope this doesn't cost much or take long.

Wish us luck,

Capt Bob

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Casualty At Sea

We didn't lose Suzi, but Suzi lost it.

I think the Beach Boys summed up the trip from Vanuatu to The Solomon Islands when they sang: "This is the worst trip, I've ever been on." We ripped the headsail on the first day when the fierce winds and waves rounded the boat into the maelstrom. It turned us around and flogged the hell out of the genoa. Ok. No problem. I rolled it away and committed ourselves to sailing 400+ miles with only a main sail. The sea conditions were appalling. We had regular squalls of 40 knot winds, torrential rains which brought zero visibility, huge breaking waves, and a new leak at the rudder. Suzi's crying jag started as soon as we left the protected waters of Luganville. She was quickly reduced to a sobbing mass. She was inconsolable and incomprehensible. Something snapped, and she would tell you the same thing. She just lost her nerve. I don't know how else to describe it. She went from asset to liability in the first few hours. And this is the same girl that lived through the 5 day nightmare that was our sail to Palmerston from a year before. This is the same Suzi that sailed to New Zealand with me. It just doesn't make any sense. But we're working on it. If you feel moved to do so, give her your support @ Although she's doing better, she could really use a pep talk.

Then I noticed a new leak at the rudder and wondered when it was going to fall off, or when the autopilot was going to quit with all the new noises it was making. We were at such an angle of heel that we couldn't pump out the overflowing toilet. We were scared, and exhausted, and unable to eat - for 4 days. Sometimes this trip just sucks.

I'm telling you, sleep deprivation while under life threatening conditions will make you dig deep. It's as if sleep and the sea are good friends because they are both trying to kill you. Like cohorts in an attempted crime. Just one little doze could be a critical mistake, but it's so tempting when you're that exhausted. It's a frightful realization when you catch yourself talking out loud to calm your panic. I'm an atheist who repeatedly mumbled "Please, no more" when the next squall line marched in from the rear. At 05:00 I could hear myself talk through the final hour of darkness with the words: "Just let the sun come up, please let the sun rise. I'll feel better when the sun comes up." Who was I talking to? Me. That inner me, the one deep inside that is all you have left to rely on when you are drained to your core. Look - some of you who read this are long haul blue water sailors, but most of you have no idea what it can be like out there. And this trip was a total anomaly, even for me. Not only did I have the seas and the wind to contend with, but I had my broken Suzi to assuage as well.

How can I possibly explain in terms that you can relate to, what this experience was like? It begins with the knowledge that you are completely on your own. Sure, you can set off the EPIRB and if you are still afloat when the helicopter shows up (if it shows up, and in time), you can get airlifted off (maybe), but short of giving up your boat, there is no one who can save you. There isn't even anyone who can help you. You have to fix every problem on your own using only the tools and materials you have on board. And you have to do it at a 35 degree angle that alters every 45 seconds. Are you a surfer? Can you try to comprehend what it is to surf a 41 foot 20,000 lb boat down a 20 foot wave: It's exciting right up until the point she gains so much speed that she turns into the trough like she's going cut back and hit the lip. Then the wave catches us on the stern quarter, spins us out, turns us wildly onto our beam and rockets us up as the white water explodes all around us. Nah - that isn't going to convey it. You need to live it. And you need to understand that all of this is happening at night, 100s of miles from land, in pouring rain with more wind noise then your nerves can handle.

In summary: The Sea was throwing everything it had in the hopes of killing us, my boat was disintegrating, my girlfriend was losing her mind and had turned against me, and I had to find a way to pull a rabbit out of a hat. It took every bit of everything I had to get thru it. I'm equal to the challenge. I just hope I've passed the test and there will be no follow up exams anytime soon.

We made a "mechanical emergency stop" in Kira Kira which is 140 miles short of the check in port of Honiara (which is where we are now, safe and sound). We just needed to sleep, check our leaks, get a real meal, and swap head sails. It was the worst anchorage I've ever been in and we stayed for 3 days. Under normal conditions I wouldn't have spent a single night there. That's how spent we were.

It ain't easy being free, but things are now looking up.

Next email: Betelnut, Guadalcanal, and a Japanese Bayonet

Your Captain,

Bob Friedman

"It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win.
- John Paul Jones -

Monday, July 7, 2008

Nangol (Land Diving), Million Dollar Point and The Coolidge

How many extreme sports have their roots in the traditions of primitive cultures? The Vanuatu ritual of tying vines to their ankles and jumping off towers they've constructed from jungle scrap, gave birth to bungee jumping. I've been told 2 completely different explanations as to the superstition behind it. One involves appeasing the gods for a good harvest and the other is too farfetched to type. I don't think they know why it originally began; only that they have a cash cow on their hands and that it continues cuz their pikininis and tourists love it. They charge $85 per person and it lasts about 2 hours. In the hierarchy of authentic native experiences, this one is a bloody nose and a black eye. It felt absolutely canned. However, in terms of dramatic spectacle - the performance was an over the top jackpot. And at that price, it needed to be.

The jumping begins in April when the yams and vines are wet and strong. As they dry, they become brittle and people get hurt. A tower collapsed this year and a photographer was killed. We caught the 2nd to last performance in June (they jump only on Sat), and there were only 5 divers. 4 of which were preteens jumping from lower platforms (the pikininis love getting naked and jumping). The one adult did leap from a huge height (about 35 feet) and as with all the divers, he went head first to crash into the raked and softened dirt below (he was unscathed). Had we been here in April, we could have witnessed dives from twice that height, but now the tower is not safe at the higher reaches and the vines are drying and could snap. Chief Luc implored me to encourage my fellow sailors to come in April for the high jump spectacle.

"No can do Chief. Big winds in April, not safe for yachties."
"But we have black magic. Pentecost is safe."
"Cyclones dude. Not safe for white man."

We agreed to disagree.

Unlike the dynamic diving, the tower is static and ghostly in appearance. It looks like it was built by witches. It stands with a tenuous purchase at the top of a steep hill that over looks a perfect "bowl" of a valley. Upon closer inspection, one can see that it's actually cantilevered, and that some science went into building this thing.

I paid for the diving but I got the testicles for free. If you take a look on you can see the pics she posted. They quietly change out of their stinky hand me down clothes and don a "numba". It's a penis sheath that is anchored around their waist. It works quiet well for hiding the exact dimensions of their units, but I believe it's "numba" 1 purpose is to lift the penis out of the way so that you can see their majestic testicles. I'm working on an anthropological theory that will propose that this tribe has evolved beyond penis envy and has embraced the power of a lustrous scrotum. Being pygmy blacks, they can't compete with their African brothers so they've bypassed the size issue and moved directly to showcasing the root of their fertility. Ingenious!

Then we sailed to Luganville and the war history began. The island of Espiritu Santo was made into a US military base from which to launch the assault on Guadalcanal. The Segond channel is extremely deep and could accommodate scores of destroyers. 100,000 of our troops were stationed here. You can still see our quonset huts everywhere, and if you dig a little deeper, like I & my Kiwi buddy Miles did, you can find some fun relics. We dug on the beach where the sand meets the jungle. We were told the Americans used that area as a dump. Sure nuff - we found 3 pristine Coke bottles with the year 1944 on them, a man's razor, a fork, a flashlight, 2 padlocks, and a couple 37 mm shell casings. This was Miles' 2nd trip here and upon returning to New Zealand after the first adventure, the customs officer asked him if he was bringing anything back from Vanuatu.

"Ah just a couple of shells."
"From the beach?"
"How big are they?"
"Oh, about 37 mm."
The official made a funny face, shrugged and let him pass.

If you really want to find remnants of our war effort here in the South Pacific then you need to go to Million Dollar Point. Here's the story and it's all true:

The Americans had won the war and were pulling out of Vanuatu. The French and British were going to continue to "condominium rule" the New Hebrides (that lasted until 1980 when the locals gained independence and changed the name to Vanuatu). We offered all of the material that we had shipped into the island to the Euros for 10 cents on the dollar. Pretty good deal right? Well the Euros decided that the Yanks would leave it behind anyway, so they declined to pay for it. And why shouldn't the Euros take advantage of us - I mean, we had just saved their little countries from the Nazis at the cost of a staggering number of US lives. It seems fair to me that they should quibble over more of our generosity. F--king ingrates. But they were right; we did leave it behind, even though they wouldn't pay for it. We built a jetty and we pushed it all into the sea. Take that you unappreciative bastards!

There are tractors, trucks, boats, cranes, fork lifts, steel girders, jeeps, office furniture, and about 1,000,000 Coke bottles lying in shallow water. We snorkeled it, and boy was it spooky. It's a sunken time capsule rusting beneath the sea. I can't post the video on the website due to the slow connections, but thanks to Todd Girouard's underwater cam that he traded me for pearls I can show it to you when we meet again.

MDP is one of those spiteful pollution sites that tickles me with the history and bravado of the American spirit. We, as a people, are wonderful villains. We are noble and cruel. We are vengeful heroes who make selfless sacrifices, sometimes morphing into self-serving blunders. We are, at a minimum, a dichotomy that is rarely boring. Here in this part of the South Pacific, where we fought and died to save the world, (and we accomplished nothing short of exactly that) I've decided that the Yank bashing will no longer be tolerated when it reaches my ears. I've been listening to it for 2.5 years now and on these beaches it will not stand.

There - I went public with my own nationalistic fervor. It's my trip, it's my dispatch and I'll rant if I want to.

Wanna here about my dive on the President Coolidge? First a little history: It's the largest accessible shipwreck in the world, and it's just down the beach from MDP. She started as a luxury liner and when war broke out she was converted into a troop ship. She hit 2 sea mines entering the Segond Channel in '42 and the Captain ran her up on the beach to save the lives of his men. He lost 2 but saved 5000. She then slipped back into deep water and all 600 feet of her is now lying on her side in 80 - 200 feet of water. I saw a 3" gun and the shells that it fired, jeeps, half tracks, gas masks, bombs, rifles, and more jeeps. The ship is so big that most people do 10 or more dives and still only see a small portion. Most of the dives require decompression stops because you go so deep. That danger, and the problems my left ear give me, ended my dives after the first one. They aren't cheap either.

I fixed the battery monitor, flew all 3 flags on the 4th of July, cleaned the sprayers, went aloft and checked for chafe, remounted the radar reflector, and bought 6 lbs of vacuum packed filet mignon (they sell this beef to Japan who repackages it as Kobe beef. It's that good). We are now checking the wx for our departure to The Solomon Islands. It just keeps getting better.

Your Man on Point,

Captain Bob

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Kava, String Bands, and the Suicide Jumps

We anchored in a bay that was unpronounceable and immediately upon going ashore, met John. He taught us how to avoid Chief Alan and his anchor tax of $50. He also forced his wife to give us veggies and her handbag (Suzi would tell you it was voluntary). Then they came out to Barraveigh for some snacks and cold drinks. We put the hospitality ball back into their court as they marched us up the hill to a nakamal (meeting house) in the midst of a kava plantation. The party was the celebration of a 1 year olds birthday. In the hierarchy of authentic experiences you hope to experience as a traveler, this one was the equivalent of winning the brass ring.

The women had prepared an earthen oven and began excavating it shortly after we arrived. They removed a layer of palm fronds, then hot rocks, more palm fronds, more rocks, and then after the final layer of fronds, we finally beheld the taro and pig parts. The men were busy making the kava. They had conical tools made of coral that they've chiseled with stone (truly a stone age culture) to resemble teeth of a gear so as to make the rasping of the kava more efficient. One hand twists the tool while the other forces the meat of the root unto it, as it's reduced to a pulpy mass. It falls into a wooden bowl and they add water and mix with a high powered electrical blender (Not really, they mix by hand you numpty. This is the part they used to do by mastication. That means chewing and spitting. Thank god they don't do that anymore). They then strain it repeatedly thru the husk of a palm tree. It's tantamount to nature's cheese cloth. It worked perfectly. I could probably filter my diesel through that bark. As the male guest, I was offered the first coconut shell full of the greenish brown elixir. The crushing stupor was quick to follow. John drank his next and within 10 minutes we made eye contact from across the dirt floor. He gave me the eyebrow-rising-head-shake that universally means "Dude, I am wasted." He's a native and he was grilling his melon, can you imagine what it did to me? I can only say that the effect reminded me of college. It was as if I'd ripped way too many bongs and knew I'd be skipping every class.

Even without the frost that was encroaching on my consciousness, I thought the string band was one of the most interesting things I've witnessed in Vanuatu. The drink amplified the bizarre performance. It consists of 1 ukulele (it starts every song), 4 guitars, and one bass. Now let me explain what I am calling a bass: It's a wood box about 2 feet high and one foot square. Out of the center of the top comes a rope. That rope is tied to one end of a stick. The other end of the stick is wedged into a brace that is built into a corner of the box. The player puts 1 leg on the top of the box, pushes the rope away from him by using the stick and plucks the rope. He adjusts the tension on the rope as he plucks and thus alters the pitch of the bass. Ingenious! Then there's the singing. It's a cross between what a cat would sound like if you stood on its tail and the "Soggy Bottom Boys".

Vanuatu has turned out to be the primitive village experience we were hoping for. Their standard of living is 100 years behind Fiji. It's easy to tell that some of these pikinnis haven't seen many whites. No one can fake that expression of astonishment mixed with fear. The homes they live in look like they came directly from the set of Gilligan's Island. They're nothing more than woven bamboo shacks with palm frond roofs, but the job they've done of weaving designs into the wall paneling is fantastically ornate. Ditto for the bags everyone, men included, carry over their shoulders. They're lovely people. They have nothing and are eager to give. On some of the islands, that's how you get to be chief; throwing lavish parties to redistribute your wealth. It's called "taking grades" and is similar to the NW American Indians and their potlatches (Another US Indian similarity is in the pidjin English that the natives here use, and how it sounds to my ear like the syntax I used to hear in Flagstaff: "me wannem big heap smashed potatoes"). I'd spend more time with these people except for 2 reasons - 1.) Let's face it; they are the island equivalent of uneducated hillbillies. 2.) They stink worse than the Czechs. (However, Prague still holds the world record for "most waiters with b.o.")

The conversations are short because . . . well, their worlds are microscopic. I thought I ran out of things to say to the beach dudes back in SD, but it happens faster here. Every conversation follows roughly this outline: Agriculture, clan hierarchy, what to trade, and then we go back to agriculture. Sometimes you get a little superstition thrown in, but that's a complete dead-end. Further questions on that topic all wrap up quickly with, "It's our kastom."

I was told by Samsam that they only need money for kerosene, clothes, and soap. They might need it for those 3 things but empirical evidence proves they are only spending it on kerosene. The clothes never change so even if they wash with soap (not likely) they're still going to reek. And god do they reek. 3rd World Reek - new band name.

Then there are the runny noses on the kids and the communal lice picking from their afros. I think what we're beginning to see, are the first stages of real poverty. Now I feel like an asshole.

I'd like to tell you about the Land Diving at Pentecost Island. This is where the wire haired freaks jump off towers of scaffolding with vines tied to their ankles. Insane. However, this dispatch is long enough. It'll be on the next one.

Your Ugly American,


P.S. / Suzi has posted a lot of new pics at

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.


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.

"Released because the police are fed-up with having to recapture"

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,


Random Clearing House (France, Albania, USA, Colombia)

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