Friday, 12 December 2008

Halfway!

We have made it! Barraveigh pulled into Bali Marina on 9th December 2008. I have sailed halfway around the world. Panama to Bali is halfway around this huge globe of ours. I am stunned & in shock that I have completed this crazy adventure. It feels surreal, as if I have lived someone else’s life for the last few years but I am so very very proud of myself.


Bobby & I fought the elements & we won! Halfway around the world on a sailboat….its time to celebrate!The last few months took their toll. Its only when you stop & relax do you realise the full extent of the pressure we were feeling everyday. The alternative route over the top of PNG was amazing & I wouldn't change it but it wasn't the easy route & we earnt the amazing memories.


The relief & happiness of pulling up to a dock with the knowledge we are staying put & no plans to leave in the immediate future was blissful & a huge relief. We are tired, our mojo’s low & we are in need of a rest & life with conveniences. Luckily Bali has that on offer in bucketfuls!Barraveigh needs a large amount of TLC but that is put on hold while we relax & take some much needed land time.


First things first, our list of priorities!

Fresh water shower at the marina

A huge meal washed down with ice cold cokes & beers!

Hire a carBuy an air conditioning unit for the boat

Get massages

Explore this fabulous island & its people

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Wangi Wangi

Memories of the two nights spent here will always be recalled with a deep breath & the wonder of how we made it out in one piece.

The passage from Sarong was exhausting & hot. No winds meant running the engine every minute of every day, making the boat hot & noisy, & the captain concerned about an oil leak. Add to that no cooling breeze & no cold drinks (due to the broken fridge), equals a hot & bothered captain & crew! On the plus side there was plenty of power so we took our daytime watches in hour bursts taking it in turns to escape from the sun, sit under a fan & watch an episode of 24 – Jack Bower will never know how much he saved our sanity!! Bobby was crowned a hero when he discovered we could run the ice machine with the engine on. Cold ice cubes have never looked or tasted so beautiful!

We arrived in Wangi Wangi late in the afternoon. Not something we would normally do, trying to find a place to anchor as the light fades is far from good seamanship. We were tired & hot & made a decision that we came to regret. There were many factors in the decision process of which I will not go into but, it seemed the right choice at the time. As is always the case with time & reflection, sticking to the golden rules should never be broken. Anyone reading this with hopes of cruising in the future take note. Golden rule number one: never come into a new anchorage in the dark or without sufficient daylight.

The depth readings here were totally random. One minute you were in 100 feet of water & seconds later we had readings of 20 feet & less, only for it to quickly return to 100 feet. It was mentally exhausting & fried my nerves. Unable to find a suitable spot to anchor we were now unable to leave. On the way in we had dodged through 100’s of FAD’s which littered the harbour mouth & there was no way out in the dark without colliding with them. It was decided that we would drive in circles for a few hours & wait for the passenger ferry to leave so we could tie up to the dock. The dock was the worst we had seen & a boat owners idea of hell. Huge pillars of concrete with many jagged edges waiting to punch a hole in Barraveighs side. Just as we got settled with fenders in place we were asked if we could leave as another passenger boat was about to arrive…..could they not have told us this as we were tying up!!!

Bobby went off to check the engine before starting her up & found the bilge full of oil. We weren’t going anywhere. Wangi Wangi really is the back of beyond, they don’t get tourists & trying to converse with the locals in a high pressured situation was not easy even with our Bahasa dictionaries. In the end Bobby took the locals down into the boat to show them what was wrong with the engine. Crisis diverted, we were allowed to stay put.

Up & down like yoyos through the entire night as the tide went out leaving more of the dock exposed, left us more tired than when we arrived. At 4am Bobby had a brain wave & knew what was wrong with the engine & begun fixing it. By 7am we had waved goodbye to our buddy boat Emelia, & were left feeling both emotionally & physically drained. Bobby worked hard & got the engine fixed so we could move off the dock & out of everyones way, but we were still needed to fill up with fuel before we could go anywhere. A local fishing boat allowed us to tie onto their starboard side so we happily got resituated & breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately the locals were highly curious of us & sat along the side of the fishing boat staring. I now know what a caged animal at the zoo feels like. No privacy, no ability to cool off & discard any clothing when your every move is being watched & showering in the cockpit was going to be fun! We were also concerned they would come onto the boat & steal from us whilst we slept so we decided to make friends with the fishermen in hope they’d look after us. I handed out cigarettes & after requests for Michael Jackson songs I agreed to play 2 songs on Barraveighs cockpit speakers if they would then let us get some sleep.

Bobby made arrangements to collect fuel the following day & we then went in search of a restaurant with AC & cold drinks, not as easy as we had expected in this one horse town but we were so beyond tired just a cold coke was like heaven in a can! Ready to finally settle down to a well needed nights sleep, we were content & sure we had seen the last of the back luck, but someone had other plans for us. In the middle of the night the winds & swell whipped up smashing us into the fishing boat making staying put dangerous for both boats. We slipped the lines & motored in circles for 5 hours awaiting the swell to die down & the sun to come up. We took it in turns to rest in the cockpit whilst the other took the wheel. This trip pushes me & pushes me to breaking point but even when I’m there, it is not over. There is no choice but to dig deeper & carry on until you & the boat are safe. I have worked crazy shifts in the police & crazy hours on operations but nothing & I mean nothing compares to the exhaustion I have felt on this trip.

As the sun began to rise we retied to the fishing boat. Bobby filled Barraveigh with diesel & I made a cake for the fishermen & attempted to prepare meals for the next passage – I have no idea how I did this because at this point I was functioning with my eyes closed! We were ready to get moving, had the worst thrown at us & still come back fighting. We were tired but were safe & Barraveigh was in one piece. We were just taking stock of everything when a large passenger boat hit our port side. We were beyond words. The ferry had come into the dock too fast & got the angle wrong totally wrong, hitting us like bumper cars at the fairground. No word or sign of an apology from the captain or crew.

We had made friends with the secret police (which I think is their version of plain clothed policemen as they sure don’t make any attempt to be secret about who they are). The entire police station attended (about 10 officers) & brought the captain of the ferry boat with them. Luckily upon inspection we had no damage & the whole incident was sorted with the captain buying everyone a round of “dingin” (cold) soft drinks. Smiles & handshakes all round but we left Wangi Wangi soon after breathing a sigh of relief that we were still afloat.

It was certainly up there with some of the worst of experiences of this trip but at the same time we made some good friends with the locals, & the friendliness of the Indonesians helped balance the bad. We are heading for Labuan Bajo & then onto the Gilli’s. The end of this year seems to very close but still so far & I’m tired beyond belief!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Sarong

The people here are easily hypnotised by blonde hair. I have been living like a film star with people taking photos of me in the street & at the supermarket. They either try to sneakily take the photo or come up to me requesting a photo with them & then inviting me to their school or college. Its amusing, the people are so kind that it hasn’t yet got annoying & as we travel closer to the Indonesia more frequented by tourists I will no longer be the only blonde.

We travel about on benos. Tiny yellow mini buses that you just flag down. It must be law to stuff the windscreen with as many cuddly toys & lights as humanly possible so you can only just see the other cars on the roads! The other law they seem to have invented is at night you must have flashing neon lights all over the interior of the bus. It all makes for interesting trips to the supermarket & mini mobile discos on a Friday night!

I have begun a life of normality. I had a well needed hair cut (£3 for a wash cut & blow dry compared to £50 at home), I’ve chilled out at some nice restaurants, been clubbing for the fraction of the price back home, bought a mobile phone & when we get to Bali its only going to get better. Independence is probably the biggest thing I miss & one of the hardest things to try & keep alive living in such confined quarters with a partner. There are some plus sides to a western lifestyle!

I’m loving the experience here, the people & the food but the children I can live without. All day we are bombarded with the kids shouting “Mister Bobby, Mister Suzi” & if we don’t answer they then start throwing things at the boat. At which point they get an answer but I’m not sure it’s the answer they were wanting. It was bearable in the beginning but I’m starting to loose now!

The news I'm still trying to come to terms with is that the fridge has quit working. We are facing the real possibility of sailing the rest of the trip down to Bali with no cold drinks & no way to keep fresh food. There are cruisers that sail around the world with no fridge & I take my hat off to them but there are a few luxuries I cannot imagine being without in this climate, the fridge is top of that list. We are being forced into living without out it & it doesn’t get better with time. I know we will survive but arrgghh its not making provisioning for passages easier. Wish me luck or wish Bobby luck it maybe tins of baked beans from here on out!

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Indonesia

This has to have been the biggest culture shocks I have ever experienced. It is difficult to find the words to describe to you how it feels to leave a calm relaxed “island time” culture at sunrise, only to arrive in what feels like total chaos by nightfall. The shacks lined up on the shore line, all made from corrugated tin & looking like they are seconds from collapsing into the water. The endless sound of honking from mopeds zooming past & the bemo’s (little mini van style buses/taxis) beeping at every pedestrian they pass. The filthy water full of rubbish; plastic bottles & nappies are common place but we certainly didn’t expect to see a fan, a desk & CD’s bobbing about!

Vanimo, PNG & Jayapura, Indonesia separated by a boarder crossing & only 30 miles of land just couldn’t be any more different. They maybe be close in distance but their cultures, living conditions & religious beliefs are a million miles apart. The Western world has had a huge influence on Jayapura with KFC, Dunkin Donuts, air conditioned supermarkets & wireless internet but when you see the children playing in huge banks of rubbish on the sides of the river & swimming in the disgusting water I can’t help but think that the Western influence is a bad thing & the people in the Pacific with their dugout canoes & leaf houses are better off in so many ways.

It took a few days to recover from the shock, during which time I’ll admit I wanted to turn the boat 180 degrees & sail back to the Pacific Islands. I was comfortable with the people in Melanesia & Polynesia. I could communicate with them, share a joke, knew how to get around on land & knew what the weird looking vegetables at the market were! Indonesia was a whole new ball game. It didn’t help that during our final day in PNG I was eaten alive by sand flies & completely covered in bites therefore feeling uncomfortable & miserable. I was doped up on antihistamines, unable to leave the boat as I couldn’t stand to have any clothes against my body. So while Bobby was tearing about the city trying to deal with the bureaucratic systems this country likes to put in place, I was busy watching episodes of 24. It took poor Bobby days to just compete the check in process. Filling the boat had to be done under the cover of darkness as its illegal to fill cans of diesel at the petrol station – just as well we had the police on our side & happy to help us! We certainly couldn’t have done it without them.

Memories that will stay with me forever:
The sound of chanting coming from the mosques. Admittedly it wasn’t highly appreciated at 4:30am but in the evening when the sun has gone down, Bobby & I sat in the cockpit sharing a beer, enjoying the cool breeze & soaking up the Islamic equivalent to the Christians hymns. I daydream, wondering what my time in Indonesia holds for me.
Walking along the street & everyone shouting “Hello Mister” – they haven’t quite worked out the word Mrs! Male of female you are going to be called Mister! Young boys shouting “I love you Mister” just doesn’t quite sound right! ; )
Sitting down in a roadside tent (you could only loosely call it a restaurant!) to eat the best food I have tasted for a long time & for the high dollar price of £2! If the Pacific Islanders could just get their culinary skills on the same level they would have it all! I’m afraid the bland starch taro dishes just don’t cut it!
I’m embarrassed to admit we rushed to KFC & then to Dunkin Donuts & oh it tasted so very very good. No item of fast food has passed our lips since February so it was allowed!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Pacific Ocean - a love hate relationship

The journey across the Pacific Ocean has finally come to an end as we enter new waters & turn our backs on the Pacific. I can't quite believe I've done it! I left Panama City a totally novice sailor onboard a sail boat where everything was totally foreign to me & I arrive here in Sarong, Indonesia a different person. I have achieved something that I could never even have dreamed of; I have crossed the entire length of the Pacific Ocean in a sailboat (including a detour to NZ). It's not very British to blow my own trumpet but I hope I have permission to do so. You have followed me though the highs & supported me through the lows, you know what a feat it's been. I hope the stories from the Pacific have kept you entertained. My parents followed on maps stuck to the kitchen wall & it's given Fiona something to read on her train commute. I pity the people of Brockham village who upon visiting my Nan will have been made to read every word of this website at least twice! ; ) Nan, you are a total inspiration to all your grandchildren. At 93 years of age you have traveled to more places on this earth than most, impressive especially when you consider it's only recently that air travel has become the norm. Only now I'm off the beaten track you can't say "Well my dear when I was there in 19……"!
This hasn't been the easiest thing I have achieved. I'll never forget the pain, tears & shear terror I felt, but they are out numbered (just about!) by the times I've been in total awe from the natural beauty of this ocean & her residents. As I sat under the stars completing my final night shift in the Pacific Ocean I reflected on the good, the bad & the so very very ugly. There is little I would change. It's been one hell of an experience.

It's not all over yet there are still the waters of Indonesia to complete so its back to work (yep its not all sitting on sandy beaches!) for me!

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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Final Stop in PNG

Vanimo, our last stop in PNG but first stop on mainland PNG. Cruisers pride themselves in retelling horror stories of counties ahead of ourselves. In most cases the truth is blown up, exaggerated & causes fear mongering. Unfortunately the only people who know the truth are the cruisers who have gone before us. As in all walks of life the bad makes the headlines & cruisers are no different. Very rarely do people put pen to paper to report what a fantastic experience they had but are all quick to email sites such as http://www.noonsite.com/ (cruisers lifeline for research on various places) to warn the rest of the sailing community of negative or scary experiences. Yes its good to have the information at hand but it gives an unequal representation on a place. PNG & the Solomons have suffered this fate with many reports on theft & piracy. We rolled the dice, kept reminding ourselves that others must have traveled this route with positive experiences & tried to keep a sense of balance regarding the information we had heard on the grapevine & through research. True, we tried to better our odds by avoiding mainland PNG. Stuck to the islands generally occupied by smaller close knit communities & hopefully less theft but we took the plunge & weren't scared into following the herd through the Torres Straight.
For a number of reasons I was nervous as we approached Vanimo. In order to gain a social visa for Indonesia (60 days instead of the normal 30 & which can also then be renewed) it needs to obtain it prior to arriving in the country. All enquires back in March with consulates from Fiji, UK, USA, & even our agents at Bali Marina were unable to confirm if there was an Indonesian consulate in Vanimo able to provide the visa. We took a gamble - that close to the boarder with Indonesia there must be. Now we were going to find out & it would be a huge problem if we were wrong. I'll also admit to wondering if the locals were going to be friendly, if one person would have to remain on the boat at all times or if we would be up all night on guard. Its hard stop the horror stories penetrating your mind to some extent. How wrong could I be & another lesson in not prejudging a place or its people.
Vanimo, a dusty little town that upon first glance appears to have little to offer but it had a sparkle that made us stay longer than the processing time required for the visas (thankfully there was a consulate. The local people here were fantastic; warm, very welcoming & appeared delighted we had stopped in their town. They don't get many yachts visiting so we were the talk of the town. Walking down the street people approached wanting to say hello & shake our hands. They knew all about us before we had even met them!
Bobby was delighted to discover surf on either sides of the entrance to the habour (reef breaks are not for me!). I would drop him off in the dinghy & the kids from the village would run down the beach into the sea with their "surf boards" to paddle out & join him. He had his own "after school" surf club with his gang of little followers, so of course he was in his element even making up songs for them which they would all sing for me when I came to collect him at "home time"!! These kids were surfing on pieces of wood, some square & others plank like, the lucky ones had theirs cut into a point at the tip but most didn't, some floated & some sank. I even saw one kid on a door! I challenge any of you surfers out there to ride a wave on these boards! It is really something to watch these young children surf on a piece of wood that prior to the wave coming he kept on the reef below him because it wouldn't float. On top of that he is surfing totally naked - no rash guard or shorts for these guys! ; )
A positive conclusion to my time in Melanesia. I am looking forward to experiencing a completely new culture in Indonesia but it sure isn't easy to say goodbye to these lovely people.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Heaven in the Hermits

The Hermit Islands, if you can find them on the map you get a prize! Northwest of Kavieng but still east of mainland PNG, part of the Admiralty Island chain. Huge points to Fiona for not only finding them but also emailing with details of dives in the area. I would have missed out on my encounter with the manta rays if I had not known! As always Fiona you are star.


Pulling in here was spectacular. Already excited after what we had heard from another boat & looking at the Hermit Islands on the chart. Nothing prepared us for reality. Water so clear you could see the chain running to the anchor on the bottom of the ocean floor 50 feet down. The varying colours of blue & turquoise waters were hypnotic. Paradise at its best. Check out the photo gallery to believe it.


There are about 10 islands in the Hermit chain. The main island Luf, is the only one inhabited with a village. The islands are surrounded by a reef with a number of passes allowing boats through. Anchored between the reef & Pemei, an uninhabited island, it was pure paradise. A handful of very serious land travellers have made it here to stay with people in the village & very few cruisers stop here, for the most part it is unspoilt by white people. Travelling across the South Pacific there have been less than a handful of places impossible for tourists to reach. This is a precious jewel in that crown & I hope remains as untouched as humanly possible.

Anchored so far from the village, we were canoe free, a blissful change. A local boat would stop by after their fishing expeditions to the reef to trade lobster & fish for cigarettes. The entire village are Seventh Day Evangelists & therefore do not eat any shell fish. Their loss is our gain. The lobsters are so plentiful they catch them during the day & we eat them at night! Bobby is the king of cooking lobster, I love eating them, it’s just deshelling them that’s not my cup of tea!
Emelia & Barraveigh played killer Frisbee on the beach, Jennifer & I attempted yoga in the sand (her flexibility is somewhat better than mine!), I kayaked around Pemei a few times to find the perfect secluded beach & settled down for the afternoon with a good book enjoying some alone time, Bobby invented a shade awning for his hammock on the bow & many cocktails were enjoyed watching the sunset. Snorkelling everyday on different parts of the reef including a swim with the manta rays & the boys perfected their spear fishing catching fish & lobster. All in all a paradise lifestyle! If heaven exists then this has to be it. It is truly amazing.


The heat here was so intense. As we near the equator it is seriously heating up. The fridge struggled to keep cold in temperatures of 100 degrees plus. It was 88 degrees by 8am & that was inside the boat where there is a little shade. The other casualties were ourselves, waking in the middle of the night to move cabins in an attempt to find a cool spot to lie down. At night a stray limb, giving extra unwanted heat sent each of us crazy (& not in a good way!). In an effort to stay sane I camped out in the v berth loving the breeze coming through the hatches but unfortunately my secret was discovered by Bobby who would come in half way through the night & the bed swap would begin again!! ; ) All in all a small sacrifice for idyllic surroundings.
The plan was to stay for three days before moving onto Ninigo. 7 days later we were still in the Hermits deciding it would be totally impossible to leave. It is now the last stop in PNG before checking out in Vanimo & entering Indonesia. The penultimate stop in what has been over a year in Pacific paradise. We needed the extra time here to detox from all the beauty experienced so far.

Kavieng

Tensions were high onboard Barravigh as we came into the waters around Kavieng, New Ireland. Very little sleep after a rough night at sea & a tight pass thought a archipelago of islands & reefs. I quickly discovered our navigation software was totally out, showing us high & dry on land or run aground on reefs.


First let me explain the jobs onboard as we arrive somewhere new. Captain Bobby is at the wheel & I’m below deck looking at the navigation software on the laptop. Linked to the GPS it also shows the boats current position. I give Bobby a compass bearing to our previously marked waypoint & then let him know if he needs to go more to the left or right. If the software isn’t lining up with reality then I’m also using the radar to check distances from land. Unfortunately it only shows land above water so reefs are still a huge unknown. Add all that stress to 3-4 days sailing, the last 12 hours being total hell & poor Bobby who got no sleep. If that wasn’t enough just as we approached the really tricky part, passing between a reef on the east & a reef on the west with little room in between, a squall hit giving very bad visibility. Sailing through an area with reefs is best timed when the sun is high in the sky & you hope for clear sunny day. It makes spotting the reefs below & judging depth easier. This is another of my jobs. I stand on the bow & point a safe path through the reef for Bobby to steer. Let me tell you this isn’t easy. There aren’t little markers in the water telling you how deep different coral heads are & when Bobby starts shouting “20 feet…15 feet” I’m looking around thinking all I can see is coral & going left doesn’t look any better than going right, combine this with no visibility of the bottom & well forget it. “Look for the markers” I’m hearing you first world sailors shout. If there is a marker in these counties it is often just a stick poking out the water & that’s if you are really lucky! Bobby’s policy in unknown waters, go really slowly. My policy, go really slowly & keep your fingers crossed! ; ) Emelia took pity on us & took the lead as the squall hit. Having four people on board they get more sleep, their eyes & minds were sharper than ours! We made it in safely, dropped the anchor & as always look back at the route & think it wasn’t as bad as it looked coming in. The unknown is always scary!


Kavieng was great. We anchored close to Nusa Island Resort. The waters were clear & as warm as bath water. To you divers & surfers (surf season starts in Nov) who like to get away from the normal holiday destinations & don’t need 5* luxury resorts, put Nusa on your list of places to visit. It’s a great relaxing place with an array of bird wildlife living there. I sat down with a drink & had a cockatoo speaking in pigeon English to me. Treating ourselves to a meal off the boat we were told lobster was off the menu as the guests had eaten it for the past 3 days & would crab be ok! You’ll eat like a king here! Add to that snorkelling at more WW2 plane wrecks, beautiful corals, fantastic local people & a huge array of tiny uninhabited islands. We haven’t seen another cruising boat since leaving Honiara (our buddy boat s/v Emelia excluded!). The route less travelled has been worth taking.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Passages from Heaven

Bet you never thought you’d be reading that! It appears we have earned some good weather & calm seas. I think I deserve it after all the “narliy” (I’m trying out my American slang!) passages I’ve been put through – yes Dad I know they are learning curves but I’m happy to have some straight lines for a while!


This is the doldrums or tropical conversion zone. Words you may have heard & may not have a clue what it means. In a nut shell….no wind! Result…..we burn some bloody expensive diesel & now plan our passages at an average speed of 3 knots rather than 5. Previously we would have considered 5 knots slow but now its speedy!! Attempting to sail in light winds with the sails flogging drives me up the wall. I’ve decided it’s a form of torture. I feel like I should be doing something to stop it but other than praying for some wind there is very little that can be done. Don’t tell Bobby but the only way to stay sane during the night shifts is to play my ipod, low of course so I can hear if any boats are calling on the VHF. In the light winds & calm seas we have finally mastered using the whisker pole in a way that Bobby now deems safe – only took us the entire Pacific crossing to work out! The pole keeps the head sail out & stops it flogging itself against the spreaders, with every hit you worry that it’s ripped a huge hole. Another plus is if the non excitant wind comes from the stern, we can sail wing in wing, ie one sail to the port & the other out to starboard. If any sailors are reading this I apologise now for the basic explanations but I’m thinking of my little sister with whom I once expressed an interest in wanting a CAT (catamaran). She thought I wanted to buy a pussy cat & suggested a dog would be better company! I love you Gilly aka Bridget Jones! ; )


In every other way the passages are a dream. Flat calm seas that allow me to cook meals in the galley without loosing my appetite, stary stary nights where I count endless shooting stars & where planets looming on the horizon get confused for boats. The bright quarter moon shines brightly, its reflection glistening for miles in the sea. The description that came to mind was a slice of lemon in a glass of rum & coke with the stars as bubbles in the coke – maybe the ban on alcohol during passages isn’t such a good idea!


Phospheensaince lights up huge portions of the sea. I have never seen anything like it before. Shining a light on the sea & huge sections would immediately light up. It kept me entertained for many of the hours on night watch! I am yet to get bored of these natural wonders.
Dolphins have begun to appear almost daily. Swimming in the bow of the boat or if we are travelling too slowly, totally ignoring us whilst we beg them to come & play. Talking to dolphins…a sign of madness??


During the day the lack of wind & bright hot sun results in sticky passages. I attempt to hide from the sun & am in & out of the sea trying to cool down. I drag behind the boat holding tightly to the stern ladder. Bobby teases me by humming the Jaws theme tune, a guaranteed way to get me to the water ; ) For the first time ever we sleep in the v berth with the large top hatch open. Normally during a passage you want to be as far from the bow of the boat as possible & we camp out in the rear cabin. With flat seas, hot weather & a hot engine, the v berth is the coolest place to be. Before the evening shifts begin we take turns to watch an episode of 24. Quality, chill out, alone time. An hour where we can switch off & relax by ourselves, even better with a bar of chocolate!


Not sure how long these calm, dry passages are going to last but I’m making the most of them & enjoying (almost!) every second! This is my idea of perfect sailing!

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

PNG at Last

A little behind schedule. The original plan was to spend all of August in PNG & here we are arriving at the end of Sept. There were no big deadlines just a proposed plan but it looks like we will be hitting Indonesia a little later than expected. Only problem being our cruising permit for Indo began on 1st Sept but hey we will just have to get another one!

We checked into Buka a small town north of Bougenville. At least I think it was small, I never got off the boat. In these parts we are concerned about the “rascals”, that’s what they call thieves in this part of the world. I can guarantee if I catch any of those “rascals” onboard Barraveigh the words coming out of my mouth will be far more explicit than that! Bougenville has suffered tension in the last few years. 20 – 50,000 islanders have been killed. You can now understand our concerns at being anchored close to the island. Originally anchored away from the town to avoid going through Buka pass but moved closer after being advised by the Port Captain that we would be guaranteed a visit from the local “rascals” with their guns during the night in our present spot. Buka pass had some serious currents, progress was slow at 2 knots under full engine power.

Still feeling uneasy about the area, ourselves & Emiela decided that one person from each boat should go to shore to complete the check in procedures & one person should remain on each boat for security. So I saw Buka from the water & never touched land. According to my sources I didn’t miss anything other than a 2 hour queue at the ATM!

After raising the PNG courtesy flag (made by my own fair hands & trust me for a non artist that bird wasn’t easy to paint) we got a good nights sleep & took off the following day. Minor drama on the way out, with Emelia hitting a reef. Luckily all was ok & we are on our way to Kavieng.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Its my Birthday & I'll scurff if I want to!

Ourselves & s/v Emelia made it to Mono Sterling yesterday morning after a four day passage. Today I’m celebrating my birthday in tropical paradise. We are surrounded by tiny islands covered in palm trees, clear blue waters & the blackest locals I have ever seen. I awoke to fruit juice in bed, freshly made pancakes & a fantastic brownie birthday cake made by Bobby’s fair hands. We snorkelled some amazing reefs & then spent the afternoon scurffing (standing on a surf board being towed by a dinghy). The locals were fascinated by it & many of them came in their dugout canoes to watch.


Sundowners & more birthday cake, courtesy of Emelia (a fantastic recipe for cruisers that requires no butter or eggs – you have to taste it to believe it!). Followed by an evening meal of fresh lobster. An amazing birthday in paradise. It’s hard not to enjoy this life on days like this!
Mono Sterling is a great place. Yet again loads of war history, The pikinis love jumping into the water from huge tripods made from tree trunks especially if we are watching. They paddle out to us in huge dugouts with no adult in sight. They befriended Bobby who proceeded to have a huge water fight with them. The only downside to this place is when we are surrounded by locals in their canoes. They mean no harm & I’m sure are just curious plus they want to practise their English but having no privacy sure gets you down after a while. On the plus side they aren’t stealing from us & with my new burglar detection mats down we sleep well at night. I worked out where burglars are likely to climb onto the boat, pushed drawing pins/thumb tacks through a rubber mat & then lay it down on the deck at night now we lie there hoping someone will try to come onboard – evil I know! The people here are some of the blackest people I have seen. Word has it that people from Bougainville are the blackest in the world & these people aren’t too far from there.

I nearly forgot to mention my personal serenade back in Honiara before we left. Unwell with a cold I had spent the day in bed sleeping. I woke to sounds of “wake up little Suzi”. Stepping into the cockpit I saw all our friends in their dinghies around the boat. Gene was playing guitar (he’s a country song writer & most famous for his song 16 wheels & a dozen roses) & everyone else was singing. They then sang Happy Birthday & produced a cookie with a candle on it. An early birthday celebration from the friends we would be leaving the following day. Memories from this trip are precious.

Photo: a young child from the village who screwed up his face & burst into tears upon seeing us. It was pretty typical of all the small children who were so very scared of the weird looking white people. The grandmother explained to us the child had never seen white people before.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Honiara - Round Three!

Walking down to the fruit & vegetable market trying to avoid the splodges of red spit. Smiling & saying good morning to everyone that walks by. The people are so friendly, young girls look at me & smile, small children are looking back whilst being pulled in the opposite direction by their mothers & even the scariest looking gangs of men all smile & say hello. What is it that makes them look? I try to dress modestly (although in this heat I really don't want to be wearing clothes that cover my thighs, chest, shoulders, so I hope they don't mind if I manage 2 out of three!) I think it’s as simple as a white person walking down the street. White people aren't uncommon here but they tend to stick to their air conditioned 4x4's.


I love walking around the large bustling market with all its noises & smells (some unpleasant!). The stalls piled high with fresh fruits & vegetables. Everything already put into bundles, green beans & watercress wrapped & tied with a banana leaf. No plastic bags are handed out. Customers bring along their woven baskets & bags. Coconuts are deshelled except for a small section that is then used as a handle. We really could learnt a thing or two about bio food wrapping from these people, admittedly we don't have too many bananas leafs growing in the UK! The whole market is probably the size of a large supermarket back home. Tables of goods everywhere & those that can't get a table lay their wears out on the ground outside. You can also pick up locally made jewellery, fish, crabs (you buy the legs & body separately!) & much more. Towards the rear of the market hot food is sold & there is even an aisle of ladies selling their cakes & cookies from huge plastic storage containers. If only they provided trolleys! I even saw a trader watering her goods with a home made watering can – a water bottle with holes pierced into the lid. She knew that the goods would look better & juicer if they glistened.


A fight broke out in the middle of the market this morning. Everyone ran towards it crowding around & laughing. I have never before been caught up in a fight that felt friendly! The warring parties had obviously just had too much sun for the day & after a 10 minutes or so shook hands & all was peaceful again. This place is just fantastic! Walking out with my bags piled high of purchases I saw some vegetables for a $1 less than I had paid. For a second I was a little cross with myself for not looking around properly before I bought but I quickly told myself it was equal to 1 pence & I certainly don't begrudge giving these people money for their fantastic crops especially when its so cheap!


Work on the windlass continues. I stay off the boat as much as possible to avoid the fibreglass dust from the grinding (huge thanks to Shaun & Angela for giving me a night on land in their lovely house). Bobby appears to be winning. I have learnt its better not to ask questions! He now has Clement, a local guy, onboard working with him in the anchor locker grinding & laying fibreglass. They wear matching overalls & headlamps, stopping at 6pm for their allotted dinner break. They look like miners! Clement tells us stories of his island & how he can talk to the crocodiles. Under normal circumstances I would have cause to section him under the mental health act but he is deadly serious & totally sane! Trust me its hard to keep a straight face when he explains how the crocodiles stand in the water & rock their arms in front of them apparently telling Clement that they have their baby close by!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Highs & Lows

In one week we have managed more drama than I have had on this entire trip. I'm exhausted & looking forward to a peaceful nights sleep. The transmission was fixed & the fridge stocked with fresh foods. We headed out to the Florida Islands to give the transmission a trial run & then planned to head west to Gizo. There we met our buddy boat s/v Emelia & friends on s/v Katoska. It was a rough day sail over there but we celebrated being out of Honiara with an open fire on the beach. Katoska put together some amazing fish dishes (these guys can catch fish unlike ourselves!) whilst Emelia & I brought the salad dishes. It was a perfect evening. A huge high at the beginning of a week, that would see us pull together as a team over & over again.
We were “canoed” non stop – local guys paddling out to the boat in their dugouts, (canoes carved by hand from a one tree trunk) wanting to trade fruits & shells or just hang out at the boat. It’s hard to get rid of these guys. Unfortunately for us they can see directly in through our water line hatches meaning that hiding below deck didn't work plus we had no privacy.


John Ruka was totally different in his approach. He paddled over with his children, did not approach the boat until he invited, then just gave fruits & vegetables from his garden without wanting anything in return. He won us all over with his generosity & friendship. We all picked up anchor& moved over to his village. They put on an amazing show of local dancing & music to celebrate our arrival. This is the first time his village had done it & with less than 24 hours notice put on a spectacular evening. They made “leis” of fresh flowers for each of us, had an arch from palms & flowers for us to walk through. Put sand over the dirt where we were sat & presented us with a fresh coconut decorated in tropical flowers complete with a bamboo straw. We sat in a semi circle whilst the girls & boys put on traditional dances with the band on instruments made from plastic tubes that they hit with flip flops, & others on pan pipes of varying sizes made from bamboo. Tears pricked at my eyes as these generous Solomon Island people welcomed us into their village. There was no charge for the evening, it seemed they enjoyed putting it together as much as we enjoyed watching it. What did they want it return?? It was as simple as expertise & friendship. After the treat they had given us we were happy to help in any way we could.


As we headed for bed on a high from the evenings entertainment we had no idea what we were in for. Bobby & I were awoken by a noise on deck, upon hearing another we were straight out of bed. ****ing thieves. You never totally shut off when sleeping on the boat. Your brain automatically listens out for rain & wind although I’ll admit to pretending I’m still asleep so Bobby gets up & closes the hatches….don’t tell him! Now its thieves we have to beware of. I immediately alerted the other boats via VHF whilst handing Bobby the search light& a pair of shorts! At that point we only saw one guy in a dugout canoe paddling for his life, we learnt later than there were two of them. I was busy lowering the dinghy & shouting that we should go after the thief. I was later told me that normal people don't chase thieves & that my cop side came out. Bobby, Eric (from s/v Katoska), plus one big knife went after the guy. He made it to the mangroes & legged it. Bobby returned to Barraveigh toeing the dugout plus our flip flops & clothes pegs. We claimed victory, they got away with nothing plus we had their canoe which we hoisted on deck, no simple task those dugouts weigh a tonne. The next morning we realised the camera was missing, someone (no names mentioned but lets just say it wasn't me!) left it in the cockpit & to top it off we discovered the canoe belonged to our host’s brother & had been stolen by the thieves. From victory to despair in matter of minutes.


During the next few days we witnessed some amazing local politics. The chiefs of the villages got together & the villagers identified the thieves. After being found hiding in the bush, they were placed under house arrest. The priest was summoned. According to our host John, a man will lie to a man, but a man will not lie to a priest. He was right the thieves were so scared of the priest they admitted everything. Finally after two days we got the camera back, complete with photo from the thieves! Thankfully its a waterproof camera & was still working after its trip overboard. We won. We got everything back & were part of an experience we would never have witnessed otherwise. The priest declared all the boats taboo. Anyone touching them would freeze & would be found there the next morning. Yes you are prob thinking exactly what I thought when I was told this but the locals here still believe in black magic. John & his family became security guards & took turns in paddling around the boats at nights just to be sure.


The next few days were blissful, putting in mooring balls for future visiting yachts, putting together ideas for John on how to attract yachts. We played with the kids, teaching them to hula & skip whilst they showed us how they hunted animals with bows & arrows, & wove baskets from palm prongs.

To show their gratitude, John & his family put on another show. To be honest I think they all just loved having people to entertain! Again it was outstanding but cut short as a storm blew in covering us in torrential rain & high winds. We sheltered under a leaf hut until the sickening shout of “a boat is on the reef”. We all ran to the dinghy’s, set off into the water with rain hitting us & waves crashing into the dinghy. Rounding the corner I saw Barraveigh was safe where we left her but Katoska was on the reef near shore. From there on it was a huge team effort. I clambered onto Barraveigh to ensure she wasn't dragging whilst Bobby assisted Katoska. They got her free after a few tense hours. Damage – none, they were lucky! Celebratory drink – rum!
Could there be any more drama in this tiny bay! Answer: Yes & typically it had to be us again! Ready to leave for a 2 day sail to Gizo, said our goodbyes & were pulling up the anchor. All of a sudden I hear Bobby swearing at the bow, concerned he had trapped a foot in the windlass I rushed forward to see the windlass totally ripped off its footing & inches from being dragged overboard, saved only by Bobby attaching a rope seconds before the incident. On come all the boys to help haul up the chain & anchor while I drive us round in circles away from the reef .

Guess where we are heading? Yep back to Honiara!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Honiara Part 2!

Back in Honiara we soon were joined by s/v Luna & s/v Emelia, with whom we have been bumping into for some time. Emelia & Barraveigh will be buddy boating together for next leg to PNG & then around the northern side of PNG into Indonesia. Fewer boats sail this route, most opting for the Torres Straight between Australia & PNG but we are taking the route less travelled. With the two boats together we hope to experience less problems with pirates & hoping there is safety in numbers. Unfortunately for Emelia awaiting the seal for our transmission is becoming a bit of a nightmare. It never seems to make it onto the plane in Australia! No complaints from me, each day we are here I get to enjoy a roti & ice cream!
I finally treated myself to a night on land. My parents very kindly bought me an early birthday present, a weekend diving. I think Mum wanted to take it back when she realised one of the dives was going to be with manta rays! I had a fantastic time, completing 5 dive including a night dive & a wreak dive. Unfortunately the manta rays weren't working on our schedule but my confidence underwater has come on leaps & bounds.

To be in Honiara during the anniversary of the American landings was very special. Beautiful wreaths packed full of orchids were placed at the American memorial & even here at the yacht club. Now for a short history lesson! During WW2 the Americans attempted to land right here on the beach at Point Cruz where the yacht club stands. The Japanese lay in wait only opening fire once all the troops had disembarked. Signalman First Class Douglas Munro, officer in charge of a group of Higgins boats led five small boats to the shore to rescue nearly 500 solders. He put his boat with two small guns on board between beachhead & the enemy fire allowing the troops to shelter behind & evacuate. Douglas Munro was killed by enemy fire towards the end of the evacuation but was awarded the Medal of Honor (no I haven't misspell it, its a yank medal so I should spell it their way!!) for his bravery that allowed so many soldiers to survive. As I write this I am sat looking out over the calm waters of Point Cruz with the sea gently lapping up on the beach. It's hard to imagine all the fighting that went on right here.

During the anniversary we were honoured to meet a very special man, Theron MacKay (known as Mac). An 84 year old American Navy veteran who was a seaman in the Solomon Islands during WW2. His boat, LST-342, was torpedoed on 18th July 1943. Amazingly he survived. Thrown into the water during the explosion he swam to the bow of the boat, which had broken off & miraculously still floating. Other survivors pulled him out the water & up onto the bow. They were rescued the following day. Of the 85 crew only 5 men survived, along with only a handful of the 100 troops onboard. Mac has returned to the boat to lay a wreath for the last 10 years in memory of his lost comrades. It was a true honour to meet this lovely man & moments spent with him will never be forgotten. In the rush of our busy lives we rarely reflect on how different it could have been had all those young men from all the allied forces not fought for their countries. As time marches on there are very few still around to tell their stories & the first hand experiences will all too soon remain only in history books.

I will never forget working in Central London during a Remembrance Day Parade. Proud elderly men walking behind their ensign or being pushed in wheelchairs by their comrades. I was moved to tears & bitterly disappointed at people from my own generation who show these men very little appreciation. This November buy a poppy & wear it with pride. Wear it & remember it displays your respect for all those men who have fought in the many wars fighting for our futures.


photo courtesy of Greg Barr

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Retracing our steps

We were 12 hours out of Honiara when we had to make a decision. 12 hours of motoring due to no wind, led us to notice we had a transmission fluid leak. Bobby made the hard decision to turn around & head back to Honiara where we knew there were the facilities & expertise to fix the problem. It is horrible go backwards when we have so far to go but it was the right decision.


Bobby immediately hit a low - I think it was the thought of the 185 American dollars we had just burnt in fuel for going no where! To make it worse we turned back into a strong current doing 3 knots at the best. It didn't do too much for the flagging spirits. I didn't tell Bobby that when he went to bed we were only doing 1 knot! Even the dolphins swimming at our bow weren't impressed at our slow speed.

We came back into Honiara bay at night & dropped anchor. 24 hours at sea & we were back where we started. It's all part of the adventure!

Honiara

I haven't boarded a plane home, I'm staying & have loved our time in Honiara. We arrived tired & are leaving fully recovered. For those of you who haven't got a clue where in the world the Solomon Islands are, get onto google earth! It's east of Australia & south of Papua New Guinea. The name Guadalcanal may ring a few bells. This is where the Japanese & the Americans battled it out during WW2. I have trekked over hills, through jungle & jumped in & out of Japanese fox holes & imagined what those men went through. Much of the island is as untouched & undeveloped as it was back in 1942. Rusting Japanese & American WW2 tanks, jeeps, planes equipment lay where they were left. A few days of discovering war paraphernalia was enough for me so I left the boys to dig up fox holes whilst I sat by the pool with a good book.


Honiara is not a pretty town by any standard but it wove a magic spell on me & I love it. I will admit to feeling apprehensive upon first walking down the street. Metal grates pulled down over every shop & drunk guys loitering on the street, one of whom took offence when Bobby won't hand over his ice cream! The pavement & shop fronts are littered with red splodges. It looks like someone has taken a pot of red paint & flicked a paint brush everywhere. This decorative red that the Solomon people put all over their towns & villages is the result of betel nut. Every country & society has its drug of choice but this is the worst I have seen to date! You chew a green looking nut the size of a small kiwi fruit, your mouth is then full & you look like a hamster storing food in your cheeks! You then dip a green bean (like a runner bean) into a ground white lime powder & put that in your mouth. The combination turns your mouth bright red & at some point you have to spit the contents out & apparently the nearest bit of pavement is acceptable! In this country you don't see “do not litter signs” instead there are “no spitting” signs & job adverts in the paper state the list of qualifications required & “must not chew betel nut”! Bobby, a willing guinea pig to try anything once, only managed to cope with the nut in his mouth for a matter of seconds before spitting it all out due to the horrible taste. I just wasn't quick enough with the camera!


Honiara quickly grew on us. Yes, it looks a little rough & Sunday is not a day to walk around town as all the men have been spending the weekend drinking but underneath the rough exterior the people as with all the South Pacific are wonderfully friendly & smiley. Honiara has a big expat community. Due to the ethnic tension the country experienced a few years ago the Australians have stepped in & assisting the country to get back on its feet again. The yacht club here in Honiara is the expat & local hang out. Only about 3 boats actually remain here in Honiara & there were no other cruisers when we arrived so we were somewhat of a novelty. The local people were much friendlier that the expats & the staff at the yacht club just couldn't do enough to assist us.


We met Laurie, an ozzie guy working out here who became a firm friend. He drove us up to the villages where we all clambered about the ridges where battles took place in the war. The local boys picked a bunch of wild flowers for me which I placed on the American War Memorial. Bobby & Laurie seemed to be having a competition over how many grenades (still with pins!) they could find. I made sure I was standing some distance from them! We took a walk through the fantastic jungle to an amazing waterfall. Bobby was given a piggyback through the many rivers as he didn't want to get his boots wet (check photo gallery for his embarrassing photo) whilst I waded through like a real man! Towards the end of the walk (some four hours!) his boot totally gave in & the sole completely came off! Walking through a field past a village church with beautiful singing pouring out & the children running out of church towards us – not too sure the vicar would have been too impressed with us unintentionally interrupting his service!


We have stayed here much longer than we expected, there is no beach & you can't swim in the ocean here due to the raw sewage but have I have enjoyed every minute. It's time to leave we have too keep going, we did consider staying for a year & getting jobs but after weighing up the options we are moving on. Its time to get to those islands & Thai curries!

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Encouragment

I really can't thank all of you enough for your emails of encouragment in reply to "written from the heart". They have truly helped pull myself together. A huge thank you has to go to my family who I scare the hell out of & then disturb in the early hours of the morning with phone calls that don't connect once they pick up. Just managing to cope themselves they still find the energy to see me through the tough parts.

I appreciate the time & effort it takes from your busy days to write emails of support to boost my failing confidence. Some of you I have never met, but all your emails have had me close to tears (in a happy way!). To know you are all out there rooting for me leaves me speechless. The emails have all been saved onto my computer & will be reread should I find myself in a pickle again.

You will be pleased to know that our "time out" in Honiara, Solomon Islands has lifted both our spirits. Ice cold Sol beers have helped Bobby & huge ice creams have been my medication! Feeling stronger, I'm ready to put my best foot forward & get back in the saddle. For now though we are in no rush & thoroughly enjoying Honiara.

Hoping to make the next few trips in short hops to ease me back into things. Just keep your fingers crossed for good weather & calm seas!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Written from the Heart

This was a tough passage. Not because of the weather or the conditions, although they were far from fantastic but I have been through worse. This one was hard mentally. I collapsed in a total state. I was petrified, unnecessarily so. I was unable to keep things in perspective or draw from previous experience. The panic & fear may have been understandable if I had never been at sea before. A four day passage in my second year of cruising on Barraveigh that caused me to take such a nose dive has left me racking my brains & reflecting on what may have caused it.
I had been keen to leave Vanuatu & had been restless whilst we waited out bad weather looking for a good window to leave. Within the first 24 hours my melt down began, lying on the cockpit floor in floods of tears. A fear of the sea & scared that it was going to kill me had suddenly risen from inside. I have no idea where this suddenly sprung from & I know its from there that things got worse. Reflecting on it from the safety of an anchorage I wonder, have I suddenly hit a new stage in the grieving process & thoughts of loosing Sally, or is this more to do with the psychology of being at sea? Or is it just a bad mixture of everything? Which ever it is, it's serious & I need to overcome it. I made life dangerous for both myself & Bobby.

This life is not an easy one. There are many pleasures but a fair amount of hardships too. We are earning our adventures. Behaviours that never get a second thought in normal land life become huge issues on a boat at sea. It is those areas that I am trying to analyse to see what caused me to “system overload” & if they can be avoided in future passages.
If I'm totally honest I am so very very tried of the knocks & picking myself up again. I think I just ran out of energy to hold it together. I need a break. This isn't a lifestyle that is natural to me. I do it & may take it in my stride more than others but I too have my limits. I plan to give myself a day or two in a hotel to give myself the time & space to pull myself together. I have learnt two things about myself which do not blend well with life on board a boat; personal space & social isolation.
My personal space is a huge deal. At sea with the boat healed over there is little space on the boat to move about & with only one person able to be in the cockpit we were living in the cabin or on watch in the cockpit. I need to be able to walk around, get off the boat, spend time on land......I need space! But I need to find a way to deal with the lack of it while we are at sea. I'm also not good with social isolation. On passages with only my own company day after day, night after night, I begin to crave someone to talk to, play cards with, or just generally hang out with. Whilst at sea, Bobby & I continually take turns sleeping, or have time in the cabin away from the wet cockpit. This sends me a little potty as I think of family & home. Bobby on the other hand loves the alone time! I need people around me. Admittedly a cruisers lifestyle is very social, a good anchorage with loads of your friends around will be non stop sun downers, but that's only half the time, the rest is at sea & it is very isolated.

We made an emergency stop at Kirakira on Makira Island (south of the capital Honiara if you are looking at a map) after 4 days at sea. We were at our limits & needed to stop. On top of which we had problems on board. We ripped our head sail on day one (sailing 400 miles in three days with only a small main, shows you sailors out there how strong the winds were!). The head (toilet) overflowed, I shall let your imaginations run on that one, but just picture trying to deal with a horrible job at the best of times & especially horrible at a 45 degree angle! Further to that I'm now an expert at peeing into a bottle, handy for those times when I return to work & am stuck in a surveillance van! It rained nearly non stop, our foul weather gear just couldn't keep the wet out & our thermal gear underneath was soaked after each watch. It was a hunt for dry warm clothes & it seemed if I found some dry clothes & it wasn't raining a wave would break in the cockpit soaking me! Kinda hard to keep smiling when the gods seem to be against you!! Poor Barraveigh was soaked, water in all the bilges, everything was damp & wet clothes hung from everywhere possible or strewn on the floor as we heeled over. On top of everything else my sea legs have not yet returned. I found it a struggle to be below deck & certainly could not even think about using the galley.
All these things resulted in a bad diet, bad routine, lack of positivity & a bad mental state, unable and then unwilling to partake in the duties on board. I just hit that brick wall & wished there was a big emergency button I could hit to make it all stop. I had decided that was it, I was getting off as soon as we hit land. Life at work & in my flat was a life I wanted back.

I'm sitting in an anchorage from hell. The swell in here is so bad we are bouncing around as much as we were out at sea & the rain is non stop. But (& its a huge but), we are stationary. No sails or engine to think of, no navigation to stare at, just sleep, reading & watching some movie's (very hooked of the series Heroes). We have eaten proper meals, cleaned up the boat, emptied & dried the bilges & changed the head sail. Things feel better but I'm still apprehensive. I need to fix this or get off. It's too dangerous to be at sea in that state again. My hotel rest may however have to wait a week or so until we arrive at an island with a hotel worth staying at! Until then, we have a few shorter trips to do. I'm starting my list of ways to keep positive. I'm going to start with my Mums mantra “feeling down, bake something”, I'm off to make peach crumble & custard!

Want to read Bobbys version of events check www.barraveigh.com

Monday, 14 July 2008

Luganville

We stayed here for much longer than planned due to bad weather. We certainly had more rain than sun – nice to know there are other places in the world as wet as the UK! But it wasn't a bad place to be stuck. Moored outside a small resort on the island of Aore just across the channel from Luggenville. Aore was the Americans R&R base during the 2nd World War & Lugenville was the American base for the army, the channel between the two would have been filled with huge war ships in 1942. It certainly hits home looking at old photos & imaging all the men here. We scavenged the beach with Miles & Paulene (guests at the resort who were kind enough to share their shower facilities with us. With whom we had lots of fun & even celebrated Paulenes birthday on Barraveigh with sundowners & birthday cake!). Bobby & Miles digging with their “made in China” folding spades (all the shops here are owned by the Chinese). Paulene & I hunting for bottles in the shallows of the sea. We were proud of our of war treasure. Trash to everyone else but treasure to us! A collection of old coke bottles (with year of production on their sides from 1942-1944), glass bottles of varying sizes, bullets & shells, Bobby even found an old razor & part of an Old Spice bottle.


Manson (our friendly waiter with the widest smile) gave us a guided tour of the island, pointing out old American bunkers & educating us on the local fruits. Did you know that you could suck the fleshy seeds of the cocoa pod? Unfortunately it doesn't taste of chocolate but really sweet & refreshing. Bobby & Miles explained to Manson about the moon & sun & how they rotate around the earth. It will be one of those special memories; watching three men crouched down on the dirt road, drawing in the dust, caught in a private moment. I learnt later what they were doing & how Manson had suddenly asked why the moon is sometimes in the sky & sometimes its not. Reflecting on the incident afterwards it stuck me how lucky, we in Western countries, are. We have a right to a free education. We may bitch & grumble about our governments & taxes but seriously we are lucky. No matter what our parents earn we have the right to free schooling, which allows us to have a career & a decent way of life. In these counties parents have to pay school fees for each child. Sometimes its just not possible to send all the children to school. No education no chance for them to get a job. Just remember this next time you want to grumble about your country.


I was excited to dive the Coolidge. The biggest accessible wreck dive in the world. An American cruise ship converted into a war ship during WW2. It hit one of its own mines & sunk close to the coast of Luganville, so close in fact that you walk out from the beach to it. Its a deep dive in which you can penetrate many of the cargo holds & rooms of the ship. Being a new diver, my nerves got the better of me & I bottled it. I think I'll stick to the shallower dives with pretty fish until I've gained some experience! To all you keen divers out there this is meant to be one of the best dive sites, with groups of divers out here completing 3 dives a day for a week on the wreck. Word has it that the night dive is the highlight!
We snorkeled Million Dollar Point where the Americans dumped millions of dollars worth of equipment, vehicles & bottles of coke into the sea. The French had declined the offer of purchasing it knowing it would be too expensive for the Americans to take home. They were counting on it being left behind & they would have it all for free. The Americans sure did leave it all behind but not before building a jetty & driving it off the end into the sea! It was a weird sight to see mountains of tanks & trucks rusting underwater & prob one of the only places where a dump site is a tourist attraction.


This year 4th July celebrations were taken seriously on Barraveigh! No other Americans around but Bobby was not going to miss the opportunity to drink beer! Awake early to make pancakes & raise three huge American flags. I made a pot of tea for him to throw into the sea (for those Brits who have no idea what I'm talking about, google Boston tea party). We then headed into town to celebrate with beers & a lunch of burgers & chips! It was a fabulous sunny afternoon spent in the pool looking down on Lugenville where so many Americans were based during the war. I wondered how the American soldiers fighting here in WW2 would have celebrated July 4th if at all, & raised a beer to the memory of those men, their bravery & courage.


Prepared to leave we filled up on our duty free allowances. Bobby, officially allowed to open his sealed box of spirits purchased in Port Villa, immediately went nuts with the Southern Comfort & earned himself a nice hangover the following morning! Once he recovered we topped off the diesel jugs with duty free fuel. Trekking off to the fuel depot expecting to fill them up at the pump, but oh no this is not the western world. The guys rolled out a 200 litre drum of diesel. Opened it, put a tube into the drum allowing us to visually see the quality of the fuel, then inserted a pump which manually had to be turned with a handle to transfer the fuel into the jugs. Now heres a question for you? How many people do you think it took to complete this operation? Answer: 5, including the lady at reception who completed our paperwork. One guy to turn the handle, the other to hold the funnel & watch the fuel going into the jug, another man to oversee the operation (I'm guessing this was the boss), & another to wipe down the jug if any fuel got spilt! On a plus side at least everyone gets a job! It was one of those moments when you wish you hadn't left the camera on the boat!

Friday, 4 July 2008

my daily jog is becoming dangerous!

Is it safer to:

a. run in a coconut plantation (is it really true that more people get killed by falling coconuts than get struck by lightening?)
b. run through a herd of mad looking cows & bulls
c. run though the streets of Tottenham at night

c. is probably the safer option given that my present running route is a & b combined! Not much you can do about it on an Pacific island whose main export is copra (for coconut oil) & raises some of the best tasting cattle in the world. According to the travel books they massage the cows but I can assure you they don't look very relaxed & chilled out! Not sure my rape alarm is going to help me here Gilly!

On a separate note thank you to all those who are sending encouraging emails, they are appreciated & apologies for absent replies but once again internet is becoming scarce & expensive. Looking forward to cheap & high tech asia in Sept!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Variety in Vanuatu

We have certainly had variety here but I have to admit I haven't fallen for the place. I can't put my finger on it. Has it been invaded by us western tourists a little more than I was expecting? Answer: No. Have the people been friendly & welcoming? Answer: Yes. Have I had some amazing experiences? Answer: Yes. Then what is my problem? Answer: I have no idea.


Maybe I haven't spent long enough in the country but something was missing for me. I rarely felt the urge to stay at an anchorage longer than we did or felt a true connection with the local people. It's not to say we haven't had amazing experiences or met some fantastic locals. I just haven't had that buzz or truly stepped off that worn tourist track. Vanuatu certainly isn't as populated with tourists as Fiji or Tahiti but they certainly know how to charge the Westerners for a glimpse into their life. My hope is that as we go further north into the Solomon Islands & over the northern side of Papua New Guinea where fewer cruisers sail we will be enriched with local experiences. Only time will tell!


Their way of life on these islands is so primitive & basic. It is interesting & certainly enlightening. Seriously can any of you men imagine walking around wearing nothing but a banana leaf to cover your penis! I don't resent their outrageous prices for the camera happy westerners who rock up & ogle at their way of life, but I am left with a feeling that we haven't seen the real them or their true way of life. Maybe the people of Vanuatu are the British equivalent with an air of reserve & it takes awhile for them to really accept you & to truly relax in your presence. Unfortunately we haven't got the time to spend longer here to truly penetrate the country & mentally we are ready to move on. Sometimes you connect with a country & sometimes you don't. On the plus side no time is wasted & Vanuatu has given me some fabulous memories, maybe I'm just getting greedy & wanting more than my allowed quota!


Watching Bobby paddle an outrigger in circles whilst the owner, Nelson ate my freshly baked lemon cake & drank coke. We had earlier traded a paint brush & thinner for his lemons. We then went about our daily chores on the boat whilst he sat reading (out loud!) the local paper. There was something comforting about hearing him read whilst I went about preparing dinner in the galley. Nelson took us to the best snorkelling spot (perfectly clear waters but bloody freezing) & showed us around the camp that the US tv show Survivor used a few years back. He was just happy hanging out (although I think he will have told his wife he had been working hard tending to their vegetables) & we were happy to share the afternoon with him. He did leave Bobby a little baffled after he had spent time digging out his photo printer & printing a photo. Upon presenting Nelson with a photo of him & Bobby on his outrigger, Nelson asked “What about the photo of me & your wife?” he he!


A perfect night at anchor in a calm flat bay, no other boats, a fantastic meal & cocktails (with ice!), followed by a lovely sunset & a movie in the cockpit under the stars. Yep it's the things we normally dream about that are my reality (sometimes it's also hell, normally on passages!)
We climbed an active volcano on Ambrym beginning the walk at sunrise & ending it at sunset barely able to stand! 11 full hard hours walking up & down hills & valleys, over ash plains & balancing on the edge of the lava ridges. It was breath taking to stand at the rim of the volcano with molten lava below crashing like waves on a beach. Through the sulphur that billowed up & left its mark for miles in the blue sky, we could see the glow & bubbles of liquid lava below. I was speechless staring into the mouth of planet earth & then I was speechless contemplating the walk we had to do to get back! Our guides were amazing. We rock up with all our walking gear, loads of water & food, they turn up in bare feet carrying only a machete! If they became thirsty they cut open a coconut & if they got hungry they found a banana. They even carried the backpacks of those that were struggling (Dad, you'll be happy to note I carried my bag all the way up there & all the way back. I remember being told “Only take what you can carry”, those DofE expeditions held me in good stead!).


We then sailed over to Homo Bay on Pentecost Island as I was desperate to watch the land diving. Pentecost is home to the original bungee jumping. It only occurs in the months of April, May & June & is now typically put on for the tourists. I was in two minds about going. It goes against what we have discovered we want out of this trip. To pay extortionate amounts of money for the locals to put on their costumes & do something they would otherwise not have done just to entertain the white man normally makes me want to run a mile but, my curiosity got the better of me. I was assured by the Peace Core volunteer working at the village that the young boys are not forced to jump & willingly do it. For most she said the chance to wear the namba (a penis wrap that covers nothing but the penis) is apparently the highlight for the kids. All I have to say on the matter is that I certainly had my years “ball” quota in a matter of hours. My heart was in my mouth watching them prepare to jump. They jump from this rickety structure which looks like it is about to collapse with only yam vines tied to their ankles. Their hair is meant to touch the soil below as they fall to fertilise the yam crops. The soil below is loosened & cleared of all rocks & stones. Women are not allowed within 20 meters of the structure. Although exceptions are made for the paying tourists we were certainly not allowed to touch the structure. I'm glad I have seen it & the money goes back into the village but there was a false feeling to the event. I couldn't get out of that village quick enough. The children all had the worst snotty noses I have ever seen, a layer of green snot rested on every top lip we saw & the girls decided they wanted to continually stroke my hair, which trust me is not pleasant when you have just seen them picking & killing nits off of each others heads!


Our other experience at Batnavni on Pentecost was entirely different. Dropping the hook I could see clusters of straw huts around the pretty bay. We were lucky enough to stumble upon the 2 Johns who took us under their wing & kept us away from one of the chiefs, who charges nearly £30 per person just to come ashore & sign his visitors book – see what I mean about them possibly taking the piss with the outrageous charges. They showed us their fishery, a straw shack with a few freezers, its kind of third world meets first world. Next door to the fishery was the fuel station, another straw hut! We returned the following morning to Johns house & relaxed in their yard. His wife handed over fresh coconuts, spring onions, green beans & sweetcorn & even gave me a fabulous woven bag. They wanted nothing in return & were happy to just sit & talk. We took them back to Barraveigh where I made lunch & we returned the generosity giving them some old bedding, fish hooks & a few girly goodies for the wife.


They invited us to a party, one of Johns family were holding a 1st birthday bash so I made another lemon cake as our contribution to the party. A walk to the tiny hamlet up the hill where the party was being held, passing kava, banana, yam & even pineapple plantations saw us at the Nakamal (meeting house, kinda like our village halls) sitting on woven mats in the dirt. These people made us feel so welcome,even though we made the birthday girl cry. I'm not sure she had ever seen white people before & you cannot fake the look of fear on their faces upon clamping eyes on us. Is it polite to turn up at a child's party & then make them scream in fear?? The family from all around the island were there, including a string band, 6 guys on guitars & one guy on a bass made out of a box (you have to see it to believe it). They are amazing & we were in total awe. While they played the women removed the food from the oven, a pit dug in the ground in which a pig & yams are placed between layers of hot stones & banana leaves. They then prepared their equivalent of party bags, a piece of pork & yam tied up in banana leaves. We were humbled to be presented first with our food & we noted it was the biggest parcel. To hand it back or insist we could have a smaller parcel would have been insulting. We accepted & I was thankful I had made the cake which appeared to be going down a storm. Bobby was then presently with the first cup of kava, luckily its not normal for the women to drink it so I was excused! Bobby & John were off their heads after just one cup & Bobby assures me it was the strongest kava to date. We were amazed at our luck of stumbling upon such a wonderful enriching experience & thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.


We have one more stop in Vanuatu & that is the island of Espiritu Santo, home of one of the best wreck dives in the world! I will keep you posted!

Friday, 13 June 2008

safe & sound in Port Vila

Barraveigh is in calm flat waters. I've showered, devoured an amazing burger & chips, slept for 12 hours solid, been in awe at the French supermarket, marveled at the 24 hour fruit & veg market & attempted to learn Bislama English
Here begins the adventures of Barraveigh's 3rd leg of her world trip & my 2nd year of exploring wild & exotic islands. I can feel a change in myself. I'm ready to get off the beaten track & tread the road (or seas) less traveled.
Port Vila is the main town in Vanuatu & has many of the conveniences that we Westerners require but it has kept its rougher, less polished edges. It gives us hope that as we sail further north, to the other islands, we will experience primitive villages & communities. I'm absorbing everything around me & noting the huge differences between here & Fiji. The people look the same, its hard not to greet them with a huge Fijian "Bula" but pay enough attention & you'll notice they are smaller in size & have a more reserved personality that feels very English. Many braid their hair in cornrows & the women wear plainer dresses than neighboring Fiji but their personalities are just as warm & friendly. At times it feels like I've landed in Mars, watching the locals with their beautiful dark skin & afro hair play boules in the park just as the old French men do in France, walking through the market that never sleeps, reading the signs written in Bislama & buying fresh croissants.
The English & French have both left their mark on the country. Vanuatu was previously called the New Hebrides. It was governed by both the French & the English. The dual administration caused huge rivalry & much confusion. There were 2 education systems, 2 police forces & 2 currencies. When colonial rule came to an end in 1980 it was given the name Vanuatu.
Vanuatu has much history from World War 2. Due to its position in the South Pacific & the joint English & French presence, the New Hebrides was the ideal location for the American army & navy. They arrived in 1942 & pushed north into territories occupied by the Japanese. The Americans have also left their mark on this country with many wrecks making excellent dive sites & also on the older generation who remember the Americans arriving in their huge ships. A young boy of 6 or 7 asked Bobby where he was from. When he replied "America", the young boy said "America (pause). You like to fight"!!!
P.S Does anyone know where Bobby went? He seems to have been replaced by a romantic twin! I've been treated like a princess. I awoke from a lie in (8am!) to find a breakfast of croissants, pamplemousse & a bunch of huge tropical flowers awaiting me. Wow!

well done to anyone who noticed I'm holding the flag upside down!!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

There goes my 100% record!

As soon as we got through the Momi Pass, leaving Fijian waters & out into the big blue I was hit by seasickness. We were both quietly concentrating & trying to get our bodies into the seas rhythm. Had I spent too long on land or were the seas much rougher than we had experienced in the past? Somehow I doubted it, the trip from Bora Bora to Palmerston was much worse than this.

Things didn't improve so we split a anti seasickness patch, kinda like a nicotine patch but you stick it behind your ear. Unfortunately it didn't work quick enough for me & for the first time ever I was leaning across the lifelines sharing my lunch with the Pacific sea. Not as easy as it sounds !With the boat hurtling down & spinning out of waves, water crashing over the port side & the boat heeling so far over to starboard that the deck was in the sea, Bobby telling me to lay low & stay clipped in. Thoughts going through my mind were; do I lean over the port side which is higher meaning I'm less likely to get washed off the boat but I am likely to get a face full of water & with the wind coming from the south I was likely to be wearing my lunch! Or do I go for the starboard side, lie really low with my face between the lifelines, less likely to get wet or covered in vomit, but a little too close to the sea for comfort. Next frustration was trying to get close to the side of the boat whilst clipped in with lines that prevent you from getting anywhere near the edge. It was all becoming a little too much for me so after a comedy sketch of Bobby holding onto my ankles we seriously discussed turning around & heading back to Fiji. It was very tempting but I knew if I went back I would never leave for a second time. We choice to stick it out & get through it together. Bobby reasoned that it wasn't unsafe it was just very uncomfortable.

I have been racking my mind trying to portray to you non sailors what it is really like out here in these conditions. Bobby best described it as a simulator that goes non stop for 4 days & nights. You can't hit the emergency button for it to stop & you still have to eat, sleep, prepare meals & use the bathroom. Washing went out the window & we had a “who smells worse & who has the greasiest hair” competition.

Every 30 minutes or so the big blue throws an enormous wave our way engulfing the cockpit & crashing cold salty water over whoever happens to be on watch. I don't even bat an eye lid any more when it happens, I just await the next one. I am living in my foul weather gear (Jon, your Elalto products have done you proud), am clipped onto the boat with my harness & am reading my book through a freezer/ziplock bag so it doesn't get soaked by the boarding waves. I do get a little freaked watching the waves that come running after us from the stern & tower as high as the bimini. All you can do is hope that it crashes before it reaches the boat & totally soaks you.
I've tried to remain positive & tell myself that this is part of the adventure but now & again (normally after I've been sick) I want it all to stop, I have a few tears before pulling myself together, refocusing & telling myself I'm earning my adventures in these far flung islands.
For now I'm watching the land on the horizon get closer, looking forward to a calm anchorage, raising the courtesy Vanuatu flag & washing my very smelly body & greasy hair.

Vanuatu, you had better be worth this nightmare trip!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Farewell Fiji

Saying goodbye was tough. Its been home, I have loved it here. If I didn't have such itchy feet to explore the rest of the world I could have happily stayed. This country & the people are amazing. Their government maybe in constant turmoil with coups & the people may not be rich in comparison to Westernised standards but if they could bottle their smiles & genuine friendship they would be the richest country in the world. We in first world countries may have financial wealth but Fiji beats us all in societal richness.


As with most of our trip, leaving was not without its own story. I headed into town to collect some last minute supplies from the market & a secret stash of goodies for those times when we both need a pick me up out at sea. I returned to the marina to discover both Bobby & Barraveigh missing! Was this a huge not to subtle hint?
We were due to check out the following day but Bobby discovered it was a public holiday. Unable to leave checking out until Monday due to an expiring visa in Bobbys passport he had hot footed it over to Lautoka with quickly recruited Bill (s/v Creola). For some reason the officials want to see the boat from their office window even though they never come aboard. The boys made it back just as the sun was setting so I didn't have to make myself a bed on the dock.#


Saying goodbye to the staff at the marina was hard. They had become such a part of our everyday life. Bobby has promised them he will return in four years time! We were both quiet as we slipped our lines from the dock, wrapped in our memories of our months in Fiji. We made our way slowly out of the marina, past the grassy area where we had watched movies under the stars & past the bar where many sundowners had been consumed before we made ourselves look forward to the adventures that lay ahead.


A final night out at the islands with s/v Creola & s/v Emelia. It was a fab sail out there, all in convoy passing one another, taking photos, lots of laughs & even a dare to take your bikini top off competition started by a cheeky Linda! Most sailors begin their experience with day sails, sailing with other boats & even just leaving the dock for the hell of going for a sail. For me its been a means to get from one country to another & these fun times are a real novelty. I had sailed all the way from Panama to Tonga before experiencing day sails!


If Bobby & I thought we were going to have a quiet night we were greatly mistaken. An offer of dinner & cocktails on Creola can never be turned down followed by chill time on Emelia with Gene (American country songwriter) on guitar & singing. Listening to the music & looking up at the stars, a prefect way to spend the last night in gorgeous Fiji. She will be sorely missed as will our good buddies Bill & Linda on Creola with whom we are parting company as our itineraries take us in different directions.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

I'm a diver

If you had told me a year or so ago that I'd voluntarily be signing up for a PADI Open Water Dive Course I would never have believed you. I was a fan of the seas surface & not of the deep depths of the big blue. Slowly my confidence has grown & I want to be able to play with the fish for longer than I can hold my breath. The challenge for 2008 was to face my fears & learn to dive. I signed up with a few conditions:
1.one to one tuition
2.patient instructor
3.to complete the course at my own pace. I knew if I was rushed or pushed to finish the course in a few days I'd panic & pack it in.


Albert, the Fijian had the unfortunate job of being my chosen instructor & he was fantastic. He got me through the fears & tears, removing my mask underwater is still not my favourite skill but I can do it – victory! We shared smiles when skills went well, & celebrated with ice creams after each completed chapter.

First few dives during the course were pretty boring. Dead coral & not too much to look at but I have the distinct feeling Albert was ensuring I didn't become distracted & concentrated on the job at hand, especially after I became less than impressed with the remora fish trying to stick itself to me whilst I was trying to complete a set of skills!

I passed the tests & returned to Barraveigh where my very cute boyfriend had blown up balloons, plastered them with messages as well as buying me two dives. We headed out the next morning with Bill & Linda from s/v Creola. I had a bit of a panic on the first dive but with Bobby on one arm & the dive master on the other I managed to descend & became a lot happier once I could see the coral we were heading for. Bobby knew how nervous I was & held onto my hand the entire dive. We swam around the pinnacle of coral slowly getting deeper. There were hundreds of fish of all sizes, tiny clown fish no bigger than your little finger nail, poisonous lion fish & stone fish, & beautiful soft corals. The second dive was better. I was off & away on my own, no holding hands & even spotted 5 or 6 white tipped reef sharks (they don't panic me any more after sharing many snorkelling spots in the South Pacific with them).

We celebrated my first dives back on board the dive boat with cold beers & then on board Creola with champagne, where we also toasted my Nan's 92nd birthday. Nan, I know you will love the fact that I completed my first dives on your birthday.

I couldn't have had a more amazing time & everyone made the day feel very special. I know I have a long way to go before feeling totally comfortable down there, but with more experience I'm sure it will happen. There is going to be so much to see in the next few months & many WW2 wrecks that I pleased I've done it.

To you Bobby, a huge thank you. You held my hand, literally, as I overcame my fears.