Onboard SV Harmony in Sausalito

I didn't think it would happen anytime soon, but due to the alignment of various stars, and the ability to work remotely, I'm back for a very quick tour of San Francisco. This evening I'm aboard the sailing boat Harmony, which I bought back in February. She is everything I had dreamt of in a boat, and thanks to my great friends over here, who helped me out tirelessly with the purchase & logistics of buying a boat half way around the world sight-unseen... Everything is going great. After couch surfing in Santa Clara, a visit to Santa Cruz, and a snap-launch in Napa, it was down into San Pablo bay, up Raccoon Straight and into Richardson's bay, without a hiccup... All in a week! Sausalito is definitely one of the few places on earth I could definitely live. I have a sneaking suspicion the Pacific Northwest would probably fit the bill to. Back into the greencard lottery I go...


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!


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...


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!

New look, new forums

It's been a long time coming... A new website. And a slightly new direction. I've felt since finishing my voyage, I still wanted to write about sailing, what I was up to, and what I'll be doing in future - However, the old site was really about a particular voyage which has finished... Some readers said 'don't start a new blog, leave this one alone!' So I came up with a compromise... All those blog posts and stories are still here, it's just a new look, and a pairing down of sorts. The new site gives me the freedom to write about all manner of things related to sailing, and the ocean. It's also given me the ability to add a forum to the site, which I've wanted to do for a long time. Why a forum? Well, to be honest, if it wasn't for forums and the internet, I would not have been able to learn, get up to speed, and contact experts as I sailed Constellation half way around the world. The internet was absolutely fundamental to my trip, and it was a big part of why the voyage was a success. So, I've put together my own forum, and I really hope there will be an uptake to it. I'll jump into the forums each day, answer questions, and ask some of my own. I'll also be adding small articles and snippets of information from my log books and clippings.

In other news, Constellation has been purchased by Dave, who is based in Melbourne! So it seems, after everything, the world's most traveled Contessa across land and sea, will be hopping onto a trailer and heading south to Melbourne after all... Amazing.

It's also been a big week on the web - I launched ocean rower Roz Savage's new website too! Go check it out.

So as not to be forgotten, here is a screengrab of the 'old' Bigoceans.com!

I know not everyone will like the new version of this site, and I understand - But I hope you'll stick around anyway, because I promise there is going to be a ton of new and interesting content going up, including interviews, and more video.

Cheers! Nick

Constellation is for sale (again)

In a strange twist of fate, Constellation is for sale again - But I'm not selling her! I wish I could buy her back... But, alas, paying rent on land is hard enough! So, the person who bought her, is selling because he doesn't have the time to do the things he wishes he could with Constellation... With that in mind, she's a bargain and needs to be sold ASAP. I hope someone with big dreams buys her... Presently she's up for $17k Australian Dollars, with all the gear that was previously listed. Since new ownership, she has new bottom paint, new dinghy, and some new seacocks.

Here is a video I recently made experimenting with a few things in my video editing software - The last scene is my seeing Constellation for the last time.

Someone who reads this blog, please buy my old boat back and sail her to... Madagascar. Or somewhere similarly far away.

If interested, contact me for details - She is on a mooring in Sydney.


A small update...

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?

Cheers! Nick

The loss of Wild Eyes

Now that we've heard that Abby is ok (she is still floating out there, but, according to all reports doing as best as as one can in such circumstances), the question I have now, is what will happen to her boat? Reports indicate that other than a dismasting, the boat is actually fine - No water is entering, and the keel is still attached. All good things. As a French fishing vessel approaches Abby and her boat, I can't help but ponder the fate of the Scot Jutson designed Open 40 Wild Eyes, formally known as BTC Velocity and raced by Alan Paris in the 2002 Around Alone - Fun fact: Wild Eyes is Canadian designed, Australian built, Australian patrolled and French rescued! Will a salvage be attempted? Will the family ask the fishing vessel to attempt some kind of insane crazy southern ocean tow? Will they leave a beacon onboard and hire a salvage team? It's highly unlikely the boat is insured, and if under charter I imagine an agreement was made, whereby the vessel would be paid for in full, at its former asking value of $150k (as advertised by Regatta Management of New Jersey when Wild Eyes was for sale last year). She was under charter for $60k / year, which is less in comparison to the S&S 34 purchased by Don & Margie McIntyre, which was given/leant (I don't know which) to Jessica Watson... That is however an apple & orange comparison, and next to useless since the cost of a boat is actually only a fraction of the overall cost of such an endeavour...

Adding up Abby's 'Platinum level' of sponsorship request yields a sum total of $430,000. Comparatively, Jessica Watson asked for $205,000 for the naming partner (who ended up being Ella Bache), and four principle partners at $20k / each, bringing her asking sum total to $365,000. Who actually knows whether these goals were reached, but those were the asking numbers. I should think the maintenance and costs of maintaining an Open 40 would far outweigh the tried and true Sparkman & Stevens... And the whole point of the temperamental Open 40, was speed in order to beat the non-ratified age record that Jessica now holds... However, that was soon quashed by equipment failures in South Africa - Mike Perham had the same kinds of issues with his chartered Open 50, seemingly stopping at every continent - These Open spec boats need a lot of love, and a lot of money to keep running in the conditions required - I really don't think they were designed to do more than one circumnavigation... Ok, so that's not entirely true, the success of Steve White aboard Toe in the Water in the 1998 Vendee was impressive on all counts, with him sailing an 'ancient' Open 60 built in 1998, as the newer boats fell apart around him... I also have a strong suspicion that Mike & Abby had very little experience with pedigree boats like these, and so their temperamental speed machines struggled between oceans. Steve White had no teams or people to help his campaign, and probably knew Toe in the Water better than the designers and builders combined. He was so entrenched in the endeavour of his Vendee campaign, his house was mortgaged, and he and his family were living on the boat in a French shipyard... Now that's dedication.

Anyway, it's a sad day for yet another Open spec boat, but at least the sailor in question will live to tell the story, which no doubt will be a rather lucrative one... Should Abby be under jury rig now, like Mike Golding in Ecover 3 was in 2008, headed towards Perth from 930nm out? Who knows, I'll save the criticism for others, it's all just an interesting story... Here are some images:



Here is a video I found of what a dismasted boat in the southern ocean looks like - In case you were wondering. It is Mike Golding aboard Ecover 3 with a jury rig - If I remember correctly, his speed was about 4-5kts:

So, if you were interested in getting a free Open 40, there is one floating around 40°48′S 74°58′E.


Where is Abby Sunderland, and why is she out there?

I woke this morning to the news of Abby Sunderland. To be honest, in amongst the Jessica fanfare I had forgotten she was out there on her Open 40 trying to beat a record... When I was in Hawaii, I had fanciful dreams of selling Constellation and using the money to charter the boat 'Wild Eyes' which Abby is currently floating around in, for a transatlantic. The broker soon stopped talking to me, and I couldn't figure out why - And then Abby appeared with that very boat! So of course, the web is now awash with commentary on child sailors, irresponsibility etc. In success these 'kids' are heroes, in failure their parents are maniacs and terrible people. There is little point in harking on about this, the plain fact is, there is a sailor stuck down in the southern ocean right now, and my only question has nothing to do with age, boats or parenting: It's simply: Why is she in the southern ocean in winter? After some searching I found her last known position, and mapped it against Tony Bullimore who capsized in a similar area. At least he was down there at the right time of year, 1200nm from where Abby is now:

Australian rescue services always get the task of looking after these waters... In fact, said services have just sent a Qantas Airbus down there to sweep over her. In 1997 when Tony Bullimore was down there as part of a race, he and a French sailor were picked up, the story as follows: "The Royal Australian Navy launched a rescue mission for Bullimore and another capsized competitor, Thierry Dubois. Bullimore was alive and managed to survive in an air pocket in the upside-down boat in pitch darkness, having lost his food supplies - his only food was a bar of chocolate. On January 9, Thierry Dubois was rescued by an Australian S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopter embarked on the frigate HMAS Adelaide. Adelaide then proceeded further south to where the Exide Challenger had been located by a RAAF P-3 Orion. Adelaide dispatched an rigid-hulled inflatable boat to the Exide Challenger where crew members knocked on the hull. Hearing the noise, Bullimore swam out from his boat and was quickly rescued by personnel from Adelaide. HMAS Adelaide then returned both Dubois and Bullimore to Perth."

The estimated cost of this rescue was six million dollars. However, rescue costs are difficult to calculate, and while Webb Chiles might not agree with a pickup, I think she should be at whatever financial cost.

Criticism is so easy from an armchair. She'll be terrified right now, but thankfully the boat she's in is nearly unsinkable... Five watertight bulkheads, a hull loaded with foam designed for the very ocean she is in. I have no idea why she is sailing where she is right now, however this is what she's experiencing:

It's a calculated gamble to sail anywhere, at any time, but we can lessen the potential negative outcome of that risk, by succumbing to natures seasonable characteristics...

It's winter in the southern hemisphere, and even at the best of times, it's the world's most terrifying ocean. Whether you're 16, or 55 years old is irrelevant.