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.

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

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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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