Stories

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!

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.

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.

The Bristol library elevator is broken, I bought a harmonica.

I get a lot of emails from people saying 'cool trip, I'm doing my own... Xyz' ... Which is awesome. Some of them are more interesting than others, and some peter-out after just a few months - Reality, other commitments, and often finances bring the house of cards (dreams) down. But this one piqued my interest... A proposed sailing voyage that starts off with a roadtrip around America, living on burgers, and discussions on camera with his dog, beside rivers & truckstops... Fast forward to today, and it's a familiar story of being broke with a busted van, an old boat, and no one to help him out... Floating around a bay in California, looking for a way to survive, and live out a dream of sailing off over the horizon. This is the kind of adventure I can appreciate. His name is Jordan, and he left Oregon last year, to drive around America with his dog, shoot video, think about sailing, and maybe prove to some people (and probably himself), that he'd make an interesting story & an interesting individual to support his ultimate aim of leaving the docklines, on the dock.

"So today I wake up in my broken van out front of Cat Womens house. Nora chases the cats for a while and I get a hot shower. Later we stroll down to moss landing, about a mile from Sally’s. I talk with the Harbor Guys, they’re cool. They have slips available, they don’t run credit checks, and can get me in whenever I’m ready. Now I just have to come up with the slip fees and deposit, much cheaper than Monterey Bay Boat Works. Still lots of money for a guy who just bought a boat, and broke a van..."

He has 180 videos on Youtube from his adventures so far, and I hope he keeps up the video and writing - I'm looking forward to watching the transition from the road to the water... Aboard his Pearson, in Monterey Bay...

And if you're curious about the title of this post, it's an old Twitter update from Jordan - The fact he cares about the library elevator being broken, is because he's paralysed from the waist down. Check out his website here...

See you on the sea sometime Jordan!

Nick.

The Pirate Den: Malacca Straits, Kopi Indah, Harmoni Hotel & Batam

Now that I've freed up this blog & website from simply chronicling a single voyage, I can now get onto doing other things, such as 'guest posts' - Essentially this means I will ask people around me who have time and interest, to write about something they're an expert in... This first post is by the elusive Pikey Belicose, who recently went on a mission in Asia to work in the academic arena of modern piracy. Yes, a PHD in pirates. Thanks Pikey! Modern maritime piracy thrives in the confluence of bottlenecks, poverty and borders. Geographical bottlenecks like the Malacca Straits force international commerce to pass through specific, extremely narrow passages, as alternative routes are economically and/or environmentally unfeasible. The Malacca Straits funnel extraordinary amounts of traffic: Estimates place 70,000 to 94,000 ships a year (averaging 300 ships a day) through one of the world's narrowest, and most vital shipping channels; in parts just 1.7 nautical miles wide. Acute economic disparity between Indonesia and Singapore provides the incentive to exploit the transport of wealth as a resource.

Batam, one of the nearest major islands to Singapore, and certainly the most developed, was intended to rival its neighbor to the north as part of what became known as the 'growth triangle'. Initially claimed by General Suharto as his vision during the Konfrontasi, Batam's industrialization was realized under the control of B. J. Habibie (Suharto's successor). However, while Singapore grew into a powerful economic force, Batam floundered in political corruption; lofty dreams of financial freedom turned into ecstasy dulled depression, and criminal indulgence. Thousands of Indonesians from throughout the archipelago flocked to Batam's lucrative promises, leaving behind rural families to support through opportunity in the boomtown.

The Jodoh district is regarded as the seediest district in the tourist town of Nagoya on Batam Island. Locals are frequently warned not to spend too much time there. This is the center for sex tourism, karaoke, dance clubs, massage parlors, and is known for the frequency of murder after dark. The relatively clean well lit main street, Jalan Imam Bonjol, cuts through the center of town. People walk along the largest and nicest hotels, among the super malls and shopping centers. The secondary streets just off the Jalan, however, are far less lit, and the pedestrian population lingers in the shadows. Throughout the day, small groups of men sit atop whatever is available, chatting in the shadows against the buildings, on the street corners, and in the kedai kopi. In the afternoon shadow of the Harmoni Hotel, cast along a back street which houses numerous pubs and parlors, the regions mariner population gathers to drink coffee or tea, gossip, and network for possible employment on the next ship. The name of the kedai kopi I was given was no where to be found. An article written by Peter Gwin for The National Geographic mentioned the coffee shop behind the Harmoni Hotel. Mentioning this to my local host who works for the shipping industry, she told me the name of this coffee shop was Kopi Indah, and that it was a well known sailor coffee shop, as well as a hotbed of activity. Arriving behind the Harmoni Hotel I discovered that the (in)famous Kopi Indah was no more... I walked into a camera shop and asked the people inside where Kopi Indah was located. 'Here... But it is finished. Closed up.' Later I was told with a degree of distain that the Chinese bought up the land from the landlord, and turned it into the camera shop which I had wandered into. Asking one of the ojek drivers on the corner where I can find the pelaut (sailors) of the area, he responded, 'Here? Everyone.' He then continued to ask what I was looking for: girls, a pub, alcohol? 'Tidak', I responded, 'Saya mau minum teh saja.' No... I just want to drink some tea. Eager to help, another ojek driver jumped up, grabbed me by the arm, and directed me to a kedai kopi around the corner across the street from the camera shop that used to be Kopi Indah. This is as close as I can get.

The kedai kopi was partially obscured by the only partially open heavy metal garage doors. It is common practice during the month of Ramadan to obscure the interior of any facility that provides food or drink during the fasting hours of the day. Slinking through the narrow opening, I entered into a small coffee shop. There were a handful of men sitting at different tables on opposite sides of the room with four tables empty in between. On the left were a couple of men from the island of Sulawesi. On the right hand side of the room the men were from Java. Each group was engaging in their own respective conversations. Pungent sweet smoke from clove cigarettes filled the air, leaving a thick, oily residue on the baby blue walls. I sat down at one of the vacant middle tables. A television perched over a small dividing wall between the kitchen and the dining room. The television set was tuned to an afternoon news station which announced a new mosque to be built in the neighboring town. I paid close attention to the news. When the owner of the kedai kopi came from around the corner, I asked him if I could have a teh susu. The novelty of a foreigner speaking Bahasa Indonesia interrupted both conversations...

One man lingering outside, upon hearing I was a sailor and a credentialed captain, pulled up a chair next to me and started offering jobs. He pulled out his cell phone, showing me the contacts he had: Chinese, Indian, American, British, Malaysian, Indonesian & Singaporean. He said if I wanted, he could get me a job, and suggested after a while that I follow him back to his place. There is an unnerving frequency with which one finds instant friends in the Riau Islands. Circumspect and cautious, yet after a little pressure I agree to follow him back to his 'place' to discuss 'business.' I've been chatting up the kedai kopi for a couple rounds of teh susu and, I am curious to see where this lead may take me. Between the two of us, and away from crowds, the conversation moves beyond the introductory elements and into more serious talk of the regional politics, of borders, of money, and opportunity...

Piracy in the Straits is a very calculated numbers game. The violence, the theft, the reporting of attempted attacks and boardings to law enforcement agencies; the insurance premiums before and after attacks levied on shipping companies, the amount of ships that pass through the Straits; all of these numbers are calculated at every point, and by every agent. In the Riaus, it's all business. There are no separatist movements here, religion has nothing to do with it; there is a strong element of smuggling, but not for the purpose of stoking civil unrest. It is simply business.

My friend continues to press me about getting a job through him. He tells me that I can make a couple hundred Singaporean dollars a day as a captain with my credentials. He calls up an associate in Singapore and puts me on the phone with him. I explain that I will not be able to accept work any time soon; that I will be leaving Batam within the week. He tells me that a buleh like me can get these jobs because I am credentialed. The Indonesian seafarers are unable to get jobs which they are otherwise suitable and well trained for, because they lack the official credentials. Credentialing requires an extraordinary amount of money and time which prevents the Indonesians from acquiring them... Thus, the international regulations on security and certifications have progressively set up a new kind of border, one intended to create order and delineate jurisdiction, but one which, like its geopolitical cousin, seemingly encourages, (if not helps) to create motivations, therefore fostering piracy in the Straits...

-Pikey.

If you'd like to discuss this more (perhaps Pikey will answer some questions...) ;)

Check out the forum on this post here.

If you've got something interesting to write about, let me know!

Tsunami in Western Samoa

As Constellation rumbled, I jumped out of my bunk at a well practiced speed. I can pull myself up and out with one hand, and be on deck in seconds from a deep sleep... Usually it's because Constellation is getting slammed or a squall has snuck up at night, and we're blasting upwind as the windvane struggles, but this was a new sensation... I stood in the cockpit and watched everyone else in the marina doing the same - The marina pylons rumbled, the docks shook. It seemed to last minutes, and then nothing. I meandered around the dock to talk with an Irish singlehander about his trip, thinking a tsunami was unlikely, as did everyone else. Then the alarms sounded, and the streets of Apia began to flood with people, as everyone jumped into any car heading to higher ground. I ran to Constellation, got my passport and wallet, and ran out of the marina. Eddy's began forming in the marina, as I considered taking Constellation out into the bay... But I knew there was no way my engine could move against that surge. My decision to stay was sound - I would have knocked around the marina in the surge and simply damaged other boats. Two large yachts departed under full engine - They strained, and began to go backwards on the second surge, as Apia harbour began to drain. The surge reversed, and thankfully the boats then rode it out of the channel to safe water. I sat near Aggie Grey's hotel, watching. It was not high ground, and in hindsight, not the most intelligent of decisions. I guess the feelings I experienced were those of people watching fires approach their homes. To go or stay? I watched the harbour recede several times, but with every surge, the danger seemed to lessen. Eventually Police drove by and said they would arrest me for disobeying orders, and demanded I seek higher ground. So I went to the third story of the hotel and waited. I had my laptop and desperately wanted to get online to see some real data. The hearsay was absurd, with nobody having any real information. Internet access across the island went down, and so I waited... Eventually things seemed to go back to normal, and the hotel gave us free breakfast... I walked into town, and was told to leave again - The town was deserted, except for what seemed like potential looters loitering around. I returned to the hotel and waited. No taxis, no people, no internet, and my visiting parents were on the south of the island, staying virtually at sea level in palm huts. Eventually data networks came back online, and I researched the USGS and other government sites for real data. I saw where the earthquake pulse came from, and realised the south of the island would have been most affected. Many locals said there was no damage on the south, but the reality is - It was chaos and no one had any idea what was happening, and with no major media, there was no real news. I attempted to call the resort of my parents, only to get a disconnected line. I returned to the marina, and heard the south was devastated... I ran to my local friend, and we immediately drove south. Everything seemed relatively normal, until we got to sea level. The wave had come at least 150ft inland. Driving along the dirt road to the remote resort, it was clear the water had come in high. Local houses and boats were trashed, rocks strewn across the road. We talked to locals who said everyone had been evacuated to the local church, and so my parents were found safe, but bruised and shaken. While we can pack up and leave, our condolences go out to the family of Virgin Cove Resort, who must now return to lost homes and businesses.

The large reef that surrounds most (if not all?) of Western Samoa offered some protection to the wall of water that hit my parents. The palm huts they were staying in were run down, as my dad was swept into the jungle, across volcanic rock. My mum sought refuge above a cistern as water rushed around her. They were interviewed by an Australian newspaper - Online here.

Thanks to the generous Aggie Grey hotel, and also to Bruce, the regional sales manager for Virgin/Polynesian/Pacific Blue - Who gave up his personal room and drove my parents to the airport this morning at 3am.

I am trying to figure out a way to assist here with Australian aid workers, but, it seems nearly impossible to figure out how to help here... There must also be remote islands who have suffered and will not receive help... If anyone knows aid organisations that are accepting volunteer help, please contact me.

And so now... Constellation and I have experienced tropical waves, towering swells at sea, dodged hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.

And we're still not home yet.

Nick.

First voyage in the Pacific

After many months of preparation, trucking Constellation across America, re-assembling her in California, and finally setting sail, it's nice to finally announce that I'm 223nm (approx 440km) offshore, en route to Hawaii. No great speed records will be set on this voyage, having left on the 8th of June, it is now the 11th, and progress is meagre, to say the least (I expect at this rate, no better than 30days). The winds are light, and the Pacific is calm... Constellation is overloaded with gear, provisions, and water, and so light air sailing is definitely not her forte. 'Windy the Windpilot' tries her best, but I find myself jumping in and out of my bunk to re-adjust, and trim to keep up our slow pace. It's the afternoon now, and the pace has 'picked up' from being becalmed all night, to trudging along at 1.5kts, and now we're pushing 3kts at best. Of course, the worst thing about this progress is not so much the lack of it, but probably the racket Constellation makes in the process. The normal sailing sounds of a boat underway are calming, even if they're just as noisy; the trickle under the hull is the sound of progress... However, the banging of the masts internal halyards, wiring, and flapping of the mainsail are enough to make you go mad. There is nothing I can to, which just exacerbates the problem, and so I glumly read and fret about the banging sail, which I refuse to pull down, due to the severe rolling that would occur without it raised to balance the boat. It's bad for the sail, and probably not so great for the rig, but I just can't bring myself to put up with a rail-to-rail roll which happens when under bare poles, in a small but still active ocean swell. My sail out of Half Moon Bay was idyllic, with my friends whom I wrote about in my last post, coming all the way back down from San Francisco to visit and escort me out. I spent the week waiting in Half Moon for good weather, and it coincided with their visit. Rob, Ted, and Adam sailed with me for around 10nm offshore, before pairing off and leaving me to my devices. It was a nice foray into the multi-day tack I had setup, and as they petered off behind me, so did the coast of California. Being left alone, I slowly became mildly seasick. This always happens, and it doesn't help that it's been nearly a year since my last sail when I landed in New York. For the next 36hrs, I didn't eat or sleep, as my nerves adjusted and my ear got used to the roll of Constellation: At 26ft, and weighted down, Constellation 'hobby-horses' about, and so I then begin to wish I had another 10ft of waterline to lessen the motion. Of course my wish never comes true, and so I remember we're out here doing it, and we get back to dealing with our respective environments; mine of feeling ill, and Constellation's of generally being a rock-star Contessa 26.

As I sit in my bunk, writing this, a tiny squall is overhead creating a ruckus in the sails, and a slight chill. The water of the Pacific is that gorgeous blue, akin to the Atlantic before one hits the gulf stream. I've spent the day reading, and fault finding an electrical problem with my tri-light, which I've finally repaired, in the usual & aesthetically unpleasing, but entirely utilitarian manner which Constellation has become used to.

I feel quite at home here, but I must say the Pacific has an aura of a vast and empty desert, quite unlike the Atlantic. The Atlantic ocean always felt like a 'working ocean' to me - A vast watery highway of trade and bustle. Even if I only did come across three tankers on my crossing, it just somehow felt different. I have no logical reasoning for any of this, but what's a blog post without an expression of unfounded feeling...

So as I drift rather than sail, (which could possibly end up being be my hallmark maneuver) closer to home, I can't help but feel somewhat melancholy about friendships made, and friendships now abandoned. In 'A Voyage for Madmen', Peter Nichols talks about the driving factors behind the men who raced in the first Golden Globe race - A race nonstop and singlehanded around the world; the first of its kind. He classifies the archetypal solo sailor as being driven by 'imagination, self-discipline, selfishness, endurance, fear, courage, and social instability'. I don't really call myself a solo sailor, and wouldn't for a second put myself near the likes of the men that raced, however Nichols' characterisations do ring true to an extent, and I think the Pacific will be a nice time to reflect on all the things that have put me here, and kept me going. I sometimes feel like I'm driving an old car around the world, and people run up to give me a push, whom I thank, and then roll on. I'm hardly on the 'home stretch', as technically we're only half-way, but for some reason, there not being a continent between myself and Australia, makes this piece of water a better place to contemplate such questions.

And what better place to have such lofty thoughts, than in a 26ft boat with 6x8ft of livable space, and a sunning lounge of similar proportions (the cockpit)!

Nick.

(My position on the tracking page has been updated, and the messaging page is back up for those who feel the urge to send a cheeky message)