28 March, 2007

Running through time

Running through time


Running the trail from the Boatyard to Paihia and I started remembering runs I’ve taken in the past.  It was a sort of blur at first, a melding together of image and image.  After all, most runs have a good deal in common: single-track, some sort of dirt and rock, often trees and foliage hanging and dangling about the trail.  Trails go up and then down again, they bend around hillsides and curve through ravines, they follow cliffs and beaches and mountain ridges and river courses.

I remembered the first runs of cross country, quiet runs in the south, under pines, feet padding on soft needles and humusy soil.  But as I came around the corner I found myself on the Cumberland Plateau, Sewanee was above me, hanging on those great sandstone bluffs, the hardwood stands shading the rocky, windy trail, and miles and miles it went on and on; until it opened into a clearing in the golden grass above Jackson WY—it was the Putt Putt trail in Cache Creek, south-east of Jackson.   Widge was running ahead, checking out to see what was around the bend.  Jackson was below and the Tetons owned the western horizon, the Gros Ventre lay behind to the east.  Down, down, down wonderful dusty trail in the twilight of the fall day.  As the light faded and the terrain planed out, I entered the Ponderosa pine and Doug fir forests of Sawmill Gulch.  The snow hadn’t yet fallen in Missoula, but the air was brisk and laden with mist.  The rocks were granitic and the meadow seemed poised for the deer and elk that were lurking in the woods, awaiting the dusk, and my departure, to venture forth and feed.

There were never any other folk in Sawmill Gulch.  The trail runs from the meadow up a ridgeline with forest service roads.  I looked down and found myself on Waterworks hill above Missoula.  I can see the M and the L on the adjacent mountains.  I can see all the lights from Lolo and the South Hills turning on.  I can watch a train in the distance start the long crawl to a stop, just before my little house.

In a blink I was in the desert, Valley of the Gods, UT, then, another flash, and it was the Isle of Skye, Scotland; from there an uphill turn and I was hauling in AK on an endless, endless uphill slog, and then the wonderous downhills of the AT.

Yosemite Falls trail, The Tri-Feca Race, The Sequoias, night runs in the Rattlesnake, Lake Superior Trail.


No matter how bad a day has been, if I can go for a run, and it is a good run, then I consider it a fine day.  No, it is a fine day.  And for good reason.  For all the things I forget—I can see all those runs like it was this very afternoon, like I am now running that very same trail.  I could be.  For all else that fades, these memories are indelible.   Why?  Why running of all things?

I don’t have an answer.  There is a singularity to it, a sort of focus that places you distinctly in time and place.  If I am upset a run will calm me, if I am confused it will clear my head.  Without running regularly I eventually fall out of balance and into poor health.  I haven’t found another mode of daily exercise as accessible and versatile. 

I have come to understand how important running is to my health, and I have known that it provides me peace and pleasure, but until recently, I hadn’t noticed that running had provided my memory with such a wealth of images and experiences.



24 March, 2007

Farewell to the Shelly B

It was a night like so many in La Paz, Mexico-a gathering of people from all over, all sailors with different aspirations. This particular gathering was on a boat called Lift, a boat sailed by friends of mine out of Port Townsend. I hear they were making enchiladas. In the company was another friend of mine, Brian, also hailing out of Port Townsend. He and I were prepping our boats at the same time, hauled out at the same time. We'd sailed together occasionally. I even once raced with him on his boat, the Shelly B. She was a Pearson Triton, also one of the very oldest fiberglass boats around. She had similar lines in certain respects to Araby.

But Brian didn't feel Shelly was ready that year; he had started a rather grand reconstruction of his galley and cabin and she wasn't really where she needed to be, and the finances were low. So Brian went off to fish. Alaska, NW Washington, and even down to S California lining the wallet for the next year.

And he did it.

He set off in the Shelly B in August and braved the northern seas and made the sail down to Sausalito and then on down to Mexico. He did what so few with good intentions ever accomplish.

And La Paz is a grand place with a great community and good food. Many never make it any farther. It is a portal to the Sea of Cortez-you could spend a lifetime exploring the anchorages, and they can be as beautiful as any in the world.

And so it was he met up with Dan and Sonya on Lift. Life had left the year (or two?) before me and had lived in Sausalito for most of that time until sailing south with our fleet (Hubris, Laurabelle, Thistledown, Bamboo, and so on). I crewed on Lift for the passage from San Diego to Encenada before going home for Christmas, now over a year ago. After the winter season Dan and Sonja left Lift on the hard in San Carlos and moved back to Port Townsend to make some cash. Only last month have they returned to sail Baja again. And thus the reunion in La Paz and the meeting with Brian.


Eating enchiladas on Lift in the marina with Dan and Sonja and God knows who else, everyone having a grand time I'm sure, as it gets late people make their way back to their boats.

As Brian goes to leave, he walks down the dock to where his dinghy is waiting to row him home. But a flicker must have caught his eye. Out in the harbor there is a blaze, a great roaring fire. He must have known, but disbelieved: that was his home, his heart, his life-that was Shelly B burning.

Shelly B

burned and sank that night.

Everything that was Brian's world drowned. With the quenching of the flames by the sea, how many dreams also lay extinguished? All right before him. Everything: money, cloths, photos, diaries, passport. . . who knows? Gone. I can't imagine the anguish of such a moment. . . what words: despair? Perhaps it would be different for all of us. But with a boat goes all hope of adventure, of a future so long pursued, so dearly bought.

And not just that, but the past too: What have I spend the last few years of my life for? Gone. All gone. Like that. With a spark, or a bad wire, or a candle. Who knows? I don't know. I don't know if Brian knows.

But remember, La Paz is no ordinary place with no ordinary community. Many must have seen the sinking of the Shelly B and all who didn't would hear about it. In La Paz in the morning there is a cruising net, a sort of radio broadcast with loads of information of all kinds and anyone can chip in with virtually anything on their mind.

And so it passed, I presume, that people bonded together to organize a collection of food and clothes and god only knows what (I don't have the details on any of this) for Brian. If this wasn't wonderful enough, somehow, someway, they actually came up with another boat for Brian-and not just any boat mind you-another Pearson Triton! A sister-ship to Shelly B.

What? How?-I have no idea. But I know La Paz and anything is possible. Another Triton! This really is almost too much to believe.

People are pulling together for Brian; they are lifting him up with what they have and can give. And doesn't this somehow soften the tragedy? Doesn't this rare act of humanity counter the cruel, cold indiscretion of the world? The worst of times followed by the best?

Maybe not.

Nothing will mend Brian's loss, but it is such a warming feeling to be at the end of such love and generosity. It motivates you to stand up, dust off, and carry on. It is like little else in the world.

So this is what I have heard. I have spun greatly upon the little info I received from Sonja. I could have things a bit off, but hopefully the gist is there.

I haven't heard from Brian. My best to you, mate. My heart is with you. And I hope anyone reading this will send this man your best wishes and your positive energy. It makes a difference.



16 March, 2007

my marathon


The 1st International B.O.I (Bay of Islands) Marathon

Sponsored by Bellyofthewhale:

A Travel Journal and State of Mind


When:      As yet undetermined (sometime late April)

Where:     Also undetermined.  There is a request for a Doug's Boatyard and back loop run, but that would not be for the faint of heart.  Many a steep kilometer.  And the unwary, mile-worn runner may just jog off a cliff and be disqualified.


The Field:       Primarily for first time marathoners, but all are welcome.  The map above will show what  diverse group we have for this event.


Entrance fee: The cost of one new manual windlass.


Prizes:             All participants will receive one 1lt bottle of Mount Gay rum for entering this fine sporting event.

1st runner up- a brand new Goiot manual windlass to be installed on the ship of his choice.  A fine consolation prize.

Grand Prize-  an all-expenses excluded trip for two (??) to Fiji aboard a fine small sailing vessel with fresh paint and all new rigging.


Donations:     Donations are gladly accepted in the forms of dinner invites, rum and sincere offers of consensual sex.  Money will not be accepted in no sort of fashion.


And our sponsors would like to hear from you.  Email us at: bellyofthewhale@gmail.com




10 March, 2007

new roads



Today I slept a bit, due to a long musical evening hours before.  But when I did start working I never stopped.  The work was good.  I cleaned my prop shaft and propeller—which were a bit dodgy and came out with a shine.  And then my rigger showed up unexpectedly: a) it was Saturday, b) since when do riggers deliver?  He had a big roll of rigging for me.  Wow, it was shiny and fat and rather glorious to behold.  We chatted a moment then he got on his way.

It was about lunch time, but I couldn't help going up and putting in this new shiny steel.  It would take a bit of work.  The clevis pins on this new wire are a few sizes bigger than my old ones, so I'd have to drill them out.

I went up and down twice, but the job got done.


With this finished (well, sort of. . .) I realized it was nearing five and I had wanted to send off a few emails that were somewhat time sensitive.  I have friends in Paihia who run a art gallery called the Flying Fish and they let me come in and use there computer for internet.

So I grabbed my computer and my running shoes—I figured if I was going all the way to Paihia, there was some beautiful terrain up there above Waitangi—I might as well have a new run.  Off I went.

I managed my computer biz and drove up and up.  Amazing green land overlooking the Bay of Islands, real spectacular vistas.  I didn't really know where I was going.  I randomly pulled Vanetta over, sort of at the top, a top, somewhere up there.  I would run from there.  It was all beautiful.  So I started off.


The road soon turned to gravel and wound down to a shallow bay and rec. area.  It was all so quite and the sun was bright in the lower sky.  I found a Heritage site and from there the road was closed to all but walkers, horses and bikes.  The land was flat, and it has been many months since I've had a flat run. 

The further I went into the preserve, the more I wished I had paid better attention to the map.  But also, I half wanted to get lost—no better excuse for a very, very long run than if you are lost.  And I felt it was time for one of those. 

I randomly turned, but also was drawn to a fork leading to higher ground.  The roads went on and on and just kept trodding along.  Soon the higher, muddier track forked back into a very important looking gravel track.  Could I have crossed the whole Preserve?  Looking at the map originally I had thought it far too large.  I was moving back up into the hills and had a decent since of where I was.  I was a long way from Vanetta, for sure, but going the right way.

And sure enough there was the gate.  I was across.   There was another map.  Now I needed to see how to get back to Vanetta.  I got the gist of it and started off.  First I wanted to summit Mt Bledisloe.  It was very small, but the view was as good as any I've seen in many a day.  I stretched a bit and got on my way.


More gravel roads, gently sloping down and toward the sea.  It would be a ways, but I still felt very fresh.  I passed a fork without much thought (without enough thought) and kept heading down.  If I had thought I would have realized that was my turn, but I happily continued on, merrily heading farther and farther away from where I intended to go.

But fate was following beside me.  Because, blind that I may be, I have a habit of finding things along roads.  And what did I see but a dusty-looking camera case right in the middle of the gravel.  I stopped and picked it up—it looked fine, not run over.  I opened it up, a little giddy.  (I've always wanted a tiny little camera.)  And yes, it was a fine camera, a Cannon, 6 megapixel, and brand spanking new.  I couldn't believe it.  This was an expensive camera!  And some poor soul, Oh we're going on vacation to NZ, we'll need a new little expensive camera to memorialize our trip.  Lost.

And all they needed to do was put their name inside the case.  I would—reluctantly—send it to them.  I'll even put some signs up.  How much good they'll do. . . but I'll try.

As it stands, I have inherited a very fine little camera.  A have a nice new BIG camera, a serious camera, but you can't take it everywhere.  A little point-and-shot can live in your rucksack, always ready for those quirky moments that you never are ready for.  Except now I have three cameras, which is at least one too many.  I need to find a home for my old Sony that has been so good for so many years.


So I was running in twilight, a camera in one hand, still heading hopelessly the wrong way.  It did dawn on me eventually.  I could see it.  I knew where I wanted to be going and I wasn't heading that way—and there was little hope of a change of course.  But as I neared the bottom of the basin, I came upon a bridge where a waterfall rumbles down.

A local there said, yes, indeed I had missed my turn, but not to fear.  If I carried on across the bridge it was only 3k to Waitangi, from where I could climb back up the bluff to where Vanetta awaited.  But. . . there was also the trek.  It followed the river, but it was a 2 and ½ hour hike and it was getting dark.  He didn't recommend it, though he said it was a great tramp.

Oh. . . but I couldn't help it.  The road or this fine little trail in the woods??  I love night running and this way I was assured of a very nice LONG run.  So I took a picture of the falls with my new camera (haha) just for fun and then set off down the trail.

There was still plenty of light, the trail wandered gloriously around what looked to me like hemlocks and other conifers.  Lots of bridges and a mangrove (?) swamp.  It didn't quite take me an hour to make the other side.

The trail came out just at the bottom of hole #17.  Amazing.  I climbed to the top of the hill and I could see Vanetta a quarter mile away in the dusk.  The bay was dark and the wind was fresh on my face.  The road was vacant and there wasn't a light within miles.

I trotted up to the van still feeling great.  It wasn't as tough as I had thought (or hoped) or as long.  My watch fell while I was rigging so it is decommissioned until 'real' watch arrives from the States.


This is a very long description of a run.  So sorry if you expected something more from it.  I am just writing this for pleasure.  It was a fine day.   

09 March, 2007

savage good time

Oh man what a ride! Life is rolling along. Was getting in bed last night when I suddenly remembered that it was, in fact, Friday night, and I had told Nick Skeats (an infamous old salt, who comes into the story in the next telling) that I would show up for a little musical jam session on Friday night, which it now was.
So I climbed out of bed, into some clothes, through a drum and the dregs of a bottle of rum in to a ruck sack and walked through the damp, post-precipitation night air. . . down a trail, around a bluff, up a hill, into a strange house with no one to get the door, up some stairs, then more stairs. . . until I hear the hum of guitars and a woman's voice harmonizing with the chords. I recognized the dude with the sarong, so at least I knew two chaps. Nick waved me over, (ukulele) in hand.
Cool old yuk, best I've ever seen. Thirty years old. Carved in the Marquesas.

What a riot of a good time. Great tunes. Maybe a dozen old folks. We carried on until three.

On a work note. My rigging is going up. This is very awesome. Everything is awesome at the moment. Very happy. Feeling fit.
More to tell, but must wait a couple of days. But since I wrote some down and low blogs I figured I'd go ahead and get the good vibe out there.

I have some good news on the way.



I had just stopped running—the trail runs right through the boatyard along the waterfront—and was walking up toward Araby.  A man walked toward me from the shop and asked where another boatyard was.  I told him where Ashby's was and then he asked me if I'd seen the Wylo.  I held back a grim, thinking, really what are the odds?  I told him that a Wylo, the Iron Bark II was across the channel in Russell.  Was that the Wylo he was looking for?  No he said.  He was looking for the  Wylo. 

Ahh, your looking for Nick Skeats, I said.  Is he in town?  He said, yep.  He is supposed to be around for a few weeks.

Nick Skeats is the designer of the Wylo, which is my favorite boat on the water.  I told the guy that I was a big fan and he told me he was in the process of building a Wylo down near Hauraki.  I was pretty floored.


The next day I was reinstalling my water pump on the old Farymann when that same man came strolling along with another guy just behind.   I said how'd ya do, and he said met Nick Skeats.  I was covered in grease so didn't shake anyone's hand properly, but I was right excited.  Here was the man who designed the boat I so adore.  This is the man, right here in front of me.  And what a vagabond he looked.  Scruffy and thin and utterly unshaven.  Here was an old world, perhaps underworld cruiser.


I was flattered at how he admired my boat.  He loved the classic lines, the overhangs, the old thick glass hull.  I had imagined I would sit and rain complements upon his Wylo, and here instead he is asking me question after question about Araby.  And the smile and laugh never left his face.  He espouses the same simple approach.  When I asked him how he received weather information he casually responded that the easiest way was to stick his head out the companionway.  If he didn't get wet, it wasn't raining.


It is so easy to get carried away with the new consumeristic approach to cruising that 99% of sailors have today.  If you hear the same spiel—you need this, you really need that—after a while you start to believe it.  After all, everyone else has it.  As I have been trying to obtain an affordable plan for my sat phone (which someone gave to me) and come to realize that it is hopeless, the realities of what is truly necessary are coming back to light.

What is necessary:

            A good strong seaworthy hull.

            A stout mast and rig

            A suit of sails including storm canvas

            An anchor and rode

            Charts and gps or sextant w/ tables


            Food and water.

            A dinghy

            A drogue (sails and other gear aboard can suffice) and/or a sea anchor

If solo 



Everything else is more or less optional.  Safety-wise, some for of nav lights are good..  And a liferaft (a dinghy can double as this) is advisible.  For convenience, an engine—and the list steamrolls from there.


You don't need electricity; you don't need an engine, or an epirb, or a ssb or sat phone or electronic charting software or roller reefing or brightsides paint or dinghy wheels or hydro-alternators or watermakers or solar showers or awnings and dodgers or ipods and 300 gb external harddrives and playstations.

Okay, some of that stuff is nice and not all bad—if you can afford it.  Frankly, I'd love dinghy wheels.  But I won't ever buy an awning for $1500.  I think I have a decent plan for making an awning out of a plastic tube tent and a ski pole.

In the end, stuff doesn't make me happier.  If I have the basics I am basically happy.  If I really really want something—then I'll get it.  That wanting puts it at the top of the list.  And I will appreciate that thing.  And you better believe it will be most useful.

Right now it is adding an inner forestay and running backstays to my rig.  They add an extra seven hundred bucks to the cost of rerigging—but, they make me feel more secure.  I believe they will help me keep my stick up in the worst.  And that is it.  And that is my priority.  Dinghy wheels are a lot cheaper, and perhaps more useful, but not vital.



I wantAraby to age well, to get better and better with time.  She had a long haul over here, but now she is getting cleaned up and rejuvenated.  It is hard to find that balance between being frugal and being negligent, between being simple and being irresponsible.  I find I swing between the poles, but I hope the arc slows with experience.  My vision is deepening; my perspective gaining slowly with each passage.  What is truly useful?  I think I am understanding more and more.  And I think I am getting farther and farther from the status quo.

But I am not alone.  There are the Wylo's.  There is Nick Skeats and there are Trevor and Annie.  Someone told me of a solo cruiser with no gps, no engine—and only 26 years old. (Perhaps there is a reason he is solo?? Haha.)  Brian—lose the gps and it could be you! 

I want to be somewhere between the extremes.