Photos from India

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sailing to Alotau

In the village of Mapamoiwa we picked up a new crew member. I say crew member, but she was more like a passenger than crew. Her name was Keesah, a sweet 23 year old girl from the village who had some family she wanted to visit in Alotau. After Bill had given her and some of her friends some new clothes, he invited them all on board for dinner with us. Bill cooked and prepared a wonderful variety of food including crab, sashimi and rice. Our guests quickly informed us that it was not their custom to eat uncooked fish, nor do they eat crabs. This is because they are all members of the seventh day Adventist religion. Also, Bill had provided everyone, excluding me, with chopsticks. One of the girls proceeded to speak on behalf of the group and said that none of them wanted to eat with the chopsticks and could they please have a fork to eat the rice, the only thing on the menu their religion allowed them to eat. I joyfully cheered on their enthusiasm with not wanting to use the chopsticks either! I have never quite understood why anyone would choose to use chopsticks when there is a perfectly good fork nearby. It just doesn’t seem right. To me, it is like choosing to eat a bowl of soup with a fork when there is a spoon sitting next to you. While chopsticks may have been a wonderful invention before someone came up with the idea of the fork, I think the fork is a much more efficient eating utensil and I will gladly choose it over two pointed wooden sticks when I am eating any meal.
Since getting on board, Keesah has come to the realization that life on board a yacht is not all the romance and fantasy she imagined. Sometimes, the wind doesn’t blow and the day passes by very slowly. Other times, the wind blows too much and you get tossed about, unable to remain standing without falling into everything. Along with the unpredictability of the weather, Keesah has gotten a dose of what it feels like to be on a reality TV show. Although she was one of the many spectators that surround the boat at all hours of the day watching our every movements with fascination, trying to see what goes on inside the boat, I don’t think that she is enjoying being the one who is now watched. At each stop, the canoes come out and she doesn’t seem to understand what it is that they are looking at. Just a few short days ago, she was in one of those canoes with the same dreamy eyes, staring up at the strange white people and all of the strange things they do on their sailing boat.
To go along with a journey filled with slow days, stormy days and days where the wind was too strong to even sail, it has been extremely hot. Keesah seems to complain about it like a child back home would. Every ten minutes while fanning herself she tells us how hot it is. I admit there is not much shade on a boat when the sun is directly overhead and the inside heats up to extreme temperatures when we are sailing so it too is an uncomfortable place to be. I just find it a little strange to hear a girl who lives here, so close to the equator to complain so much about the heat. The polish guy on board used to complain often about it, but he left home during the harsh temperatures of a winter in Poland, but Keesah has taken the complaining to a new level. All I can think about when I hear her complain about the heat is a polar bear telling me that it is too cold. It just doesn’t make sense. I wonder if every day back home on her island she sits in her house and says “It is too hot!”
Irina, our Russian crew, has become very close to Keesah and it is quite a relief as I was beginning to wonder if she new more than the seven words in English I had heard her say so far on the voyage. The two of them seem to act like a couple of giggling children, sitting on deck laughing and whispering secrets back and forth. Bill and I are pretty sure that Irina has been speaking poorly of us because when Keesah got on, she enjoyed talking to us and seemed to want to spend time with us. Now, since spending her days chatting with Irina, she won’t even speak to us. It is obvious when you see the way the two of them look at each other when Bill and I talk to them. They look at both of us as if we are the stupidest people in the world that they want nothing to do with.
I forgot to mention the whole reason for our journey to Alatou. Bill received confirmation that a new crew member wanted to join us. Although not intending on going to Alotau, it was the closest place to us with an airport. Needless to say we wanted to be there when she arrived so we have been doing everything we can to make it there on time. At first the trip was smooth, making our way through the islands at a nice leisurely pace but just when we thought we were getting close, we had a slight set back. Awaking early in the morning on the island of Normanby, we set out to cross the straight running between Normanby island and the main island of New Guinea. (This is a part of the country that I have previously refeered to as a wind tunnel with strong winds funneling between an enormous mountain range on the main island and the 8,000 foot peaks of the islands we have been sailing next to.) As we departed at sunrise, the wind was already tearing across the sea and the swells were building. The wind speed at first seemed to be a constant 25 knots, but as the hour rolled on, the speed increased to a consistent thirty knots. With building swells and with the wind continuing to increase, we abandoned our day of sailing and headed back to the safety of our previous nights anchorage.
The next morning we attempted the same journey again. At the first sign of light, we could see that the weather had calmed down a bit so we headed out to sea for our second attempt at the crossing. This turned out to be an incredible trip between the islands. All day long, there was nothing but smooth sailing and clear skies. With Keesah still complaining about the heat and Irina not speaking to us, Bill and I managed to enjoy a great day on board Seawanhaka without them. It’s like being back in Australia when it was just the two of us sailing on the boat. By not speaking to Irina and Keesah, you can hardly tell that they are even on board!
When the day ended, we found ourselves watching a beautiful sunset from one of the calmest bays you can imagine. A glance at the chart revealed us to be just six miles from our destination of Alotau. There was one glitch however. Alotau was on the other side of a mountain range that runs the length of a peninsula which extends out another thirty miles. Keep in mind that this is a very remote country and roads, where they do exist, are very poor. We were surprised to see a road along the side of the bay here but we knew that the journey by road to the airport would take at least one day there and one day to return and that was not a viable way to pick up our new crew.
Before the sun had risen on the following day, we already had our sails up and were making our way out of the bay, heading due east toward the tip of the peninsula which is known as East Cape. There we could pass through one of the channels that extend through the reefs covering the tip of the peninsula and make our way into Milne Bay. Staying close to shore to avoid any big swells, we watched the sun rise directly ahead. With favorable winds pushing us swiftly along, we found ourselves at the point of East Cape by 11:00 in the morning. Never expecting to have made it that far in such a short time, we navigated our way through the reefs and turned the corner to head into Milne Bay.
The afternoon went on without incident and Bill and I decided to finish off the last of our alcohol on board. Having run out of beer a few days ago, we were slowly polishing off the small amount of rum that was left on the boat. With a toast to a great day of sailing, we finished off the last few drops just as we entered the harbor. In the daylight hours, we managed to make sixty seven miles and pass between some pretty dangerous reefs without even using the engine. I know that doesn’t mean a lot to anyone who has never sailed, but that is a long way to travel in one day’s time using nothing more than the natural driving force of the wind.
So after almost a week of sailing with every kind of weather condition imaginable we are finally anchored in Alotau. Our new crew member arrives tomorrow and I think she will be happy to find the boat in the harbor instead of having to spend a few days at a hotel wondering when we might arrive. Bill and I are headed to dinner at a local hotel for our first dinner on shore in a while, not to mention a much needed beer as our supply has been gone on board for almost a week. Keesah is heading off to find her family and fortunately Irina is going with her as her main priority is to have a fresh water shower. Thank god she isn’t coming to dinner with us!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Cold War

With our new Russian crew member on board, I have been thinking a lot lately about the cold war. Having been quite young throughout most of the cold war, I didn’t fully grasp the concepts of communism and the effect it had on people. Now, on board Seawanhaka, I am beginning to see why it lasted so long! Our newest crew member Irina has come on board with the personality and enthusiasm of a brick wall. Since arriving on the boat almost three weeks ago, she has spoken all of about seven sentences to both Bill and I. Her first day, she seemed to be excited about being on board, having quit her job in Moscow and traveled all the way to Papua New Guinea to meet us. Since then, it has been all down hill.
At dinner, I have tried starting conversations about topics that she would enjoy, but I can’t seem to get much out of her. I once asked if they had trains or a subway system in Moscow and her response was “OF COURSE WE HAVE TRAINS!” as if how could I be so stupid to think that there were no trains within the city of Moscow. My fault. Now, I know that the realization of there not being any freshwater showers on board came as a real shock to her, but that is no excuse to act that way. After several corrections by the captain about her excessive use of water in the bathroom, she finally succeeded in completely draining one of our tanks dry. In just over a week, we went through half of our water supply. Previously that would have taken us a month to finish having four crew on board instead of three. I think the idea finally set in her head when she realized that we were halfway out of water and there was no sign of any rain clouds coming anytime soon.
The strangeness of Irina really set in the other day when we arrived at a beautiful bay that was surrounded by coral reefs. She asked Bill if it was possible to dive there. He commented that of course, she just needed to figure out where she wanted to do the dive and when. I told her that I didn’t care to dive there and would be glad to go for a snorkel on the reef, but she proceeded to turn her nose up at snorkeling and tell me in her thick Russian accent that she did not like to snorkel, only dive. Well excuse me! I don’t think I have come across anyone who doesn’t like to snorkel. I think now I don’t care to ever dive with anyone that is that big of a “dive snob.”
On top of the lack of speaking to Bill and I, she looks at us both as if we are the meanest humans alive when we are trying to teach her how to sail. With everything that we try to explain to her, she just looks ahead with this shitty little grin on her face that seems to accuse both of us of being the stupidest people alive. I have given up on teaching her anything about sailing as it is quite apparent she has no desire to learn. I still haven’t figured out why the hell she is even here other than to make life on the boat very grim and depressing.
In a further effort to avoid talking to us, Irina keeps her headphones in at all times possible. Bill would not allow her to use the ipod while we sail since we need to be able to communicate on board and when we found out that she was stuffing cotton balls in her ears, the captain quickly ended that to. However, each time we drop anchor, she hurries down below to her cabin and emerges on deck with her headphones on. By this time a few locals have usually paddled out to the boat to say hello and without speaking to them, she is quick to snap a few photos, say nothing and head up to the front of the boat with her ipod. It is terrible to see her attitude towards the people who come out to visit us on the boat. She treats them like animals in a zoo. No attempt to talk to them, just snaps pictures right in their face and goes on about her own business.
Once the ipod is in, the Russian karaoke revolution begins. The bastardized words of American songs fly from her mouth in a crude tone that seems to even scare the locals off. They sit around as long as their ears can take it and watch her sit staring off into nowhere while trying to form a note and sing the correct lyrics to all of the hits of the 80’s. As for me, I have started turning my ipod on just to fall asleep. Since Irina likes to sleep late, she in turn likes to sit up on the deck late. Every night, lying in my cabin, I am forced to listen to the words of George Michael and Duran Duran being spit out of her mouth. It sounds like one of the terrible people who never make the first cut on American Idol!

My new Bush Knife

Having traded away our bush knife long ago and finding a nice little trade store in the nearby village we were visiting this morning, I purchased a new bush knife. It is much easier to open coconuts with a proper bush knife instead of the small dull knife that we had on board. Also, when trekking through the many jungles and rainforests here, it is nice to carry a bush knife to fend off all of the vines and branches that typically overwhelm the so called road (path). I purchased the new knife sometime before noon and it cost me about five dollars. Upon returning to the boat with my new knife in hand, I quickly chopped the top off of three coconuts for everyone on board and was very pleased with my new purchase. As I finished drinking the sweet juice out of my coconut, I searched the deck of the boat and tried to find a good place to store my new knife. Being very hungry at the time, I decided to just set it down with our stash of coconuts on board and venture down into the galley to fix some lunch.
Fifteen minutes later and lunch was ready. Everyone else was outside on the boat so I brought the food out for all of us to enjoy. There were a couple of canoes around the boat as usual, just kind of standing up in their canoes hanging onto the rail having a look at us as if we were a television show. Nothing new, just typical of everywhere here in PNG. After lunch, I read for a while, took a short nap and ventured back up top to enjoy the afternoon. As a little afternoon project, I decided to find a home somewhere on board for my new bush knife. As I came out on deck and glanced at the pile of coconuts, I soon realized that the knife was gone. Needless to say, I am not talking about a small knife here. This is a proper machete and is not that easy to misplace. After a quick look around, I decided that I definitely left it with the coconuts. No one else on board had seen or used it and they had been on deck the entire time talking to all of the different canoes that had come up. I guess one of the canoes swiped the knife when no one was looking. The knife didn’t even last me four hours! That is the first thing I have had stolen here. Looking back on it now, I think that if I had left my wallet, watch and laptop lying next to the bush knife, it still would have been the only thing taken. A brand new bush knife is a valuable item in a community where you are given one for your third birthday and carry it everywhere you go for the rest of your life. Even though I had planned to eventually give the knife away to someone who needed it before heading back to Australia, I was sad to see it disappear to quickly. It has gone to a good cause and I am sure that whoever took my knife needed it a lot worse than I did. Hopefully they will put it to good use opening many coconuts and canned goods while I can spend another five dollars on a new one the next time I come across another trade store here in the islands.

Poseidon's Wrath

We were a couple of hours late on our departure from the bay at Mapamoiwa since we lent a few tools to a local island trader that had broken down on it’s way in to the harbor on the previous night. While the clock ticked on, so did the repairs and Bill decided that we needed to get on our way in order to make it to our next destination. Since the island trader was bound for Alatou, a few days down the road for us, we told them to leave the tools at their office and we would just pick them up there. The grateful captain thanked us and promised to buy us a beer when we arrived.
It was now 10:00 a.m. and the winds had begun to pick up a bit. A dark cloud hung low over the island covering the peaks of the nearby mountains. Towards our destination were blue skies and a few friendly clouds ready to guide us on our day’s journey. Pulling out of the harbor, we were able to lay a great heading with a swift Southeast wind. Our speed was excellent and it looked like our late start wasn’t going to impede us on our thirty mile journey to Gumwa bay.
In the distance, we watched a squall line approaching us but in the direction we were heading the skies were still blue. Nothing more, so we thought, than a light shower to rinse off the deck of the boat as well us it’s crew members who felt like standing in the rain. The clouds descended upon us and with Bill at the helm, I enjoyed the rain pouring down on my head. After allowing the immense amount of water that is shed from the mainsail at the base of the mast to flow over me, I returned to the cabin to dry off and wait out the rest of the wet weather. Shortly after, the rain stopped and while the skies were not completely clear, the light overcast sky didn’t look to menacing at all and we continued along our course original course which had been slightly altered by the small rain storm.
As our day continued with a series of rain showers off and on, I spent most of my time below deck reading. With Bill at the helm enjoying sailing in the rain, I was happy to stay down below, reading and navigating and popping my head out every now and them to trim the sails as required by the constantly shifting winds. Around mid afternoon, Bill told me that it looked like we had a pretty big storm approaching so he sent me down to get our harnesses and told me to grab a jacket and come out here and latch on to the boat. I quickly grabbed my jacket and emerged from the cockpit to see a white horizon quickly approaching the boat. Bill put me on the helm so that he could be free to run around the deck and take down any sails necessary. Before the storm arrived, we were able to drop our main stay sail and sheet all the other sails in tight as our course was leading us as close to the wind as we could sail. While the storm drew closer, Bill and I watched a waterspout form and dissipate just a few hundred yards off our port bow. That was not a good sign of what this storm had to offer.
A burst of wind shot out of the whiteness before us almost knocking me off the helm while the rain began to come down as heavy as the waves that were pouring over our bow. Holding our course for the first ten minutes or so, it didn’t seem to be anything more than a typical squall that we had seen many times before. Sailing onward, the wind began to change directions while building up speed. As it crept further and further around us, I could not maintain our course as we had begun crashing dead into the enormous swells that the storm had whipped up before us. The wind began to grow even stronger, sustained at over thirty knots with the occasional gusts over forty. At one point, a burst of wind hit us from the side and began pushing the boat over onto it’s starboard rail so far that I could almost reach out from where I stood and touch the sea. I was standing on the side of the boat almost perpendicular to the water while still steering a straight course. With the boat now leaning further and further over, Bill began shouting “Come up, Come up Come up!” As I turned the boat into the wind with the entire starboard deck flooded over in a foot of water, the boat rapidly came around and decreased the angle which we were heeling over into the sea.
Suddenly, everything was calm but we could not see more than a few hundred feet around the boat in all directions. The clouds were swirling around and it was then that we felt the temperature change. In less that three seconds, Bill and I felt the temperature drop at least twenty degrees. Soaking wet, it sent a chill down through my bones, a chill that did not end until the storm was finally over. Shortly after the burst of cold air filled our lungs, a slap in the back came from another strong gust, pushing us over from the opposite direction now. Confused at what to do, the wind had shifted from it’s previous course almost 180 degrees. We tacked the boat and followed the wind and now we had the waves crashing on one side and the wind on the other. This is a strange feeling while sailing as the swells are created by the wind and generally come from the same direction as the wind. In this case it was completely backwards. I was stressed out about the situation but Bill explained that this was the best thing that could happen. We could cruise along with the wind without being slammed into the swells as we were doing previously. A few minutes later, I began to see his point and we rode the strong gusts without once crashing into any of the mighty swells that lay beside us.
Again the wind whipped back around to the other side and realizing that we must be passing through some kind of revolving storm, both Bill and I acknowledged that this last shift in the wind was a good thing. While still blowing hard and beating us with strong gusts, we were gaining control of the situation and began to see a few mountains of the nearby islands appearing through the clouds. At first there was an island to Port, followed a few minutes later by another dead ahead. The worst of the storm was now behind us and we hoped we wouldn’t see anymore. The skies were still gray and the rain continued to fall but the winds had returned to their friendlier sailing state and we pressed onward in our day’s journey.

Jungle Trekking

As we pulled into the small bay near the village of Mapamoiwa, I was overwhelmed by the steep mountain peeks looming above. It didn’t look like it was too high, just a beautiful and rugged series of peaks that stretched toward the sky just beyond the village. The surrounding jungle on the island gave way to a gently sloping area covered in tall green grass, followed by the rough and jagged surface of volcanic rocks cresting in a couple of points that seemed to be competing with each other to be the first one to touch the afternoon clouds that were rolling in. Arriving at a reasonable hour, the local children led us all on a path that follwed the coast line out to the Western point of the island. We passed rocky coastline and white sand beaches in our leisurely afternoon walk and even had a bright green parrot named Boss as an escort for most of our jouney. Along the way, we met many differnet people from the villages that were scattered out along the length of the coastal path. With each one, I asked questions about trails to the summit of the mountains we noticed coming in and how long it would take to climb them. I heard everything from two hours to two days. Looking up at the mountain, I knew I had climbed mountains a lot higher and further off in one day and was confident that this would be an easy hike. All I needed to find was someone to point me in the right direction.
Across the island there are so many differnet paths that pass through peoples homes, villages and gardens. One follows the entire coast of the island and connects all of the different villages together, winding in and out through the many different bays and inlets that cover the coastline. Many other paths lead across the island to hunting areas and places where the villagers cut timber. A lot of these pass through dense tropical rainforest and are rarely used by the villagers as they don‘t have any need to climb up the hillside. I have decided that in order to conquer this small mountain peak, I needed a guide to show me the way.
Sitting on deck reading while Bill cooked dinner down below, I heard the bump of a canoe at the side of the boat and began to speak with a twenty three year old man named Able. He had brought us some fresh coconuts and wanted to come out to the boat to say hello. After talking to him for a while, I realized that Able was a pretty inteligent and fit individual. We began to discuss the trek to the top of the mountain and he offered to take me to the top beginning early the next day.
The next morning I met Able at 8:00 in the morning. Irina our Russian crew member who in my opinion has a personality as cold as the Russian Winter, decided to join me. She did not bring any shoes on the trip other than sandals so I insisted that if she was going to attempt this hike with me she had to wear socks with them to avoid blistering her feet too much. I had warned her that it would be a full days hike and very difficult and she would have to keep up the pace in order for us to reach the top. Able led the way with me close behind and Irina following along with an entourage of about twelve of Able’s friends and family. Five minutes into the hike, before we had even started heading up the hill, Irina had her first fall. Nothing too serious, just the disadvantages of trying to hike through the jungle in a pair of sandals. She cut up her knee and part of her leg, nothing too serious, but immediately I realized we were never going to make it to the top.
As the trek went on, Able elected to stay back with Irina holding her hand mostly to make sure she didn’t fall down. Another member of the party grabbed his bush knife and led the way hackining out a path through the jungle. I stayed up front with him while the rest of the party made sure that there would not be too many more subsequent falls for Irina. At first the trail was failry orderly, passing through several gardens and bannana plantations followed by a trek through grassy fields before finally disappearing into the jungle. Inside the jungle, it was very humind and water dripped off all of the trees. You could hear a multitude of birds screaming overhead but since our guides liked to signal each other with some form of a bird call, there would be no chance of spotting any other animals. We sounded like a gang of wild monkees screaming out to each other the whole time while clawing our way through the jungle. Any animal within a ten mile raidus would be long gone before we arrived. It is no wonder everyone here tells us about the poor luck they have every time they go out hunting.
Our hike continued over the steep and slippery sides of mountains with little more than vines and tree roots to hold onto to keep us from slipping down the muddy hillsides and being dashed upon the rocks below. We eventually ended up at a large stream that we would follow for the rest of our trip up. We hadn’t seen much of a path in a while other than the one that our guide was making with his bush knife for us to pass through. Now at the river, we proceeded to follow it up, crossing over it with every opportunity that we could. I couldn’t figure out why these guys insisted on crossing the river every two minutes. The rocks were extremely slippery and the banks didn’t look like they would be too difficult to walk along. After a while, I realized that with our guides not wearing shoes, walking in the water was much easier on their feet. Accepting defeat, and to avoid slipping, I had no problem submersing my entire boots in the water to avoid falling down and possibly ruining one of the cameras I was carrying.
The journey progressed up the river for a couple of hours,. Along side our leader, he and I stopped every ten minutes to wait for the rest of our entourage who were helping Irina over the difficult climb. At each stop, Irina would pull out another prepackaged moist tissue to wipe down her face and clean out her fingernails. This will be our last hike togther, I can assure you of that. Not all of the waiting was that bad though, the stream became more of a series of waterfalls that were breathtaking to behold. At each one I stopped and regretted not having my tripod in order to take better photos of them. Each waterfall was taller and more extraordinary than the next. They cascaded over enrmous rocks and down cliffs that were sometimes a couple of hundred feet tall. It was pretty remarkable to see so many waterfalls in one spot, especially ones that hardly anyone other than the local people even knew existed! As we neared the highest extents of the jungle, the river became steeper and steeper, eventually to the point that I had no idea how we were going to get up and over the last waterall. The hills were sloping straight down in the direction that we were headed and I could see the edge of the tree line a little further up so I knew we were getting close to the top. At this point, our guides consulted with one another and decided that it was too late and we must head back to the village. It get’s dark in the rainforest fairly early and we did not have time to go any further up the mountain and still make it back to the village before dark.
It was an incredible day of hiking and getting to see so many wateralls was spectacular. While Irina slowed us down and probably kept us from reaching the summit that day, I have to say that it was still an incredible journey. Reaching the top would have been amazing, with views to the boat and all of the islands around but seeing as how it had been raining off and on all day anyway, we probably would have been surrounded by the clouds changing the rewarding views into a sea of gray mist. The journey back led to a slightly more developed path where we weren’t using our hands to hold on to anything and everything to keep us from sliding down the mountainsides. The jungle trek down had just as amazing scenery as the way up. Without the distraction of wateralls around every corner, it was incredible to look up at the canopy of the giant trees and try to spot all the birds that we could hear over head. With a much easier hike down, we made our way back to Able’s home near the main village. He invited us to his porch for a rest while his brothers and sisters climbed the trees to get us some fresh coconuts to drink. Sitting on his porch, sipping on a coconut after an incredible trek through the junlges of Ferguson island was a perfect way to spend the remainder of the day. I think our guide was just as happy as we were to have made the trip. The only difference was that while Irina and I were fascinated with the scenery and the experience of hiking in the jungle, Able was fascinated with the expericne of leading two white people through the jungle!

Pouring stars over my head

What a magnificent experience it is to take a shower here in the tropics. I haven’t really gone into much detail about bathing habits on board the boat, but essentially this is the deal. There is not a shower on board and the only chance you have for a fresh water shower is to venture outside whenever it is raining. I have found this is not the perfect situation as every time it rains, I go up on deck with my shampoo and soap and begin lathering up. Usually by the time the shampoo is foaming up in my hair and I have covered my body in soap, the rain turns to just a slight drizzle. Frustrated, I usually drop a bucket into the sea and pull out a bucket of water to get the soap out of my burning eyes! Usually, the rain will gradually come back and you can get a good thorough fresh water rinse after your bucket bath. With that realization, I usually don’t even attempt to let the rain do the work, even when it’s pouring. I wash off with a bucket of sea water and then just stay out in the rain for a while to get all of the salt off my body. This I have found is a wonderful system and is the highest level of clean you can attain on the boat. Typically however, we are limited to just a bucket and the ocean that surrounds us. I have found that it is really not too bad if you just take your towel and dry off before the water evaporates and leaves the salt covering your body. While yes a fresh water shower would be nice, I don’t really mind the salt water bucket baths on deck.
After a wonderful spaghetti dinner, I decided to get all of the sun block off me before heading to bed so I grabbed my soap and shampoo along with the blue bucket that we use to pull water from the sea and headed up to the bow of the boat. As I first dropped the bucket in the water, I noticed the incredible phenomenon of the phosphorescents spreading out like firework from the bucket as it hit the water. Not that seeing the phosphorescence in the water is something new, it is just tonight, they seemed a whole lot more plentiful for whatever reason. Usually, we notice them anytime the boat is moving at night or if you scoop water out with a bucket at night. Tonight however, they were glowing quite brilliantly and I found myself dropping the bucket over the side and pouring the water back out just to watch the show of the tiny particles glowing.
Closing my eyes, I took the first bucket of water and poured it over my head. As the water ran over me, I again opened my eyes, dropped the bucket over the side again to watch the show and then brought the bucket back up. This time, I had my eyes open and it was the most incredible sight I have ever seen. Each little droplet of water that fell upon me lit up like I was pouring stars over my head. Everywhere I looked, the brilliant glowing droplets were falling. They bounced off of me and landed upon the deck where their flames were extinguished. Each consecutive pour produced the equally spectacular results. A shower of light covering every bit of me. It would be a fantastic thing to introduce to our water system back home. If you could somehow invent a filter that added the tiny plankton to your water just before it came out of the shower, everyone would take showers in the dark for the entertainment of being cleansed in water that looks like it is full of electricity. It reminded me of having a fleece blanket and rubbing your hand across it in the dark during winter to see the sparks of the static electricity light up the room. A shower like this would make anyone forget about the salt in the water and just sit back to enjoy the light show that engulfs them as the water flows down over their head.

Trapped in a wind tunnel

I don’t think this story will due the past week justice, but for now, I guess it will have to do. I can’t even begin to describe how tired I am of being stuck inside this tunnel of wind that seems to be trapped between the two islands which we are tacking back in forth between on our journey further south. At the beginning of our trip, we departed from one of the many bays of Cape Nelson on the island of New Guinea for the Eastern side of the island of Goodenough. Our first attempt failed as we departed into the sunrise and after not even an hour of sailing into the wind, we found ourselves being beat up by a relentless swell and powerful winds that ended up blasting us back to the safety of the harbor on Cape Nelson. Our second attempt of the journey was successful. We again departed at sunrise for what looked like it would be about a thirty hour journey to travel a meager forty five miles as the crow flies. Our destination was directly upwind and we would have to tack our way there. It was a continuous journey of traveling back and forth against the wind with a strong swell always trying to push us back. With the wind howling continuously and about fifty five hours after departing we finally arrived. Having completed fifty two tacks (turns) and 210 miles, the forty five mile journey was complete!
We took refuge in what was called a well protected bay by our guide book that lies near the middle of the Eastern coast of Goodenough island. Passing the headland at the entrance to the bay brought about an immediate change of conditions. The howling stopped and we were finally in what seemed like a pleasant spot for to relax in for a couple of days. After a few hours at anchorage, the gusts began. Every couple of minutes, a blast would come around the corner of the bay, knocking everything on the boat over both inside and out while also causing the boat to swing around on the anchor like a child leading a toy boat through a puddle on a string. The sensation of the blast hitting your face was like standing behind an airplane that was about to take off. It’s not a pleasant feeling when all you want to do is sit on deck and read a few more pages in your book.
The day crawled to an end as the gusts continued to harass us. According to the anemometer, most of the blasts were between thirty five and forty miles an hour! The hatches were slammed shut and we were forced to sleep with them closed in order to avoid turning them into splinters throughout the night. It was very late on our first night at anchor in the harbor when I awoke to a continuous onslaught of wind that sounded like it was going to tear our sunshade to shreds. I am not sure what time it was as I haven’t worn a watch since I arrived on board the boat, but I would have to guess it was around two in the morning. After crawling out of my mosquito net, I went back to Bill’s cabin to see if he thought it would be a good idea to take down the sunshade to avoid it being destroyed in the high winds. He awoke and with a glance at the depth gage and let out a cry of “Oh shit!” The depth gage was reading almost two hundred feet and knowing that we originally anchored in eighty feet of water, it was pretty obvious that we were drifting across the bay, the question was where?
Turning on the computer and radar revealed us to be close to a reef on the opposite side of the bay. Still in control and with 240 feet of anchor chain dragging below, we quickly started the engine and motored out away from the reef. Thank god I was awoke because in another five minutes we would have crashed into the reef, probably tearing apart the boat and everything in it. The second part of the drama would have been the swim to shore in a bay that we had been warned by all of the local fishermen was full of crocodiles! Not a good feeling. After a half hour of pulling up an anchor that was twisted up in it’s own chain and resetting the anchor under total darkness, we felt like we were hooked in pretty securely and we all went back to sleep, or at least attempted to. I don’t think I closed my eyes for the rest of the night for fear of the same thing happening to us again.
The next day was spent in the bay, doing nothing more than just reading. I was forced to lie in my bunk all day and read there as my earlier attempts during the morning to read on deck resulted in severe damage to the book I was reading blowing the cover and several pages that I had fortunately already completed into the sea. I needed about two more hands to help me hold down the pages that remained in order to keep them to from being torn from the book. The wind was relentless so I accepted defeat and remained in the shelter of my bunk down below, only venturing out from time to time to see if the boat had again begun dragging away.
After the onslaught of continuous blasts on the second day in the harbor, I felt like we were hooked up firmly and wouldn’t have much of a chance of dragging off this time. Throughout the night, the roaring of the wind continued intermitted and the alarms we had set on the gps and the depth sounder continued to go off about every twenty minutes. Fortunately it was just the boat swinging around erratically on the anchor which caused them both to go off but fortunately we held tight throughout the night. That is not to say that I was able to get a lot of sleep that night. Every time one of the alarms went off, I poked my head out of bed and made sure that Bill was looking into the source of the beeping. Sometimes, I just stuck my head out of my hatch to see if I could tell how close we were too land and make sure that we weren’t moving around too much. After two nights of sailing in pretty rough conditions and two more living in fear that we were going to be blown into a reef, I was really starting to hate this damn wind.
We departed early the next morning with a nice strong breeze propelling us back across to the island of New Guinea. Overall, it was a pleasant day of sailing with strong winds and light swells. In just a few hours we crossed our twenty mile journey and anchored up in a moderately bumpy spot with a pretty substantial beach nearby. The strength of the winds continued to increase throughout the day, but this time there was no need to worry about being blown into anything. We were not only anchored in shallow water which allowed us to have more chain out resulting in less chance of dragging, but we also were in a place that we could drag anchor for miles and would not have to worry about slamming into anything. I spent the afternoon still cursing the wind and trying to find a spot on the boat where I could continue to read my book without the pages being ripped from my hands. After giving up on what remained of my book at sunset followed by an early dinner, the wind finally began to calm down. As I lay down in bed, the roaring finally stopped and I closed my eyes in hopes of quickly falling asleep. I finally fell asleep for the first goodnight of rest that I have had all week

The Painful Coconut

Ahh! I could feel this damn blister forming, but needless to say, I didn’t attempt to refrain from the activity that was causing it. I first noticed it earlier in the week after hacking away at a couple of coconuts that were pretty difficult to open. We traded away our bush knife (machete) a long time ago and I have been forced to use a small rusty pathetic excuse for a knife to open up all of the coconuts given to us on board. This morning, my skin finally gave way and on my right hand, the outside of my index finger split open with an enormous blister. After feeling the pinching sensation during my morning routine of cracking open coconuts for everyone on board to drink at breakfast, it finally happened. I now have a coconut blister. It is a strange think that I have a blister from something related to eating! Throughout my life, I have had many blisters, usually do to some kind of excessive physical activity with something I haven‘t done in a while. Maybe it is the first time I rake leaves in the fall, or after continuing to swing a hammer for an entire day, or maybe even wearing a new pair of shoes that rub somewhere that I am not used to, but never has opening up something to drink ever given me a blister. I am sure I had a few soar fingernails from opening up too many cans of beer during my college days, but in that case the pain would not have been felt and by all means would have been well worth it. Now I have to spend a few days without the thirst quenching refreshment of a coconut in the morning. Life has become very difficult and with that I am considering cancelling the rest of my trip. . . .

A week in Tuffi

Anchored alongside a small reef in Tuffi harbor, I can look into the clear water along the side the boat and see all of the brightly colored fish swimming just below the surface. The steep hills around pour down into the bay and Tuffi Dive resort is perched on the hilltop overlooking the entire fijord. Finding an airport here, Monica and Michal have moved on to Indonesia to carry on the rest of their year long honeymoon adventure without us while our new crew member from Russia, Irina arrived to make the journey back to Australia with us.
Our week here has been filled with less work than expected and more fun that we had imagined. Upon arriving, we were all anxious to go ashore and try some of the food at the dive resort as we still have not had much luck fishing and it has been mostly canned goods lately. After a few beers at the bar that sits high on the hill and overlooks Tuffi harbor, we were alerted that dinner was ready by a loud banging on an old dive tank hung from the ceiling of the open air building. A beautiful native girl showed us down to the dinner area where we were not only rewarded with an incredible view of the bay several hundred feet below, but also an enormous buffet of lobster, calamari, tuna, rice, potatoes, fruit and vegetables. After eating a couple of rounds of grilled lobster covered in a hollandaise sauce, I noticed that there was a big spoon that I hadn’t used sitting at the top of my placemat. Before I could question it’s use, out came our native hosts bearing bowls of ice cream and fresh fruits piled high. What a treat to have such wonderful food and for it to be followed up with a bowl of ice cream! This is a lot different that a night out on the boat and I was looking forward to spending a week here.
The plane arrived the next morning to carry Monica and Michal away and dropped off the guests that would spend the week there at Tuffi dive resort. There was a writer from Sydney but originally from London who was finishing up a novel she was writing that took place nearby, a retired air traffic controller named Bill from Cairns, an IT specialist named Brian from Port Moresby, and an American couple, Chris and Carrie, both who worked for the fish and wildlife department and were currently living in a remote peninsula of Washington state. Bill and I spent our second night socializing with them over dinner as well as with Simon and his wife Sharon who run the resort. Since everyone was planning on diving the next day and this is supposed to be the number one place in the country to dive, Bill and I decided to put off the work we had planned on doing to the engine to a later date and join everyone for a couple of dives.
Apparently, we were very lucky to have good weather while we were here because according to Simon, this is their low season and it is rare that they make it out to the outer reefs that are their best dive sites. The winds typically start blowing in late August and don’t stop till the end of the year. He said that sometimes it continuously blows about forty knots for three weeks straight! Fortunately that wasn’t the case for our dives and we were able to venture out to what Simon referred to as their two best dive sites. On the first dive, we were greeted by more fish than the eye can handle. Along with the multitude of beautiful reef fish, we saw plenty of mackerel, barracuda and more sharks than I have seen at any one particular dive site. At one point, I attempted to count the sharks surrounding me but after about fifteen, I couldn’t tell which ones were new and which ones departed. They seemed to be everywhere and were of more varieties than I could identify.
Before the second dive, the dive master told us all that it was a spot where they see lots of hammerheads. Having never seen a hammerhead shark before, I was pretty excited to get the opportunity to swim alongside one of these magnificent creatures! Halfway through the dive, we had seen plenty of sharks, but still not one hammerhead. I was beginning to think that none were going to show up when out in the deep a shadow appeared and made it’s way towards our group of divers. Watching such a large shark swim by was an impressive sight to behold not to mention a bit nerve racking at first. He made several passes and every time we thought he was bored with the site of us, he again came back into site and passed by, each time a bit closer getting a look at each of us. We spent about fifteen minutes just watching this shark swim by, completely ignoring the white tip and grey reef sharks that were all around us as well. To have the opportunity to swim alongside such a magnificent creature is a memory that will be with me for a lifetime.
After a third night at the resort for drinks and dinner, I was beginning to worry about my finances so Bill and I decided to retire to the boat for a couple of days but not before inviting everyone out for a few beers at sunset. The next night all the guests at the dive resort, the manager and his wife and even the dive masters came out to the boat for drinks and sunset snacks. Another guest that we invited out to the boat was John whom we had met at the resort the night before. He was a local man, about fifty five years of age and was helping Drissila, the writer, with research on her novel. We met John at dinner the night before and were extremely impressed with everything about him. Not only was he the most well educated Papuan we had met so far, but he had traveled throughout the world in an effort to promote conservation of the land that his people lived on as well as a way for the people of PNG to improve their standard of living with better healthcare and government programs to assist them. John had dedicated his life to helping his fellow citizens of his country improve their lives.
“I wanna go home. . . Let me go home. . . I feel so bad now, I wanna go home. . . .” John sang while sitting on deck of Seawanhaka playing Brian’s guitar. It was a completely different sound than the beach boys version of the song, but I think John’s version was much better. After listening to that, followed by some James Taylor, John began to play some of the songs that he had written about his people and about some of the people he had met throughout his travels. Sitting there listening to such a wonderful soothing voice singing some of my favorite songs as well as some of his favorite songs made for a perfect evening onboard the boat. I could have sat back and listened to him play for hours. The whole time he was singing, all I could think was how much I would love to have a recording of his songs and his deep and soothing voice. The songs that told the stories of the hardships of his people and with his voice singing them was one of the best nights of the trip so far. I wish I could bring home his music for everyone to hear!
Throughout the week in Tuffi, we were anchored along the route that many of the local children paddled by in their canoes on their way to and from school. One group of children, Lisa, Paul and Excley came by every morning and afternoon to see what we were doing. On their first afternoon paddling by they had come over to the boat to talk to us and Bill and I provided them with pencils, exercise books, and various other things that they really enjoyed. They were kind enough to return the favor by bringing us fresh coconuts every day on their way into school, never forgetting about us. Throughout the week, the three of them began to spend more and more time around the boat and we were invited to see their village. Bill and I decided to wait till Saturday when Irina would arrive before heading up to see their homes. We asked the three of them to come by and pick us up around ten on Saturday morning and you could see the excitement in their eyes to how great it would be to bring us up to their village.
It wasn’t even seven o’clock on Saturday morning when Paul and Excley showed up with bright smiles ready to lead the way to the village. Three hours early isn’t too bad for an excited eleven and twelve year old! We invited them on board, fed them breakfast and chocolate milk before heading up to Cabuni, their home. Excley had organized everything for us. He wanted to take Irina and I up the main route where the climb wasn’t as steep and the views were incredible while he sent Paul and Bill in the dinghy to a spot that was better suited for securing the dinghy away from the nearby coral reefs. We could not have had a better guide for the trip. With perfect English, Excley pointed out all of the different trees and their uses as well as each type of vegetable that was growing in the gardens we passed. At the top of the hill where we were all now drenched with sweat, he dutifully climbed to the top of a coconut tree, knocked down a few green coconuts, took the husks off and opened them to refresh us. He led us up to his house where we met his parents before he and Paul took continued the tour of the rest of the village.
Upon entering Cabuni, we were greeted with a smile and a handshake by everyone standing outside their homes that we passed which eventually turned our small group into a congregation of local children following us along throughout our tour of the village. We stopped at one home where they said we were to rest where they had prepared a tray of fresh coconuts for us to again drink. We gladly stopped and sipped our coconuts while chatting with the woman who owned the house. After the rest house, we were shown the small uneven area that they refer to as a soccer field followed by a rewarding view of the water below where a cliff side waterfall poured down the side of the mountain
Our tour was concluded and as a gift to our guides and the village, we presented Excley and Paul with a rugby ball that we had brought from Australia. We told them it was theirs and to make sure they shared it with their friends in the village. We had promised them the ball earlier in the week but I think they were worried that if they didn’t give us a good tour of their village, there was a chance that they might not get the ball! The children were ecstatic and a game of toss followed between all of the children of the village as well as Bill and myself. The game followed us all the way back to the boat as the children would run down the trail up ahead and I would throw the ball high in the sky for them to catch. A series of relays would get the ball back to me, ready to be thrown down the trail again.
Excley and Paul escorted us back to our boat where they had tied up their canoe and we invited them on board for some lunch. There was no need really to invite them; they were on board the boat before we were! After lunch, Brian and a couple of others came out from the dive resort to join us for dinner. We figured that Excley and Paul’s parents would be worried about them with dark approaching, but they said that their parents knew they were with friends and everything would be all right. Staying for dinner, we filled their bellies with fresh tuna and enormous amounts of rice. It was probably the biggest meal these two children will eat in their lives. It is such an incredible feeling to be able to give something as simple as a meal to someone who needs it more than you. I think the memories that these two children will have of spending the day with us will last them longer than it will us.
The next day, the boys came back with their sister Lisa. Bill and Irina were heading off for a dive and I was planning on enjoying the day on the boat catching up on writing in my journal, organizing some photos as well as doing a few cleaning projects on the boat. When I told the children that I had to clean up the boat, they immediately volunteered to help. I outfitted each of them with buckets, scrub brushes and brooms and the four of us began the process of cleaning down the entire outside of the boat. They were such hard workers. It was an incredible sight to see them polishing each area on the deck with all the effort they could exert. Every moment of it was like a game to them, continuously moving their hands as fast as they could to scrub away any dirt that could be seen. Our cleaning project came to a close with a squeaky clean boat and photos of them on board complete with scrub brushes and all!
Our visit to Tuffi left us with lots of wonderful new friends. The memories of all the time spent with Lisa, Paul and Excley as well as all of the guest at the Tuffi dive resort will always be with me. I exchanged email addresses with all of the guests from Tuffi and I am sure to cross paths with several of them at some point again in the future. From shark spotting to local music to an incredible trip to my new friend’s village, I don’t think the week could have been any better.