Monday, April 30, 2007

The Ocaen III - The Son of Ocean (Hiva OA -> Tahuata)

After touching bottom one murky morning in Atuona, we decided it was time to leave. Goodbye industrial park with all of its pleasant drum of dredging equipment and robust unprotectedness. A quick motor sail of 9 miles made all of the difference. Along the way a striking 50-55 foot, ketch rigged, American flagged yacht passed us in all of its glory. It was more than a little bit scary watching it avert an uncomfortable embrace with the cliffs. Not really sure what they were doing, but these guys got swept CLOSE with sails slatting before surging out under engine. We laid anchor in what I would say is the first crystal blue, white beach, prototypically tropical anchorage yet. (this is one of those "enticing stretches of sand", I guess)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

M - Where for art thou?

French Keyboards suck more than Spanish keyboards. When they are attached to the first iMac sporting IE for Macs v5.0 (at $15 / hour) they are simply ludicrous. Excited that I might actually get to check my mail, I went rushing to the only computer for use on the island. 2 hours worth of waiting and technical difficulties, I was kind of writing an email. (I still haven't read my emails - hoping for Niku Hiva to save the day).

The town is interesting. Got to watch an indoor soccer match, a garage sale of sorts, eat in a restaurant, have a cold beer, soak in some culture and go for some long walks. The general state of the harbor and the fact that there are probably some better things to see on the horizon has made me pretty itchy to get going, but it is a beautiful island and the folks here are simply wonderful.

We got another 20 gallons of diesel, 80 gallons of water and got some fresh provisions (from the gas station). Gotta love that dingy.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Baltic Avenue with Two Hotels (Atuona Village, Hiva Oa, Marquesas)

09 48.126 S
139 01.860 W

Today I humped 35 gallons of water to the boat by dingy in the (burny burny) tropical sun. I had a shower under a fresh water hose on the jetty while three local dudes watched. I managed to somehow snarl the dingy anchor on some diabolical rock formation and spent an hour trying to dislodge it. Had to swim down ten feet to recover the dingy anchor that some looser snarled (I am tired of dealing with rank amateurs). The harbor, in addition to being rumored as having problems with sharks (which I think is BS) is not really what I would call "pristine". I think I will name my ear infection "Atuona". I also made a decision.

After 37 days of living on the boat, I decided to spread my wings and sleep in a real bed. To sit on a porcelain throne that cleans itself with the mere flick of a lever.

I walked 20 minutes or so up to a small hotel and everything seemed a bit odd. I think it is a great place, but anything would seem odd that isn't the boat me thinks. For the cash it is a little bit sparse (the prices in the Marquesas have to be witnessed to be understood - perhaps the most expensive cost of goods that I have ever seen, anywhere). My "real" bed turned out to be two cots pushed together, there is only a half height wall between the washroom and the bedroom, but it is clean, the shower is fresh. It's all mine. I am listening to a salamander munch on a crunchy bug in time with the pounding surf below. The TV is on, only because it's there. Luxury.

A strange rip-off of Wheel of Fortune is on. Vanna is 25 years younger, with a boob job and seems even less capable of inspiring young girls into believing that they can do anything they want with their lives. A 25 year old punk gives the wheel a spin, and lands on "Cave"
and gets to go shopping (in the "Cave" presumably) with 2000 Euros of virtual money. He hoists a LCD TV over his head and everyone boos. Apparently he didn't reach his ultimate potential somehow (Isn't that always the way?). A white dog with a black spot on one eye comes trotting on stage like he owns the place. Everyone breaks into dance and claps with a vigor that is surprising. Good fun. I am confused.

The final round and things really start to heat up. T R S L N begat little. Ill advised consonants P M C begat nothing. No joy on the vowels. Oh the tension! A gong of sorts rings after a blank stare from the contestant. "Un Budoir" is flipped by one confused blonde. With a game show hosts dramatic flare it is revealed that the prize was 100,000 Euros. I guess bad luck is the same in any language. I wonder if this show is licensed? I wonder if some gaming commission ensures that the physics on the real wheel of fortune are true and fair?

I awake with a start and it is dark. The TV is still on and it becomes clear that this crap was actually televised. Thank god that my dream was not. It was the kind of dream that you don't write in a blog for fear of people thinking that you are weird, or of being arrested.

Time to go see what a restaurant looks like.

Hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ocean II - The Return of The Ocean (Fatu Hiva -> Hiva Oa)

Short, overnight run to the next anchorage (42 miles). It was nice to have to actually slow down for once (to make sure that we had light when we reached the next island). Highlights of the trip included another complete power failure and when I woke the captain at 3am to let him know that we where on a probable collision course with 2 ships on the horizon. I swear, I was tracking these things for some time and I never noticed that they coincidentally shared the same bearing as our destination. I actually headed 5 degrees to starboard so that I could keep them in view off the port bow (I kept loosing them behind that pesky mast)... Nope - didn't register. Any way I calculated it, we were going to eventually collide. Chris politely informed me of the potential that these may actually not be ships. "Skips - We are on a collision course with our destination, we are all doomed. Whatever will we do??". Not my best sailing moment.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

This town isn't big enough for the one of us. (Hanavave Village, Fatu Hiva, Marquesas)

Hmmm. Time to figure out what I've got myself into here. Mr. Planet has this to say:

"The dramatic landscape of the six inhabited islands are drier and steeper than the society and austral islands. With no barrier reef and no protective lagoon, the feeling here is wild and earthbound. In the northern group of Nuku Hiva, 'Uo Pou and 'Ua Huka, the land is a desert of low shrubs surrounding sharp basalt peaks and pinnacles; only the river valleys are lush and habitable. South, Hiva Oa, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva are carpeted by fruit trees, ferns and flowers. blah blah blah.

The Marquesas is _not_ a beach destination. There are a few enticing stretches of sand, but they are invariably infested with nono, a small aggressive biting fly that the locals will tell you is fiercer than a lion. blah blah blah"

Wait a minute! What do you mean this isn't a beach destination? Why the hell did I pack my sun focusing screen, lawn chair and Budweiser beer can cap? Damn. I'll save them for the Tuomotos I guess ;)

So apparently this used to be called the Bay of Penises until the outraged missionaries cleverly moved a letter of the name around and it became the Bay of Virgins. I'm not sure what the massive stone phalluses everywhere have to do with virginity, but nobody ever accused a missionary of scientific or observational accuracy.

Dramatic - check. Wild and earthbound - without a doubt. 562 people on the island... hmm. I only see about 30. After dreaming of civilization for a month, I came racing ashore to get my hands on anything that could be bought (I know, its sick). There is one little booth where they sell canned goods and grocery type stuff for the village. I am embarrassed to say that I spent 8.50 USD on pringles and a can of coke. Retail therapy in its most basic form. Its not like I've been going hungry and the food on the boat has been quite good, but did it ever feel good to wolf down something cold.

I wonder if people actually get land sick after being at sea for some time? It took a long time for me to walk straight. Chris and I went swimming in a (Fresh!) stream, got in a water fight with a couple local kids and ate mangoes as they fell from the trees.

I seriously needed to go for a walk. Check. I headed up the only road out of town (there is only one road which connects this village with its larger cousin on the other side of the island). The road forked and I took the one which is not right and ended up in a dead end after some very strenuous switch backs. With a fervor born from a month of obsessing about it, I blazed on, straight up. Mountain climbing sandals on. Check. Up over a tree line of sorts (it appears as though they did a controlled burn at one time and the very, very steep ground was a weird blackened root system. The views were amazing, but I was stymied from achieving my goal of getting to the top of the hill. 10 feet from the top it just became too steep and I kept sliding downwards. Sat there for a bit, enjoyed the solitude and then slid to the bottom on my ass. Over exertion struck and I almost crawled home to the boat.

The people here are very nice, but I am kind of sad for them. Not for their quality of life, not because they don't seem happy, but because me and people like me are here. We aren't the first to be here by a long shot and we will not be the last by a longer shot. Somewhere along the way somebody traded something for something and somebody got invited to a local home for a simple dinner. Reports come back and subsequent visitors expect the same. The behavior is reinforced and the reports are confirmed. It was fully my expectation that we would be able to trade for fish and fruit and that somewhere along the way we would end up with a bounty of Marquesan delights in some home or another. As a tourist I felt due my authentic Marquesan experience in hospitality which was not denied. The Mahi Mahi fish steaks we bartered for were delicious, the meal was a hoot. In the end though, I felt like I had been a part of a remote village less than I felt that I was a cog in a transplanted tourist economy. Competition, greed and status are on their way and a nice happy village will learn to pander more and more to the needs of a bunch of crappy tourists. I don't want to come across as self righteous and far be it for me to deny a hundred people their slice of the american dollar, its just that I get nervous around fragile communities, especially when I am the one buying the pringles.

By all reports this place has changed a lot in the last few years as more and more boats make it a stop. Its a striking place with a beautiful spirit. I wish them the best.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


10 27.871 S
138 40.057 W

I wonder why people say that? If there was such a thing as Sea Ho's then I doubt sailors would have to go on such a terror when they hit port. One of life's great mysteries.

I had the dawn watch today (5-8 am). This, the day that we finally put this leg to rest. I was so excited to be the first to sight land after so long, alone, the sun rising at my back, a piece of something on the horizon that didn't disappear or bob up and down like a top. The sun rose with clouds everywhere and.... no land! Around seven Chris came up from below and I gave him the bad news. He shook my hand and congratulated me while he pointed off into the distance at what was, in retrospect, so obviously Fatu Hiva. I guess you have to know what you are looking for in this life.

Distance: 3028nm
Time: 27D 5h
Avg Speed Over Ground: 4.6 knots
Best Daily Run: 141 (awesome day)
Worst Daily Run: 79 (this, my friends, was a very dark day)

I have realized that I tended to treat pride as a comparative statement and subconsciously avoided it in the last five years. Pride itself is a dangerous thing and a fine line, but I think that it is only when you approach it as comparative that the poison flows freely. It is the first time that I have said so in a very long time and I do so with a clear conscience... I am _proud_ of this accomplishment and I will be so for the rest of my life. There are people lining up on shore to tell me that we should have done this in 3/4 of the time, in more comfort, with less comfort, more style, different style, with a different route or sail plan. I can (and will) learn from other's experience, but how I feel about this journey is locked up tight and I will not allow it to be gnawed at from inside or out. I am not shameful of my pride this time around and my competitive nature is blissfully asleep.

A wise woman once implored me to celebrate the small victories in life. I missed the tie with lack of pride and feeling like I had not accomplished something worth celebrating. I am treating this as a collection of small accomplishments and celebrating the hell out of each one in turn.

I thought that a month at sea would teach me the finer points of sailing. What it did teach me was that I knew very little about sailing in general and that blue water sailing has much more to do with the stuff that goes on around the actual act of wind pushing cloth (that I knew absolutely nothing about... not to mention the crap that goes on inside your head during such an outing - don't get me started). Tolerance, endurance, the failure mechanisms of 12v systems, radar, HF/VHF radios, how to truly stay awake with nothing much going on but your synapses firing, corrosion, auto pilots, boat motion, securing for sea and keeping a boat quiet, rationing, electric winches, REAL anchors (not the paper clips I am used to throwing), wind generators, solar panels, the practicalities of rope chafing and sail longevity, provisioning, paperwork and how to grow a ridiculous looking beard (some of you might think that I already had that mastered - trust me I have taken things to new heights) are all things that I can say I now have some knowledge of... Oh - and I learned a fair bit of how to actually sail.

Tonight I can pour out three cups of coffee at once. Tonight I will leave my diner unattended for 5 seconds just because I can. Tonight I sleep and for the first time in 28 days I won't wake up in the middle of night to go to work.

Life is good.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The worst laid plans of mice and men.

09 58 S
136 20 W

As much as one might think it is a good plan to celebrate your birthday like a land lubber at sea, I caution you strongly against it. Under NO circumstances should you get drunk in rolling seas without the promise of land on the horizon. Seriously. I am not kidding around here. Let me tell you now - its a special kind of pain.

April 20th this year was unlike any other in my life. April 20th shares a common experience with the last 15 April 21st's or so - a mysterious phantom drill boring behind my eye.

The merciless washing machine carries on.

Happy Birthday

09 56 S
136 01 W

Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday dear me,
Happy birthday to me.

Friday, April 13, 2007

And I have sailed two thousand miles, and I will sail one thousand more....

09 12 S
126 00 W

I doubt sincerely that I will ever find myself in a more remote location in my lifetime. I've been remunerating over remoteness for the last few days (during the nights especially). At the halfway point, the remoteness seemed to hit a peak (which is probably statistically true, but likely mostly in my head).

The only thing that I know for certain is that there is one person awake for 1500 miles in any direction, and that person is me.

Four days later, I know that I am still as remote, but saying it with 1000 miles seems so much less so. I mean come on - its the difference of 4 million square miles and obviously less impact full.

I am sure that there were a 100 ships within this space and they were probably having a regatta just over the horizon. A continuous conga line of planes likely passed me by with tourists by the gross (although where they might be headed isn't really clear to me.... and they should really use lights in the future). Aside from these certainties, I am alone. It feels good.

In 18 days we have seen only 2 pairs of fishing ships (what they are fishing for out here is a little bit of a mystery - we are in 4000m of water with no banks or shoals, Japanese whaling boats is unfortunately the going theory). There really isn't much going on out here. The cockpit of the boat is well protected, but I do trick myself into thinking that the 1.5 inch nylon strap that tethers me to the boat is somehow all that is keeping me alive (although in some ways at night it is). A silent, 2 step walk to port is really all that it would take. Rescuing a man who went overboard at an unknown time during the night would be daunting and most likely not successful. This all adds to my feeling of remoteness.

We are finally making good time, but "good time" is a relative thing. It will likely take us 8 to 10 days to cover the remaining 1000 miles on this leg. You could easily cover that in 2 hours on a plane, a day in a car. If you could find a way to walk 24 hours a day it would likely take you only 15 of them. Day after day, lets say that we are pacing a reasonably serious bicyclist, traveling mostly downhill, who likes to sleep in.. and smokes.

3000 ocean miles is tough to put into perspective. I think its 3300 miles between Toronto and London. If there are 60 miles in a degree of latitude, then we are sailing the equivalent from the "49th Parallel" straight down to the equator. Even these attempts are marred by a number of 'ish's. The world as it turns out is an oblate spheroid and a nautical mile does not equal a nautical mile from a different latitude and a regular "mile" does not equal a nautical mile at all (but may). I am enjoying the fact that these rumors that I learned in grade school like the earth not being perfectly round and magnetic variation are actually affecting my day by day.

Lets just call it far'ish.

Last night I made dinner. A crude attempt at beef pot pie consisting of a motley crew of canned goods. Beef stew from Brazil, peas from god knows where - Panama?, milk from Columbia, an onion and garlic from the Galapagos. The Bisquick and mashed potato mix had English labels on them, so I don't really know where they came from - likely far. Washed down with wine from Chile, purchased in some random South American port. (The whole thing ended up sliding off the stove top and making a horrendous mess, as well as completely screwing up my nicely prepared layers of ingredients. It ended up good in the end though with some scraping and shlopping back into the pan). I smoked a duMaurier cigarette that was purchased in Trinidad as the sun set on the horizon and another day down. Walter and I talked a bit about life on other planets and I settled into my first night watch shift. Grabbed 5 hours of restless sleep and then watched the 5 to 8am sunrise.

This morning, scores of dolphins came to play for an hour or so. This was the first real wildlife that we have seen in some time and the little guys actually make me laugh out loud like an idiot. Good times.

Still thoroughly pleased that I am on this journey, although it has been a tough go at times. It is so easy to discern right and wrong out here and dispassionately look back on my choices and behaviors. Remove the complications, suck out the poison and the playing surface is perfectly flat and the rules of the game are childlike in their simplicity. Just have to bottle this clarity up and take it home with me.

All this being said, I would give my left nut for a steak and a cold beer. To swap some lies with someone who knew me when I was young.

5 weeks down, 19 more to go 'ish.

Hope everyone is good,
Michelle LeRoche (I have officially assumed my French Polynesian identity :)

Monday, April 9, 2007

Insert Some Title, Probably song Lyric.

Sometime, Somewhere

My body has been wet for so long that I think you could scrape and collect mould from it. Perhaps if I donate it to science they can use it in the fight against some debilitating ailment. Anyone know a good foundation seeking a cure for claustrophobia?

There was some brief sunshine today and I shed my soggy t-shirt for 5 minutes. I swear that I could feel my back actually drinking in the sun. No smart ass - it was not _actually_ drinking in the sun, but that is definitely a good way to describe the feeling.

The last few posts have been somewhat gloomy, but I know that it is a transitory feeling. In summing up the trip, there have already been some fantastic times of reflection, of feeling alive and of rugged beauty that will stick with me well beyond the uncomfortable conditions are past. As I sit here typing though, I have just come off another ridiculous night watch of rain. The rain drops here seem to have a running contest and that is to see which one can fall the fastest and saturate the most amount of air around me. Not sure which drop is winning, but there are countless credible contenders for the crown.

I think we might be lost. This can't be the South Pacific.

(Editors Note: this was about 4 days ago, the next post is all sunshine lollipops and rainbows and I promise less drama :)

07 28 S
118 53 W

And here it is! No drama! Yeha!

The sun finally decided to grace us with her brilliance. We are well over half way there (1187nm to go to Fatu Hiva, 1718nm down from Isabella island). These are as the crow flies so the distances can be / are quite a bit more. I am dry, relaxed and happily flowing into the daily groove.

The agenda for sailing is as such:

Fatu Hiva 3000nm
Tahuata 20nm
Itahuata 60nm
Ua Pou 35nm
Nuku Hiva 520nm
Makemo 90nm
Kauehi 50nm
Fakarava 260nm
Tahiti (Arriving around 21 June)

These are surprising hard to spell so they may be wrong. We may also change destinations, stay longer or shorter depending on how we feel. Right now the number one goal in everyone's mind is to get to some terra firma. After some unfavorable conditions, this passage is currently looking like 27-28 days long, but anything can happen and likely will. If we do get some wind, I might be able to have my birthday in Fatu Hiva: an island with no bank, no restaurants to speak of and one single 17km sand road. Good times.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Passage making and fear

06 01 S
102 46 W

This ocean passage is sometimes referred to as the coconut milk run. The idea is that if you drop a coconut in the ocean off the coast of South America and give it enough time it will end up in French Polynesia. The current is pretty consistent and the trade winds are prevalent. Blue sky sailing all the way.

I have to say that I am not generally a fearful guy on land and I haven't been on this trip as a rule. This isn't a lack of respect, but just not nail biting mortal fear day in and day out. When a big swell buries one rail and then the other or a wave curls against the side of the boat, spraying everything in its wake, it is not fear but a sense of exhilaration and a feeling of being alive that I feel. With wheel in hand at a dead run with 35 kts of wind at your back feels a bit disconcerting, but in the end its just good times. (One exception: the heads kind of scare me)

During a pretty fierce electrical storm when lightning strikes about 3 miles behind you at 4:00am, with a sound that you can feel in your eyes; I know fear. I have briefly witnessed the intense sense of isolation and insignificance that I've read described in every sailing story out
there. Barely scratching the surface of the power that is all around me, I am gaining a deeper respect for the ocean and sailing that is growing each day.

This may be a statistically easy ocean passage and there are plenty of places that have a better chance of biting me in the ass. Maybe if had been nothing but a 1000 shades of blue with strong, persistent, favorable winds with nice predictable swell and dancing mermaids for 20 days then I might also agree that this is nothing more than a milk run. However, with my limited experience of such things, I can only attest to the fact that this has not been a walk in the park on my part. From any aspect; including the physical, emotional and technical. I don't think that I need anything more "hard core" than this right now in my sailing career. The Capes can wait, possibly for ever.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Wyatt, I am ROLLING

06 01 S
102 46 W

We've been having a 6-10 ft swell coming off our port quarter for DAYS. In and of itself, that’s not really a problem. The boat rolls, it rolls back and repeat. However, there are a couple of other wave forms at play and the summation creates this evil, fake half-roll that happens and out of nowhere a hard roll to the opposite rail. I can't predict it and it might happen once every 30 seconds, or once in 15 minutes. It is said that the sea is "confused", I feel like I am on some strange plane of hell in the 110th round against Muhammad Ali. Feint feint jab feint jab. Don king has his smarmy fingers on the controls of the low rider style hydraulics and my fancy red boxing shoes are too tight and slippery. Feint jab jab jab crack. For the umpteenth time I get lulled into a sleepy sense of complacency and get walloped with an overhand right. Tea, biscuits and my body go flying and the only apparent thing to do is get up and do it again.

I HAVE to do something about this. Has anyone seen my cell phone?

Get Ry Cooder to sing my Eulogy

"It would seem to me; I remember every single fucking thing I know."

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Shark Attack!

Just kidding.

S 04 51.247
W 98 09.953

So apparently this boat has email. This will be sent over long range radio at 2000 bytes per minute (That is NOT a typo and depends on favorable propagation against the ionosphere). Archaic, simplistic yet beautiful tech that actually works.

Well... what can I say? I put deodorant on today. That was nice. Flying fish are dim. My whales breath smells like cat food (actually it smells like rotting fish. I am reminded of the Adam Egoyan film with molecules and farts. Was it Egoyan? I don't know... I am losing my grip, and its only been 500 miles.)

Speaking of five hundred miles, cheers! (says Mike as he slurps Chilean wine from a box)

This is one big ocean my friends and there are some big waves. Why didn't someone tell me?