I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

P.S. All material on this blog, words and photos alike, are copyrighted by me. Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. If you decide that this material is worth re-publishing, please give me credit and lots and lots of money.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I'm bored.  Okay, maybe not "bored" but I am going a bit stir crazy.  I have spent many a day idly watching the sun slowly crawl across the sky, but being trapped on the boat in the middle of Sydney harbor gives me a bit of a frantic feeling.  Maybe it is all the sea planes and jet skis buzzing around, or maybe the it's thought of the potential surf at Manly beach just over the hill, but whatever it is, it gives me ants in my pants.

To be fair, I could get off the boat.  It's just that there is thirty knots of wind which makes for extremely choppy seas and generally nasty conditions for a dinghy ride.  I could go into town via kayak or dinghy but I would arrive as sopping wet as if I had just swam in - another option.  In spite of being antsy I have opted to hang out on the boat and forgo a day exploring Sydney... these are the joys (and obstacles) of living on a boat (again).

I left Mooloolaba Beach Backpackers a bit sad and very excited.  On the one hand Mooloolaba had become my home - I know the waves and have made good friends, on the other hand it is sweltering hot and I don't have work during the holidays, so I hopped on a plane and within three hours was reunited with Mom and Dad on Rutea in Sydney harbor.

For the record, Mooloolaba to Sydney is the only leg of the trip that I flew whereas Mom and Dad sailed.  And whereas I do feel like I cheated a bit and cannot actually say that I sailed into Sydney harbor, it was super easy, comfortable and I would consider doing it again.

The three of us had a very nice Christmas together.  While I might have done a repeat of Thanksgiving and eaten instant noodles for Christmas dinner, Mom and Dad pulled out all the stops.  Roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, bread pudding... oh parents how I missed you so.  Amazing food aside it was very nice to spend Christmas with family.  The weather even resembled a North American Christmas complete with rain and cool weather all day.  I even had to put slippers on!

Yes, both the air and the water are much cooler here in Sydney than they are on the Sunshine coast.  The water is a chilly 70 degrees and the air is a pleasant 75.  You can walk around the city without becoming drenched in sweat.  I am not so crazy about putting on a wetsuit again, but it is worth it to surf the famous Bondi and Manly beaches.

We are now anchored in Manly cove.  I must admit it is pretty flash: we take the dinghy into shore, walk two blocks down streets filled with designer food and clothing shops, and end up at Manly beach.  I couldn't ask for much more, except maybe for this wind to die down so I can get out there and enjoy it.  I am not too worried though, I might be here for a while.  I left my job with Dusty open ended so I might or might not return, which he was cool with.  There are so many people and things to do around here that I might give the city life a go.

However, living on the boat (at anchor) and living in in the city might prove to be a bit difficult.  I mean, you gotta shower every day around here (or at least most), and there are very few dinghy docks so getting to and from the boat is a little tricky, but the rent is free and the food is amazing.  Also, New Year's Eve is coming up and Sydney harbor is the place to be - tickets for a booze cruises the night of are going for $2,000.  I considered charging random backpackers a few hundred for a night on the water, but decided to go with the more elite crowd - Mom and Dad and perhaps a friend or two.  It should be one hell of a party.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mooloolaba Beach Backpackers

Mooloolaba Beach Packers

I am living on land.  I know, weird, right?  But it's cool.  In fact, it is really fun.  However, finding the balance between working 10-12 hour days, socializing/partying with all the cool people here and still managing to get a bit of sleep is proving to be a bit tricky.  Fortunately the weekend (and the end of days, according to some) has arrived and I survived.

Mark sailed for Brisbane early Monday morning, and after working all day I moved into Mooloolaba Beach Backpackers hostel.  I have partied here quite a bit but up until this point had not had the pleasure of sleeping in a hot and stuffy cinderblock room with three other people on a terrible mattress on a rickety bunk bed.  

Aside from the crappy rooms and funky amenities, this place is really cool.  People are super friendly, there is a pool, pool table, free surfboards to use, bikes, paddle boards and of course, a party every night.  I must admit it is fun to get off work after a long, hot day and and relax in the pool with a beer or run down to the beach for a quick surf, but it doesn't leave much time for, say, making a nice dinner or taking a nap before the night's festivities start.  

You would think it would be pretty easy to sleep after cleaning boats for ten hours, surfing in the evening and drinking a few beers, but last night between the stifling, still heat, the mosquitoes in the room, the electrical storm outside and the people next door having ridiculously loud sex, it was nearly impossible.  I was finally able to get to sleep around 3am, only to work at 5:30am.  Such are the joys of living here.

Don't get me wrong - I am not complaining about working or living at the hostel.  It's all good.  This last week we worked on a boat down at Bribie island, close to Brisbane.  I worked with my boss and my co-worker Pete, who are both good guys.  At one point Pete asked me, "What is your least favorite thing about living in Australia?"  I had to think about it for a while because generally things are pretty sweet as here.  

"I would have to say, my least favorite things about Australia is how quick people are to become violent here.  (That, and the fact that all the waves are so crowded),"  I told Pete.  It seems like people have more brawls, fights, road rage, and domestic abuse here than other first world nations.  That being said, there is very little gun violence.  Gun control laws here are very strict as I believe they should be in the States.  People here also seem to be pretty conservative.  I told Pete that whereas I find Aussies very extroverted and open, I am careful about what I say to them.  Not that I would ever not stand up for gay rights or immigrants rights, but I don't start preaching my liberal views when I first meet somebody.

Random wave picture?  Why not.

Later that day as we were finishing up the boat we were working on, the owner came down.  He knew I am a Yank traveling by boat and wanted to give me a few Australia t-shirts.  I thanked him and he told me that they were made in Australia and all that good stuff, and wished me well carrying on sailing into Indonesia.  As we were packing up to leave, the owner and his wife came out to have a chat with us.  He told me to be careful sailing into Asia: "There's a heap of pirates up there and you have to be careful.  You should get a gun.  An AK-47 would be best." 

"Ummmm...thanks.  I think we will be alright though... I am not too worried about it."  I told them.  Then the man went off on a rant about asians immigrating to Australia and how terrible it is, while his wife said under her breath, "If you want to buy a gun without a license I am sure we can arrange that for you."  Thanks, but no thanks.

As we pulled away I asked Dusty, "Did that 70 year old lady just try to sell me guns illegally?" "Yep!  Welcome to Australia mate!"  Dusty said.  "She's a nice lady, isn't she?  Bat shit crazy, but a nice one, hey?"  Welcome to Australia.

As might be able to tell, I am having a great time.  Working, surfing, partying, meeting new people, having new experiences - it's all good.  And while I am having a blast living at the backpackers and working for Dusty, he is taking a vacation and we have knocked off for the holidays.  I fly down to Sydney on Sunday to meet up with Mom and Dad, who have been sailing down there.  I plan to spend Christmas and New Years in Sydney with them and then... who knows?!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Working 9 to 5

Noosa may be a perfect wave but Mooloolaba gets her fair share of barrels too.

I have not been ignoring you, I promise.  It's just that I usually try to wait for something interesting to happen before I write and, well, live has been a bit too normal around here these days.

I don't actually work 9 to 5 - it's usually more like 6 to 6 (including travel time). - because I spent most of last week working on boats in the Brisbane area, which is an hours drive away.  It is kind of nice to have that hour of buffer time between dragging myself out of bed and starting polishing, but it makes for some very long days.

Last week was a bit brutal by my standards, due in part to the fact that I made the foolish decision to go out on Thursday night before working at 6 am on Friday morning.  I can safely say that those 10 hours of scrubbing boats in a parking lot under the searing sun were some of the worst of my life.  Granted, Dusty could have fired me for showing up so ruined, but instead he said things like, "Corie, how are you feeling?"  "HOW ABOUT NOW?!?!"  And laughed his ass off.

Yes, work is good.  But so is not working.  We didn't have much lined up in the way of work this week so Dusty gave me a few days off, which majestically coincided with the first pumping swell that has appeared since I arrived on the Sunshine coast.

Mooloolaba has decent surf but everybody kept telling me how good Noosa gets, so yesterday Mark and I grabbed our boards, hopped on a bus and headed for the famed point break.  In my travels I have taken many a bus to search for many a wave, but none quite like this.  The bus was right on time, it was clean and air conditioned, the bus driver was friendly and very helpful.  Of course it cost us $30 one way to get there, but that is public transportation in Australia for you.

The bus took us right into the heart of Noosa Heads, a cute and touristy surf town complete with surf club,  surf shops on every corner, swanky cafes and designer boutiques.  Mark and I decided to cruise around and get a chic ($10) coffee before going out to surf, and wandered off down a street.  I guess my inner compass was working because within a few hundred meters we ended up on the beach with a perfect right sand point reeling right in front of us.

Dude.  Forget the coffee, let's go surf.  Noosa Heads is a series of point right breaks that, when a north east to south east swell hit, light up and send perfect waves barreling down the beach.  The only problem with this wave is the crowds.  It is actually true that everybody in Australia surfs, and they all descend on the point breaks when it gets big.  At First point alone there were easily 100 people out, with surfers stretching all along the coastline for the next mile of waves.  Groms, girls, old locals, kooks, tourists, shredders, style masters... everybody was out.

Not to be excluded, I grabbed my board and jumped in.  I wished very much that I had a longboard so I could paddle battle for the set waves, but I managed to sit inside and get a few drainers without getting run over by one of the afore mentioned surfers.  I did see quite a few people get run over, lose their boards into the rocks and get dropped in on, but I guess that is how it goes around here - or anywhere with a good wave and lots of tourism.

After a sweet surf and lunch at a swanky cafe, Mark and I took a walk out through Noosa Heads national park because we heard that you can see koala bears in the trees.  Not only did we see a koala bear - which for the record looks exactly like the stuffed animal - but we also saw more and more perfect waves around every point.  What an amazing place.  This is what I envisioned Oz to be: koalas and sandy barrels.

After being taunted by enough waves we headed back into town to surf again.  I bit the bullet and rented a longboard.  I really wanted one of those nice set waves at First point and being on a bigger board allowed me to get one.  And then another.  And another.  By the end of the day it was all I could do not to fall asleep on the bus ride home - sore, sunburned and stoked.

Today was back to work, and I spent 10 hours polishing stainless steel.  Fun!  The swell is still pumping and I am considering heading back up to Noosa this weekend, but who knows, there is lots of fun to be had around here as well.

But the waves will be around for a while.  This current swell is generated from south easterly trade winds, but there is a cyclone off American Samoa which will send more waves our way.  I feel incredibly guilty about this as I have been wishing for a cyclone to form and kick some swell my way, although I have friends on a boat in Am. Sam. who are currently sitting out 100 m.p.h winds in Pago Pago.  I'm sending out positive thoughts to all those in the path of nature's destruction - yachties and locals alike.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The "Real" World

Crocs Rule.   RIP Steve Irwin.

I am getting booted from the nest.  That's right, kicked out, sianara, see you in Sydney.  You see, I made the huge blunder of getting a job here in Mooloolaba, which means that I forgo sailing down the east coast of Australia to Sydney on Rutea.  Who would do such a silly thing?  Well... me.  I guess.

I really shouldn't winge.  In fact, in spite of my whining and - to be honest - total shock at going from not working for two years to working 40 hours per week, I am stoked to have a job.  And it was the plan all along that we would get to Australia and I would get a job and everything would be peachy.  And it is.  I just don't like waking up at 6 AM to be at work by 7, working all day in the hot sun detailing boats.  However at a certain point the only thing worse than working is not working, so I am thankful.

Last week Mark and I were brainstorming about how I could make money, as it seemed that getting a job in Mooloolaba would prove to be extremely tricky.  When we got back from surfing I was walking down the dock and noticed two guys washing a boat.  I went up to them and said hello, introduced myself and asked if they might need any help.  I am, after all, an expert stainless steel polisher.

Dusty, the owner of Marine Detailing Solutions, said "Sure mate!  We could use some help with a few boats coming up.  Have you ever worked on boats?"  Have I?!  Well... I wouldn't call most of it "work", but I was very enthusiastic and low and behold, I had a job.

Incidentally, I secured the job the day Mom and Dad arrived in Mooloolaba.  It was great to see them after two weeks, especially because Dad made lasagna and chocolate cake for dinner.  How I missed them so!  Over dinner Dad casually mentioned that they were only staying in Mooloolaba a few days before heading down south toward Sydney.  Wait, what?  My home is leaving without me?  But... what am I supposed to do?!

Fortunately Mark is not leaving Mooloolaba just yet, so I will move in with him (again) before I am really booted out onto the streets.  I mean, it wouldn't be terrible to move into the backpackers hostel - it is great for a party - I just don't know about living there.  I will avoid it as long as possible.  I must admit it is pretty nice to have free rent.

As for work, it is good.  Dusty is a great boss.  Although he works ridiculously hard and long hours, he takes care of his employees and is patient with newbies.  I am learning useful skills such as how to do marine detailing - buffing and waxing hulls, interior detailing, and lots and lots of cleaning.  Although the work is not particularly fun - in fact it is hard and physically demanding - I can take the things I learn here anywhere in the world to make scrilla.

And there are some perks to my job (aside from getting paid and learning new stuff).  For one, I am fulfilling a plan.  I would feel pretty bad about myself if I did not have a job yet.  There is something about living in a first world country that makes me a bit frantic and feel like I need to work (not felt in say, Vanuatu).  Oz is also insanely expensive and if I ever want to do anything fun I will need cash.

Second, I am meeting new people.  I feel like I have a purpose and fit in with a group of people, like we are all working toward a common goal.  This is good.

Third, we have been working on Croc One, which is the boat of Steve Irwin - the Crocodile Hunter himself.  He actually died on this very boat after being stung in the heart by a stingray in a tragic freak accident.  (I have always said stingrays are my arch nemesis.)  I keep expecting Steve's ghost to jump out and yell "Crikey!" while I am polishing, and it is pretty cool to work on the boat of someone who was so passionate about animals and conservation.

Alas, this is what I have been up to.  Mom and Dad are leaving tomorrow to head for Sydney and I am moving back on to Mark's boat for the time being.  I have been so beat after every day of work that I have not even unpacked from the last time I stayed with him.  Mom feels a bit guilty for leaving me and so is making a nice dinner tonight, but I plan to meet up with them in Sydney for Christmas and the New Year, so I will see them soon.  I would feel bad if they sat around Mooloolaba bored on my account anyway.

Tonight is Friday and it has been a long time since this has had any importance to me.  It feels good.  Party on.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving (And Lack Thereof)

Time is a funny thing.  I am trying to remember when I moved onto Merkava (Mark's boat) and escaped from 1980, but am having difficulty doing so.  I am also having difficulty grasping the fact that I just missed out on my favorite holiday, especially because it is hot, sunny and there are no other Americans around to care.

Let's back up.  Mark helped me to escape 1980 (Bundaberg) just over a week ago (I think).  I piled my essentials onto his boat - surfboards, dive gear, guitar and a few clothes - and we left before dawn one morning.  We spent the next three days sailing down the east coast of Australia through the Great Sandy Strait, which is created by Fraser Island.  We managed to do a bit of exploring, but really it was a bit of a slog, sailing all day to get to the next anchorage before sundown.

On the third day we arrived at our destination: Mooloolaba.  Say it.  Moooo-looooo-laaa-baaaa.  Yes, it's cool.  And not only is the name cool but the place is pretty sweet as well.  We decided to spend some time here because, if you look at GoogleEarth, you can see that the marina is about 100 meters from the beach and there is potential for good surf on many beaches.

In Mooloolaba the marinas are up a river and boats have to cross the bar to enter the harbor.  Mark took the helm as we entered the breakwater and we were motoring along quite nicely until - THUD.  We stopped.  Then jerked forward as the engine revved and then THUD.  Again we stopped.  Oh shit.  Fortunately we were only stuck on the bar for a few seconds before a wave broke behind us and Merkava surfed in through the breakwater.  Not the most graceful entrance, but hey, we made it.

For the next few days I wandered around in a bit of a daze, looking wide-eyed at the high rise hotels and the flashy stores.  They even have Starbucks here!  Not that I have been - a grande mocha is about $6 AUS.  And maybe it is because I have been in the cuts for the past few months, but everything seems pretty damn flashy around here.  Granted, Mooloolaba is a tourist town, but still.

I am not sure if you remember but I became a surf lifesaver last year when I was in New Zealand.  They have the same volunteer lifeguard program here in Australia and the other day I went to their massive surf club/bar/restaurant/state-of-the-art lifeguard station to see about joining.  It is not that I am super keen to be a lifeguard, but it is a good way to meet people and to stay fit.  And they have sweet toys.  However, when I asked about joining they pretty much wrote me off - gave me a phone number and a website to visit.

In spite of their lack of interest I called the offices who then told me that even though I have my bronze award in NZ, it is not recognized in Australia and I would have to pay $300 to do the course again.  To become a volunteer lifeguard.  No thanks.  In NZ it was $30, and I will stick with that.

I must admit I was feeling a bit down after that so I decided to go pay guitar on the beach.  I watched groups of people playing cricket on the beach and couples walking arm in arm down the street, feeling a bit lonely and sorry for myself.  "If I made only one friend here, one friend, I'd be happy," I thought to myself.

As I strummed I noticed a guy walking down the beach with a guitar.  Hey!  I thought, I'll go see about jamming with him - or - if nothing else it will be a good excuse to talk to him.  I walked down the beach and caught up with him, introducing myself with the pretext of wanting to play guitar with him.  Turns out he is a Canadian guy who was just visiting for the day, but he introduced me to a group of backpackers hanging out on the beach who were all very welcoming and generous with their bags of cheap wine, which is called "Goon" here.  Finally, I made friends!

Not only did I make friends, but the surf came up!  The first few days we were here the ocean was totally flat, but finally a small swell came through and Mark and I got nice waves at a beach break called Kawanas.  The next day we took the dinghy out to Alex Heads for a surf and were given heaps of information about waves by an old local guy.

Since then I have been to Brisbane and back - given a tour of the city (and a place to stay!) by my friend Emma who I met in Fiji.  She and her mate Rowan drove up to hang on the beach with us, took me home with them for an urban tour, and then got me back in time for the swell yesterday.  Door to door service!  Brisbane is a cool city but it was a bit of a whirlwind tour so I will definitely have to go back for further investigation.

Yesterday, being Thanksgiving, was 100% not celebrated here by anybody, at least that I am aware of. In fact I nearly forgot that it was my favorite holiday until Emma reminded me.  I considered buying some sort of fowl to cook up for dinner, or at least some deli-sliced turkey for a turkey sandwich, but alas, I was too buys surfing and playing at the beach all day and by the time I got home was too tired to cook anything elaborate.  Mark and I ended up having ramen noodles for dinner which, in spite of being totally stoked off the day, was a bit sad.  It definitely made me miss friends and family.

And in spite of eating instant noodles for Thanksgiving, life is good here in Mooloolaba.  I am in the process of looking for a job, which really means going surfing and asking around the marina if anybody needs an extra crew, and - believe it or not - I already have a few leads.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bundaberg, Australia

Help!  I'm trapped in 1980 and I can't get out!

Actually this is not quite true - I can get out and I intend to do so in the next day or two - as (allegedly) not all of Australia is stuck in the 80's.

To be fair, Bundaberg is a nice place to make landfall in Australia.  Customs and immigration are very easy, the marina has internet, showers, laundry, and it is a remarkably good place to sleep.  Other than that... well... there is not too much going on here.

I should clarify: we are at Port Bundaberg, which is a marina out in the middle of nowhere.  Aside from marina facilities there is nothing here, except for kangaroos.  Seriously.  Actually, I had to laugh at the irony - the marina has been putting on events every night for the recently arrived yachties and last night was a kangaroo BBQ.  As I was standing in line waiting for my kangaroo steak I saw my first kangaroo eating grass in the field across from the river.  Maybe he smelled his buddy being roasted and came by for a closer look at the bastards eating him...

Regardless, I could take or leave kangaroo.  It tasted like tough, flavorless beef streak, although if well prepared I am sure it is delicious.  And, as it is a national pest and does not leave a huge carbon footprint, it is much more ecologically friendly to eat than say, beef.

That is Port Bundaberg.  Unfortunately the town of Bundaberg (15 km away) does not have too much more to offer, except the Bundaberg rum distillery.  In my own humble opinion Bundaberg rum is only a small step up from Fiji's Bounty rum, but you can decide that for yourself.  It makes sense that Bundaberg would have a rum distillery, because the fields in the surrounding area are devoted to sugar cane.

Other than rum and kangaroo, we have gone to the IGA grocery store as well as the Target.  Yes!  They have Target here.  Unfortunately it reminds me of Target from 1980, and I was not even alive in 1980.  Any Target Superstore USA would be horribly embarrassed to be associated with this little one, with its 4 different choices of shampoo (only four - those in the US have four aisles of choices!) and mishmash of random stuff.  Of course this is a huge step up from the dollar stores in Vanuatu, but it is definitely not USandA, either.

The grocery store, however, is amazing.  They have tortillas.  And salsa.  They have tons of great looking fruits and veggies - broccoli! non-withered carrots! apples! delicious Australia oranges - although even locally grown produce is pretty damn expensive.  We had a great time perusing the aisles in awe of all the good food they had to offer, but had to limit ourselves because we were taking the bus back to the port and could only carry so much.

Everything here - alcohol, most importantly - is expensive.  Not only are prices high, but the Aussie dollar is stronger than the US dollar.  The economy is currently doing very well - even on a Tuesday morning the mall was packed with people buying things.  There are also tons of young people employed everywhere, which is refreshing to see and also gives me hope that one day I too might be employed here, receiving the minimum wage of $16 (OZ).

One thing is I find very bizarre is to see Christmas decorations in the middle of summer.  They do not have Thanksgiving to buffer the onslaught of kitschy Christmas crap so it is all over the malls.  And people are buying it!  Go figure.

As you might be able to infer, I am not all that amped on Bundaberg and looking forward to heading south for a bit more action.  At this point I plan to hop on Mark's boat and sail south with him towards Brisbane, where I have a few mates I am looking forward to meeting up with.  But really, it's all good!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

OZ and Obama Part II

Sailing West to OZ -- We made it!!

I am in a much much much better mood today because 1. We have arrived in Australia!  And 2. Obama won!!!!  I am not sure which I am more excited about - the prospect of meeting up with Aussie friends and surfing beach breaks, or knowing that the U.S. is being led by a man who doesn't represent everything that is wrong with America (to put it mildly).

From here on out I will keep the political rambling to a minimum, but I must say that the few Aussies I have met in the few hours I have been here are pretty happy that Obama was reelected.

We arrived in Bundaberg around 6:30 this morning.  We set anchor, had breakfast and then... started cleaning!  Yes, it is the most unexciting thing one could do after two weeks out in the wilds - well two months, actually, if you count Vanuatu - but the boat was filthy and needed it. 

After cleaning up a bit we were called into the dock by customs, who went through our boat, telling us to throw this away and to get rid of that.  They all had good senses of humor and didn't take any of our alcohol (although there isn't much left) but the whole check-in process was fairly painless.

I have yet to make it onto land, as I have been too enchanted with having internet access once again and all the wild information that comes with it.  Aside from learning that Obama won - thanks to a few very short but to-the-point emails from family and friends - I was totally in the dark to the fact that marijuana is now legal in Colorado, the Giants swept the Tigers in the World Series, and a friend of mine from college was mauled by a shark while surfing up in Humboldt.  Apparently he punched the shark in the nose but suffered major lacerations on his torso, although he was rushed into surgery and will make a full recovery.  Go Scotty!

Yes, it is nice to be reconnected to the outside world.  And not only reconnected via internet, but actually able to walk into a grocery store and buy things and understand people!  Now, to find a pair of shoes...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Oz and Obama

You would be in a bad mood if you left this, too.

I am in a bad mood this morning because I slept terribly our first night on passage, and then woke up to buckets of cold sea water being dumped on me through a leaky hatch. We have 278 miles to go before we arrive in Australia but the wind is lightening up and the seas are lumpy... still we should be in by Friday.

I am hoping somebody will lift my spirits by sending us an email this afternoon telling us Obama has won the election.

At 11/6/2012 11:00 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 21°38.00'S 156°19.00'E

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Chesterfield Reef III

Bonjour mon requin!

The reefs have been dived, the islets explored, the cap rail varnished and the beer drank... alas it is time to go. Whereas one could spend a lifetime here exploring (ok, maybe not a lifetime but a few weeks at least) it is time for Rutea to continue West. And although I am not super stoked to be heading back out into the ocean, the idea of a new country - new people, places and (allegedly) some very good waves - I am pretty excited to get to Australia. After all, it is a mere 450 miles away.

I keep talking about how Chesterfield Reef is so remote and whatnot, but really, it's a small world after all. You see, Chesterfield Reef is part of New Caledonia, which is part of France. What, you might ask, is France doing with territories (colonies) half way around the world? Unfortunately, I do not know the answer to this question. But I do know that the French are very keen to know exactly who is visiting their colonies and where exactly they are. Hence, a visit from the French Marines yesterday.

Fortunately, they did not stop in for a cup of coffee, but yesterday morning they buzzed by in a helicopter. And when I say "buzzed by" I actually mean that they hovered a few hundred meters above our stern (and the stern of each boat here in Chesterfield) taking pictures and looking rather menacing. We waved and smiled at the pilot but did not get a wave or smile in return. This was not a good sign as it is not exactly legal for us to be here.

When you arrive by boat in a country you have to (are supposed to) go to a port of entry, even if it is a pain in the ass and out of the way. Chesterfield Reef is part of New Caledonia and, remote and far out of the way as it is, legally you are supposed to check in at Noumea - some 300 miles away - before coming here. Although we initially intended to go to New Cal, time and weather did not permit us, so we decided to go straight from Vanuatu to Australia.

Le Recief du Chesterfield - oui oui bon ami!

However, Chesterfield Reef is conveniently located half way between Vanuatu and Australia, so we thought we would pop in for a little (and awesome) visit. We sent the New Cal government an email saying we were going to stop here, so we are not exactly illegal, but you know. Bureaucratic nonsense. It seems strange that the French would care so much about who anchors off a remote reef for a few days, but they do, so we were all a little on edge for a few hours while a navy frigate loomed on the horizon.

Fortunately for us, the helicopter left us alone for the rest of the day and by evening the frigate had disappeared. It is easy to forget politics and policies out here in paradise, but even the most remote corners of the ocean are owned by somebody, as outrageous as it might seem. That helicopter was just an unfriendly reminder.

After the excitement life returned to normal. We called my brother to wish him a happy 30th birthday - Happy Birthday Ian!! - although the satellite phone cut out after a few minutes so I did not get to say hi. Then we finished varnishing the cap rails (gracias adios) and Mark and I went for our final dive at Chesterfield Reef.

Mark's compressor is not working right now - which may or may not have influenced our decision to leave tomorrow - but we both had one more tank, so we went back to Snake Charmer bommie for our last dive. It was a hot day and it felt so good to get under water. Just as I was relaxing into my last dive I noticed a snake close to Mark, which he didn't see. The sea snakes don't seem to bother you if you pretend like you don't notice them, so I just kept swimming. Then Mark saw the snake and the snake saw Mark, and went after him.

Merd!  Another bloody snake.

I don't get it. What the hell would a snake want with a diver? Whatever it wanted, it wanted bad, and Mark took off at full speed to get rid of the snake. This meant that I watched Mark swim off into the blue and I was left alone watching a few curious sharks watch me. 'Buddy...?' I thought. I wanted to follow him but didn't want to follow the snake, so I hung out looking over my shoulder constantly to make sure I didn't have one of the nasty creatures after me. Fortunately, Mark came back snake-less and we continued our dive, but both of us were on edge the rest of the dive.

Last night our friends on another boat arrived here and upon their arrival promptly went lobster hunting. Mark went with them and was dive-bombed by boobies (the birds) twice. I don't know what's up with him and animals, but I try to keep my distance. They caught two lobsters but one was a pregnant female, so they let her go. Tonight we are having a lobster/hotdog/use up all your food BBQ to celebrate our last night here.

It seems like some of the best places we have been to are also the most remote - the hardest to get to. Perhaps it is because they are so hard to get to, or because so few people manage to get here... whatever it is this place rocks and if you ever happen to be sailing from Vanuatu to Australia, definitely make the stop at Chesterfield Reef.
At 11/4/2012 8:48 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°52.96'S 158°27.87'E

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Chesterfield Reef II

In spite of the snakes and sharks, I can't seem to stay out of the water here.

I am in love. With Chester. Field Reef. This place is amazing. It's like... there is nothing here. A few tiny sand islands dotting the reef, but other than that there is only an expanse of calm, blue water. Aside from the masses of birds, it has a very empty, isolating feeling. That is - until you go underwater.

A bommie is a coral head. It can be the size of a rock underneath the boat at twenty feet, something of little note unless the anchor fouls on it, or a bommie can be a coral pinnacle that shoots straight up from the sea floor 150 feet down to a few meters from the surface, playing host to all sorts of interesting underwater creatures. And whereas you want to avoid these bommies at all costs when sailing through the lagoon on the boat, they make for excellent diving and anchor spots for dinghies.

Yesterday a little flotilla of dinghies went out to find a bommie to dive on. We had no idea what we would find - sharks? any live coral? big fish? It took a few minutes of skimming along the lagoon before we came across one (look for the light green/brownish color in the water to indicate shallows). I was in a dinghy with Mark and when he stuck his face in the water to find a place to set the anchor without damaging any coral he yelled with delight: "Wow! It's amazing! It's pristine! I already saw a shark!"

At that I threw my dive gear into the water and jumped in. It was like entering another world. From the empty desert of water of the surface of the lagoon to the thriving, lively, city-like busyness of the underwater coral head was stunning. Huge blankets of live coral - soft coral, fire coral, staghorn coral, sponges and much much much more - covered the pinnacle. I swam to the edge of it and my stomach gave a flip as I looked down a 100 foot wall of sheer coral into the blue depths.

Dude. This is by far the most pristine, remote and exotic diving I have ever done. I couldn't wait to descend and see what the depths held. When I got the OK from Mark and our other buddies we descended into a ravine at 20 feet, which spat us out at about 50 feet in the middle of the coral wall. At the mouth of the ravine six grey reef sharks were swimming around. They did not seem bothered with us, only mildly interested, coming in for a closer view every once in a while before swimming off into the blue. I spotted a tawny nurse shark sleeping under a ledge and we all watched until it woke up and, rather grumpily, swam off.

We descended to 70 feet near the base of the bommie, and I must say it is an awesome experience to look up at the crystal clear surface with a sheer wall of live coral leading up to it. It is such a relief to see sharks and healthy coral, but who knows how long it will last.

As we swam along we saw huge schools of travalli and tuna, more sharks (albeit small ones - less than 2 meters), sponges and coral. About half way through the dive I saw a brown sea snake and pointed it out to Mark. He went closer to get a better look but stopped when the snake started swimming at him. He turned around and started swimming away from it, but it followed. He turned to the right, the snake turned to the right. He swam toward me, the snake swam toward me. Now, I consider myself to be brave - much like Indiana Jones - but much like Indiana Jones, I hate snakes. So when Mark and the snake got near me I swam fast to get away from them both, indicating to Mark to stay the hell away from me. It was hilarious to watch the snake - which seemed to have fallen in love with Mark - but absolutely terrifying to know that in a second that snake could take a liking to me.

Finally, after an hour or two (OK, maybe just a minute or two), the snake lost interest and we continued our dive. I couldn't help but look back every few seconds just to make sure it had not remembered us. When we got back to the dinghies I saw a snake asleep in the coral and got out of the water very quietly.

After lunch and an afternoon rest we went for another dive. At one point during the dive Mark pointed out that I had a huge brown sea snake following me, and he laughed his ass off when I tried to hide behind him. He valiantly pulled his dive knife on the snake who then decided that munching on coral was more interesting than us.

Dive three was this morning. There was no wind today and the lagoon was glassy, so Mark decided that we should go dive the pass on the other side of the lagoon, five miles away. We sped across the lagoon with one other dinghy, leaving our small "civilization" of five boats behind. When we arrived at the pass there was no other evidence of humans around, which is cool, unless you run into a 5 meter tiger shark or whatever...

I prefer eel to snake.

As it turned out the current was running very strong out the pass, so Bill offered to follow our bubbles while the three of us dove out the pass so that we all would not get sucked out to sea (without a boat). This means that we dove from the mouth of this very remote reef, out to the middle of this very remote piece of ocean in the Coral Sea. The highlights of the dive, aside from my adrenaline pumping a mile a minute (thanks to a last minute lesson by Mark: if you encounter an aggressive shark, keep your back to the reef), were being circled by a school of 50 barracuda as well as a bunch of sharks. The sharks were mostly small and really, why would they want to eat us when they have so much other delicious food around?

When we came up from our dive I was very happy to see Bill right there with the dinghy, as we were well outside the pass and well into the ocean. It was a pretty wild dive, I mean, after all, how many people in the entire world have dived that pass? We had no idea what to expect, no maps or dive plan... it was kind of nuts but very, very cool.

Baby boobie (or something like that)

After the dive Mark and I explored another bird-infested island. After walking around the island in our wetsuits (so hot!) we went for another snorkel on our way back to the anchorage. The water was glassy calm and the visibility was 150+ feet, which made driving past the bommies absolutely beautiful.

Unfortunately it is not all fun and games because Dad decided that in spite of the paradise we are in, the cap rail needs to be redone. So I spent (maybe an) hour this afternoon sanding in the scorching heat, before going off on another dive. He and Mom worked all day, but really, who does that?! Who would rather spend the hottest, calmest day of the year sanding varnish off the searing decks when they could be having their minds blown in the cool depths of Chesterfield Reef? Not I, said the Corie.
At 10/31/2012 9:02 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°52.96'S 158°27.87'E

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chesterfield Reef

The azure waters of Chesterfield Reef

If I was stranded on a deserted island what are the three things that I would wish to have with me? 1.Rutea (everything on board included), 2.Merkava - we all need a buddy, especially one with a dive compressor, and 3.A few other boats, just to keep the party going.

Voila - we have them all. The French territory of Chesterfield Reef is a quintessential deserted island setting with small, sandy islands spread out around the fringing reef of the huge lagoon. The water of the lagoon changes from deep blue to electric turquoise. I have only ever seen this color in crystal clear, clean water of 20 feet in depth over white sand. It is stunning. We are anchored off a low lying sand island covered with brush (no coconut palms) and inhabited by thousands of birds ranging from boobies to frigates to terns.

We arrived here yesterday morning after being hove to all night. We had decided it was better judgment not to go into an unknown and not very well charted reef at night, so we hung out outside the pass all night rolling around. It was a bit nerve racking (not to mention annoying) - after all we were moving at about 1 knot/hr and knew that there were reefs surrounding us - but we were fine. As the sun rose we set the sails and headed for the pass.

It is always such a relief to get into calm waters after rolling around on the ocean for days. It felt so good to be able to move around the cabin without doing ninja moves and not having to hang on to my cup of tea for fear that it might fly across the cockpit. We motored up to the anchorage where Diligaf, Merkava and Tenaya were all comfortably anchored (Rutea is usually last). After setting the anchor I dove in to check the anchor and a few bomies around the boat. While the water is some of the most beautiful I have ever been in, it was a bit of a shock. The water here at Chesterfield is a chilly 78 degrees, down from 85 in northern Vanuatu. Nevertheless it felt amazing - the first bath I have had in 5 days.

After checking the anchor I went over to Merkava where Mark and I had a celebratory breakfast beer. After that we decided to go for a walk on the beach of the bird infested island. I wouldn't say that I have a bird phobia, but I really don't like birds. I was a bit nervous as we walked past the nests of huge, prehistoric birds with blue beaks and beady little eyes, guarding their fluffy offspring rather viciously. There was a constant din of bird calls, shrieks and cooing that, mixed with the sound of surf made me feel like I was once again in Jurassic Park. While I was waiting for a pterodactyl to swoop down and peck my eyes out I got a stick for protection, although unfortunately it did not protect me from being pooped on at least three times.

Birds, Jurassic Park stylee

As we walked down the beach we disturbed thousands of birds from nesting and sleeping, sending huge flocks up into the air screaming in a frenzy. I am sure many of them thought we were going to fry up their babies for dinner, a thought I considered but decided on pizza instead. When we walked over to the ocean side of the island (a mere 100 feet across) I saw the ocean choppy and windy, which made me feel very warm and cozy to be anchored in such a nice, protected lagoon. As we walked down the beach we saw stunning shells - nautilus, cowrie, hermit crab, giant clam, etc. It made for some great beach combing.

There was also a fair amount of trash on the beach, washed up from who knows where. Fluorescent light bulbs, shoes, beer cans, fishing gear, crates and all sorts of other junk lined the beach. It was a bit depressing to be in such a remote and pristine place but still encounter evidence of human pollution. The birds seemed to make the best of it, as we found more than a few nesting on plastic boxes.

After our land excursion Mark and I went snorkeling. The coral is pretty good although there is quite a bit of dead stuff, but the fish are out of control. I saw more fish and more different kinds of fish here than I have ever seen anywhere else. No wonder there are so many birds here. We saw a few baby sharks in the shallows which is a good sign - where there are baby sharks there are bound to be mama sharks - and from the looks of it they are well fed.

By 5 PM I was struggling to stay awake, but managed to make a pizza dinner (I had been fantasizing about since our first day of passage) and drink a few beers before I crawled into bed at 8 PM for 12 hours of delicious, calm-water, uninterrupted sleep. The last thought that entered my head before I passed out was, "It's October 31... It's Halloween!" This means that for all you reading this in the Western hemisphere it is Halloween today, so have a good one!

P.S. This post and all material on this blog are copy written by me, Corie Schneider, 2012. Copywrite 2012.
At 10/31/2012 9:02 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°52.96'S 158°27.87'E

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Day 4

I don't know who is winning the World Series, I don't know if Obama is still ahead in the election polls and I do not have a Halloween costume. And to be totally honest, I don't really care. What I do care about is what the wind is doing, what the seas are doing and what's for dinner. Of course I want the Giants to win and of course Obama is going to win, but out here - 500 miles from any significant landmass - priorities change.

We are about 80 miles away from Chesterfield Reef (which I do not consider significant landmass). We are averaging about 7 knots, which would make our arrival time about 8 PM. Unfortunately the sun sets at 6 PM and although it is a full moon, it is kind of sketchy to be going into unknown reefs in the dark. But sitting out in the ocean for an extra night is really, really unappealing. Especially after last night.

Last night the wind and the seas picked up. When I got up for my watch at 00:00 the wind was at 26 knots, we had the mainsail double reefed as well as the genoa reefed. The seas were at 2+ meters, although it is hard to tell in the dark, but every once in a while we hit a wave that put Rutea over on her ear and a few loose items crashed around the cabin. This makes for very poor sleeping conditions - imagine trying to sleep on an erratic roller coaster - and makes the idea of a calm anchorage that could be attained this evening all the more appealing.

Fortunately, the wind and waves have both calmed down this morning, the sky is bright blue and we are cruising along at a nice pace. It is still a bit rolly but I think a shower might be in order, after all its been 4 days...
At 10/29/2012 10:07 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°11.00'S 159°36.00'E

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 2

The skies are clear and bright, the ocean calm and blue. The wind is light out of the East and we are sailing along smoothly. Last night the moon was so bright it never really got dark, and there was just enough wind to keep the sails filled and keep us moving comfortably forward.

In spite of getting a bit of a slow start yesterday morning - the wind was at 0.0 and there was a 3 knot current running against us - it has been a very nice passage so far. I've spent my days reading "Lonesome Dove" (semi-tedious but appropriate passage material), making a collective effort on NYT crossword puzzles (definitely tedious) and eating.

The best part about this passage, aside from the excellent weather we are having, is that once we get to Australia they are liable to confiscate all of our food. OK, not all of it, but all fresh stuff - eggs, meat, rice, beans, fruit, veggies, etc. This means all the treats are a free for all, and I get to eat whatever I want, as it would be a tragedy to see Customs confiscate the last bag of Cheez-its or biscotti. Granted, they probably wouldn't confiscate the Cheez-its, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Last night Dad made an awesome chicken dish and we have already discussed the many options for dinner. As you can tell, eating is one of our favorite pastimes. I am just stoked that the seas are calm so we are not too seasick to eat all these treats!

We have about 400 miles to Chesterfield reef, which is more or less half way between Vanuatu and Bundaberg, Australia. We are sailing along with two other boats, Mark and Diligaf, and all of us are planning to stop at Chesterfield. Should be a party once we get there, as there are also strict regulations on how much alcohol you can bring into the country, so we gotta drink up!
At 10/27/2012 10:46 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°36.00'S 164°47.00'E

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The End of Days (in the S.Pac)

Diving is a good second when there is no surf to be found!

The mental and physical preparations required for embarking on a 1,300 mile passage across the ocean include wasting lots of time on the internet looking at trashy news sites and Facebook, eating greasy food from restaurants, perhaps the last dive and, well, the usual pre-passage chores.

It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that we are leaving the South Pacific - Australia is considered to be the Coral Sea - at least the East coast where we are going.  It is a great consolation that we intend to stop at Chesterfield reef, an atoll about 500 miles from here that is supposed to be a paradisical stop-over with great diving, snorkeling and other cool wildlife activities.  It also breaks the trip up into 2 four day passages rather than one 7-8 day passage.  I like this.  However, this is weather permitting, so we will see how things go.

Aside from bingeing on junk food and internet, Mark and I did one last dive yesterday.  Actually, he is doing his last dive today, but our dive to see "The Lady" - a restored relief of a lady riding a horse - at a depth of 135 feet inside the Coolidge was enough for me.

In fact, that dive was pretty freaky.  I know you are now sick of hearing about dive adventures, so this one will be brief.  We descended to the deck of the ship at about 80 feet, and after getting the OK signal from all four of us, our dive leader descended into a pitch black square cut out of the hull of the ship.  It is counter-intuitive to go down into a dark whole in a wreck 80 feet under the water, but I paid $50 for the dive and was not about to chicken out, so I followed.  

We followed our guide down the black tunnel, dodging overhanging beams while looking down into the infinite darkness below, also being careful not to kick the walls or beams so as not to cloud the visibility.  We descended another 50 feet inside the ship, making our way down to "The Lady".  By the time were at 120 feet I was breathing as if I were running a marathon, really trying to slow my breathing but finding it hard not to suck the whole tank in one breath.  In reality I had lots of air, but my adrenaline was pumping and I was pretty narked.  

Being "narked" is a kind of high you can get from going down super deep, although depending on the person they can get narked at 40 feet or whatever.  It is kind of fun, a trippy feeling like, whoah duuude, although some people make irrational choices when they are too narked, making it a bit dangerous.  See the PADI dive manual for further explanations (it is a real thing!).

Anyway, we made it down to 135 feet to see the lady, and sure enough she was there riding her white horse.  Our dive guide had told us on the surface that it is good luck to "kiss the horse's ass" (literally).  Of course the last thing I wanted to do at that depth was take my regulator out of my mouth (a big PADI no-no), but I could use all the luck I can get, so I managed to give the ass a quick peck.

We had about 3 minutes down at 135 feet before we had to start ascending, which I was happy to do.  On the way up our guide took us through a few more rooms on the ship, showing us old medical supplies and other random stuff.  It was a super cool and technical dive - being that deep and in an enclosed area - but I didn't feel the need to do it again.  And while I feel like I am pretty bad ass, in reality the dives get way deeper and gnarlier the farther you go in the ship.  I'll leave that to the experts. After all, I only have my open water certification.  

Enough about diving.  Today is our last day in Luganville, our last day in Vanuatu and our last day in the South Pacific isles... at least for a while (I am not sure if Chesterfield is considered s.pac or not).  I can't help but reflect and reminisce about the amazing experiences I've had out here but will refrain from rambling about them today.  Perhaps I'll save that for entertainment while we are on passage, assuming we have smooth seas.

Gud bey Vanuatu!  Mi likem yu tumas!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The COOLidge

It is hot. And still. There is not a breath of wind and the air is heavy. The sun beats down mercilessly, even though it is still morning. The austral summer is creeping up on us, and summer in the tropics not particularly fun. As opposed to the 'go to the beach every day and BBQ every night' California kind of summer, the tropical summer is marked by torrential rain, malaria outbreaks, lightning storms, cyclones, oppressive heat and all sort of other fun things. Thus, we are leaving the tropics. Soon.

As a matter of fact it looks like we will head for OZ on Saturday - at least that was the consensus of this morning. In the meantime, I have been spending my last few days basking in the soggy heat and also trying to hide from it. I have found that the best way to hide from the heat is to hang out underwater, and the easiest way to hang out underwater is to scuba dive. Thus, I have been doing lots of diving.

A few days ago a group of us got a dive trip together to dive the SS Coolidge, which is considered to be one of the best wreck dives in the world. The Coolidge was an American luxury liner (think Titanic) that was converted into a troop carrier in WWII. As she was entering Luganville on October 26, 1942 to deliver troops, tanks, jeeps and other military stuff, she hit an American mine, due to lack of updated information (oops). The captain, realizing that the ship was going to sink, ran her up on the reef and called for all 4,000 troops to abandon ship. Amazingly only two people died, thanks to the quick thinking of the captain.

And now we have an awesome wreck to dive. The Coolidge is considered a technical wreck dive because it is so deep - the bow sits in 70 feet of water and the stern is in 250. It would take over 15 dives to see the whole thing, but I have no desire to dive to 250 feet, so we stuck with the intro dive which took us down to 103 feet.

After getting all our gear set, we all rolled off the dive boat and into the water. Because the wreck is so deep and because they do not want it pillaged, you have to go with a dive tour to dive the Coolidge. So we had a few local dive masters take us down. As I descended down the mooring line I saw the bow of the ship start to emerge from the depths of the gloom. It is absolutely huge so it was hard to tell what I was looking at, until I recognized the winches for hauling up the anchor.

At about 90 feet there is a hole in the side of the hull, and our guide led us into the cargo hold. Inside the hold there are still jeeps and tanks, lunch trays and cooking pots. It is so eerie to be swimming around in a pitch black cargo hold with only the beams of a few flashlights to illuminate ghostly relics of WWII, as well as the schools of fish that live in the wreck.

After leaving the cargo hold we swam down to 100 feet where, on the sun deck (or what used to be the sun deck) there are old corroded helmets and guns. The dive master tried to put one on my head, but it was so heavy I started to sink. It must have weighed 10 pounds. The thing that amazed me most about this dive is the fact that so much of the original stuff from the ship is still there - doorknobs, shoes, coke bottles, shells (as in bombs), guns - but I guess that is what happens when there is a lockdown on a dive site.

Because we were so deep we could not stay long, and after a few minutes at 100 feet we had to start our ascent. On the way up I saw some cool looking lionfish, a titan triggerfish (my new favorite fish) and some nice coral. The wreck disappeared back into the gloom and we headed back to the boat for our surface interval.

The next dive was a mellow dive on Cindy's reef, full of beautiful coral, an occasional shark and huge schools of fish. There were also a few clips of bullets strewn about the reef. I don't know if there was much actual fighting in Vanuatu during WWII, but there sure is a lot of junk leftover from it.

Speaking of junk and wrecks, Mark and I heard of a plane wreck that was supposed to be a good dive, so yesterday we went looking for it. Our only directions were, "look for the cattle fence that goes down into the water East of the resort, head off at a 45 degree angle, go down to 90 feet and it should be there." Unfortunately there was more than one cattle fence to the east of the resort, but we followed the directions to no avail. It was kind of fun anyway, and at least a good way to stay cool.

And so it is getting to be about that time where we say goodbye to people not going our direction, and talk incessantly about weather with those who are. Last night we had a goodbye party for our good friends on Sarah Jean, who are heading back to New Zealand. We couldn't convince them to come to Australia with us, which is too bad because they are good people. We spent the afternoon snorkeling and when we got tired of that, swam to Mark's boat for a beer. Then we all jumped in the water and swam to Rutea for a beer. Then we all swam to Riada for a beer, and so on, to complete our booze cruise/pub crawl-swim. Of course the sun was setting as we all swam back to our respective boats, made all the more exciting by the exclamation, "Last one to their boat is shark bait!" I have never seen everybody swim so fast.

Tonight Mark and I are heading back to Luganville (oh yeah, we left the Luganville anchorage for a few days to get into some nice water) to do a dive or two more on the Coolidge before we head out. A few more provisioning trips, a few more internet sessions, clean the bottom of the boat, check the rigging, check the fuel, check out and we are outta here!

P.S. I am absolutely gutted at the idea of leaving the South Pacific, but really excited about getting to OZ. As we say out here, it's all good!
At 10/23/2012 9:02 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 15°31.37'S 167°09.90'E

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Lowdown

Hunks of junk at Million Dollar Point - Luganville, Vanuatu

Don't worry, today I am not going to ramble about the primitive beauty of Vanuatu.  Instead I am going to winge about paradise lost.  Perhaps it is the rain, perhaps it is the muggy and buggy heat, but Luganville, the second biggest "city" in Vanuatu seems to be a bit of a... letdown.

I should not have had very high expectations, as the South Pacific is not known for its charming cities.  I was misled, however, by the guide book which describes Luganville with a "sprawling main street with breathtaking ocean views at every corner..."  Maybe in its prime Luganville was a nice place.  But the dilapidated buildings, the remnants of WWII warehouses and the Chinese stores selling cheap knock-off goods are a bit of a downer for me.

You might ask, why did we even bother to sail all the way up to Luganville, anyway?  There are a few reasons, the first being that the government only allows us a one month visa for the country and that expires tomorrow.  We have decided, along with encouragement from the weather, that one month in Vanuatu just is not enough, so here we are extending our visas for another few weeks.  This means that we will probably skip New Caledonia which I am a bit bummed about, but sailing to New Cal also means sailing into the wind for three days and personally, I think that sounds miserable.  At this point it looks like we will sail straight from Vanuatu to Australia. 

The second reason why we are staying in Luganville (for a few days anyway) is because there is great diving here.  One of the best wreck dives in the world, the SS Coolidge, is right here in the bay.  We were going to dive it today but it rained torrentially all night, which will make the visibility terrible.  Perhaps we will get to dive it in a day or two.

Yesterday Mark and I went for a dive out at Million Dollar Point, which is a point just outside Luganville where, upon leaving the country at the end of WWII, the Americans dumped all their military gear into the ocean.  The US military did not want to ship all the tanks, cars, bulldozers and everything down to lunch trays back to the States, and the French/British did not want to buy it off the US, so into the ocean it all went.  I think the idea was, "If we can't have it then nobody can." 

It is kind of cool and pretty depressing to see all those materials - car tires, tank shells, boat hulls, airplane wings, etc. - underwater.  Coral has started to grow in spots and there are lots of fish swimming around, but it makes me cringe to think of the pollution it caused.  I guess that is a running motive of war: waste, destruction, greed...

But I digress.  There are lots of other cool things to do on the island of Santo besides dive on WWII wrecks, and hopefully when the rain stops we will be able to venture to check out underground fresh water caves and blue pools up rivers.  We only have a few weeks left before we need to head to Australia; cyclone season (and the Austral summer) officially starts November 1, and I have no desire to be in the tropics for the summer or for cyclones.

I must admit that I am pretty excited to get to Australia.  To be perfectly honest I find it a bit exhausting to always be a spectacle, to have people gawk at me as I walk through a village and to have to work so hard to communicate with people.  I am looking forward to fitting in (so long as I keep my mouth shut) and possibly even having more people my age to hang out with.  In the meantime, I suppose I should start working on my Aussie accent, aaiiiiii maaaiiiiite?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

State of Nature

When sailing up to an island in Vanuatu there is no sense of time. The islands themselves have not changed very much in the past few thousand years - save the occasional cell phone tower - which seems to be one of the few modern concessions the ni-Vanuatu have. Upon sailing into an anchorage you might see smoke from a small fire seeping through the jungle, a canoe anchored on the shore and maybe a thatched hut or two. I can only imagine that Captain Cook saw the very same things as he arrived on these shores hundreds of years ago.

In fact, the ni-Van have retained their traditional ways of life more so than most ancient cultures around the world - partly from choice and partly due to their isolation - being at the edge of the world and all. In the Kastom villages they have rejected all things modern, and go about their lives just as they have since the beginning of time. The ni-Van in the Kastom villages still wear nambas (penis sheaths), grass skirts, do not have cell phones and (I am pretty sure) have stopped eating people. Although we have not visited any Kastom villages yet, it sounds like some cater to tourists, putting on dances and feasts when palangis arrive, while others completely ignore or ban white people altogether.

Even though the villages we have visited are not Kastom, it still feels like going back in time to walk through a village with naked children running around, chickens, dogs and pigs foraging in the bush, fierce looking men coming up to introduce themselves...

After leaving Epi Island we sailed to an island off the south end of Malakula, called Maskelyne Island. We were promptly greeted by Ambong, who introduced himself as the secretary of tourism for the island, and who arranged for us to see Kastom dancing, go for a walk in the bush, a mangrove tour and out to see the giant clams. We did all of these things the past two days, but it was the dancing that was most remarkable.

A group of ten palangis arrived on the shore and we were given a brief welcome, before being led through the bush into something of a mangrove swamp. We arrived in a sandy little clearing and a man welcomed us to watch the dancing, or rather gave us permission to watch. Then there was a howl. A drum started thumping and male voices started chanting. They came out in a line with their feet stomping to the rhythm of the drum. And of course, they were wearing nambas.

Here is a description of men wearing nambas from Captain Cook's journal:

"The men go naked, it can hardly be said they cover their natural parts, the testicles are quite exposed, but they wrap a piece of cloth or large lead round the yard which they tye up to the belly to a cord or bandage which they wear around the waist just under the short ribs and over they belly and so tight that it was a wonder to us how they could endure it."

It obviously took some cajones (no pun intended) for these young guys to come out and dance for us in their nambas, as the missionaries did a very good job of convincing everybody to dress modestly. And whereas the nambas look extremely uncomfortable and just plain weird, it is amazing to see that this tradition has withstood the tests of time and the wrath of God (i.e. missionaries). The men performed a few dances and watching them, in that swampy mangrove, with their voices chanting and the drums beating, it was as close to time travel as I will ever get.

We are now at Banem bay on Malakula Island (named by Captain Cook), which translated means "Pain in the Ass" Island, or, as I prefer, "Badass Island". Malakula is known for black magic and big sharks/shark attacks, and although I have seen 2 sharks here - which is two more than I have seen anywhere else in Vanuatu - I am not too worried. As for the black magic, I will be sure not to piss off any of the locals so as to incur any of their wrath. This afternoon we are going into the village to see more Kastom dancing, and it should be interesting to compare notes on this dancing versus the dancing on Maskelyne Island. I'll let you know how it goes.
At 10/12/2012 9:24 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°32.41'S 167°50.20'E

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jurassic Park


Like I said before, we are in Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park or Epic island, whatever you want to call it. You can watch sea turtles swimming around the anchorage all day and watch the glow from the twin volcanos on Ambrym island in the distance all night. Yes, Lamen Bay on epic Epi island is quite a place.

We arrived here a few days ago - I am not exactly sure when because time here seems to slip away as does one day into the next, but frankly, the day and even the date really does not matter. What does matter is that there was a dugong sighting at the East point of the bay yesterday morning.

A few of us went into shore yesterday morning to check out the village and say hello/ask "permission" to walk through the village, go snorkeling, diving, etc. Not that there is a law that says we have to ask permission, but it means so much to the locals when we go into the village, introduce ourselves, ask if it is ok to swim and tell them what a beautiful place their land is. It can be a bit daunting to walk up to a motley-looking crew of locals and say, "Alo! My name is Corie. This is a beautiful place. Are there sharks in the water? Is it ok to walk through the village?" Usually their stoic faces melt into smiles and we are invited to go anywhere and take pictures to our hearts' content.

After introducing myself to the village chief and high-fiving a few of the little toddlers in the village square, Mom and I along with a few friends set off down the road to take a look around. As we were walking toward the "airport" (or rather a landing strip with a thatch hut as the "terminal") a truck pulled up. "Alo! We just seen the dugong at the point. Jump in the back and I give you a ride out to see it!" a local cried at us, apparently very excited to show us the dugong. We sped down the "runway" (grassy field) and pulled off at a beach where, sure enough, a dugong was hanging out in the shallows.

I wish I could give you a Wikipedia explanation of what a dugong is, but I don't have internet access so my interpretation will have to do: a dugong is very similar to a manatee (if not a manatee, I'm not sure), and looks like a cross between a seal, a dolphin and a vacuum cleaner. Otherwise, insert Wikipedia article [here]. Unfortunately I did not get a very close look at the dugong because I didn't have a mask with me, and it swam away soon after I went swimming after it (in all my clothes, I might add). I did, however, notice a nice wave peeling just off the point so I decided to get my surfer buddy and partner in crime, Mark, to go check it out with me.

After lunch we went out and surfed the wave which was exactly like a dugong - kind of slow and mellow, popping up in random places on the reef and throwing a bit of a punch when needed. Hence we decided to name the wave "Dugongs". So please be aware that if you ever surf the reef at the north point of Lamen bay on Epi island, you are surfing Dugongs.

After an hour or so Mark and I decided to head back to Merkava for a much needed beer. Just as we were climbing up on the boat Beth, who had been snorkeling around the anchorage started shouting "Dugong! Dugong! Right here!!" We grabbed our masks and cameras and jumped back in the water. Sure enough, we came up on the sea cow munching on sea grass, vacuuming up all the underwater foliage with its big, floppy lips. He did not seem to be bothered by the group of people free diving down to take his picture, and kept on eating except to come to the surface for a breath of air.

After following him for an hour I decided to leave the dugong alone, snapping a photo or two of a turtle along the way home. There are tons of turtles here and I just found out why: apparently there is only one month out of the year that people are allowed to hunt sea turtles on Epi island, otherwise they are protected. But they have to go to Port Vila every year to obtain permission to hunt the turtles, and this year they did not make it in time. This is a good year for turtles. And for the record, they never hunt dugongs.
At 10/9/2012 9:06 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°35.74'S 168°09.81'E

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Port Vila

It is hard to write about Port Vila at the moment because I swear we have sailed right into Jurassic Park - including an active volcano erupting in the distance, being greeted by million year old reptiles (sea turtles, and friendly ones at that), hills covered in thick foliage with wisps of smoke coming through the trees, and I am pretty sure I saw a pterodactyl swoop through the air... but I might have a good story or two about Port Vila and if I don't write about them now, they will be lost forever.

Let's see. Port Vila: charming colonial town - meets South Pacific - meets 99 cent store - meets resort atmosphere. There are French bakeries next door to the dive shops, the supermarket next to the traditional open air market, the bar next to the nakamal, a few good restaurants and lots of Chinese stores selling everything from rip off name brand shirts to Vanuatu beer huggies and cheap, plastic ukuleles - all of which I was tempted to buy. Of course after not having anything to buy - let alone anywhere to shop - save the local woman's kitchen for a grapefruit and some cabbage, just wandering through the stores and supermarket was quite entertaining.

And of course, I had to try out Tusker, the local ni-Van beer. Many times. Although I had a great time checking out the local bars - of the likes I had not seen since we were last in Port Denarau, Fiji - beer is super expensive here. Kava, however is not.

Mark and I, who have been palling around for quite some time now, decided that in Port Vila we would test the limits of kava. Considering it is the "big city", if we were to get a bit out of hand we could blend in with the other clueless tourists easier here, due simply to the fact that there are tourists here. And so we set out.

Mark picked me up from Rutea around sunset. "Where do you think we should go?" I asked him. "Oh, I dunno, I figure we just start walking and we will find something," was Mark's typical casual reply. "Well, in the tourist pamphlet it says there is a place called the "Chief's Nakamal" up the hill over that way, but it is probably filled with palangis (white people), being in the book and all." I told him. Not wanting to hit the touristy joints, we walked in the opposite direction. The farther you walk from the main drag in Port Vila, the fewer tourists you see.

Thus we started getting strange stares as we walked up the hill. Finally, we asked a kid walking down the street where the nearest nakamal was. He told us he doesn't drink kava, but that the Chief's Nakamal would be a good place for us. Mark and I shot each other a look, but the kid had taken it upon himself to flag down a bus and tell the bus driver where to take us, so it looked like we were headed for the palangi nakamal. I supposed it was a good start.

When we got in the bus (which was really just a van) we started chatting with the bus driver, asking him if the Chief's Nakamal is a good nakamal. "Ehh, is gud." "Oh yea? Do you drink kava there?" "No, but I take you dea." Then I remembered to ask the very important question that I had forgotten to ask in Vanuatu thus far: "Hey, um, what do you call white people in Vanuatu? You know, in Tonga they call us palangis and in Fiji they call us kaivalangis, what do they call us in Vanuatu?" He had to think about it for a minute. "Ah, we call de white man 'Masta'." My jaw dropped. "Excuse me? You mean like 'Master'?" "Yes! De master and de misses." Whoa dude. The ni-Van call the white man "master". What are we in, 1800?

By this time we had arrived at the Chief's Nakamal. Actually, I was not aware that we had arrived at the nakamal that was highlighted in my tourist packet because it was not much more than a wooden shack with one light and a few wooden benches under a banyan tree. There were also no other palangis around (sorry, I can't call us master and misses). Excellent. Mark and I walked up but I hesitated for a moment because I did not want to get beaten or killed. But as we entered I noticed a woman take a shell of kava, down it and then hawk a big loogie on the ground, so I knew we were in the right place.

Mark and I ordered our first shells - 100 vatu shells -, went to the side of the nakamal to chug them down and then went and bought a slice of papaya from a few women selling food outside the nakamal. We sat down. "So how do you feel?" I asked Mark, already starting to smile through numb lips. "Good, good." We sat for a bit and talked quietly. There are no loud noises in a nakamal, everybody nearly whispers and any cars that drive up dim their lights so as not to bother us kava heads.

Mark and I went for another 100 vt shell, which was no easier to drink than the first. The horrible bitterness combined with the strong numbing effects make my stomach churn now, but somehow I got them down that night. We went and got another piece of fruit to wash the taste out and sat down again. "Why do you think all nakamals are built under banyan trees?" I asked Mark. "Maybe because everybody goes to the banyan trees when there is a cyclone, and so even in the middle of a natural disaster they can still drink kava." Hee hee hee, this is as good an explanation as any I have heard (also the only one).

By our third shell I was finding it very hard to talk. I felt like I was falling backward even though I (am pretty sure I) was sitting up straight. Mark and I were chatting with a few local boys and I felt my voice get softer and softer and then trail off as my eyes closed... "Mark, we gotta go. I don't even know if I can walk." "Ok, but how about one last bowl before we go." Of course this was a horrible idea, but I made it less horrible by appealing for 50 vt bowls. "Good idea."

Shortly after drinking our fourth (although only half) shell, we left because had I sat down again, I would have slept under that banyan tree for the night. As we stumbled out onto the street I said, "Dude, I don't feel so good." "Hmmmm, maybe we should go find a place to get a beer," was Mark's logical reply. We managed to make it back down to the waterfront, but only by clutching each other so as not to stumble into oncoming traffic and those horribly bright, fast moving lights.

We finally made it to a bar where Mark got us beers, but I couldn't do more than take a few sips. I am not sure how he managed to drink both of them before we decided to go back to the boat. By the time I got home I was sure it was 2AM and I was going to be sick as a dog. In reality it was only 9:15, but I was sick as a dog with my stomach tossing and churning for the better part of the night. Alas, I am no longer a fan of kava. Mark and I wanted to push the limits, to feel the full effects of kava, and we did. And I don't ever want to again - at least not for a long time. But I also say this every time I drink too much alcohol, so we will see, although since then every time somebody tries to get me to go to a nakamal with them I politely decline.

That is Port Vila for you, in a (coco)nut shell. We have since moved on to Epi island, i.e. Jurassic Park. Today we were greeted by huge sea turtles and a pod of dolphins as we entered the anchorage, and on the way up from Efate we snagged a three foot wahoo. Tomorrow I am going to search for an alleged dugong that lives in the bay, as well as try to catch a ride on a sea turtle. And so the wild adventure that is Vanuatu continues.
At 10/7/2012 3:20 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 17°36.37'S 168°14.51'E

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

From Village to City

Alas we have made it to Port Vila, the capital and biggest city in Vanuatu. Of course, Port Vila is not much more than a quaint town, but with wi-fi internet, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, hotels and cars, it is feeling pretty busy to me. This is also due to the fact that we came from Erromango, which is considered to be the most remote and least developed island in the country.

Aside from the extremely rolly anchorage at Port Narvin, Erromango was a super cool place. Not many people come to Erromango - there is no tourist infrastructure, no cell phones, no cars, no stores... not much of anything but a little village with two schools. As we took the dinghy into shore to meet the locals all the children of the village were lined up on the beach waving at us. When we came ashore the two chiefs of the village introduced themselves, Chief Joseph and Chief Andre. They were very happy to have visitors and, as we were one of five boats in the anchorage, they told us this is the most boats they have ever had there at one time.

A visit to the school in Erromango.

There were about ten of us yachties who came in as a group and we were led to the school for a welcoming ceremony. The school was a run-down cinder block building with wooden desks and benches, open windows and a tin roof. The room we were in was packed with 50 or so students aged from about 5-12. Our group was asked to sit in chairs at the front of the room, and I couldn't help but feel like I was on display as 100 eyes stared at me with intense curiosity and smiles, but quickly looked away when I made eye contact.

We were all asked to introduce ourselves, and after saying our names and where we came from the school sang us a welcome song. It was beautiful. The children sang at the top of their lungs, filling the building with a chorus of happy and strong voices. After a few more songs, presenting them with some school supplies and a quick speech by the principal, the teachers invited us to go around and talk with the kids. This proved difficult as the kids were so shy they would giggle and run away whenever I tried to ask them a question.

Finally I went outside and sat down at a bench. Slowly two kids came and sat down next to me, followed by three more, and soon I was surrounded by 30 kids. The only question they would actually answer was, "What is your name?" - if they could keep from laughing. Other than that, they answered yes to every question: "How old are you?" Yes. "Do you have brothers and sisters?" Yes. "Is the sky blue?" Yes. "Is the sky red?" Yes.

Seeing as how our conversation was not going to well, I resorted to giving high-fives to the kids around me. They thought it was hilarious. A few kids sitting behind me would quickly poke my hair and then pretend they had not touched me, but were curious so I took my hair out of my ponytail and told them they could touch it. Instantly I had twenty hands in my hair. They shrieked with laughter as they pulled my hair over my eyes and made pig tails. I never knew straight brown hair was so funny or entertaining.

Then the kids decided I should have braids, so they called in an older girl - apparently an expert - and she set to give me corn rows. Of course she had helpers, other kids who would hold a portion of my hair or whatever... and only after she finished did it occurred to me that she had probably never braided straight hair before, let alone touched any. I was glad to provide the opportunity.

Getting my hair did.

After my hair appointment, Chiefs Joseph and Andre wanted to take us on a hike to the prospective site for a cell tower they are lobbying the government for. Mom, Dad and I were not exactly prepared to hike the highest peak on the mountain - we were in flip flops and had no food or water, but what the hell, so we took off. About an hour into the hike Chief Joseph was concerned that we did not have water so he disappeared into the jungle to look for coconuts.

After two and a half hours we arrived at the peak of the mountain. It was a fairly aggressive hike through the jungle but made much more difficult due to the fact that in the past three days I had not walked more than 30 feet because we had been on the boat. Regardless, we made it and were greeted with a fresh coconut at the top. Just as I was feeling accomplished and fit, three men and two women arrived at the summit, each carrying a 40 liter jug of water or a bag of cement mix. There are 1,000 bags of cement and hundreds of jugs of water that have to be carried up the mountain to build the cell tower and all the villagers chip in to carry them up. I could barely make it up just carrying myself. These people are boss.

The trip back down the mountain was much easier and, after a quick birthday party for Dad - complete with cupcakes and cheesecake - we all decided to bug out of the (extremely rolly) anchorage and head out for an overnight passage to Port Vila. I decided to sail with Mark so he could get some sleep during the night, and we had a beautiful passage under a full moon to Vila.

We arrived in Vila in the morning, went out for breakfast, stared wide-eyed at all the stuff in the stores and dodged cars driving down the two way streets (fancy). Port Vila is a funny place but this post has already gone on for way too long, so we will save that for another day. We now have internet, albeit very slow and testy internet, but I will do my best to go back and post pictures. Thanks for reading!
At 10/1/2012 10:07 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 17°44.69'S 168°18.75'E

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