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.
Well! How long it's been. I get a little sad sometimes, thinking about this blog... It was a little bit of a lifeline while I was out sailing - A little place to put all my thoughts that built up after miles of sailing. Unfortunately now, I've hit land, and while the thoughts still pile up, they're not necessarily anything to do with sailing! So what have I be doing anyway? Oh yes! I did get some sailing in a couple of months ago, quite unexpectedly... I flew to Palau, returned to Melbourne, and then flew back to Palau, to help deliver a boat to Darwin. It was a mighty long, and mighty hard trip. We sailed (or rather, motored, burning close to 600 litres of diesel), against the winds and currents for two weeks. Several engine failures later, a few hair-raising moments and a couple of pirate scares off of Indonesia, we arrived in Darwin, Australia. This was my second entry into Australian waters by boat, and also my second time across the equator:
The sailing was pretty extraordinary... It was also the longest distance I've ever sailed with others aboard, which was a very different experience to being alone. I dare say, harder... We sailed close to shore for a few days, right amongst the Indonesian fishermen. At one stage we even sailed through a small straight, just 1nm wide, at the top of Papua New Guinea. To the left and right of us were small subsistance living communities, as enormous tankers took advantage of the water way:
Some nights we were surrounded so tightly by small fishing vessels, it was virtually impossible to sleep. The curious ones would come close by, and scare the daylights out of us... Flare guns at the ready, minds churning with self-defence tactics... Thankfully curious was all they were, and through the waters we sailed with little outside trouble.
So other than that brief month of sailing, there is little other news to report on the personal voyaging front. For avid followers, you will already know I moved to the countryside, and am working away at my own business... We (re)launched two projects in the last two weeks -Neverstop Pedalling, an online bike store, and our web hosting company Serversaurus...
SV Harmony still lies at rest in California... Awaiting her owner (me)... How and when I will ever scrounge the money together to get there, I'll never know (perhaps buy a bike, or change your hosting provider! Plug plug!) ... However, I guess when the time is right, it will all come together.
A massive congratulations to Adam who recently completed his first solo transpac - I finally have someone to commiserate with about sailing small vessels alone, across that stretch of from SF to HI... We both concurred: Yes, it's possible, but...
Jack continues to work on the documentary about my voyage, however, from my understanding, the creation of the documentary is just as financially crippling and difficult as the voyage itself... ! We hope it will screen in European film festivals this year, but as to if and when it will be available to buy as a DVD or stream online - I have no idea. This is Jack's film, so it will be up to him as to how it's distributed...
I will be archiving this site as we know it soon, and replacing it with a new site which will allow me to just generally blog about sailing - At the moment, the layout and construction of this website is for a voyage which is now complete: It will still be at Bigoceans.com, however I'll move the current incarnation of the site and start afresh... What do you guys think?
I'll leave the photos and video to do the talking, but I'm sticking around a little longer here in Apia, Samoa to volunteer with the Red Cross. I took this media while out today, volunteering on the worst affected area: The east of the island. Thank you to Weide, Stuart, Mark, Benjamin and Lidia for their donations to the sailing kitty - I will be using the donated money to cover the costs of staying longer here in the marina. I cannot stay long, due to the weather situation (I'm always... Late in the season). However I will stay for a bit longer, and think about departing early next week.
The start of my second day with the Red Cross
Recovering a body
More photos online here. Nick.
The trip south to Samoa from Palmyra Atoll afforded steady trades, and good sailing, with only a few days of wind that might have tended on the 'too strong stop spilling my coffee!' side. Constellation averaged 110nm days, and I know she could do another 20nm a day, however as I always have, the sailing was more about conservation of the boat, and comfort for her crew than speed. During nights, I reef the main, roll in a bit of jib, and soldier on through the dark nights. Signs of life all the way from Hawaii were scarce: One tuna clipper, and one airplane. It felt lonely out there. Nearing Samoa, the wind died, and as I normally do, I became antsy and irritated. Thankfully after a bout of heavy squall activity, the wind re-appeared, and destroyed my entrance schedule into Apia, Samoa (perfectly timed until the wind stopped...)- We entered at 02:30am. Nervously listening to the waves crash upon the reef to starboard, the port authority directed us to anchor, and after 32 days, we'd officially made it to a south pacific island. Unable to clear customs and forced into the marina (cheekily, anchoring and staying at the marina costs the same...), the quarantine flag flew, yet security didn't mind me going into town without clearance - I would have died, sitting on the dock watching people eating real food, and drinking cold beer after so long at sea, bound by the gates of the marina. As Monday rolled around, we were visited by five state departments: Immigration, health, customs, agriculture and the port authority. All those names might seem intimidating, but really, you just write your name, address, and boat name on five different pieces of paper, holding different titles...
Arrival, Apia, Samoa
For the first time in awhile, Constellation was not the smallest boat in the harbour. There lay, a boat registered in Copenhagen, a 25ft yacht. I was livid! Yet after that particular boat left, life went back to normal, where Constellation was dwarfed by what seems to be a dominance of 40ft+ boats - Many registered in Australia, and New Zealand - Home seems just around the corner.... The shops are full of Maggi Two Minute noodles, Milo, Vegemite, Tim Tams... (Apologies to non-Australians, none of that will make any sense). It's beautiful here, and the people are extraordinarily friendly - The Samoans appear to have held onto their culture more than any other place I've visited, and it's refreshing to be on an island that hasn't been completely overrun by colonialists. It isn't devoid of missionary success though, however I guess that's another discussion best saved for my non-existent blog covering geopolitical musings and island theology... !
I've experienced much of the island with the friendly help of local Samoan, 'Time' (pronounced ti-may), having the opportunity of seeing a Samoa not everyone gets the opportunity to experience - This weekend I have been invited to a local wedding, and even a spot of night bat hunting! Yet as with every landfall, it isn't long before ones mind starts wondering to the next port of call. I feel a tinge of melancholy and excitement about seeing the east coast of Australia on my Pacific charts. The official two year anniversary of this voyage passed on the 17th of this month, but really, this is all I've done for three years (the first spent paying for the boat, among other things). While I'm sure it will wear off very quickly, I often yearn for a dose of my former reality: The ability to lay in a bed and bend my legs completely, to buy a coffee on a whim, or see long lost friends. I know some of you are sitting there, scoffing at that idea, but what can I say - I do know wanderlust will hit me again like a freight train soon after this is all done, but I have to be somewhat honest - I am getting tired. Not tired in a bored sense, but tired in an emotional sense. Thankfully the very thought of these beautiful islands and my distance from home, keeps my motivation strong, even on the worst of days. Anyway, I think you came here to hear about paradise in the south Pacific, not the idle whimpering of a palagi... Here are some more photos.
So, the next stop is Fiji. I will leave next week, and after that... Who knows. Maybe a straight hop to mainland Australia. Or maybe I'll scrap all that and visit Tonga en route... Or Wallis Island, or Norfolk Island, or maybe even Lord Howe. There is a lot to see, but limited time as another hurricane season follows me around the globe. Every boat I seem to meet is high-tailing it to New Zealand - I would love to touch the north island of NZ, yet it would mean waiting another several months before I could make my passage across the Tasman Sea...
Struggling with 'August the mighty Yanmar' outside of the channel markers, it was a stressful finish to 27 days at sea... With a surf break on one side of the buoys, and a breakwater on the other, I had the genoa sheets in my hands in case the engine failed, so I could unfurl and tack back out under sail. Thankfully we made it in, and safely tied up to the fuel dock after another long passage. The first sounds of land that I heard, were the chirps of caged birds - Cockatiels, budgies, and other tropical birds, their bird-condos overlooking the harbour... There was a surf shack next door, someone paddled past on a standup board, and the sun set with a picturesque tropical tradewind orange tinge... Oh, hello Hawaii.
I radioed the coastguard for the Customs phone number, but the payphone speaker was on the blink, and no one could hear me. Surrounded by a locked gate, I was lucky enough to find liveaboards tied up alongside, and asked them what I should do - 'Nothing till morning' they said, and I tied up along side. My new friends, Sherri & Gene, then handed over ice cold Longboard beer, a plate of rice, sautéed mushrooms and a lamb steak. Whoa.
And not just any lamb. Australian lamb. I was in heaven... And also now a third of a way across the Pacific ocean... Obviously somewhat closer to home than last month - On account of the lamb, and of course, the mileage. Thanks Sherri & Gene!
The voyage of 27 days was somewhat longer than expected... Yes, this isn't a race, but I was really hoping for a 20 day passage, 25 at worst, and anything under 20 would have been extraordinary. Alas, conditions were not on my side, and I simply didn't have the equipment to take advantage of the light winds I experienced either side of the blustery tradewinds - A large asymmetric spinnaker may have pushed up my average, as I only had 24 hours of glassed over ocean - But the rest of the time it was light winds... Unfortunately, Constellation simply cannot sail an ocean swell in much less than 8kts of breeze - Overloaded with water, provisions, equipment, and coupled with 'Windy the Windpilot' unable to steer without bucking off course, it was mildly irritating. Constellation and I fought for every mile, and eventually neared the islands enough to catch their localised breeze. Once we were hooked, Constellation screamed along, and we flew into Honolulu with a setting sun, and idyllic sailing, in the lee of the island. The sundowner catamaran crowds all sailed past, full of drunken tourists, strangely... Listening to Billie Jean. Yes, even in the middle of the ocean, I was clued in on the death of the king of pop...
It's difficult for me to really express more about the leg across from San Francisco more than I already have via other posts at sea... I experienced many of the same conditions and situations I did on my other crossings, including several breakages which I've already mentioned - However I might add the mainsheet did eventually come completely off, and I ended up handling the mainsail by hand, via a tied up mooring line on the aft end of the boom... Gybing a mainsail by hand (ie. my arms being the sheet) is an interesting experience... On the topic of sails, my mylar sail lost it's covering in the tropical sun, and my only other genoa is showing strong signs of wear, having survived the past 20 odd years in the Solent, the coast of Europe, an Atlantic crossing, the Bermuda triangle and a third of the Pacific... Not bad at all, but the sun is so incredibly harsh on these sails - I actually did a mid-ocean swap with my very nice UK/Halsey mainsail, which was sponsored by Dial Before You Dig in 2007 - And ran up my old mainsail for downwind sailing - I couldn't justify burning such a nice sail in the sun; it needs to be preserved for beating upwind and other such pleasures.
I've been here in Honolulu four nights now - I spent two days just organising myself, dealing with customs etc and recovering from the trip. I couldn't sleep the first night - The boat wasn't moving enough! It was too quiet... I was restless and agitated. I found myself caught up in the bureaucratic machinations of local government, stuck deep in a building with endless corridors, only to be in the wrong place... Also, my cruising permit has expired, making it very difficult for me to move between islands. Disappointing. But, I also don't have a lot of time, so, we'll see what happens.
Other than that, I've been exploring this surreal island, swimming, planning, and drinking iced coffee. The Caribbean, warmer Pacific latitudes etc, really invoke a deep lethargy, and as I am mildly hyperactive, it makes me feel lazy. I have a ton of stuff to do, yet without iced kona coffee, it simply isn't going to happen...
I have more to write, but it will have to be saved for the next post... I feel tired. In the meantime, here are some photos. It was an amusing experience going through the photos, and deciding what ones to upload. Basically, I realised, in 27 days, I had about 9 to upload... I then thought to myself... 27 days, squalls, dozens of waves in the cockpit, whales, dolphins, revelations, the meaning of life and crazy talking to myself... And all I have are 9 photos to show? Anyway, here they are, and I've even included my track to Hawaii - I give full permission for all Transpac racers and the like to laugh and my squiggly route... ! They don't call me Australia's answer to Michel Desjoyeaux for nothing... (Said in extreme jest).
More photos here.
I know what you're all about to say - DID YOU CATCH THE FISH? No. My friend Rob in San Francisco, told me Dorado mate for life. After hearing that, I couldn't do it... But, I did actually catch a few, however I de-barbed my hooks, and released them. Everytime I caught one and considered making fish curry, all I could do was imagine myself walking down the street with a girlfriend, and her suddenly disappearing from my side, never to be seen again. That's what it must be like for Dorado...
So the Transpac is about to come in - Super maxi Alfa Romeo is coined for Friday night I think - I plan to negotiate a straight trade with Constellation, I hear they're wanting to downsize because of the recession - You only need a skipper to sail a Contessa 26 instead of all those expensive crew-
...Imagine, sailing that boat at full-tilt, I'd be me home within a few weeks!
And last but not least, I was excited to see the three page article about my trip in this months Latitude 38... Thanks LaDonna for your great writing and for capturing my voyage so nicely, and thanks to Latitude 38 for publishing it. Viewable here: Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 - Better yet, grab the entire magazine for free.
I have a lot to write about, but little internet access, and little motivation to post... Jack and I flew to Denver, and drove across country as planned, and now I'm here in California, living on a friends boat near Berkeley. I'm being messed about with my boat transporter (Constellation is still in New York), and if this continues, the entire project is in genuine jeopardy. Some photos of our roadtrip to tide things over...
I'm in love with the American landscape. As if I wasn't already.
Happy New Year! I've had a comment and quite a few emails asking what's going on. Well, not a lot really... The project is still on, and I'm at home in Australia working, and scheming for the next leg. I'm still adamant about trucking the boat, and will do so sometime in April. We'll go somewhere on the West coast of the US (obviously), most likely Berkeley because I have a couple of contacts in the area... I also like Ginsberg, and I hear he wrote a poem there. While my blogging has slowed down, the project hasn't - So for anyone thinking I've just thrown the towel in, you'd be more than wrong... ! It also remains to be seen how I will get myself across the country, as the original idea of cycling may have changed slightly in recent weeks.
I continue to work with Bluemapia.com, which has been fantastic - If you're a sailor, go there, sign up, and share your tips & info on your local sailing area. When not working with Bluemapia, I have the great fortune to be working on my own ideas. They involve the web, and sailing... And another project may involve helping someone else begin an enormous and seemingly impossible voyage. More on all of that some other time.
After Christmas (which involved no snow) I went on a small trip - Photos are below. My return ticket to New York is booked for the 19th of January, however, due to a lack of housing options, and the fact it's much easier for me to survive here than in a foreign country in the dead of winter, it is more than likely I will stay another month or two. There is little I can do on Constellation right now, and she will probably not touch the water again until April or early May. Much work remains, and she's in a state of disarray, however 2009 is set to be the year Constellation is more seaworthy than in any other time of her life!
More photos in the usual place.
Skandia week is coming up, and with any luck I might get to sail then... I may finally get to write about sailing again!
Wow, sorry for being so terrible on updates... I've been busy with a new job (yes, I have a job - More in another post!), a little traveling and more work on Constellation, as she continues to get revamped for the voyage ahead. While I haven't been great on posts, I do upload photos and other things periodically - The frontpage always contains all updates related to my trip - Photos, twitter, blog etc. Mari, who has been dedicating a lot of time and effort to help me over the past month, continues to assist, and Constellation is really coming together. We've even managed to build a new boom from a Catalina 30, that was lying in the yard in gross disrepair. With all manner of noisy tools, we cut two feet off the end, re-fashioned the end-boom roller fitting, and made various other modifications. With most of the new boom finished, we mulled over how it was actually going to connect the boat, at which point Mari disappeared to his computer and made an Autocad drawing of the stainless pieces we needed. He then emailed off to his friend Peter in another state, who had the pieces made and Fedex'd back - Genius! Thanks so much to Peter for helping out! If I hadn't ended up being surrounded by engineers, I would have been left to fashion it Nick style, which no doubt would have involved lashing the boom to the mast with tin wire and electrical tape.
While Mari did beautiful things with hot air guns and soldering irons:
I pulled the starboard toe rail off, and re-bedded it in an attempt to stop the mysterious leaks I'm encountering. Constellation continues to look forlorn on land, but, of all the boats in the yard, she definitely looks like she's sailed the furthest, and in my opinion, looks pretty cool with all that gear hanging off the stern (not including the fenders)!
My new job allows me to work from anywhere (perfect!), so I took the opportunity to visit Cape Cod in Massachusetts. I'm really falling in love with the North East of the USA... And I'm putting on weight as I sample as many New England Clam chowders as possible. I've even had lobster roll or two, in attempts to make up for overdosing on Ramen for the past year. I might grow a big bushy beard and start wearing flannel.
The US media continues to attract my attention with its madness over the economy and the election. I remember how lucid and relative things felt, when I was somewhere about here. It's places like that where you have happy existential moments, if you can imagine such a thing.
As to how Constellation will get to the Pacific, I still don't really know. I do hope with my new job I will be able to save enough to truck as planned, and as the petrol prices seem to have plummeted of late, maybe it will become more affordable. I've recently heard rumours that boats have traveled overland via the Canadian railway, but I can't really find any clear evidence or services. Is there anyone out there that knows something about this?
I'm very much looking forward to some deep offshore sailing with Constellation, and I really just need to get to San Francisco for an April/May 2009 departure. I now look at a map, and while we have a long way to go, sailing direct from San Francisco to the Marquesas, or even Fiji direct chops off a massive part of my voyage in a single stretch. If all goes to plan, I may very well be in Australian waters by this time next year. That may sound like a long time, but it isn't - It's just around the corner... Around this time last year, I was in France just about to do my first big offshore leg across the notorious Bay of Biscay, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Back then, I was terrified but adamant... Unsure of how I could keep things rolling. But we've come a long way since then, and now it's all just a matter of more hard work, time, and good fortune.
Thanks everyone for your continuing support and good wishes - I continue to get emails every week from well wishers, and they never cease to amaze me!