Pacific

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.

San Francisco to Marquesas

At 5am on June 12th, after a night of seeing off our really great San Franciscan friends, both new and old (you know who you are!), we moved over to the fuel dock for final pump-out, and to meet Rob during his graveyard shift at West Marine to pickup a fish drying net and say goodbye. Rob looked at the forecast on his phone, and said 'you know it's going to be 25kt winds and big seas, right?' Yes… But between the delays and our departure anticipation, even a gale couldn't have put brakes on our imminent departure. Motoring out of Richardson's Bay, the Sausalito waterfront was glassy-flat. As the tide dragged us out and under the Golden Gate bridge, a large tanker steamed past to port, as we trailed the edge of the shipping lane out to sea, where we would make our left turn. The seas rose, and before long, Chris and I were taking turns at laying on the cabin floor in our wet weather gear, rather miserable.

One of the (many) jobs before departure, was to replace a de-laminated tiller. I ordered in a new one, not possessing the time nor tools to fashion one myself, and stowed it in the bow. Wanting to keep the nice new tiller only until the other one was completely broken, seemed like a fair idea. I injected epoxy inside the joints, and secretly hoped I'd never have to use the new tiller at all! Three hours out of the Golden Gate, the connection onto the tiller from the windvane, over-stressed the lamination, and the tiller rapidly began to pull itself apart. Instead of attempting an at-sea repair, I decided we'd sail the 4 hours into Half Moon bay, and repair things once and for all. While happily rolling at anchor in Half Moon bay (which is where I actually departed for Hawaii from in 2009) in 22kts, I fondly remembered clam chowder bread bowls, raft ups, and Dungeness crab with friends, just four years prior. From now on, departures from San Francisco will always include a Half Moon stop. We made repairs to the boom, met a nice chap named Jim who was sailing his boat south with his pals Fleetwood Mac the following week. He handed us a hip flask of Moonshine ('rumsky = half whisky, half rum) for our equator crossing, and we motored out into the anchorage once more for an early departure. Finding an old cray net in the trash, we threw the net over the side, and surprisingly caught a large crab for dinner.

Departing without a hitch in fog, we drifted out of Half Moon, and into the open sea. Before long a shark was spotted, a NOAA research vessel, a whale, and we were well and truly off in a light breeze. As the days rolled on, winds increased, but we had our sea legs, and life aboard started in earnest. Harrowing moments included the discovery of floating bilge boards at 3am, due to the cap of the speed log coming loose. Another involved a Windvane modification which led to the loss of a critical screw and steerage one dark night. Thankfully we had a spare and soldiered on.

After a week of fairly strong winds from the NW, we began getting hints of the NE trades, which began pushing us towards Hawaii. Downwind sailing is a miserable point of sail, and I decided to stay on a broad reach, until there was enough east in the NE trades to tack due south towards the equator, and into the SE trades. This tactic more or less worked, however we ultimately perhaps pushed too far west. This made things difficult after finally finding the SE trades, as we ended up hard on the nose in full trade conditions once they were established.

From about 20deg north, conditions were light and variable, mostly due to a depression/possible hurricane in the making 600nm NE of us which was destroying the wind pattern. The cheap secondhand spinnaker I bought didn't last 30 seconds before colourfully exploding at the seams. So we were unfortunately left to do what we could with just a mainsail and 130% jib. One of the prices you pay for rapid preparation time and limited funds, is having to make do with what you have. Other than the absolute necessary gear, Harmony (much like Constellation) was really just setup for bay sailing, with some minor modifications (windvane, solar, liferaft). Crossing an ocean with just a jib and mainsail can be a real pain, and I have vowed to never leave again without a gennaker, and light air jib (drifter). Lack of sail area definitely contributed to our slow passage of 37 days from San Francisco to the Marquesas. With all that said, it's possible to sail with most any sail combination, because I'm writing to you from French Polynesia.

Soon becalmed, and baking in the hot sun, we decided to take turns jumping off the boat. Tentatively, jumping in with a mask on, and gazing at the surreal and endless blue ocean below, the feeling of swimming in the warm azure ocean after three weeks of being cooped-up in our small boat was idyllic. Soon dolphins showed up, and we jumped in again, watching the dolphins from underwater, as they dove and darted through rays of watery sunshine below our boat. With a camera mounted on a pole, Chris jumped overboard so I could take some footage of him surrounded by dolphins. Hurriedly he jumped back into the boat exclaiming we were surrounded by yellowfin tuna. As he threw out lures, I loaded the footage off of the camera - and to my amazement, we'd just shot the most extraordinary footage. You'll have to wait till the short film we're making is finished!

Becalmed on our second day, Mahi swam around the boat, and Chris tried aimlessly to catch them out of pure boredom and hunger. Swimming around they refused to bite a hook, eat a sardine, or get tricked by a lure. Eventually, Chris decided to make his own lure, and with much optimism, threw it overboard. To my surprise, we had a big Mahi on deck just minutes later. To prove it wasn't a fluke, he hauled another in, before I had to have a shot and hauled yet another into the cockpit. Eating one with rice for dinner, we salted the rest in our drying rack for another day.

The ITCZ was wide, and we crossed through it without the engine. We did engine for 15nm at one stage, but only because the engine was required to recharge our batteries after a week without sunshine - I figured if I had to listen to the stupid engine, I may as well make some ground. 1200nm out from our landfall, in moderate seas and flukey winds, we rolled one too many times with a crashing main… This led to the sound of whizzing sheets and crunching on deck. I flew out the companionway and shouted the bad news to Chris: THE BOOM HAS SNAPPED. Headlamps on, we tided it all up, furled out some more jib, and went down below to ponder our situation and try to get some more sleep. I think we both lay in our bunks for the next several hours contemplating a fix, and the ramifications of the break. At daybreak, squalls rolled in for six hours before there was a dry spell, eventually giving us the opportunity to get on deck and sort the mess out.

The boom had broken due to corrosion from a stainless vang yoke, which was attached without due caution (anticorrosive grease/plastic separator). We cut out the break, made repairs to the mast-end of the boom, and re-connected everything. We had what looked like a fully functioning boom, with one caveat: It was now four feet too short. This only allowed us to run a fully reefed main. With the first reef, or a full, we had to run the main completely loose-footed, sheeted via a yoke system onto stern cleats. This destroyed our upwind ability, and made reefing very hard. Yet, when you're sailing in remote oceans, there is no complaining or blaming to do - only repairs to keep positive forward motion at all cost. If one seeks independence and self-reliance, then one must take the good with the bad.

Just 3 hours after making repairs, immensely strong wind started blowing up from the southwest. Before long it was a genuine tropical gale. Very strong winds in excess of 35kts blew, as we lay hove-to with a fully reefed main upon our tiny jury-rigged boom. For 6 hours it blew, throwing up an awful sea. Exhausted from working on deck all day in rolling seas already, we lay in our bunks absolutely and utterly miserable. The next day we were still exhausted, the seas and winds still in a less than perfect state, and we opted to lay hove-to for a full 24 hours before the southwest winds subsided and began blowing from the northeast again.

Pushing on, we finally broke through the ITCZ and into the brisk SE trades. Having not really felt good solid wind for weeks, the SE trades were both a godsend and a bit of a shock. Suddenly we started doing 120nm days. Then 140nm days. Even with our jury-rigged main, we powered south, and spirits rose as we started knocking off real miles again.

The night before our landfall, running 4 lures off the stern of the boat, we hauled in two perfectly sized tuna. Chris sliced up sashimi, served with Wasabi and lime. Happily sitting below with headlamps on, the GPS showed just 40nm till landfall. A large moon rose, and the southern cross became clearly visible in the night sky. Everything was going to be ok. We'd made it. After 37 days at sea, and many adventures, two guys in a small boat sailed into Hiva Oa, to the sounds of roosters, superlative mountains, and circling Frigate birds.

Transpacific Preparation

Unfortunately I haven't had the mental energy to create any long-form content on this blog, so a lot of updates over the last month I've been in the States preparing have just been short updates which are quick and easy from my phone onto my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds - I suggest anyone who is truly keen on following this to keep up to date on those mediums. I arrived on the 7th of May as scheduled, with only a small hiccup in transit in having to buy a return ticket for Jetstar to fly me out of the country, as I'd only purchased a one-way ticket on an ESTA visa. For anyone attempting this in the future, you must have a return ticket when flying into the USA on an ESTA visa, even if you will be departing the country by boat. The only way around this is to buy a fully refundable return ticket... And get your refund after landing (and retain proof of your exit by boat).

After a long flight from Melbourne->Sydney->Honolulu->Oakland (the cheapest route I could find on low cost airlines), Ronnie cooked up a late night storm, and I stayed with my pal Adam aboard his Cal 2-27, before he flew off to the east coast. Without any transport or method to actually get up to my boat I was a bit stumped as to how I would get up there with all the equipment I was carrying. My friend Rob, (of Rob & LaDonna fame) soon offered to drive me up to Napa so I could begin work on Harmony, and get her down into the Bay Area for further work and equipment. After four days, Harmony was moved into the work yard, her bottom sanded, painted and other minor jobs attended to before launching and setting off for the Vallejo Yacht Club where I was nicely put up on the guest dock for a couple of nights.

Before long I was across San Pablo bay tearing into the work aboard Harmony at Loch Lomond, receiving tremendous help and generosity from Rob & LaDonna, with tools, spares, help with a myriad of jobs, lots of tea, transport, cooked meals and hilarious company (R&L were also pivotal in helping me prepare Constellation and set off four years ago).

I decided this trip wasn't going to be singlehanded, and my friend Chris whom I sailed from Palau to Darwin with in 2010 is joining me on this voyage. Chris flew in last week, and since then we've been finishing off jobs, visiting Sausalito, and waiting on the final bits and pieces to arrive.

Thanks to support from Southbound Solar - if you need panels and sound advice, talk to Rob! Harmony also sports a Windpilot Pacific, rapidly shipped out of Hamburg to San Francisco by Peter @ Windpilot, and mounted with a custom stainless fabricated bracket I designed with cardboard and a biro, magically made into reality by Marin Metalworks.

We're currently waiting to depart for our liferaft, new tiller, spinnaker, second jib for downwind-twins, and vessel re-documentation paperwork. We'll be doing our big provisioning shop next week, and we hope to leave as soon as possible for the south pacific.

Some pics lifted from my Instagram feed.

Off to cross the Pacific

On May 7th, 2013, I fly out to Sydney, Honolulu, and then Oakland, California - this is the cheapest way to fly one-way to the USA. I'll get a really cheap week-long rental car, and head up to Napa, and start prep-work on SV Harmony. We'll then sail down into the bay to see friends, mount solar panels, re-do some of the electrics, seal some windows, source and mount a windvane, and head off across the Pacific, again. It sounds so simple, but the devil is in the details. Dozens and dozens of small problems need to be solved, equipment needs to be sourced (I'm desperately seeking an affordable Monitor Windvane, by the way), funds need to be scrounged, and many unknowable variables still exist. However, eventually, it will all culminate into a new adventure beyond the Golden Gate, and into the uncompromising Pacific ocean. We're bound for Sydney, approximately 7500nm (13,890km) away from San Francisco.

This voyage will have very few stops, and I may sail with friends this time, depending on how everything works out. All my possessions I own of value are for sale, because as usual, I'm broke on both money and time - another voyage sponsored by Visa & Mastercard. This old adage:

"To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest... Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about." -Sterling Hayden

I created some original sailing tshirts and put up a little shop - coins raised from this will be used to stock SV Harmony up with canned stew, popcorn, and eggs - the diet of champions. 10% of profits go to Sea Shepherd, because I've sailed the Pacific before, and the commercial fishermen have won - there is nothing left. Someone has to take a stand, and I'd like to support in some small way those people.

tshirts

Rest assured I'm still working out what to do with Constellation, but I don't have any firm plans thus far, although this voyage has taken precedence because leaving SF is seasonal, and now is the time.

I'll be posting more often closer to the date, while in San Francisco, and perhaps on passage if I can figure out how to do it affordably. In other news, I needed some adventurous inspiration so I put together a little ocean adventuring Tumblr page.

Push on! Nick.

We're home at last. In 743 days.

It was a long final passage from Tonga... I don't really even know how long. I left sometime in October, and I arrived yesterday. I don't count days anymore, and I think in this last passage I made my peace with many things. I spent several hours every single day just staring at the sea. I have a pose in the cockpit of Constellation... I don't know what it's called, I haven't named it. But I stand bolt upright without holding onto anything, and surf the boat for hours at a time, just looking at the horizon and thinking. It's clearly meditative, but not in an intentional sense. It's simply a hypnotic trance one is drawn to without any real thought. I've been scared of the sea for a very long time. I came close to drowning once; I was pulled out beyond the breakers by a rip. I gave up, and sank to the bottom, and my feet touched the sand. Instantly I regained my composure and came back up to keep fighting. I was rescued.

When I was nineteen, I went surfing with a good friend, and I turned the body of a drowned swimmer face up who was not so lucky in a rip of his own. I pulled him to shore, and nearly drowned myself out of exhaustion in doing so. He was heavy, I was tired, and his family screamed at me because I couldn't hold the man's head upright out of the water when his waterlogged body was dragged ashore; even though he had clearly been dead for upwards of twenty minutes.

Everyday for the last two and a half years I have been scared of the sea. Every night on passage, I would get into my bunk, turn the light off, and wonder if I was going to wake up. I would get up regularly to maintain a semblance of a watch; glance out of a port hole, see the familiar and wondrous scene of rushing water, stars, whitecaps and silvery reflections, and put my head back on the pillow, again wondering whether I was going to wake up. I wondered many times what it would feel like to be hit at sea. I've played the scenario over in my head a million times. Some nights I would sleep with my grab bag.

And so last night, after several days of difficult weather, I arrived on the shores of Australia. I had no real idea what I would feel. Excitement? Depression? Sadness? I guess a bit everything really. But at the heart of it, I felt a fearful weight shed from my shoulders. I've maintained an intense personal motivation to keep moving, even when I didn't really know how. There is no particular point to any of this. And I've known that since day one. What is the value of crossing oceans in small boats? To prove a point? Reinhold Messner would say it was the sign of a degenerative society. For some things, there is not always an eloquent or sensible explanation. Often times those concepts are best left to simmer.

Am I depressed? Is this a rambling flurry of post-adrenal thought? No, not really. I've never felt more overjoyed and elated; wondrous, and the exact opposite of all those things...

I did my very best to take everyone along with me on this trip, through the web, via my sporadic and sometimes random writing, videos and twitter updates. And the surprising result is, I've had the most incredible outpouring of support over the last three years - More than one could possibly imagine. I guess I'd just like to point out, that I really, genuinely, I could not have come this far without the hundreds of people who showed their support in many different ways: I've received literally thousands of satellite SMS messages over my two ocean crossings, full of encouraging words; hundreds of positive comments across multiple networks... People have given me their own hard earned money for no other reason than to see me succeed. Companies have given me things and supported me with equipment. People have written me messages and said I've inspired them to leave their lives of ordinariness and lead more fulfilling ones. The list is endless... I've not really done any of this alone; solo, singlehanded or otherwise. I'd be arrogant to say I had - I may have been the helmsmen, but that's it...

Thank you so much, to everyone who has shown any interest at all in this endeavour. This isn't my last post, but it is certainly the last post of an era...

nick.

Next stop Coffs Harbour

The sailing thus far, has for the most part been idyllic. I say for the most part, because the last 48 hours have verged more on the miserable scale of things than anything else. Passing 160 nautical miles (around 300km) south of New Caledonia, I decided to ask the weathermen how they thought the stretch of ocean spanning onwards to Australia might play out over the next seven days. It had always been my intention to skirt close to New Caledonia in case the weather was going to be foul - I don't think I've heard of a single pleasant crossing to the mainland as yet... In fact, I came across three other boats headed to the east coast of Australia, that were going all the way to Vanuatu, and crossing from there to Cairns to avoid this very crossing. The weathermen told me to expect winds between 30 to 40kts (60 to 80kmh) within the next 24 hours. I was so disappointed, as the day had started so perfectly - We were literally flying (a relative term...) on a flat, grey sea. Alas, things worsened as the afternoon took over, and I lessened sail with every gust. Before long, Constellation was shipping green water over the deck, and progress was futile. By 6pm I hove-to (stalled the boat), and lay below, listening to the crashing, and watching as waves rose through the companionway. I get a shiver down my spine when the wind hits a certain note, at sea, and now even on land. There is an equally nervous feeling in my stomach when the foam begins to streak across the surface of the water. The physique of the ripples change in shape to a hard chine, creating a louder 'slap' with each connection to the hull.

I slept on and off through the night, until all at once, we were hit so incredibly hard by a breaking wave, things that had never fallen out of their places, flew across the cabin. Immediately after the hit, there was a loud hissing sound, and with alarming calm, I heaved out of bed to assess with my feet how much water was entering the boat. I noted there was no water as yet, and made a mental checklist of what I needed to get to abandon ship: Grab bag (containing offshore flares, flare gun, EPIRB, and some chocolate. Actually no, there is no chocolate, I ate it in a fit of despair...) and lifejacket. I then made another quick mental note to get my survival suit because I didn't trust the liferaft. As all this was going through my head (the time-scale was milliseconds), I reached for the red navigation lamp, so I could see, but not destroy my night vision, and saw to my amusement and relief, there was in fact no water at all entering the boat, or even a hole in sight. The hissing was from a self-inflating lifejacket that had had its release cord caught on the wet locker clothes hook, and sprung to life when the boat jerked.

This might all seem overly dramatic to you, but the sailor leans a great deal on his or her sense of hearing: An almost sixth sense develops and notes every single sound that is deemed 'normal' on the boat - Anything that deviates from that list is immediately cause for great concern, and even in a deep sleep, one is often alerted to any acoustic change in the environment. I remember a similar incident in the Atlantic, when a flying fish flew through the hatch, and lay sputtering and flapping on the cabin sole - To my dimly awakened state, it was the sound of the electrical system short-circuiting...

Fortunately today, things have calmed down, and my frayed nerves are regenerating with each cup of tea. I have decided, and I must apologise to Brisbane, that I will in fact be sailing into Coffs Harbour - The northern most entrance into NSW where I can clear customs and quarantine. This decision is based mostly on the fact that my trajectory seems to naturally be pointing me that way, and also it appears to be a much easier entrance than Brisbane, or even Sydney: Just a simple breakwater on the coast, and a buoy to hang off of and await clearance. I am trying to sail home, and in a fit of anger a few posts ago, I declared Brisbane was it - But, I've come this far; I will sail as planned into Melbourne, and land hopefully in Docklands Marina. I hope to see some familiar faces there... Ones ready to stay up all night and paint the town red. I think I'll call the party 'Shore Leave.'

And so, we soldier on, 14 days out of Tonga. I don't like to predict my landfall, because there are many things which hinter progress (namely, weather), but, with 550nm to go, it would be nice to be seeing land within five or six days...

Australia is on my chart

My recent posts have been rather anguished. I've been in a very odd state of mind, there is no doubt about it. Someone left a comment on my last post saying I was sounding more and more like Moitessier. And he wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing... Well, having recently watched Deep Water (maybe not the best film to be watching at sea...), at least I was not likened to Crowhurst! There is a certain something that happens when you place yourself in solitary confinement: You often wonder why you're torturing yourself. However, the quirk is, in this form of torture, there is always the possibility of experiencing something divine, and simply told, that's why people do it. I don't necessarily mean a spiritual divine; the simplest things at the oddest moments can make their ranking: Days of hard weather, and the taste of coffee in a dwindling swell can be enough to light the spark. Anyway, I'm out here now, after 778 days of voyaging - It's the finishing leg to Australia, and my little handheld GPS is pointing right towards that sunburnt continent where I was born. Hauling up the anchor in Vava'u was miserable. I could barely muster the strength to do it. It was a perfect day, the wind was blowing south east, and I'd just spent two really nice days with my new friends Rob & Sarah at anchor - Spearfishing, talking, drinking local rum, and all those good things that can be done in the company of others. Not only was I hesitant about leaving for a potential month of solitary confinement, but my time in Vava'u had actually been quite social: I met a few young sailors with their own boats (a rare sight), compared notes with a couple nice fellow singlehanders, and even had a connection through a friend of a friend at the infamous and great Aquarium Cafe. The 'cruising community' was quite large, maybe the biggest I've been part of so far. I seem to have sailed a very different route to everyone else, and often just out of season: Many of these sailors had met months ago on both sides of Panama.

After the first 24 hours of sailing, my worries disolved into the sea ahead, and the wind switched direction. I beat into a light south west wind for a few days; but frankly, I didn't care - I was so happy to have broken my spell and let go of everything. The weather at these latitudes is much cooler than most of my Pacific sailing thus far - At long last I was able to lay in my bunk and enjoy readng again. The heat previously had been so much, the sweat so prolific, all I could do was feel my brain melt and my organs evaporate. Now, I was back! And with such a catalogue of great books, my confinement finally produced some cerebral activity beyond that of trimming sails and eating cans of chilli.

Two days ago, to my great excitement, Constellation and I found ourselves on the exact opposite side of the planet to England. We had sailed so far west of Greenwich, we were now east of it. I remember crossing zero degrees longitude, with Johannes Erdmann as we tried to sail to Hamburg. I watched in wonderment as the GPS slowly ticked over to 180degrees 0minutes 0seconds. In a flash, it was gone, and the seconds of longitude began to decrease, as the unit started the countdown back to zero degrees.

Of the books I've read so far, the book by food critic Ruth Reichl has been the most torturous. The finest food on this dry ship, is three cloves garlic and two miserable looking tomatoes. As I read about lobster risotto, or latte cotto, a light lemon custard served with marinated berries, my mouth flopped open and vowed never to sail again. So I got to the chapter on a Japanese sushi restuarant, and decided to go fishing.

Thanks to Rob and Sarah, my fishing knowledge doubled (from nothing to something), and they even donated several lures to my cause. So, listening to music in my bunk, I hear the the handline spinning. I jump outside and catch the 400 pound line with my bare hands, cleat it, and watch in wonderment as the largest Dorado I've ever seen is jumping a mile high into the sky. I was trying to catch Sashimi for one, but instead I had caught enough for an entire restaurant. Constellation literally slowed down under the power of the fish. Terrified, I rolled in the genoa to make battle.

With the fish swimming under full thrust, I couldn't hold it, even after I put on a pair of gloves. So I decided to let it tire, and watched miserably as it thrashed about. All I could think about was that this was tantamount to killing an entire cow for a single steak. So I decided to catch and release, if only I could get the damn thing near the boat... Eventually I could reel the fish in, but, due to my poor knowledge of such things, the fish sounded, and came up on the other side of the boat in an instant. I tried to let slack out, but it was too late. This thrashing enormity broke the line on the keel, and vanished, forever to have a very large pink plastic squid stuck in its mouth. And so, I decided fishing once more, was not for me, and read a book on Alexander Von Humboldt: "... Yet what we feel when we begin our long-distance voyage is nonetheless accompanied by a deep emotion, unlike any we may have felt in our youth. Separated from objects of our dearest affections, and entering into a new life, we are forced to fall back on ourselves, and we feel more isolated than we have ever felt before."

nick.

(Thank you everyone for your SMS messages and nice comments to my posts. I receive them all out here. And to answer your questions, no I haven't seen Jessica Watson, but, I think we are probably very close to each other right now. My radio has terrible range, and we could pass within 20miles and not see each other... But, it's nice to know she's out here, and I have a good feeling that she's going to take the record from Jesse, with gusto.)

Final leg, Tonga to Australia

Tomorrow I haul up the anchor, and set sail for Australia, nonstop from Vava'u, Tonga. The counter on this website indicates that I've been doing this sailing thing for 765 days. That sounds like a lot. In fact, it's so many days, that I'm going nonstop because I'm out of money, out of energy, and it's time to call it a day. I've said from the beginning that I was going to sail from Europe to Australia, and I'm going to fulfill that promise - To myself, and to the thousands of people that have emailed me, left comments, encouraged me, and supported my efforts to keep this dream alive.

I can't tell you the number of times, in the worst moments, where I've just wanted to give up. Where it seemed impossible; where the sacrifices were too great... To do something like this takes a great amount of selfish endeavour and single-mindedness. Relationships are strained, severed, mistreated and broken. Friends come, go, and are lost after years of neglect... Family worries and wonders... Yet the vast expanse of ocean; those moments of the sublime are fought for and held onto by tooth and nail... I cannot explain what this is about, what it means, why it has to be done - It is what it is, and soon it will be complete.

Everything in the last three years has been given up to do this trip, and it's terrifying to think that in 1900nm I will have made good on my promise... So I thought in honour of the "Bigoceans, Tiny Boat" ethos, this final leg will be like all my others others - Long, wet, and full of terrible food. I remember all my long passages well: Three days across the Bay of Biscay on 9 hours of sleep. Ten days of perfect sailing from Lisbon in the middle of winter to the Canary Islands. Thirty days to the Caribbean powered by pasta, twenty eight days to New York City on ramen and rice... Twenty seven days from San Francisco to Hawaii, seventeen days to Palmyra Atoll, and thirteen days to Western Samoa full of canned beef stew.

It simply wouldn't be right to finish this project any other way.

Nick.