30 May, 2007



A Passage from New Zealand to Fiji

I set out nearly a week after my planned departure date. The weather had been northerly (no good for sailing north)—but here at last was the window. I was not the only boat to jump at the blue skies and fair winds, southeasterlies, the trades, pushing our vessels northward toward the Fijian Isles and sunny tropics. Everyone expected the window to last at least four days, then anything could happen.

But no. Weather is weather—always utterly unpredictable. I didn’t get that expected window, maybe two days, just long enough to get clear of New Zealand. Those fair sou’easterlies clocked around to the east and piped up and up and up, raising the swell with it. My course was nearly due north, so I was taking the swell directly on the beam (middle of the boat). This is anything but comfortable. ARABY, being small and sitting low in the water, she takes these waves over the topsides and they crash upon the cabintop. If I didn’t have storm shutters on my windows I should have been worried about them collapsing. And for good reason—another boat in the same depression lost a port—it simply blew in with the pressure and battering of crashing waves. That’s a bloody great hole in the side of your boat. And another boat lost a front hatch—that’s even a bigger gapping hole. So indeed it was rough. Every now and again a great wave would come out of the unseen waters and hit you like freight train, with all the sound and fury, and keep on rolling by like you weren’t even there, leaving a strange quiet behind in its wake.

These waves caused problems. They may not have busted through my windows or ports, they didn’t rip off my cabin or dinghy (thank heavens), but they did plenty else. They tore my solar panels from their lower lashings and, for one of them, this tore the wiring from its terminal. This is not good.

Most aggravating though, were the waves that broke directly on the cabin. They would hit occasionally with enough water to force through the seal of the companionway hatch and cause a miniature Victoria Falls in the galley—and on my feet—when I was trying to sleep. This is most intolerable. The fundamental element of feeling safe at sea is the separation between the wind and sea outside, and the calm and dryness inside. Water in the boat destroys the sanctity of the boat, the embryonic safety that is necessary for sanity at sea.

ARABY is not a wooden boat. Glass boats are supposed to be dry. Yet this trip was anything but dry. Waterfalls in the galley! Drips here and there. It was as if the outside world were pressurized upon me; any and every flaw, every flaw was magnified.

The most problematic was the hawse hole. A hawse hole is a hole in the bow where the anchor chain comes from the windlass through the deck into the chain locker. Essentially it is sizable hole in the foredeck of a boat which can be a very wet place. I took great care in stuffing that hole when I left—duct tape, plastic bags, rags, and all this inside a sailbag used as a windlass cover, thoroughly lashed. It was a fine job; there was a sense of pride with it. /That /will never leak, I thought. I’ve had too many problems there in the past. But as the storm raged, I’d stand amidships and watch the bow as she plunged and skewered itself through the steep swell. The windlass and hawse hole were commonly under green water, lots of it. It wasn’t a matter of spray, but firehose-like pressure and beyond. It didn’t look good.

It would be days before I would realize this. The storm started gradually enough—the wind coming around as I mentioned, slowly rising to a gale. I don’t listen to the SSB (long range radio). If I did I would have known that a low of spectacular proportions was bulldozing its way due south from Fiji. There was general panic amongst sailors. All boats were running for the hills. A friend was sailing with his mother and she was thinking she might die. The low was too fast, though. No one escaped. (This may or may not be accurate, but sounds good for the drama of the story.)

As the wind rose, I reefed down and continued on like that for a couple of days. It was brutal though, no pleasure in it. We were being pummeled tirelessly. As I watched the barometer drop and drop the fear of an out of season typhoon (hurricane) haunted me. After several days of gale force winds, the weather didn’t want to break. To the contrary, it seemed to still be intensifying.

I dropped the jib and hove-to. I was tired. It is exhaustion that is most dangerous to a solo sailor at sea. This is when you slip, you get injured, you lose your balance, or you make a fatal mistake and go over the side. I walked a narrow line. Being tired, conditions being what they were, a rogue sea surprised me once as a worked a lashing on the mainsail. Will and an old climber’s finger-strength held me one handed to that lashing as the boat lurched far to port. I was furious at myself for such lack of awareness. A fall there would have been costly. Control was starting to unravel at the edges. It was time to heave-to and get inside.

It was then that I dropped the jib into the water.

It being reefed, it scooped water like a bucket. It bowed the forestay under the weight. I fought it back aboard and as a lashed her down I found the rip along the luff. This hurt me deep. It was my fault. My jib, torn! This is what drives the boat. Sailing is all about sails. I let her down.

If I hadn’t been tired I might have brought the sail inside. As it was, I lashed it on the foredeck as usual. But these weren’t usual conditions. The seas were breaking strongest there now. Being hove-to the boat was now pointed to windward, into the swell. It didn’t take long for the lashings to sag and the seas to pull the sail out of her containment. And worse, the battering she took caused a lashing to chafe through the sail in two small places. Carnage. The jib would ride out the storm there though, without other mishap.

It was sometime just after heaving to, after being in the weather for three to four days that I heard a good sloshing in the bow. I was trying to sleep and thought, “Well geez, we are taking a bit of water in the hawse hole after all. I can bloody well hear it.” As I crawled forward to have a look, I looked down into a cubby below the V-berth and damn if it wasn’t half-full of water. Now this was a new miracle aboard ARABY. I’ve taken on water before. I’ve had my share of leaks and drips. The chain locker has given me no shortage of pains—but water in the footwell in the V-berth? This was a thing unheard of. And it portended bad things.

Essentially, if there is that much water this far aft, then the chain locker has been flooding for some time. The water got high enough in there to spill out and into the forward stowage in the V-berth. It then further filled until it started to flood down and down and down. I should mention that my little Honda generator lives in that footwell. It was half underwater and is currently in a salt-water coma. (I have since revived it. Hurray. It’s Alive.)

What a disaster! I had sworn an oath to myself that I would never let the chain locker flood again. And I just painted the whole of the interior. Now “water, water everywhere. . .” all over again. My poor genny. Power tools, ect. Soaked.

It was time for the bucket brigade. I was amazed at the waterfall occasionally spitting down the anchor chain. So improbable.

Bucket after bucket, I worked slowly aft. Strangely, I actually enjoyed the brigade this time. (This is my second experience with a bucket brigade underway.) It was a job; I was working to keep ARABY afloat (no, not really, but from flooding); it was doing what had to be done and I liked it. Every few hours during the worst of it I’d go and fetch a bucket or two.

As the weather reached its climax I wondered whether my try’sle would hold. The rational side of me said to drop all sail and lie to a sea anchor. But honestly, I couldn’t be bothered. I was getting more tired. But also, aside from the imtimidation of the screeching wind and breaking seas, I knew it couldn’t be that bad. I knew, deep down I knew the try’sle could handle much more. But, God, it seemed impossible.

I don’t know how hard it blew. I wouldn’t go out there at the peak. Rain came. It was like being in a sand storm. It was impossible to see. But I believe I could have stood up if I needed to. I wasn’t forced to crawl. Times like these you put your faith in the boat and let her tend for herself. I’d estimate it was 45-55 knots; the strongest I’ve seen. It can get much worse and one day I’m sure it will.

We were hove-to safely. The seas weren’t big enough to roll the boat, but they did their best. I hunkered down. I wasn’t as vigilant as I should have been. Perhaps I was safer staying in my bunk. But chafe is evil and things weren’t stowed for weather of this caliber. For precaution, because I am engineless, I now keep the dinghy half inflated on the foredeck, available for quick use. But she is a liability there. Frankly, it is a miracle she didn’t get washed away. I had written her off in my heart. But she made it; she hung tight, though a piece of her floorboard was jarred loose and was lost to the sea.

This passage was determined not to end until the anchor was dropped and ARABY swung to. Even with the passing of the low, the winds shifted north instead of south. I was perhaps nine, ten days out from NZ. We had made good way, considering I hove-to for three days. The one lone perk had been that, while we were hove-to, our drift was due north—dead on course.

Now, with a nor-easter, we had to beat to weather. The seas were still steep. This was a miserable time. It was nice to see the sky clearing and it was nice to make way. There was a lull for a day with some fair sailing, but it was mostly drudgery.

And there is an ironic twist. I have had many windvane troubles and this passage was no exception. All the failures came to a climax at about seventy miles out. I was on the foredeck, of course, and ARABY starts heading up into the wind. I, of course, got drenched, and for the ‘nth time. I cursed at the vane and trimmed it a bit—nothing. I trimmed a bit more—nothing. Huh. . . So I went to have a closer look—nothing.

I mean to say there was nothing there. The servo-paddle, the part in the water that drives the windvane, had fallen off, well. . . broken off would be the better description. It was dragging by its trip line five feet behind the boat.

I had to chuckle to myself: I had tried to trim the vane twice. . . twice, and it wasn’t even steering the boat. The boat was steering itself naturally—albeit, a bit high, but not bad really, with no windvane at all. And herein lies the irony: uncomfortable though the course may be, it is a course the boat will steer naturally _without_ the windvane, which was now on the DL list. So, for a bit longer, I don’t have to man the helm.

A crucial weld had snapped, a weld that had snapped on my way to NZ. I had it repaired and improved there. Ah, but to no avail. I would have to hand steer us in, eventually.

As the sun came up on the twelfth and last morning, Fiji could be seen hunkering in the mist twenty miles ahead. It was a rough sea, a wet sea, as uncomfortable as any sailing I’ve done, heeling to 40 degrees. On making the outer reef I fell off and ran downwind until I could spot the Malolo Pass. I would lash the helm and then climb up the ratlines (rope ladder in the rigging) to get a view of the breakers and look for the gap that would be the pass. Then I’d scurry down as fast as I could before boat jibed or rounded up.

Eventually I saw the break. A great, huge mouth in the whitewater. It was big and clear. A wonderful sight. My heart was in my throat. I took a deep breath and turned to windward, sheeting in hard. The course would be tight—I could just carry the necessary course to make it through the pass.

As I entered, the seas all of a sudden turned to glass, the swell vanished. The wind was still stout, but the state of the tide was such as to completely dampen any windwaves. It was an awesome thing. We were rippin’ a good six knots through the pass, keeping the bead-line course straight through and into the placid waters of Fiji. And then, like that, I was clear; I was safe; I was in.

Of course, the wind followed me at each turn—I had head winds all the way. Well. . . not all the way. Five miles out from Lautoka, five in the afternoon—I was becalmed. Of all things. . . no wind! Ha. What a joke! After the trip I had had, becalmed, with one hour to go, after nearly two weeks of toil.

I left the helm. I couldn’t be bothered; what did it matter? I thought about dropping anchor, but why? I threw a line overboard and jumped in. Water has never, ever felt so refreshing; sublime is the word. I had already dropped the dinghy in the water. I crawled in the dinghy and scrubbed myself a bit and then went for the outboard.

I plopped the outboard on and was amazed when she actually did crank right up. Something survived! We sidetied and off we went. I was not to be denied, not an hour out, not a chance. I was thirsty for the end and I new it was just around one more island.

After about forty-five minutes a light northerly sprung up, just enough. I killed the engine. The sun was falling. All was calm and quiet. This moment is what sailing is all about. No motor, I sailed softly into the harbor of Lautoka under the red sky and grey evening light. Not a sound.

At first I didn’t recognize any boats. There is nothing like looking at a friend after a long passage, the camaraderie, the shared experience, the validation. It didn’t look like it was to be—I didn’t recognize a boat. But then, from behind another vessel, I thought I saw MONKEY’S BUSINESS. If there was anyone I would want to see right then. . . anyone it would be them. And there they were. There were only a few boats in the wide anchorage. I slowly tucked in behind them. I noticed they weren’t aboard.

At the same time I saw a dinghy I recognized heading my way. There they came, Laurel and Jason—and they didn’t even see me! I dropped sail; I eased in a little farther.

I hear, “Hey, is that. . . ? No. . . it’s Jonah? Oh my god! Oh my god, it is!” Laurel’s chipper voice. They were along side as I dropped the hook. I lost all track of how much chain I was letting out. It would be enough, more than enough. I let out a sincere sigh and said, “/Man/ am I glad to see you guys.”

And I meant it, deeply.

28 May, 2007

I should have known

Of course, now I find out that She-Ra has been out camping for the last few weeks and I got all freaked out for nothing.  Of course.  Go figure!

Ah, me again, at last

Me Again

I may have overlooked something fundamental. My head is coming out of the fog a bit. I am feeling like myself again. Perhaps I should share a story.

A few months ago I received an email from a girl I've never met. She had found Brain V's website and through his, found mine. She thought it was pretty cool and that I was perhaps pretty cool and she asked if there was any chance I would take her sailing.

She had told me that she lived in Wales and that she was a climber. The fact she was a climber, I told her, was enough to be considered for crew. So we started writing back and forth. She was so jubilant and positive and fun. She was very open and shared fears and personal issues after a short time talking. I was really enjoying the dialogue. She was also the first person I've ever met on the internet. I had, and still have no idea what she looks like. It really didn't matter. She was intriguing.

We got on well. We got closer and closer. She was serious about coming and eventually I told her I wanted her to come out. It was a matter of timing. I knew I already had plans to meet Anne in Fiji, so it would have to be sometime after that.

But just before I left NZ I found out Anne's stay would be short, so I told-let's call her She-Ra-to come on to Fiji as soon as she could.

The next day I left for Fiji. That must have been around the 28th or so, nearly a month ago now. And I've never heard back from her. Gone. Or silent. I have no idea why. I am completely confused. None of it makes good sense; there are so many possibilities, none good. It feels like it was a practical joke, but it just wouldn't make much sense. And I think I am a little better critical reader than all that.

So what then???

This was my point: Perhaps what all this points toward is that my fate lies alone. I've always felt that way. Obi-Wan was always and is my hero. Perhaps I have to let go of my zeal for women and get down to the business of living. I waste so much energy in the pursuit of love, so much thought and dream.

I wrote She-Ra an email today saying that if nothing else she must give me a Yes or a No because, "I must have crew." And now I realize, No, this isn't so at all. That isn't the way of it. I haven't had crew; that isn't my way. All I must do is continue on. This is my mode. I've been happy. I've done well. Keep on.

Perhaps I've been nervous about giving up my freedom and solitude for good reason. Perhaps it would be a mistake.

What I want to say is, Okay, I give up the chase. I accept Solitude. I accept my Fate. Bring forth what comes. But I fear that as soon as I do I'll hear She-Ra yelling, Wait, wait, I'm here; I'm coming. And then I'll be a hypocrite. . . . once again. And not for the last time.

I am not ready to fully accept the hermits life. I have so many dreams that will be damned difficult to accomplish alone. I may well attempt them, but then I fear my life may be a short one. I don't know if I have the talent. One cannot live long on luck. I gamble well, but sometimes you can't afford to lose. Yet I refuse to stand down. Come what may.

I wrote this long and beautiful email to She-Ra delineating all the dreams I had and how we could share them. It was an epic email, packaged in a big joke, but it was heavy none the less. We had a fair context for it though, I thought. But, again, I've never heard from her since.

So I must rewrite it once again. Change the verbs from plural to singular. Alas.

The hardest part for me may be losing the anticipation of love. This is what really keeps me going. I seem to be perpetually let down in the end, but the journey there has always been such a joy and a bolster. Feeling loved through the written word does so much for a lonely man's heart. I can't begin to over-emphasis it.


I am not accepting my fate as I fear it. Not yet. But I am close, very close. But there is no need. I can take one day at a time. But I must watch where I place my energy, my hopes and my dreams. I can't control the hearts of women. Would I be a fool to depend on them for my happiness?? Perhaps. Should I lock them out?? No. But I should spend my thought on the future that I can command. I shape my own actions, I sculpt my own dreams. I have tried to find someone to share them with, but I can't find someone by looking.

She is either there or she isn't. So be it. Maybe tomorrow.

I wish I could truly believe I was better off alone. That would be something. But I'd have to have tried and failed. I can't even fail. I can't get that far!


23 May, 2007

not me

Not me.


I have lost something, something important.  I think it has been slowly seeping away as the years alone have accumulated with age.   I am an egotist.  I understand myself and very well.  After all what else do I have?   But in the time I've spend in my mind and in self-reflection I've been unconsciously been feeding a fog, a haze of understanding between myself and others.


You don't believe me.  Oh no jonah, you're as nice as can be, you say.   I'm nice because I want to be, because it's what I want, not necessarily what you want.  And I think I know what you want, what you need.   But I am learning that I am more wrong than I think. 


Maybe I don't understand people anymore.  Perhaps I have the gist of human emotion, more the more delicate part of—particularly—female needs, insecurities, reactions, ect. is still so far beyond me.   Wait!  That really isn't it.  I'm circling in on the point.


I have an infatuation with openness and honesty.  I have come to the conclusion that I can say anything in the world that I feel, anything, because it is true to me.   If it is true than I can lay it out there and see how my friend reacts to it.  I am not in the wrong because I'm only being honest and, even better, I'm not keeping any secrets.


But, every now and again I'll say something that is bound to cause trouble.  It is either misunderstood, inappropriate, indelicate, not a full or fair survey of my heart or mind—or all of the above.   I've said some ghastly things that I'm so ashamed of.  Not that what I said wasn't true, but I was thinking so much of myself, of my feelings, my needs, my goals, my curiosities, that I overlooked the needs of my friends, the sensitivities to their lives and feelings.   In short I was blinded by my own urge to speak, to share, to understand more of the relationship.


I think I am a great fool.  I can't say I know anyone else who is brash enough to say some of the things I've said over the years.   But the problem is that I am not sure.  I think what I am saying is so, but I'm not sure.  Am I being stubborn or am I being resilient in my reluctatnce to change to a more reserved person?   Are the misunderstanding I've experienced just a part of relationships, just a part of communication, sometimes it goes awry?


I have to ask myself what I gain from full disclosure.  I think I get a lot.   I carry no secrets.  People have full access to my heart and mind.


Okay, but what about timing?  This may be it.  I think I am compulsive.  Maybe it isn't what I say, but when I say it.  Ah.  Okay, I like this better.   If I were to let things take their natural course, then those things that I say that tend to backfire might come to light in good time.  What is required is more patience.


This feels right.  I know I am compulsive, and that isn't a quality.   I must learn to be more reserved.  It is hard for me but it seems I owe it to myself and my friends.


[I realize most of you reading this have very little clue what I am talking about.  Well, at least I hope you don't.  I won't explain.  I don't think I do it often, but I only really know if the person tells me or if I can noticeably sense it in their demeanor and ask them about it.   I can only think of maybe five times, though I'm sure I've just erased a few.]




So maybe I've not so much lost something but never had it: patience.  I have been working on it in other ways, but not within the context of my friendships.   I know it is a weakness but I didn't understand the breadth of which it affects my life.


I love you my friends I want nothing more than to be a good friend to you all.   I want to be the best friend I can be.  I had a bad miscommunication with someone recently.  I said something, it got taken the wrong way.   It took a couple of days to sort it out.  It was a bit traumatizing.  She was really mad at me and I had no idea as to why.   Really mad. 


We worked it out in the end and I was so shocked that it was something I had said that had incited the whole thing.   Ah…..I was crushed.  I explained myself and she apologized for misunderstanding me so badly, but, in the end, I didn't have to say what I did, I knew better, and it caused a lot of misunderstanding.  

It is more complicated by things I can't go into.  But I meant well.


I don't want to do it anymore. 





21 May, 2007

a little of Fiji

Been cruising around Fiji a bit, haven't even touched the surface.  My friend Anne came in from Fiji for about a week before heading back to the States--she's been living in Kiribati, some atolls, very remote, far to the north.
It is great to catch up with an old friend and wonderful also to have an old friend come aboard and go sailing for a bit.  We didn't go far, Musket Cove, but we saw clear water again, did some good hill climbs, runs, baked pizza and banana bread, watched the sun set and hoped for the mysterious "green flash".  She's leaving too soon.  She is wonderful.

But this is life.  People can't stick around forever.  I have been so fortunate.  Still, I have so much work to do after the passage here.  It was rather devastating.  Everything got destroyed it seems.  Much work now for awhile.  Hopefully until I can find some more crew.   There are many reefs around here--I would love to have an extra set of eyes.  And, as many of you know, mine don't count for much.  Anne turned out to be a fair sailor and now I am spoiled.
And, of course, my windvane is %^$&$ so I don't even currently have a self-steering.  (This will soon be remedied.)

Fiji is great.  I think of it as a Little India.  At least the main island.  I'm sure the outer islands are different.  Everyone is friendly; the land is beautiful; the weather is fair--there isn't much to complain about.

Hopefully soon I will get some emails written and sent and write up a little story of the trip and get my life sorted out a bit.  Sorry for being somewhat out of touch.

16 May, 2007

sorry for delays

Just an apology for the folks whom I haven't written back to in a long time.  Sorry.  I'm swamped and haven't had any internet time.  And it isn't forthcoming to soon.  Just know I am am in Fiji, all is well, and I hope to respond as soon as I can.  Or at least write something for the blog.
And thanks to all the help with Dhundup.  I hope to get moving with that as soon as possible as well.  Much thanks.  Must go.
My love and thanks. -j

To a Friend

Today I learned that a friend has left us all behind.  A year ago we were all in La Paz Mexico together, psyching ourselves up to cross the big water.  Mark owned a beautiful Westsail 32, wonderfully maintained and loved.  I remember he was reinsulating his fridge, adding a freezer I think.  He went on a dive trip around some of the outer bays.  He had a pal with him for a while, and I remember having dinner over on his boat and the two of them, both British had the most hilarious repitour between them.  We laughed and laughed all night.
But the memory that lasts was one of our last nights in town.  As always SEACOR hosted the party.  A big yacht was in town and had an all female crew.  Paul, of course, had no problems pulling "the birds" in.  It was, naturally, a toga party.  The punch was the standard affair.
Although I missed it I heard that Mark, by far and without question, had the finest entrance.  Why escapes me.  Perhaps someone will remind me.  But what I will always remember, of La Paz, of Mark, was his departure.
Every now and again when the guitars came out, Mark would pick one up and play a song.  His accent is hard to describe.  His syllables are harsh and jagged.  Perhaps there are many songs he should not sing in public.  However--he knew which sort suited him, and he could sing "the Bright Side of Life" like he was Burt in Mary Poppins.  It was uncanny.
So as that night was dwindling on, and Matt (whom bought Tilikum's boat) was entertaining all with his humor and panache on the guitar, as Mark was attempting a hushed escape, someone called for him to sing up his old standard.
But, willy as ever, he didn't turn back for the guitar, but reached for the oars.  And as he did, he struck up his tune.

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best...

And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle - that's the thing.

And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow.
Forget about your sin - give the audience a grin
Enjoy it - it's your last chance anyhow.

So always look on the bright side of death
Just before you draw your terminal breath

Life's a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true.
You'll see it's all a show
Keep 'em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

And always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the right side of life...
(Come on guys, cheer up!)
Always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the bright side of life...
(Worse things happen at sea, you know.)
Always look on the bright side of life...
(I mean - what have you got to lose?)
(You know, you come from nothing - you're going back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing!)
Always look on the right side of life...

We all sat in silence as Mark slowly rowed away, singing his song, until we could just make him out in the distance.
Then he was gone.

Mark didn't leave with us that year.  Well, he left.  But he turned around with engine problems.  He left his boat for another year in La Paz.
This year, once again, he left.  We don't know why he didn't make it.  He was found dead in the bathroom, as his boat was washed onto a beach somewhere north of La Paz.

Here's to Mark, his family, and all who knew him.  May he find the Bright side of Life where ever he is.  He brightened ours. 
Our thanks and Our sorrow.


14 May, 2007

made fiji

I made it to Fiji.  It was an exciting trip.  Much to tell, too much to tell.  Gales on gales.  But all is safe in Laotoka.  Looking foward to a well earned chicken tikka masala and something cold.
It was great to have Monkey's Business also in port.  We drank a rum and talked about the drama of heavy weather and pondered why on earth we put ourselves through such rigors.

One who would go to sea for pleasure would go to hell to pass the time - Dr.  Samual Johnson