Photos from India

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Life in the Solomons

Well, everything here in the Solomon islands is what I hoped it would be! Blue skies, clear water and palm trees dropping fresh coconuts all around. Day to day life here is in itself an incredible experience. Everyday I wake up and climb out onto the deck to watch the sunrise. As the sun get's a bit higher in the sky and I finish a cup of coffee, I usually go for a swim or snorkel in the clear waters of the coral sea. Follow that with an afternoon of wonderful local fruits, great cooking by everyone on board and a few drinks to toast the sunset! Life is tough!
We spent the past few days exploring a couple of islands nearby before coming back to this small bit of civalization to drop one of our crew off for her return to Australia. It's incredible to visit a lot of these islands where the people all paddle out to your boat in their dugout canoes wanting to trade all kinds of fruits and vegetables. I of course try to refuse the vegetables, but there are those on board who like them so I guess it is ok. Along with getting fresh food from the locals, it is incredible to see the smiles on their faces when you can give them clothes or a kitchen knife or some nails and see how happy it makes them! It is a difficult thing to make anyone that happy and here it is such a simple task. I don't think that I have been anywhere in the world where all of the people have been as nice as those here. They are very soft spoken and generous. Of all of the places I have ever travelled, walking around the different islands here, being the only white person for miles, I always feel safe. Everyone says hello and smiles when you walk by! What a great place to be.
Yesterday, Bill and I did a dive on a world war two wreck. It was called the Toa Maru. The boat is a 486' long Japaneese Cargo ship that was sunk during world war two. Encrusted in coral and lying in fairly shallow water, this is the most impressive wreck I have ever dove on. You can still see bottles, type writers and miscellaneous other things all scattered around the wreck. Not bad for my first dive in the Solemon islands!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Arrival in the Solomon Islands

Finally, I have arrived in a tropical paradise with a wonderful crew and a beautiful boat! The five night journey was well worth the effort to arrive in an area as amazing as the Solomon islands are. We are currently anchored off the island of Gizo which is the capital of the western province here. This is also the island that was hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami back in March. Although the main part of the tiny town on the island is still intact, a large portion of the islanders lost their homes and are now living on the hillside here in tents and under plastic tarps. It is a sad site to see, these people who had so little in the first place, now surviving on even less. They do however seem to have their spirits up, still smiling and saying hello in the streets and in front of their tents we any of us pass by.
I spent the early hours of today with our newest crew member Johann, biking around the island and looking at all of the destruction. Small homes that were along the coastline have been reduced to nothing more than two foot tall concrete piers jutting out of the sand amongst all of the rubble. As the local people are still salvaging bits of wood and metal from the mess in hopes of building some form of a new home, I can’t begin to imagine how they feel. Even the ocean here has apparently changed significantly. Many of the reefs on the islands have been completely lifted out of the water, and another nearby island was lifted up three feet higher after the quake. Hopefully, some of the goods that we have brought to distribute to these people will help in some small way to make things easier.
The journey here went mostly without incident. It was basically, sailing into the wind in ten to twelve foot swells consistently the entire time. Although I never became sea sick, I will admit, that I lost my appetite for a few days, eating only noodles and cereal. Throughout the entire journey, we only saw one other boat, a large cargo vessel passing in a shipping lane we crossed. Definitely an incredible feeling to know you are so far from any form of civilization or other humans at all. Of course on the other end of the spectrum from the remoteness, was the constant beating that the ocean provided. Constant spray from the bow crashing into the swell would keep you wet and sticky with salt water. Combine that with the occasional larger wave crashing over the side of the boat and swamping you while you tried to steer and the journey could get very frustrating at times. Most of the thunderstorms were gladly welcomed as they were an opportunity to flush your clothes and hair with fresh water. All in all, it was an amazing journey, crossing all of those miles with nothing but the wind there pushing you along and the ocean providing fresh fish for us throughout the journey. An amazing way to travel!

Bugatti and Marion Reef

The wind is blowing over our bow and the sun is setting beyond our stern here on Marion Reef. We are anchored at an enormous reef that is about 130 miles outside of the great barrier reef and 200 miles off the Australian Coast. All you can see of the reef at high tide is a couple of little sand islands popping out of the water and the remains of a ship that ran into the reef in a storm sometime long ago. Although not directly on our path to the Solomon Islands, we decided to take a bit of a detour and work more Easterly while the winds were favorable and spend a night or two at Marion Reef. It was well worth the detour as the reef and it’s small sandy cays are incredible. Since it is so far away from the main portion of the great barrier reef and not on the way to any other group of islands, this is an area of the world that only a handful of people have ever seen.
Today was spent snorkeling around the reef and exploring the little sand outcroppings and their bird life. At first glance from the shore, I didn’t expect the snorkeling to be very good. We were all in for a surprise! After just a short swim out through the shallows, enormous brightly colored coral heads began popping up everywhere. It was protected from the surf from a larger portion of the reef, making exploring it even more enjoyable. There was so much coral here that was alive and glowing with color. Greens, reds and purples everywhere. That includes the fish as well! After trying to make my way to the wreck to have a look around, I came across the first shark I have seen snorkeling in a while. It caught me a bit off guard at first, but after reminding myself that it was just a white tip reef shark, I took a photo of it and moved on. As I made my way to the wreck, I was surprised to see two more sharks coming toward me. Now this was pretty incredible. I had only been in the water about twenty minutes and I had already seen three sharks. As I looked around to see where Bill and Dimiti were so I could tell them to look at the sharks, I realized they were the reason the last two were coming towards me. The sharks were trying to get away from them! The rest of the snorkeling was pretty amazing. I explored the wreck, and all of the different creatures living within it, saw a couple of giant wrasse and my first clown fish of this trip to the South Pacific.
After returning to land, I did a little exploring of this little sand island that is no bigger than a couple of football fields. That’s at low tide. There was a big group of birds on the island, all facing the wind and huddled up upon themselves. They weren’t very afraid of me as I was able to get pretty close to them without them flying off. We were all probably the first humans a lot of these birds had seen. Upon closer inspection of the birds, I realized that most of them were sitting on or crouching down above an egg. I have never seen a bird with an egg under it, just waiting for it to hatch!
Before we arrived here at Marion reef, we were anchored near another portion of the Great Barrier Reef that was pretty isolated as well, Bugatti reef. No other ships in sight at either anchorage. The strangest part about Bugatti reef was that we were anchored where there wasn’t any land at all. Just a shallow spot on the chart with a whole lot of current flowing through. Since the weather is beginning to warm up a good bit as we make our way North, I slept out on deck at Bugatti reef. I have been a lot of dark places before, but being out on the water over a 100 miles from land at night is indescribable how dark it gets. Combine that with the fact that the moon isn’t rising until around 2:00 in the morning right now and you can see about a billion stars. The milky way is as bright as most stars back home typically are and you can even make out the large Magellan cloud without binoculars or anything! Every time I awoke on deck to roll over, I would see another shooting star. The sky was better than watching any movie I have ever seen!
The journey between the two reefs lasted about 36 hours. Since we had caught that big tuna the day before, we didn’t let the fishing lines out until late in the afternoon on the way over to Marion Reef. No fish that day, but the next day fishing was pretty exciting. After spending an entire day sailing without so much as a bite on either of the lines we were dragging, we got a big hit on the port line. Bill started screaming “fish on!”, grabbed the line as it was being let out and began to put a bit of tension on. Immediately the line broke! After being disappointed and loosing a brand new lure we had picked up in Mackay, we began rigging up another lure when a fish hit the other line! I then started yelling “fish on!“ and Bill was next to the rod so he grabbed it to bring it in. As he began reeling the line in, the same thing happened! Must have been a couple of big fish, stealing all of our new lures! Later in the day when I was beginning to believe that there we weren’t going to be having fresh fish for dinner, both lines hit at the same time! Dimiti and I grabbed the rods and started bringing the fish in. They were criss crossing over each other and we kept having to change rods. Every time we got the fish close to the boat, they would each take off again. Dimiti became worn out and handed the rod off to Bill. He finally pulled one fish in and threw it in the cockpit. I again almost had mine in when he dove under the boat. I was in a bad position on the back of the boat so I handed the rod off to Bill to get the fish away from the rudder and proppeler. As the fish got close to the boat, I was ready to grab him with the gaff. Just as I grabbed the line to bring the fish closer, he took off again and broke the line! Three lures gone in one afternoon of fishing! Either way, we still had a beautiful fresh yellow fin tuna for dinner. Having not much experience at filleting fish, I took some advice from Bill and began cutting the fish. It was a little slow compared to seeing Bill slice the one up a couple of days ago and definitely not as pretty, but I get the feeling that as this trip goes on, I should get the hang of it pretty quickly!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Departing Australia

It’s early evening on our second night away from the Australian mainland and Bill, Dimity and I have just finished watching an amazing sunset that seemed to last forever,. With every passing moment, the sky became even more amazing until finally the light was gone and the stars began to appear. We departed from Mackay late yesterday morning on an overcast day with a gray sea and gray skies extending to every bit of the horizon. This was actually good news as all we had seen for the past week were gray skies and rain. Lots of rain. It seemed like it was never going to end and we were all beginning to forget what sunsets and the stars looked like. Fortunately that all changed today with clear skies, strong gusts and cool air surrounding us.
Yesterday was a wonderful day of sailing. With the wind at our backs and fishing poles out, we departed Mackay, heading for Scawfield Island. It was only about 25 miles away, but a good place to anchor for the first night out. The winds were light but very cool and after pulling in a healthy sized Queensland School Mackerel, we pulled the fishing lines in as our mackerel would suffice to feed the three of us quite well for a couple of days. At sunset, we arrived at Refuge Bay which we found to be a pretty popular spot compared to some of the more recent anchorages we had been in. It looked like it would be quite a peaceful spot. We would later realize that would not be the case.
After a dinner of fresh fish, some music, and some wine, everyone went to sleep. The night seemed to last forever. It was like the current and the wind were fighting in opposite directions. Strong gusts were howling through the shrouds and the changing current kept the boat on a constant roll. Between all of the movement and noise, I don’t think anyone got a full nights sleep. Captain Bill fortunately was up and decided it would be a good idea to let out more rode on the anchor to make sure we weren’t going anywhere. By early morning, the weather had not changed and we all woke up thinking the same thing, we weren’t going anywhere today.
With the rough and shifting weather, we decided it would be a good idea to take care of all of the finishing touches of getting the boat ready for our journey to the Solomon islands here in Refuge Bay. After a quick breakfast, I spent the morning reworking all of the waterproofing around all the hatches while Dimity cleaned and stored all of the potatoes. In the meantime, Bill rigged us up another support for our second fishing rod so we can have a way to mount two rods and catch all the more fish while underway. From there, we emptied the cabin of all the cushions, carpet and anything that had gotten even moderately damp during our 10 day rain streak. The rest of the day was filled with a few miscellaneous projects and lots of relaxing on the first clear and sunny day we had seen in a while. Although the air was cool, it was still amazing to sit on the deck of the boat and look out at the bay. About every five minutes, someone would spot a turtle swimming by. Of all the places I have ever been, I have never seen so many turtles in one day. The day finally ended, with the toasting to the dropping of the Australian flag with some beer, wine and a few group photographs to capture the moment for a lifetime. Combine that with a beautiful sunset and I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to Australia.