The last two years in 45 seconds

I recently noticed cobwebs developing on my website when I saw the last published date was July, 2015, almost two years ago. The acceleration of time over the last several years has become more and more noticeable... My inability to update this site has perhaps been a combination of not feeling that I have anything adventurous to post about, an unconscious concentration on other social platforms, (blogging has become unfashionable, apparently), a difficult period in my personal life and a move interstate. The promise of a short film 'The Voyage of Harmony' had a setback with the unusual corruption of video working files and the parallel failure of my backup. I'm usually extremely good with keeping data safe (it's part of what I do) - thankfully I was able to retrieve my work eventually, however unfortunately it demoralised me in the process. I do however plan to have a first cut ready for screening at the Adventure Travel Film festival in Bright this summer.

I've always dreamt of living remotely faraway in my own home - this was achieved late year when I moved to the end of the earth: Tasmania, Australia.

In all my travels I had always wished I had a 'base' to come home to, a place to recharge and dream from. If you are ever in Tasmania, get in contact, I'd love to host you.

I've been working on a small shipping container cabin, made from a 20ft container which was already on the property when I purchased it. I hired a crane, moved it onto pillars and started work. I will do a full blog post on this little project when it's finished.

Within my the main business where I spend the majority of my time, we made our first (small) acquisition and bought a Brisbane-based company - this was a strategic purchase primarily for the infrastructure. I then went on a roadtrip to pickup a van full of servers and bring them back to Melbourne for deployment.

I've also been working on various side projects, including small-scale manufacturing and product design, something I've wanted to do for a long time but never had the space or the resources. I became obsessive about industrial sewing machines and industrial fabrics, eventually putting a small label to market. This work has slowed recently for lack of suitable workshop space, however I'm working towards resolving with the above container studio.

In August 2016 I did some drone work for a chef on Satellite Island, a private island in Tasmania.

Satellite Island, Tasmania from nickj on Vimeo.

Adventure-wise not a whole lot has been happening, with my energy dramatically funnelled elsewhere - primarily into the projects above, my work and other more personal things. Although I have some plans!

2016/2017 has been full of dramatic adjustments, although I'm beginning to feel whole again which is perhaps why this post has materialised after two years. I have other projects and work under wraps, which I will write more about soon!

The Good Ship Harmony, Car vs Drones

This year I've been quietly trying to finish a short film on crossing the Pacific in SV Harmony in 2013, which has proved more difficult than anticipated. To keep me motivated and usher it along, I've created a short trailer for the project:

Between working on Serversaurus, and moving out of the city to live by the ocean as a means to spend more time surfing, I recently worked on a Vice Creators Project called Car vs Drones, where I led the drone team - here is a behind the scenes documentary:

The final piece:

This was a big budget production, directed by GMUNK and shot at Docklands Studio 1, here in Melbourne over the course of two days, with a series of custom made QAV400 quadcopters and 8 drone pilots.

Land voyaging

Soon after selling Harmony, I felt a pang of captivity - owning a boat is as much about enjoying being out on the water, as it is a symbol for something freer. Unable to own a boat for the foreseeable future, and being land-bound, I decided to buy an old Toyota Hilux which in my mind is a little bit like the land equivalent of a Contessa 26: Relatively small, cheap(ish), underpowered, as capable as anything in the right hands, and bulletproof. After a few solo weekend adventures across beaches and into the high country, I assembled a motley crew and headed off to South Australia - one of the few places where you can drive along the beaches, and really get away from it all. These are some images from our adventures across the sand and salt.

In the spirit of boating, my Hilux is named Heidi. MV Heidi to be precise.

Bon vent!

Interviews & Harmony for sale

My dear ship Harmony is currently in Sydney harbour, and I'm now open to all reasonable offers for her purchase. I can't afford to keep Harmony in Sydney endlessly, nor can I bear the worry of her being on a mooring unattended when I'm not nearby. It's time for her to be taken into the hands of someone enthusiastic who wishes to sail away on a great adventure. Full photos, and details are available on my for sale page. Get in contact and make any offer.

In other news, I was recently on TV for the Adventure Film Festival in Bright a few weekends ago, where Between Home was screened.

I was also speaking on ABC radio with Richard Stubbs - interview embedded below:

Quotes & snippets from the South Pacific

I had the opportunity to read several great books while recently crossing the South Pacific. Sometimes people have asked me 'why would you want to sail across an ocean'... and I tell them it's the only opportunity I get for distraction free reading. Here are a few quotes and snippets I wrote down from a handful of the books I read this year.

They got to live before they can afford to die.

Up ahead they's a thousan' lives we might live, but when it comes, it'll on'y be one.

And the little storekeeper thought, How could I compete with a debtless man?

The big moon sailed off to the westward.

-The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck)

I asked a bunch of people what books I should carry across the Pacific, and The Grapes of Wrath was highly recommended - it's one of those books everyone must eventually & absolutely read. I genuinely felt like I was on route 66, headed west in a bumpy jalopy, fixing tappets on the side of the road with dust in my eyes. Actually, I was somewhere between the Marquesas and Suwarrow.

Every form of happiness is private. Our greatest moments are personal, self-motivated, not to be touched. The things which are sacred or previous to us are the things we withdraw from promiscuous sharing.

Civilisation is the progress toward a society of privacy.

-The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)

It's taken me many years to read Ayn Rand. I had avoided reading any of her books because I wasn't sure her egoist philosophy was anything I was interested in. Regardless of what you think of Rand and her philosophy, I actually enjoyed The Fountainhead a lot.

What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility.

-The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins)

The problem is, it's just not enough to live according to the rules. Sure, you manage to live according to the rules. Sometimes it's tight, extremely tight, but on the whole you manage it. Your tax papers are up to date. Your bills are paid on time. You never go out without your identity card (and the special little wallet for your Visa!).

Mediocrity is distressing.

Weathered oceans of doubt.

-Whatever: a novel (Michel Houellebecq)

We must seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom.

-Anarchism & Marxism (Noam Chomsky)

Within "The Work of Art in the Age of the Mechanical Reproduction," Walter Benjamin wrote: "The cult of the movie start, fostered by the money of the film industry, preserves not the unique aura of the person but the 'spell of the personality,' the phoney spell of a commodity.

-Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (Chris Hedges)

His goal attracts him, because he doesn't let anything enter his soul which might oppose the goal.

Everyone can reach his goals, if he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast.

-Siddartha (Hermann Hesse) - One of my favourite books, on my third reading.

Between 1530 and 1600, European ambition was simply too far ahead of technology, and until better ships and better navigation were developed, shipwrecks and disappearances were a regular part of this new adventure.

-Cod (Mark Kurlansky) - I don't know why I don't have more quotes from this book, it's simply amazing if you're interested Cod, the Atlantic, the Basque's, etc.

It was considered a virtue not to talk unnecessarily at sea and the old man had always considered it so and respected it.

"But man is not made for defeat," he said. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated."

-The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)

Mahatma Gandhi in the words: Life is not a bundle of enjoyments, but a bundle of duties

-A Very Short History of the World (Geoffrey Blainey)

E.L Doctorow once said that "writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

-Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott)

The car remained, for pet-owners as well as for smokers, one of the last spaces of freedom, one of the last temporary autonomous zones available to humans at the start of the third millennium.

-The Map and the Territory (Michel Houellebecq)

In the age of media, we are nothing but minds waiting to be filled, emotions waiting to be manipulated.

I was confident that his malaise was not just a personal issue but a societal condition

(On Wallace): Ultimately the priest told him he had too many questions to be a believer, and let the issue drop.

No one should call themselves a writer, he added, until he or she had written at least fifty stories.

How sad the world was when you opened your eyes, how much pain it contained.

To Wallace, so troubled by freedom, there was nothing more erotic than people who willingly gave up theirs.

-Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A life of David Foster Wallace (D.T Max)

You may think that the equation is 'boat and water.' It's not. It's 'money and boat.' The water is not really necessary. That's why you see so many boats in backyards.

The immense blue fabric of the sea, rumpled and creased.

-The Shipping News (Annie Proulx)

In the war we all learned the value of material things. There is no value but what you hold within yourself.

...reading can be best part of a man's life.

Men travelling alone develop a romantic vertigo.

Sheets of mackerel shards were sliding down the sky towards a magenta sunset;

(On Australia) - it was indeed, a pale land, speckled and colourless, a Wyoming with a seashore. A continent as lonely as the planet.

-The Complete Henry Bech (John Updike) - one of the most lyrical novels I've read.

Cetacean [Research] Recipes

This evening I received the press release from Sea Shepherd announcing that the Japanese whale research [poaching] vessels had left Japan today. Out of curiosity I looked up the AIS details of the whale factory ship Nisshin Maru to see its last reported position. Unfortunately AIS range is bound by VHF, so the stations will only really report it leaving port. While looking at the AIS page, I saw the familiar ICRWHALE.ORG sticker on the stern of the ship. This is the website address of the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research. Again, out of idle curiosity I looked up the IP address of ICRWHALE.ORG after reading the English version of the website. Non-authoritative answer: Name: icrwhale.org Address: 202.218.11.166

While poking around, I visited the IP address in a browser, and to my surprise and amusement, found a whale recipe website... In poorly computer translated Japanese, there are phrases such as

Whale cuisine using whale meat and whale bacon, are a comprehensive introduction to whale.

Tasting and sales information of whale of December

From here If you find a whale restaurant in your city

Look for a shop that can buy whale meat

http://202.218.11.166/

After finding the real web address associated with the Whale recipe website (e-kujira.or.jp), I did a whois lookup: Domain Information: [B%I%a%$%s>pJs] a. [B%I%a%$%sL>] E-KUJIRA.OR.JP e. [B$=$7$-$a$$] B$6$$$@$s$[$&$8$s$K$[$s$2$$$k$$$1$s$-$e$&$8$g f. [BAH?%L>] B:bCDK!?MF|K\7_N`8&5f=j g. [Organization] THE INSTITUTE OF CETACEAN RESEARCH

We all know the whale research cover is a lie, but really? The Whale recipe website is directly connected to the Institute of Cetacean Research?

More recipes and whale meat pictures on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

American Samoa to Australia

15nm out of American Samoa, the wind died, and the sun set. The forecast showed zero wind for the next several days, and I was forced to start the engine or drift. I started up the engine at nightfall, and Chris attempted to sleep through the racket, as I sipped coffee and steered into the shore lights of Samoa. Everything happens slowly at sea, especially when it comes to making landfall. When in the deep ocean I have the odd sensation of feeling very safe, yet carry a deep underlying fear at the same time. Near land, my fear turns into pure anxiety and practicality - suddenly there are mistakes to be made where things can become very bad, very quickly. There are objects and signs of humanity to navigate around - both physically and metaphorically, as things become seemingly serious again. The dreamscape of an ocean fades to be replaced by the mixed joy and madness of civilisation rapidly appearing over the horizon.

Nearing the entrance into Pago Pago, the confusion of night compounds as our digital charts become more and more useless. Buoys don't correlate with our reported position, and breaking seas seem alarmingly close. I pull out of the entrance and circle around, as Chris pulls up another set of charts to navigate on. Finally things begin to make sense, as we pass big green markers with numbers matching the numbers Chris is yelling from the companionway.

To port the golden arches of McDonalds appear, and as we motor deeper into the large, protected harbour, we end up downwind to the SeaKist tuna cannery. Each landfall always has a unique smell. I recall rounding Cape Finisterre in Spain, to the smell of fish and woodsmoke, or the sweet smell of dirt and flowers while arriving into Western Samoa five years ago. This time it was a combination of fish oil, McDonalds cheese, and diesel fumes.

It was 6am and I hadn't slept all night. We dropped anchor, to be woken up at 7.30am by the sound of electronic church bells. Reluctantly waking up, Chris and I dropped the dinghy and rowed ashore for breakfast. With nothing but the McDonalds open, we found ourselves overlooking the harbour, drinking hot coffee and eating egg muffins in chilly air conditioning. Part of me was disgusted, yet another part of me secretly enjoyed the dry conditioned air and greasy food, after months of incessant equatorial heat and steamed rice.

We spent our days in American Samoa eating lots of bad food, as if to make up for lost time at sea. While rowing across the anchorage I bumped into an old friend I'd met years earlier in Tonga. He'd made the Pacific his home, and lived easily as an American citizen in the US owned island. We hung out, went to night markets and waterfalls, traveled around on colourful buses with large sound systems, and waited for good weather.

As the days meandered on, the smell of the cannery lessened, and Chris and I became increasingly bored. We were burning through what little cash reserves we had, and it was just one more ocean passage before we were home. Frustratingly the weather didn't want to cooperate. We waited and waited, slowly ticking off jobs each day, until we bit the bullet and left on a less than ideal forecast.

By late afternoon Samoa was but a distant island on the horizon. We'd amused ourselves for a couple of hours by sailing out of the anchorage. Making dozens of tacks from cannery to McDonalds and back until we were out. The weather was idyllic and we thought a nice easy night was in front of us to ease us into ocean life again. Unfortunately soon after nightfall we were reefed down and howling south by southwest.

Resting on watch, the radio came alive asking if we had a visual. Chris and I both flew out of the companionway to see another yacht less than a hundred meters off of our starboard side. While I stayed below shouting into the radio for them to veer away, Chris took the helm and pointed us hard to port. The vessel next to us refused to make course modifications, and I have no doubt that without taking action we would have collided.

The following week howled and we decided due to wind direction to sail over the top of Fiji. Passing over the top and down towards New Caledonia, light airs arose, and we began struggling for every mile. Some days we made less than 30nm, as we fought to knock miles of the large MILES TO GO numbers on our GPS readout.

As Chris fiddled with the shortwave radio receiver for news of the football grand final, I watched the GPS with a combination of delight and sadness. Another voyage was coming to a close as each minute passed, and I knew full well it was going to be a long time before another one would be on the horizon. Chris and I had spent hours and hours in the cockpit of Harmony talking about our next trips. Our next adventures. Our dreams. Being at sea is like having a license to dream big. The limitless horizon makes everything seem possible. On land there are a million obstacles right in front of our noses, physical or otherwise, which horizons simply don't render.

The meditative days of staring at waves on an infinite horizon were soon interrupted when Chris decided he wanted to get off the boat as soon as possible. We were headed to Sydney, but Coffs Harbour was our closest landfall. After all these days at sea, Chris didn't feel he could make another few days to Sydney, and so we headed for the entrance lights of Coffs Harbour, the port I had sailed into on my last voyage. As if to taunt us, the wind died again, and we lit the engine again for a long night at the helm, watching tiny lights become increasingly larger along the Australian east coast. By 4am, Harmony lay at anchor with her quarantine flag flying in a light northerly breeze. We'd done it. In less than three months, Chris and I had sailed a really long way, tackling broken booms, rudders, electrical storms, gales, dragging anchors, sharks and the insanity of equatorial doldrums.

At 9.30am we sat in the cockpit as Australian Customs & Quarantine read us our rights. Because of our change in arrival ports, we hadn't provided the mandatory 96hours arrival notice, and now faced hefty financial fines. I had a strong sense of deja vu, and I wondered why on earth I had decided to sail another boat into Australia. Each and every time it is fraught with nothing less than bureaucratic hell. Chris and I sat for an hour to questions about our whereabouts, our prior travels, and whether I had lived in Illawarra before. Customs & Quarantine had some kind of full personal report on each of us, and they prodded and pried to see whether we would lie and tell some kind of misinformation which didn't correlate with whatever file they were looking at. I was furious. After months of freedom and pure adventure pulsing through our veins, we listened to useless bureaucratic verbiage flow across the cabin, as I tried to focus my mind towards the distant shores of Suwarrow. I wanted to turn the boat around and head off to anywhere but home. I wanted to escape the cascading misery of bullshit which modern man continued to put up with through never-ending inertia... For all the modern wizardry and shoulders we stood upon to be here, my blood boiled at the lunacy of it all - the sharp change in experience from living life on the high seas to the madness of arrival was really just a bit much. But I calmly answered each and every question. I complied and played the game because there was nothing to hide...

My fury slowly diminished as I hired a broker to handle the importation of Harmony into Australia. A process which could have taken up to a month, involving complicated quarantine checks ended up taking less than 48 hours - it was a completely different experience to when I imported Constellation four years ago. My initial anger was soon replaced by joy - Harmony was imported, Chris and I were safe, the paperwork was all signed and delivered, and soon friends from Sydney flew up and generously treated me to lunches overlooking the harbour. Days later I was at my desk and it felt as if I'd never left.

It's extraordinary how uniquely adaptable we are - this adaptability being both a positive and negative trait. Without our immense ability to adapt, we wouldn't be able to go off and do ludicrous adventures in small boats, nor put up with the insanity of modern life - it's a double edged sword. And so today after a month and a half of city streets, it's life as usual: The sea is a distant memory, the phone rings, I field dumb questions, and tell the same stories over and over again. I'm enjoying the safety of life aboard land for now, away from a sea of endless abyss and the constant fear which is secretly relished...

It is the end of this chapter, with my dear boat Harmony already up for sale... But a great joy exists in the deepened knowledge that a moment at sea, is more real than a thousand moments in a world contrived by others.

Marquesas to American Samoa

We hauled anchor out of Hiva Oa, raised the mainsail, and keenly watched our repaired boom under full canvas. Was that flex? How much flex is too much flex? How strong is this wood boom compared to the original aluminium extrusion? Who knew. Powering downwind between Hiva Oa and Tahuata, we spotted a sailing boat in the distance, as it vanished into an inlet on the lee of the island. With good wind and several hours of daylight left, we decided to meander around the corner and see what the anchorage looked like. On approach the masts appeared, along with a small white beach lined in palm trees and crystal clear water in the foreground. This was the Marquesas we were looking for. After over a week of rain, a heaving anchorage, and a long row ashore, we simply had to stop.

With the anchor down in clean azure water, the anchor chain was visible and arched all the way to the sandy bottom. I jumped overboard for a swim. Any sailor worth his weight in bronze, is constantly on the lookout for anomalies. Checking, listening, watching parts move, halyards potentially chafing - a keen eye and ear for trouble. I swam around and checked the rudder. Two large cracks along the cheeks had made themselves apparent, and flexing the rudder by hand expanded the cracks. Unfortunately this was a fairly serious show-stopper. The three most important things when sailing, are to keep the mast up, the water out, and the rudder on. Making things even more difficult, we were now in a fairly remote anchorage without access to any parts. Chris and I discussed our options. Can we pull the entire rudder off underwater, haul it up on deck, and re-glass it? If not, what could we achieve with the boat in the water? We decided we needed large stainless rod, and some kind of flatbar to make a repair good enough for us to continue on.

Our new friends from Hiva Oa on SV This Boat, Jim & Amy, happened to turn up later in the morning, and I rowed over for a second opinion. Jim said 'I can give you as much help as you need, just let me know when' - tomorrow? Sure. But we needed stainless rod. Jim mentioned that Suzie, an Australian from another boat in the anchorage, would be returning from Hiva Oa via the cross-island ferry. We got a hold of Suzie's number, and texted her over the satellite phone. Yes! She would stop by the hardware store and pickup what we needed. Later that day, poor Suzie, who had been running around picking up things for everyone, arrived, holding the exact parts we needed in her hands. We woke up early, Chris had freshly baked bread ready, and I cooked our unrefrigerated bacon, scrambled eggs, and percolated coffee.

We spent the entire day in the cockpit with hand drills, tiny useless electric drills, blunt old bits, and hacksaws, making our repair. To get working room on the rudder, we placed Jim's dinghy on the bow, and filled it with water. This provided enough weight to lift the stern up high enough to work. Without the required flatbar, I scarified the windlass handle, sawed it in half, and completed the all-day repair. Fairly confident in our work, we weighed anchor the following day and set sail for the Tuamotos, halfway between the Marquesas and the atoll of Suwarrow.

Eyes on the boom. Was that flex? Eyes on the rudder. Is that crack expanding? No. We sailed on, becalmed just few days on. Bobbing around, books read, bread and brownies baked, the days drifted by, the mainsail slatted and banged - both damaging to sailor and to boat. Being peacefully adrift in the middle of the ocean, is one of favourite parts of any passage (granted the days don't turn into weeks!). We bobbed for a day and a half, the wind returned, strengthened, and gusted to 30 knots for two days. We howled downwind, fully reefed, a poled jib, and everything seemed to be holding up.

Fast asleep, the sure sound of breakage on deck. What have we lost now? The entire mast? Chris and I jumped up in seconds. The telescopic jib pole decided it wanted to collapse on itself, the jib flapped; nothing serious. The Tuamotos neared, only 60nm to the south. A strong SE wind was still blowing, and we pulled down a forecast to see how long it was supposed to last. The forecast showed strong winds for the next five days, and we desperately looked at our distance from sunny French atolls, and contemplated the alternative of solid wind onto Suwarrow. Being inside an atoll in strong wind is rarely pleasant, and we could make Suwarrow in 7 days with good wind. We changed course, and headed due west without stopping.

For days the wind blew, and we started doing our best 24 hour runs in terms of mileage - 120nm, 130nm, 140nm. One hundred short miles from Suwarrow, the wind backed, and I wondered if we would end up becalmed so close to paradise. However, the sun set, and 16kts of breeze appeared from nowhere. The following day, masts appeared in the lee of Suwarrow, and Harmony danced through the reef entrance inside the tight inner passage, and shortly our anchor was down once more.

After fourteen days at sea, we jumped in amongst the reef sharks and swam ashore. An imposing Cook Islander stood on pier Tom Neale allegedly built. He asked for our paperwork and to come ashore with passports. I was slightly taken aback - I hadn't mentally planned for immediate bureaucracy. I actually had no idea Suwarrow was a clearance port.

Coconut trees, swings, the 'Suwarrow Yacht Club', a book swap full of terrible paperbacks. A statue of Tom Neale, and cleanly swept sand paths. Charlie, the second ranger on the island handed us drinking coconuts, 'welcome to my island, this is my home'. It was his home, until he was 12. He even claims that Tom Neale was a fraud (spending only nine months on the island), a womaniser, and father of 29 children. I still don't know what to believe.

We swam, waited for the breeze to return for our departure, fished with Charlie for Wahoo and Tuna, visited outer Motus (the small islands inside the atoll reef), circumnavigated the tiny island by foot, collected fishing buoys, and for the first time on the voyage, had a moment to enjoy the hard work it had taken to get there. I arrived in San Francisco in May, and it feels like the work hasn't stopped since.

Today we are in American Samoa, re-provisioning, waiting for wind, and enjoying our brief stop amongst a people whom I think are the friendliest in the South Pacific.

Our next stop is Australia.