22 December, 2009

Jonas, Jonah, and John

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After a failed attempt to dock in 20+ kts of wind, this motor-cat blows into my stern and does (small) damage to my windvane. It is now in a machine shop. Perhaps it will come out like new. . . Merry Christmas to me!!

My friend Jonas made this video and it is focused on his boat at first. I am yelling, "GO GO GO GO" and you can hear a metalic snapping in the background at which time Jonas turns the camera to BRILLIG. And at which time I curse. . . pardon me. If you look at the bottom of the screen you will see the catamaran scraping along my windvane.

12 December, 2009

cell phone in S. Africa

I have a cell
skype or call me on it.  anytime.
S.Afr country code:  27......so
[+27] 711797523
that should be right

11 December, 2009

Richard's Bay, South Africa

I made port last night in a raging thunderstorm.
22 days.   Slowest passage to date.   No wind.  Tore my main'sle in half!!!   Such fun sowing it back together.  Swam with dollphins. . . while underway!!. . . that is how damned slow I was sailing.

23 November, 2009

Check-in/OK message from Jonah's Spot SPOT Messenger

Jonah's Spot
GPS location Date/Time:11/23/2009 08:19:46 GMT

Click the link below to see where I am located.
Message:SPOT Check OK.
Jonah is alive and apparently has use of his digits.
Thank you for caring.

Raising the safety factor for millions who step into the outdoors each year, SPOT notifies friends and family or an international emergency rescue coordination center with status messages based on situation and need. Ask for Help (or SPOT Assist), Alert S.O.S., Check-In/OK and Track Progress-all with the simple push of a button.

Looking for a great way to share SPOT tracks and waypoints, stories and photos? Head to http://www.spotadventures.com and see how users are creating their adventures and sharing them!

14 November, 2009


I'm living the high life here in the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club, the biggest, poshest, well reknowned, much respected, quite admirable, finely distinguished and most excellent yacht club on the entire vastness of the East African coast.  Well....

I've been well treated in my 2 days here.  Though my check-in was a fiasco for purely accidental reasons.  But folks have taken me in.  We heard some good guitar pickin' last night.  had a fine burger, and actually got to do a little swing dancing for the first time in ages uncounted.  With a willing partner I might add.  Good fun all in all.

The social scene here is so far from anything I've seen in quite a while.  Not even sure how to describe it, yet.  Too expensive for me, but I am here briefly enough so I won't whinge too much.   And it is fun.  Very nice indeed.

But I am ready to head south.  And the weather is clearing off I think.  The time may be near.  South Africa is still a dark spot on the map.


I hope to upload more.  This is all the battery power i have for now.  but have a look.  I am pretty happy about these.  I've never been so prolific with the shudder as I was those few days in the Masai Mara.


06 November, 2009

Setting off. . .

Tomorrow morning I am leaving Kilifi, Kenya for Zanzabar Island, Tanzania.  It should take two days plus.
My stop there will be brief.  Just a couple of days.  Then I am leaving for South Africa, possibly direct.  It is some 1800 miles, therefore 18 - 20 days trip.  Not including any stops along the way.  There are numerous oportunities.  Will write if my plans change.
Only worry after a month and a half.

05 November, 2009

The Mountain: Mt. Kenya 17,050 ft.
Me and The Mountain.
The Climb: 16 pitch, 5.8-5.9, North Face of Batian Peak, Mt. Kenya.  19 hours camp to camp.  Read "Trail Runners don't Travel" below.
a seemingly pensive lion. . . 
The Masai Mara is know for the distinctive dark manes of the male lions here.  They get darker with age.

Masai Mara 2

These are called Oliphants. . . I read about them in Lord of the Rings.
Wildebeest migration. . . at least the tail end.  Zebras and wildebeests travel together down into the southern Serengetti and back with the monsoons.
awww.....the cats are eating strawberries in the shade. . . and where did that impala go???

Masai Mara

I can't wait to get the rest on (super, super slow connection).  This is the Masai Mara, the Kenyan portion of the Serengeti.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is called a lion. . . 
. . . and these are called cheetahs.  They are a rather sneaky-fast cat.  They are conversing with a polite young impala.  Such friendly cats.


Climbing Batian Peak of Mt. Kenya

Kilifi, Kenya is a wonderful place, full of generosity and kindness. Everyone seems to have something to offer, be it a hello, a smile or a conservation. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that time ran away at a gallop. Three weeks! And what to show for it? . . . a disabled, partially-repaired windvane; and lots of new friends.

Because of the necessity of sailing within certain seasons, I was faced with a choice: leave immediately, or leave in a year’s time.
These are the months, November and December, when the SW Monsoon fails and the NE Monsoon returns. The NE Monsoon is ideal for a passage south—but I’d have to go NOW, as the typhoon season starts promptly in November – December as well. And unfortunately the change of the monsoon also opens the southern Indian Ocean to Somali piracy.
Yet, if I choose to stay longer, I’d have to stay for an entire year. This is because in a few months comes the austral summer, December - January, which is the only ideal time to round the Cape of Good Hope of South Africa. If I don’t sail south before the typhoon season, ie-NOW, I will have to wait until next austral summer a year from now.

A bummer really. So much to see here: Madagascar, Zanzabar, Tanzania. . . and I will have to miss much of it to stay in season. I have to go now; my dreams are not here. I enjoyed my passage across the Indian Ocean so much; I am keen to continue. I hope and now plan to be back in Port Townsend by September of the coming year. With this decision behind me I realized that my time in Kenya was coming to an end. But I was yet to see any of the country.
My first interest was Kilimanjaro. It had become a mantra for me since Bali: everyday I’d go on deck and do standing squats and chant Kilimanjaro in my mind, see myself trucking up the great mountain. Daily I put energy into this dream as if filling a reserve tank of energy for the trial and drudgery of the long climb ahead. It excited my heart.
However, on arriving in Kenya I found that my focus on Kilimanjaro was slightly illusory. I slowly learned that the mountain I had been dreaming of was of a different name: Mt Kenya. Kilimanjaro is idyllic indeed and also the tallest mountain in Africa, and of course its snows are the crystals of legend and lore—but it is a long walk only, and its ways have been littered by the hordes who have pursued its prize, and they have paid dearly in coin to the Tanzanian government for such privilege. This glamour doesn’t interest me as much as its height and titanic size. One day perhaps, but another day, when I’m too old to climb.
Mt Kenya is clean and her rock is sharp and steep. Where she lacks the loftiness and reputation of her southern sister, her true summit is protected from the common tourist by a thousand feet of long technical climbing (though I didn’t know how long at the time). The trails and huts are well managed and litter-free, and indeed many tourists come to the mountain to climb to the “summit.” But what the guides call the ‘summit’ is a lesser peak of the great massif that is Mt. Kenya. They leave in the early morning to walk up a beautiful peak and are there to watch the sunrise as it awakens Kenya to a new day. They return to camp even as the morning is still young.
My experience on tourist mountains has taught me that guides allow tourists the minimum of danger. It was under this premise that I at first thought that the true summit could be attained by a mere scramble up some nearby rock face just beyond the tourist summit, no feat for a climber but enough to daunt the average vacationer. Reliable information on the true summit I failed to acquire before setting out. This simple oversight begot interesting consequences.

Well before I reached Kenya, my Aussie friend Paul, who had been born in Nairobi, offered me good advice. First, he dissuaded me from making port in Mombasa and instead encouraged Kilifi as a better stop. I have already made plain how I love Kilifi. Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya—not ideal for me. Second, he offered me a friend of his who works as a freelance guide. He would be cheaper than the normal tour company he said, and was a really good guide. He had been up Mt Kenya (the normal route) with him among other ventures. His name was Gibson Mwai.
I packed my rucksack and tested what gear I had. Amazing and dismaying what damage salt air can do to gear. My aluminum tent poles broke one after the other. The lace grommets on my alpine boots rusted through. One of my hiking poles was seized short. As I hoisted my pack all the back pad rained down as ash—it had totally disintegrated into rubble. This at least was remedied by cutting open an old cockpit cushion with a good closed-foam core which I used to replace the gravel of the old padding. The pack was again as good as new.
The rains came as I got underway.
It was a day and a half of travel to reach Nairobi where’d I’m meet Gibson for the first time. After an hour and a half grid-locked traffic jam in the city of over ten-million I shook his hand at the bus terminal. We wasted no time. Over a beer we negotiated an itinerary and a price. He had planned seven days to do the climb. I was confident it could be done in four. We agreed on five and added a trip to the Masia Mara game reserve to fill the extra days of his itinerary and maintain the original price—a bargain on both ends. We shook hands with a smile. We’d leave in the morning.

In many ways this would be a new adventure for me. In some ways I was aware. For instance, I had a porter and a cook. Wow. In some ways though I’d only learn as they happened. Gibson believed that I could do the climb, though he was not a climber and had not done it himself. And he didn’t have technical information on the route, but thought it an easy route. If he thought it was not hard, then I was sure it was within my ability. He had arranged for us to meet a climbing guide at the high camp that would take me up the mountain.
This was a budget-style tour. We took a mini-bus, not a land cruiser up to the Park. It was raining; we got stuck. We all got out and pushed and made it another two-hundred yards. That would be it. The gate was not far and we had come to walk; so we walked. Never mind we hadn’t properly packed our gear as of yet and it was still raining.
I had expected the possibility of having a porter. I was coming off the couch after all. I’d been on the sea for the last three months solid. The porter would allow me to keep my strength as much as possible. I figured I’d simply take gear out of my pack and put it in his. So I was a bit surprised and unprepared when he strapped his own pack to mine and hoisted them both. I had little more than a Camelbak and a self-constructed fannypack to carry myself. Indeed my load was light. And what was more, my porter was older than rock.
His name was John Miner. He had been a porter on Mt Kenya since 1970. He was quiet and always wore a soft smile. He had a long limber gait. There is some element to our relationship that I can’t explain and don’t rightly understand. I loved that man. I loved him as if he were the reincarnation of someone dear and close to me from the past. Perhaps he had the air of Thomas Martin, my surrogate father. John Miner rarely spoke, but we laughed at one another. I asked Gibson what the Swahili word for “mister” or “sir” was. He said “bwana”. From then on we all called John Miner, Bwana Miner. And I was determined to never let him beat me to camp.
It was at the gate to Mt Kenya National Park that I named Bwana Miner and it was there we properly packed our gear. The rain was light and suited the landscape like Scottish mist. A baboon sat calmly in the open grass sometimes used as an airstrip. We met another group of hikers, Swiss, also hiking for the mountain.
We set off. The air was heavy with humidity and tasted wonderful in my throat. The slight grade was easy under my light load and high spirits. It was late afternoon already. We had come all the way from Nairobi that morning and that was some three hours of driving, plus the provisioning and fetching of Bwana Miner, Peter the cook, and any gear Gibson himself needed. It was therefore a short hiking day and we arrived at Old Moses Camp just before six.
Coming from the tropics—not to mention sea level—the cool air of Old Moses Camp in the evening was a narcotic. We were already at 3300 meters (10,800 ft). Not a bad start. The true summit of Mt. Kenya is 5199 m (17,050 ft), which is higher than any summit in the lower 48. It is the highest peak in Kenya, and only Kilimanjaro (in Tanzania) is higher in Africa.
Nearly as soon as I had thrown my gear on a bunk in the camp quarters, Peter had a thermos of hot water ready with coffee or tea. I put on warm clothes—which I had scarcely believed I’d need, and sat and watched the sun sink behind the verdant rolling hills.
This looks just like the treeless, alpine lands of Alaska, I thought. This is paradise. I think everyone knows how I idealize Alaska. Sometime later I met some Alaskans who also concurred my opinion: it was Alaska indeed. The next morning I set out after a hot beverage, porridge, eggs, juice, toast, fruit, and even a sausage link. However bloated my stomach may have been, my spirits soared. The land was silent, hushed perhaps by the drapery of clouds that hung everywhere before the rising sun. Zebras ran on the ridgetops.
Gibson and I left Bwana Miner and Peter behind. We walked quickly, hoping rock to rock. The grade was none too steep as of yet and Gibson was happy to see how quickly we got on. He and I laughed a lot. I talked a lot. We were both the same age; he spoke English easily and was fit enough to carry his own gear and still keep up, for now. We overtook a group of Austrians who seemed none too pleased to be overtaken. I believe they asked me what was the hurry? Of course I was in no hurry, only enjoying the pleasure of the trail, and this was the speed of my pleasure.
I later learned that the group of Austrians had also come to climb Batian Peak, the true summit of Mt. Kenya. At first I thought this encouraging as they looked serious and better informed than I, though later I would be less pleased.

I became more and more enrapt in the trail and the hiking. The sun subdued the clouds so that when we summated a high ridge we were awarded with our first and most potent view of Mt. Kenya: she was framed perfectly at the end of a long valley with high bluffs on each side. Indeed this valley would lead us up to Shipton Camp, the high camp from which all climbs originate.
Gibson was ecstatic. Perhaps I exaggerate. But he said that no one ever goes this quickly up to Shipton. The climb was normally six to seven hours. We were halfway already, taking our first stop, and we had only been going for a little over two hours. I found this encouraging. I laughed. I have no weight, I said. Bwana has it all. And I have been dreaming of this for months. My spirit could not be any lighter and it is carrying me up the mountain. And the conditions are absolutely perfect. The weather could not be finer. It was all true. I felt great, never more alive than that day on the trail.
I made Shipton Hut in four and a half hours as alive as the minute I had left Old Moses. Gibson came on a little later with a smile, panting and laughing at what time we had made. I should add, that while we were hiking I continually talked and Jamie and Jeremy Wood. The mountains, and the sense of Alaska brought them to mind. And the simple talk of climbing—all came back to them. Especially when Gibson tried to complement me on my speed.
How could I explain that I was the slowest of my friends? . . . this had been an uphill hike, my slowest angle. If only he could see Heidi, or Patrick my old roommate go uphill—they both have won the M Climb in Missoula and competed in the Bridger Race—truly a world class trail run. Or Jeremy and Jamie who are simply such powerful runners, or Andy Anderson, who won the hill climb in Jackson Hole. Robin Fargason trained for 50 mile ultramarathons. I am painfully slow in comparison, and yet here I was getting the gossip!!
Apparently trail runners don’t travel. It was the same on Mt. Kinabalu. My guide Walter and I ran down the whole mountain. He said he had never seen anyone do that before. Where are all the trail runners??? I suggested to Gibson that they organize a ‘porter’s race” and start keeping a log of fastest times loaded and unloaded. I thought it would be fun for them, a little friendly competition.
Even so, Gibson said all the cooks were gossiping about the speed of our climb. The five Austrians eventually showed up—with 12 porters of gear! Since I had beaten Bwana and Peter so thoroughly, I had no hot tea coming as readily as the day before. And the Austrians sitting close by were none too eager to talk to me or to share any of their bounty. One of their porters was so annoyed by this—the generosity of the Kenyans—that he offered me some of their water and tea. “Please have something to drink. . . these are nice guys, but they drink lots of beer.”—they then took up the call and somewhat unenthusiastically offered me hot water and tea. I smiled at the porter, who I had talked to on the trail, and always spoke to from then afterward.
It turned out that the Austrians spoke poor English on the whole. I was slightly disgruntled about their seeming isolationism, but one of the guys was genuinely good-hearted. And he happened to speak the best English. I heard they were heli-vac EMT’s or paramedics or something of the sort. In any case, I got the feeling these were serious guys—and they certainly gave that impression.
After dinner I went over to them to mention that I aspired to climb the same route. They asked me what sort of experience I had and I sort of lamely replied that I primarily had done a lot of sport routes and my mountain experience was not much greater than some “walk-ups”—this was the term I used. At this point one of the guys turned away from me and started speaking to his comrade in German and I heard the term repeated, “walk-ups”. I don’t know what was being said, but it had a smirky feel and I sensed I was being derided.
I persevered. I needed information. How hard was the route they were trying? . . . 5+. Great, I thought, a European grading system I couldn’t translate. I meant to bring the equivalency chart I had in a book on the boat, but it slipped my mind. I asked if they knew what that would be in the Yosemite Decimal System, the grading scale I know, and they sort of shrugged, or I don’t even know if they were listening to me anymore. They didn’t even seem to be looking at me.
This bothered me. I was sure they were being rude now. And I was disheartened by the probable difficulty of the route. They did at least enlighten me to the fact that it was a 16 pitch route—longer than any route I ever did when I was in climbing shape. I had to seriously consider bagging my plans. If 5+ translated into more than 5.8, and was sustained, I had serious doubts about my finger strength holding up. Playing guitar—I doubted—was NOT legit training for a long alpine route and it seemed insane to take such risk on such a big face as the North Face of Bation Peak.

My hiking speed and my talk about climbing and my “talented” friends betrayed me. David, my climbing guide arrived just before dark. He had talked to Gibson who assured him I could make the climb. “He is very strong”, he said. And I talked so much about climbing that he felt assured I had talent. (This is absurd, of course, I am ever a better talker than a performer.) David agreed that the route was long, but not hard he said. I am sure you can do it. The route should not require crampons or an ax, and he didn’t place much gear. This comforted me in that I got the sense it was a lot of scrambling, a fourth-class route much of the way, with a bit 5.8 thrown in for good measure. Let’s do it.

[For non-climbers, 5.8 is not a hard grade. It is roughly where a beginner may climb with some challenge. It is not climbing 5.8 that was my concern, only climbing that grade in a sustained way for a whole day. This I was uncertain about.]

So I agreed. David earned my trust by asserting that he had been trained by NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). This was a strong certification, more than I expected. I was pleased and surprised. However I didn’t foresee how much his quality would be tested on the mountain until we were there.
We started at 4:30 am.
In addition to David, I invited along another guy named John. He apparently was a climbing guide in training. I am so indebted to those who took the time to teach me, I felt obliged to have John along so he could gain a bit more experience for himself. It would slow us down, and I hoped he wouldn’t endanger us with poor climbing, but I never thought twice about the decision. And it would be important in the end.
We were out ahead of the Austrians, but not by enough. As David started up the first pitch, which I thought was amazingly steep and technical—the exciting way to begin, I thought, never did I think it would actually continue all the way up. But Austrians didn’t wait. To my amazement, their leader jumped right on the route, even as we were climbing it. I had never seen such a thing. I thought a crowded route was one with a group waiting behind—NOT actually on the route concurrently. It was shocking. ….at least, to me. Maybe this is done in the Alps. Because of my previous slight, I took it as rude and utterly unsafe. (It would be a long day; in the end, they may not have had any choice if they wished to make the summit. And they were determined.)

The sun was lighting the underbellies of the clouds as I followed John up the first pitch. We climbed in tandum, both tied to the same end of the rope, belayed by David at the top of each pitch. The rock was cold, but sticky to the boots—the traction was great. I was breathing hard by the time I reached the belay and I was ecstatic. Real climbing! It had been so long. The route was begun. And perhaps it would be no “walk-up.” One had to look straight up to follow the route. And it was diverse: two ampetheaters, a couple of couloirs, a horn, a some traversing. . .
Having John along quickly became a great boon. He belayed David at nearly every station, again allowing me to rest as much as possible. We could see snow and ice above, and this could prove disastrous. Thin ice would not be climbable and there were no alternative routes on the North Face.
At the moment I didn’t care. This was superb climbing. The only thing that peeved me was the proximity of the Austrians. David was showing his caliber and John was climbing well enough, though working for it. We were making slow way. I am not sure why. A three person party is always a bit slow. John and I were slow. Our speed was more hindered when we reached the snow and ice. We were probably five pitches in. The sun high and the weather remarkably clear. There had been so much rain I was shocked at our good fortune. But the ice brought both parties to a stand still. When I heard David—a very subtle and quiet man—let out a whoop of joy, I knew we had a tricky pitch to surmount. And that would not be the last whoop of joy to hollered by David in the day before us.
Indeed there was a bit of dodgy climbing, some commited climbing where I was damn glad to be on a toprope. The protection looked thin and the footing slippery. Yet we all made the moves with our own power. I’d grade it 5.9. And it was tiring. And secretly I hoped there wouldn’t be too much more of that kind. Or much harder, because it was reaching toward my ability with boots and pack.
We never saw worse though. We had low grade five traverses which we didn’t protect other than slinging a horn or a flake. When the going was tougher David would belay us both simultaneously—both at opposite ends of the rope. I had never seen this before. It worked—though we never fell on him to test the style. And he wasn’t fast. But it was a safer way than having both John and I tied to the same end in difficult climbing. I was comfortable with it. But the rock was in my ability and I was feeling very good in the climbing, very sure of my moves. My boots held and the holds were deep.
The day wore on. The Austrians were only half a pitch ahead. We were on a saddle in the sun now and above the dark icy couloir below. Yet the summit was still many pitches off. It was 1pm. David asked if I wanted to continue. I looked at the weather—perfect; we were on the equator—good; David had proven a strong and confident climber. He believed our decent would be much quicker as we would do many repels. (There is no easy “walk-off” of this mountain. Only a decent down the same route you climbed up.)
Hell yeah I wanted to climb. I was well prepared to take risk. It was necessary for someone in my position—not in climbing shape, always alone (no regular partner). If I was to accomplish anything great, I would have to risk substantially, more than is common practice for the average climber.

A little ways above us we heard the whooping and celebration of the Austrians. I assumed they had summitted, which also meant the top was at hand. Indeed they had left their packs in the shelter of the well protected belay station in which we were now sitting. Within twenty minutes we passed them coming down. I congratulated them. One commented on how difficult he found the route. I commiserated, but added that it had been a glorious day all the same.
As we climbed on and on and on, I realized that the summit was in fact NOT at hand. And they in fact had NOT summated at all. I don’t know what they summitted, but it was not Batian Peak. I think they turned around due to the lateness of the hour. This was prudent, as my experience will attest as the afternoon waned. We persevered. Indeed the summit was still an hour off. We were high indeed. We traversed the rocky crags of the summit ridge, great cliffs fell away in all directions, the wonderful valleys in which we had hiked the day before seemed miniscule and were no longer green, but brown. And we’d have to return there soon.
And I was now feeling the mileage. Strangely I don’t remember feeling the elevation. I must have. David noted that my climbing was slower. I don’t know if he was poking fun. Though I felt slow—for the sake of confident climbing—I also noted that often I was waiting for his belay to take in the slack, so I felt more slowed by the belay than my actual state of exhaustion.
By the time we reached the summit the glory of climbing had faded and I was tired and ready for it. Batian Peak was wonderful, beautiful and grand—we were halfway to heaven. We had worked hard for it, risked for it, the day was more behind than ahead. My reserve of energy had held, but the pleasure was gone. We ate some food and smiled. The weather still held, though the clouds seemed thicker around us.
Climbing down would be less about sport than about preservation. Each pitch I prayed would be a repel. I expected many; I got few. We downclimbed; we traversed. I questioned David on the safety and prudence of such techniques this late in the day. The hours flew by and the mountain remained. That was when it started to snow.
Snow on the equator; snow in Kenya?? We’ve heard of the “Snows of Kilimanjaro”, but they are supposed to be fading with the years. This was fresh stuff and it was thick. And we were high, high indeed.
But this is climbing. One expects difficulty. One must swallow fear and doubt—and simply perform. (It was a Yoda-esque moment: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Thus is alpine climbing.) And here my team showed its grit and character. We laughed and smiled. The weather had held so long. The snow was no matter. Flake the rope; climb on.

Hours screamed passed, and David grew slightly impatient. He didn’t wear gloves and the rope was wet with melting ice. The sun was falling behind the western ridge. And we were still very high. I was slowly adding clothing. I was better dressed than the other two, but David continued to do the bulk of the work. We had been on the mountain for 12 hours when the snow started. He had led every pitch and had belayed both John and I all the way to the summit. Now we were hurrying down. Repels take a lot of rope management, lots of flaking heavy wet rope; it is tiring in and of itself. This on top of climbing and fear.
I exerted myself now, if I hadn’t already. My strength felt good, and I wanted a stronger role in the team. We were up against darkness and that is a mortal danger on a mountain. I wanted John and David to have every bit of wits they could maintain. For speed I would belay David when I was ready (John was not speedy at this or comfortable in a routine). I flaked line and readied the ropes. We got out headlamps and I put on my rain pants—which I had thought at the time were a ridiculous addition to my pack.
But it was cold now. Snow blanketed the falling slopes. David and John had trouble warming their hands. They didn’t complain (much), but at some point I figured that the inside of my pack was warm, and I had dry sari in there. So we would occasionally take turns shoving our arms deep in my pack to warm our hands. It worked quickly, which demonstrated to me that it really wasn’t so cold (at least to Montana standards). So I was unworried by the cold, since I had been able to keep dry. I maintained a lunatic smile to bolster my boys.
As we reached lower sections of the mountain, there was more downclimbing, and the terrain was genuinely slippery in places. Although I had cursed my one trekking pole on numerous occasions throughout the day as worthless—it had its value on two less than steep slopes where balance was tricky.
The greater problem that oddly never killed me was the fact that the soles of my boots were delaminating.
I carry a compact emergency kit for oddities like this. At first I tried cloth tape. It didn’t last a pitch. Second, I tried floss, which I thought I did a professional job of using—I hitched each rap. It lasted not even a repel. Shocking. I tried this several times to no avail. It was the right foot that was bad. The left only went at the bottom of the climb. Luckily it never tripped me. The worst it would do was roll under the boot and make a rocker. That and allow my foot to get wet from the underside.
We were professional repellers now. The rope sang through my ATC (a repel devise) as I free-fell through the darkness along the black walls of the black mountain. We often did double rope repels which were long and fast, but we lived with extreme fear of hanging the ropes up and not being able to get them down without climbing back up to release them from the teeth of the rock. Luckily, this never happened, though I had to use prussiks on two occasions to muster the force to clear the rope.
At 10:45pm we reached the bottom of our last repel, which had been our first pitch. It was warm. We ate and drank and laughed. I applauded our safety and the mental toughness we maintained throughout. Indeed, we had done it. We summated Batian Peak of Mt. Kenya, the 17,050 ft ceiling of the country. It had been glorious on the assent, tedious on the descent, and challenging throughout. We had a 45 minute run down the scree slope to Shipton Camp. We were all alive again with exhilaration. We flew down the trail. I laughed as I flogged my lose soles through the sand and pumice. It was hysterical, or it seemed so at the time. We were safe at last. We had known it all along, but there is no certainty on a mountain. We made a decision to climb in the afternoon; we reaped the summit for this decision, and we also reaped the harsh conditions mountains are prone to as the day lengthened.
True, we did not expect such a lengthy downclimb. David was quite wrong on this account. Why we were so late I don’t know. The Austrians fared better. They met the snow as well, but were off the mountain by 6:30pm. Their prudence saved them hardship. And their decision to return was very respectable. I failed to mention that they had no guide. I found the routefinding down the mountain difficult. I applaud their ability and prudence. Of course, their slight made it easier for me to feel quite smug that I, a mere “walk-upper”, had summitted a route they had retreated down. A fact I don’t know if they ever admitted to. I never received congratulations, only: “a very tough route.”

Gibson was ecstatic (again). His face glowed in the dark. He had been worried of course. It was damn late. But he was instantly relieved when he heard our accomplishment and lack of incident.
I had no appetite. Ate only a little. Drank only hot water. Talked too loudly as nearly everyone was asleep. Laughed about my boots, which Gibson looked at with trepidation. Smiled at David and John. Told them both that we would not have succeeded without the help of John, something I couldn’t have understood before the climb. I had a good team. David persevered through the ice and choss, something beyond his obligations.

I would sleep-in the next morning, Gibson’s plan / itinerary be damned. We were supposed to go over some ridge to the other side of the mountain. There would be no more uphill for me. And my boots were cashed. Gibson was on the same page. The next morning, late, Gibson lent me his spare hiking shoes. Gibson had pawned some of his food and gear off on Peter as to lighten his load. And he even suggested that we make all the way for Nanyuki-town at the bottom of the mountain, in essence making two days into one. I smiled at this. He had resisted my desire to compress days—now he was submitting at last. Indeed, I said, but we are not starting early.
When I got up around nine, the Austrians were already out the door. So no chance to talk to them. They apparently changed their plans as well and were booking it off the mountain. When I met two Alaskans later that day in the Old Moses Camp they said the Austrians had looked “mighty grumpy” as they ate their lunch there.
I was the last man at Shipton. I was in no hurry, and I milked my last cup of coffee to the very end. It was raining. The weather had never really lifted from the day before. But the terrain was glorious under cloud. And the trail was fine, though mud and puddles scattered about. I felt strangely fresh. I think the slow pace of our climb outweighed the long duration to protect me from fatigue. Which became helpful.
Gibson was keen to move fast. I think the gossip of the cooks had egged him on and he was curious how fast we could get down the trail. I took the bait. I was so excited by the climb; I was riding on air again. And I am a trail runner at heart, perhaps above all other things. I love, truly love running mountain trails. I never feel more free or alive. I feel no fear, no pressure, I only run as I feel the trail allows me to. The shoes were key. Without them I would have been hamstrung. My fannypack with my bulky camera was a nuisance—but the misty green day, the heavy air, the slight grade, the compliance of Gibson—almost a degree of competition—was all encouraging and invigorating. We flew and we did not stop.
We were half way to Old Moses in an hour. We ate and drank some. In ten minutes we carried on. There were marshy bits that Gibson had to navigate for us to find the fastest way through. We laughed and ribbed one another. We made Old Moses in 2:15 hr.; the same leg that was supposed to take 6-7 hrs the other way.
Gibson, with all his courtesy, knowing we would beat Bwana Miner and Peter down, called ahead and had someone else’s cook prepare my meal. So I had hardly met the Alaskans and sat down in Old Moses when a thermos of hot water a fat plate of food was slid in front of me. This story skips many of the social elements of the trip and the strange wonderful people I met from all over the world. It was unexpected when I met to folk from Anchorage—a place so familiar—and completely failed at the name game. That was worth a laugh at any rate.
Gibson was keen to keep moving. Bwana and Peter had arrived. And there was apparently a plot against me. There was to be a race down to the gate. And NONE of them had packs! The Austrians had called for a 4X4 to come up to the hut and shuttle them down. Gibson had taken advantage, loading all of our gear in the truck as well (except my damned fannypack). So, in the end, I was the only one laden with anything. It was only fair, I thought.
As it turned out the last stretch was extraordinarily slippery, and was a 4x4 track, and so not that interesting for a run. We were back again in the timber. The high Alaskan plain was behind. Bwana and Peter kept up for a while as I was not keen to run on a full stomach, and I worried about Bwana on the slippery clay. Strong indeed he was, but he was old and didn’t need a fall.
Gibson was keen to run though, so we ran. I was spent by the time we made the Park Gate. This was the end, the real end. Gate to gate. What we found there was a big group of guys working on a Land Cruiser, the same one that had come down from Old Moses with our gear. And what we didn’t find were the Austrians and the Land Cruiser that was supposed to be waiting for us to take us down to Nanyuki. Turned out that the Austrians paid a little extra to snatch our ride for themselves, as theirs had lost its transmission.
For the first time I actually had time to sit and breathe and relax and enjoy what I had been through. For the first time on the trip I rolled a cigarette. I watched zebras in the grass and looked for the baboon I had seen there before. I was left alone, unattended, finally. The boys worked on the truck. Bwana Miner and Peter showed up. The skies slowly cleared. Another truck came to the gate; they were checking meteorological equipment and agreed to give us a ride down.

And so it was that we arrived back down in Nanyuki-town. Gibson got me a hotel room (as this was all unplanned; we had destroyed the itinerary, four days instead of seven). Bwana Miner un-spliced our two packs for the last time. It was not with a little sadness that I said good-bye to him.
And therefore I was greatly gladdened that night when, to my surprise, Gibson showed up with both Peter and Bwana to share dinner with us. We drank Tusker beer and shared huge plates of meat and ugali, Kenyan flour and water mixture, like fine, dry grits. This time I was hungry. I ate. And the beer was cold. I drank. And then Gibson got me a cab back to the hotel. And I slept. But not before I had a hot shower (which caught on fire) and did some laundry in the sink; my socks smelled something foul.

There ends the story of Mt. Kenya. I traveled from there to the Masai Mara, which will be a different tale.

28 October, 2009

Mt Kenya

Summited Bation Peak, the highest point of the Mt. Kenya massif (5100 m) after 16 pitchs and 19 hours of climbing.   Splendid rock, some snow and ice, a late afternoon blizzard.  (How many people have been in a blizzard in Kenya??)  Excellent, excellent climb.

19 October, 2009


country code: 254
0713 514  835

13 October, 2009


I have lost two dear, dear people this week, people I loved vigorously, people who made me feel loved, and special. That such a one as myself was worth the attention of such experienced elders I took as the peak of complement and I spent much thought on how I could show them my gratitude, though I was mostly at a loss.

Olga Sylvester was my mother-in-law. She housed me in San Francisco and showed me around the town and fed me at the sacred Kam's Restaurant. Before I left she baked me a rum cake that I was to have all to myself on the road back to S. Carolina. I can remember that cake as well as any food I have had before and since. That, and also her regular reprimands for not visiting enough and the sense that she was sincere and that she loved me. I never really expected her to go. I didn't know the time was so close.
She moved to S. Carolina recently and spent her last days with Carla and family. She died peacefully.

Happy needs no family name. Happy is enough. She is the ground from which the Mauldin family has grown and flourished. One only need to know Logan or Tom, or Caroline to begin to understand the sort of influence Happy has had on those around her. Her spirit of love and generosity is absent in None of the Mauldins. After my dad passed, who was it who offered me room and board and perhaps the finest coffee the world has ever known, and will ever know!...??? Tom and Melanie. (Melanie was responsible for the coffee!) Every time I come home, who is it that begs me to come up to the mountains to spend time with him and his family: Tombo. Who gave me a free ski pass on a rich rich powder day in Vale, housed me and fed me, and tried to steal Widgeon because they loved him in even a brief time: Logan and Chris. I won't even start with Caroline and her magnificence. . .

These are magnificent people. And I say it is in no small part because they have spent all their lives living in the light and under the model of Happy.

For those who know, Happy is to the Mauldins and Blondell is to the 'Manning boys'.

These are women who you don't need eyes to see: they radiate love and peace all around them. You can feel them. Happy was a magical and wonderful woman whom I knew but briefly and sparingly. But I am glad.

She lived to a mighty old age. She died with the sight of her family--her loved ones-- in her eyes and the sounds of their hymns in her ears. For those lucky enough to know the Mauldins, you know that the sight of them is something to behold, and the voice of Caroline something to marvel at.
It was a fair death.


Journals in Chagos_________

Chagos Archipelago is in the heart of the Indian Ocean, south of India, south of the Maldives, lying near the fifth parallel. I left Borneo in June, sailed three weeks to Bali, enjoyed Bali for two weeks and reprovisioned the boat. Then I sailed west for twenty-five days before making landfall at Saloman Atoll in the Chagos Archipelago. Chagos is not a secret; it is in fact quite famous. So I was shocked to find, in the fading afternoon sun, as I crossed the lagoon, not one single boat lying at anchor.

Naturally, at first, I was mildly disappointed. How one craves company after nearly a month at sea! But as I settled in with a cup of coffee, a snack, a rolly, and some rum—it hit me. Hard. This was Absolute Solitude, solitude of such dimension that it is nearly without counterpart in the world. I was struck silent with it. I felt my life running before me and thought, if all my life sufferings had the sole purpose to bring me to this place, to this time. . . to this sort of surreal experience of solitude and beauty—then my time has been well bought. This is enough.

Saloman is an atoll of small size and with long expanses of barren reef, which leaves open the endless horizon to the eye. Endless. . . eighteen-hundred miles east to Sumatra, the same distance west to Kenya, eight-hundred miles north to India, and south, who knows?. . . all the way to the Antarctic. As I sit and watch dusk settle over the western motus, I can look directly east down the course that I have sailed for the last month. There is nothing but sea between me and Bali, nothing, sea and the curvature of the earth (and a rare fishing vessel!).

I am not above loneliness. I suffer it the same as anyone I suppose. Perhaps over the years I have acquired more defenses against it, as it rarely overcomes me. But when confronted by the sheer vastness of something like this, the entirety of the world utterly unobstructed—there is no "aloneness" like it. At this moment, I am one of the most singularly isolated people in the entirety of the world, in time as well as space. Since when has man ever accomplished such solitude?

Shipwreck. . . Selkirk? (known fictionally as Robinson Crusoe). . . history doesn't remember castaways. Tom Neale on Suvarrow Atoll. Early astronauts alone in space. Yogis in caves in the snow. Desert hermits. Solitary confinement in prison.

The smallness of Saloman is important. The weight of the ocean lurks so close. I can hear the breakers on the outer reef endlessly. I can see their white spray in all directions. Am I really so safe, protected?. . .so small a place. The great white shark swimming slowly around the small metal bars of the shark cage.

The feeling would not be so potent if this wasn't a spot of such ostentatious beauty. The water glimmers night and day above the white sandy shallows, like a mirror to the moon. The coral hedges billow with small fish like bees around their hive. Some shine with such brilliance I truly wonder to myself if they aren't somehow luminescent, like fireflies or glo-worms. I saw five sea-turtles the first day. One swam straight to me and let me touch it and swim with it for a time. Dolphins and wahoo even enter the lagoon which is new to me.

At night, the moon still waxing, lights the whole anchorage in green light. Carrol the dinghy seems to be floating on air like a magic carpet, hovering above her clear shadow ten feet beneath her. I look out over the sand hoping to see some large sea monster ease through the pass and enter the lagoon to feed in the night. None comes. I sit and play guitar in the moonlight and watch and wait.

One night I thought the bow of the ship was ripped off and fell into the water. I heard such a cachophany I nearly paniced. Did the mast fall down?? How?... I ran topsides to look. And everything was as it always is. Nothing. I looked under the boat to see what might have fell overboard. . . nothing. Then, in the distance I saw a great rushing of water. Some predatory fish was chasing a great school of needlefish. Needlefish are great leapers. What must have happened, as they were chased past, they didn't see the boat, and a great number of them simply collided with my bow and anchor chain. It was a magnificent noise.

Each night if I came on deck with a flashlight, there were such quantities of fish in the shallows where I anchored that the lagoon would boil with them fleeing the light.

I am more comfortable sailing at night, staying out of the sun in the daytime. I have become half nocturnal. So even now I am tempted to stay up in the moonlight for hours, listening to the wind, looking over the reef to the endless miles of sea. The weight of the miles, the expansiveness, isn't oppressive, but palpable, present, tangible in a way I've never experienced. Have you ever had a moment atop a mountain, looking at the world beneath you, so small in the distance, that your individuality, your personhood shrinks to a pinhead? You become nothing, which is to say, part of everything, a fiber in the thread of eternity. I have often climbed peaks for this very communion. One could call it Rapture. Those experiences, all of them, pale to the solitude of Chagos.

Is this happiness? I don't know. I don't think so. It has some pleasure, no doubt. I scream out and laugh at the absurdity of it all. I revel in the beauty. But the experience is of vast space that is beyond my mind, a tremulous presence in a world that would suck me into the void if I were a micron smaller.



Chagos is an atoll. Atolls, as a rule, are most interesting underwater. The diversity of their motus—the little islets around the perimeter of the atoll, is spare, populated by seeming luck. Birds, crabs, and the abundant coconut palm.

Underwater however species migration is much more prolific. The reefs provide a rich foundation for a diverse—not to mention spectacular—ecosystem. Chagos has its barrier reef along with ten to twelve motus. Inside this is a protected lagoon roughly four miles across. Inside this lagoon are many coral heads rising up from a moderately shallow (60 feet and more) bottom. These coral heads and the many fingers along the inside of the fringing reef are splendid diving.

I like to dive first thing in the morning. When I say, 'dive', I mean snorkel, or free-diving, or skin-dive. I don my mask and fins and fall overboard. There is so much coral around my boat I needn't travel—at least before breakfast. The coral is not magnificent in color. Past bleaching is still evident, but, that said, there are some glorious individual corals of so many colors, particularly red, and a few spotted with neon green. What captivates me is the quantity of fish, both in numbers and species, and particularly the small ones.

My unfortunate analogy is that of flies swarming a carcass. There is no other description: these small fish swarm over the coral, through the coral like fingers through hair. And the little guys are so handsome. They are all colors, but some have stripes that I would swear glow of their own light. They shine without the sun. They are truly magnificent, which is something special in things so diminutive.

Of course there are the many butterfly fish in abundance and many others: wrasse, parrotfish (huge ones) baby blue tangs are the most populous, copper sweepers, peacock rockcod, cardinalfish, seaperch, Moorish idols, demoiselle (these are the ones I'd swear glow), dascullus and damsals, blemmies and gobies, and on and on and on.

In "Song of the Dodo", David Quammen describes small island wildlife as not being "tame", as that implies a sort of learned trust or tolerance to humans, but instead "naive"—they have no gene or trait, no history, -that lends them mistrust or fear. We are neither predators nor prey. They are often curious. Noddies (a seabird) come and rest upon my railngs in calm weather. The fish tolerate proximity just short of touching. Indeed a special experience for me was finding a sea-turtle, which abound here, and having it actually swim to me! It swam around me, then let me follow him for a while and even let me touch it, not that it enjoyed that bit. How amazing: swimming with a sea-turtle, not just seeing one fleeing before you, but watching, interacting with it. Such amazing and strange creatures. I wonder how they survive. When I found him, he was munching on coral, and when I left he went back to munching on coral.

I have found two wrecks here, both sailboats. One less interesting than the other. One magnificent though. You'll have to read elsewhere for an account of it (Row to the Land of the Coconut Crab). Full to the brim with copper sweepers—all content to watch me join their company.

And the octopus—one of the most amazing things I've EVER seen.

Sharks aren't as common as I'd like. I've seen only a few.

[I have since found them, they are all in the pass, the other way from where I was diving.]

A new activity for me is taking Alice, the dinghy, out in the afternoons for a row. We go along the reef, pulling very lightly and cleanly with the oars. We glide over the shallow waters—three to six feet, and more—waters that aren't my favorite depth for diving. But from the dinghy, it is like looking into an aquarium. Sometimes I row backward as to be facing forward, or set a drift. I always find a turtle, and had a black-tip reef shark circle around once. It was so clear. And this particular shark was a beautiful copper color, very elegant. I roll a cigarette and drift, watching the butterfly fish and my favorite powder blue tangs dance through the coral like woodducks through a cypress swamp.


Of course, mostly I've done nothing but read. It has rained continually for over a week. It is hard to motivate to dive if there is no sunlight. Rays of light bring the underwater world to life. There is no terrestrial forest in the world to match a coral reef in light. (I am saddened to say, as my love is on land, not at sea. Yet it is undoubtedly so.) And there are few to no terrestrial animals to match the splendor of the fishes. I can think only of the colors of parrots, peacocks, and ducks, woodducks and harlequin ducks in particular. Maybe throw a pheasant in there as well. These birds match the fish in color, I'm not sure they have the grace. When has a bird ever glowed . . like some of these little gobies and demoiselles?? They have no clumsy appendages, only sleek, slender forms perfect for their environment.

Of course many look to have come straight out of a nightmare—there is a vast spectrum of morphology to be sure. But the fish who inhabit the sunny side of the reef are invariable handsome and stunning in color, and their match is hard to descry ashore.

The Authorities__________

People at last!! Today the British authorities came in a great orange ship called the Pacific Mariner (how original, especially seeing as we are in the Indian Ocean.). They are stationed out of a US military base on Diego Garcia, a small island south of here, but still a part of the Chagos Archipelago. One of the only times I can remember being truly pleased to be boarded and checked by the military. And they were awfully friendly and understanding. They fielded uncounted numbers of questions from me—a whole months worth! And seemed happy to do so. Of course, I had my permit, that helps.

They also levied the unhappy news that the prolific rain I've experienced over the last two weeks is only HALF of a tremendous front moving through. And I had thought of leaving today. . . what now? How long shall I wait? . . . surely not another two weeks!

The Sailing Vessel Afar_________

After two weeks alone, I open my hatch to see a boat coming through the pass and heading my way. Excitement indeed. I get out the binoculars. It is hard to believe, but I could swear I knew the boat. As it slowly approached the letter became clear on the bows: ARAR. Pete aboard afar was a friend of Annabelle's in New Zealand. We met him in the Philippines and again I saw him in Kudat, Malaysia. And stranger yet, when I bussed down to Kota Kinabalu (also in Malaysia) I saw him when I went to walk the docks there. He was heading down the west coast of Borneo some weeks before I headed down the east coast. But he was also heading for Africa, via Seychelles. How he came to be here now, seemingly behind me I couldn't fathom. He should have been well ahead. And yet there he was.

This was great.

I hopped in my dinghy and rowed over as he slowed to drop the hook. He had new crew. Long story short, we laughed and told stories. We drank of all of my remaining rum. He had already come to Chagos a month before, but had left to sail north to the Maldives to surf, and was now returning. His crew he picked up there and was a great and interesting guy. Pedro. He is planning to bicycle from South Africa to Europe.

My birthday was just a few days off and the weather seemed to be clearing. We caught fish and celebrated. We took their motor dinghy across to the coconut crab island and succeeded in catching one of the monsters. That was good fun.

I left them there on the 18th. The wind was fair and I had been in Chagos nearly three weeks. Time to sail. Pedro, as I left, gave me a great big brownie as a birthday cake for the road. This was great. I was touched.

I sailed out to find the wind on the nose, as always. I shortened sail and started clocking miles. They would turn out to be some of the finest I've ever sailed.

The Passage________

Happily, there is very little to say about the passage from Chagos to Kilifi, Kenya. The saying 'no news is good news' is never more true than it is on passage. However it wasn't what I expected.

I expected SW'lies. I got mostly Southerlies. I might have that that a wind off the beam would have been uncomfortable, but there was little swell most of the time. The wind was light, 12 kts. We maintained a slight heel and great speed. The wind seemed to shift 20° fore or aft regularly so I had to watch the course like a hawk. When the wind came even farther toward the bow it was never strong enough to be uncomfortable, never a beat. When the wind went aft it was strong enough to steer a fair course.

I could almost say I had no windvane breakages, but five-hundred miles from Kenya a lower weld which held the lower starboard arm sheered, and I was forced to lash it together. Needless to say, with only three supports, the vane was a bit wobbly, but at the same time the winds decreased, easing the load on the vane. It held course all the way into the coastal waters.

There, about forty miles out, the wind died all together and it was just at dawn, therefore I had a perfect motor into port to arrive in the early afternoon, which I did.

I found the entrance to Kilifi Creek to be slightly hairraising in that the second set of towers has been encroached upon. I am blind anyway. I was trying to steer a 270 through the outer pass meanwhile staring hard over my shoulder with the binoculars trying to find towers to line up a 330.

I couldn't do it.

And I couldn't see the outer reef. I had to come in as tight as I could to the shore break—which I could see—and follow that line, which turned out to be something like a 320, so I felt good and clear of the outer reef.

On passage I had managed to fix the depth sounder which had quit on me in Chagos. (Normally things break on passage—on this passage I actually fixed things that were already broken. Ha.) so I could see that I maintained a good depth all the way in.

The boatyard anchorage is great. The people who work there are incredibly pleasant. Customs and Immigration are both available in Kilifi since July, and they were wonderful as well.

No problems, a rare passage that you arrive with energy and a smile.

Long Row to the land of the Coconut Crab___________________

Rain – morning row – abandoned village – coconut crabs – island diversity - row to windward – octopus - wreck

Rain, rain, rain. Within a few days of arriving in Chagos, the rains returned. (I'd been sailing in rain for most of two weeks.) I couldn't complain. I sat back with a morning cup of coffee and Lord of the Rings and spent the days basking in solitude and the quiescence of a boat without wake. I might take Alice the dinghy out in the afternoons if there was a break. Just drifting over the reef I would see sea turtles and sharks and rays, the water being so clear and the coral only three feet down at the tops. It reminds me of those glass-bottomed boats for yokals. I would try for a snorkel in the mornings, but it rained and then rains some more.

After a week however, I started to feel it was time to move on. The weather seemed to be fairing up. But I felt like my old self (in a bad way), like I wasn't really making the best of the place. I was drifting in Alice and looked across the lagoon to Boddam, an island on the far side. There had once been a settlement there and I had meant to move Brillig there and anchor and see the place. The rain had dashed that. So I thought, why not row?

This idea caught my fancy. Indeed, I wasn't even sure if I could do it. It was downwind. . . what about current? I didn't know. Not sure how hard it is to row that far as I've never tried it. All the uncertainty gave it a really exciting feel. My blood tingled; it seemed the thing to do.

I figured eight miles in the worst conditions could be done with ardor. If your life depends upon it—you can row eight miles! All I had to do was make sure I didn't get swept out to sea or sunk. If the weather was fair in the morning, I was going.

And so it was. I was up at dawn and didn't skimp on provisions. I was still alone on Chagos; I'd have to take great care. Water, lunch, dive gear, and my usual emergency supplies. It felt good. The morning was calm and brisk and strangely quiet; the lagoon was flat and the current was setting me north into the lagoon instead of sucking me out. I made great way and I felt fit. I was set hard north, but I made Boddam in just over two hours. Almost anticlimactic. Not sure my heartrate was even up. The day was young yet, there was plenty of time for the trouble, and that was yet to come.

I beached Alice and started a jaunt down the beach. I didn't know where this so-called settlement was, yet, looking about fifty yards down the beach there was a stone outcropping with a flagpole. I took that as a sign that I wasn't far off.

Just off the beach there was a concrete building with no roof, no windows, no doors, just rubbish strewn about the foundations. Was this it? Totally disappointing. So a family had lived in this little ramshackle hut and cruisers had used it since to homestead. Okay, so it had a volleyball net. But the scene lent me no desire to have "An Island to Oneself" as Tom Neale had.

Yet my aloofness was premature.

Overcoming my disinterest, I wondered why they bothered to build a wall far out beyond the building. Walking beyond it, I found a clear path. (Still strange to me that it should remain clear after so much time.) Following it, it let to yet another structure, then another. As I walked, a whole former community opened up in the heart of the island. (I wonder if, deep down, I knew there was more. No one builds seriously on the beach—no protection from the wind and storms.)

It struck me as strangely eery. Like a lost Inca city deep in the jungle. A concrete wall running down the lane. An old church, all building lacking roofs and doors. The island was quiet except for the odd occasional rustling amongst the coconuts. There weren't any animals here, domestic, I mean. I thought little of rustling until, on the edge of the path, I saw a literal monster.

It was a crab, a crab like I've never seen before. (Okay, only once though.) But they are now rare. It was a coconut crab, the largest terrestrial invertebrate in the world. (I read that just now.) They live for decades and can reach three feet across from leg to leg. This one wasn't that huge, but when you are used to hermit crabs, it was spectacular. That is, until it took a few steps toward me instead of scurrying into the palm fronts. Then I eyed his claws and wondered about their temperament. Those claws clip off fingers.

He came no farther. I was next to scurry. . . for my camera. I saw an old coconut crab once on Suvarrow Island in the Cooks. It was sort of a pet of the caretaker of the island. But here, on Boddam, they were all over. It was something to behold. They reminded me of old fat kings, sitting atop a horde of coconuts all to themselves. And there were piles and piles of coconuts, simply a wonderland if you were a crab.

It is an interesting fact about Chagos, and small islands in general—there is no competition. So few species ever make it here that, if they can survive, it is all theirs. On the motu where Brillig is anchored. The island is dominated first by coconut palms, almost a monoculture. In the trees squawk boobies and noddies. Loads and loads of them. The trees sway with them. On the ground teams hermit crabs, and a few other varieties. In the middle are the spiders, which, oddly enough, look just like little crabs. And there is at least one hornet or wasp. I know because it stung me.

There is nothing else. Nothing. Yet Boddam was a bit different. Not nearly the preponderance of spiders, thank the lord, yet it had more mosquitoes, which on my island never bothered me. And not the birds either.

As I was taking this walk amongst the eerie abandoned settlement (apparently the British Gov. kicked them all out for some reason), the trees started to bend on the beach. The tradewinds were back. And strong. And in my face. And I had an open lagoon to row.

This fact made it a little hard to sit back and relax on the island, or do a little snorkeling amongst the many coral heads there. A fetch was building up and I started to realize that my wish for adventure was in fulfillment. It was going to be a long row home.

Brillig was four miles DEAD upwind. The current AND the wind AND the windwaves would all be working against me. And Alice Carrol was so so small, with such meager freeboard (height above the water)—at least she was light and my oars are good.

Well, that was that. I ate my lunch, now only eleven o'clock, sharing my crackers with some hermit crabs. I was wanting to be off. How long would it take? How long could I go? We should see.


It was slow indeed, but not so bad as I had feared. Alice reared up over the swell reasonably. I rowed with some confidence and we trudged on. After the first hour, we had done nearly two miles. This was incredible. . . in a good way. The leeway was bad, but again, better than feared. I found a reef in the middle of the lagoon and anchored the dinghy to have a dive and a rest. It was a beautiful pillar of coral surrounded by blue. So near the reef breaks I thought I might see some large sharks. I didn't but what I did find, all by accident was more amazing, and perhaps one of the damnedest things I've ever seen.

As I dove down to a smaill shelf, I approached a wad of fish; they cleared out but there seemed to be one left behind, which I took a close look at. And all of a sudden, this great eye looked up at me, and, somehow, the thing changed.

What the hell was I looking at?

It was a great big octopus. Big. Its body was over a foot across. It had turned all crimson as I approached it—what the fish were doing there, I haven't the foggiest—I was only three feet away I figure. Close. I never would have seen it otherwise.

I had to stare at it for some time until I saw it properly. It isn't like you'd see in a book: an open-swimming, tentacled, sea monster. His tentacles were coiled beneath him; I just saw a crimson blob. . . with an eye. It moved a bit; a tentacle curled around itself and then I knew all at once: octopus.

Then it got weird.

It was smooth and crimson. I saw it and knew it. Then it vanished, well. . . it transformed, but perfectly. It's colors went to shades of brown and tan in great blotches. But what was more, its skin took the patchy texture as well—it grew great lumps, like boils, developed pock-marks.

Wow. . . I almost failed to remember to breathe. I didn't want to take my eyes off it—I would never find it again.

Remember the movie Predator, or James Bonds car—that invisible-stuff is no joke. Nature can do it better than technology. When it changed, it vanished. There was nothing 'octopus' about it. Only a coral head. Completely invisible. I couldn't have dreamed any 'real' thing could possible do true magic like that. I saw it. Me. And I am amazed.

It warily slunk into the coral and was gone. I was wowed and slunk back aboard Alice for the remainder of the row. I was unconcerned now. I was nearly halfway home and it was yet one o'clock in the afternoon. I had to beware the leeway. Nothing else.

Yet conditions change. I don't know why, but the going only got worse. The fetch was beating against the bow and those last few miles just wouldn't come. At least I finally got what I wanted: tired. If I hadn't thought to bring my old mountain-biking gloves to wear I hate to think of condition of my hands.

The southern break was roaring in my ears; the last few islands slowly eased on past, and the lee of 'my island' came at last. I was hot and tired and dropped anchor away to the south of Brillig for one last dive. To my amazement, as I dropped in I spied a hulk on the edge of the reef. As I swam over, a fifty foot hull lurched on the edge of the reef where it had unwillingly become part of the topography.

Being no more than ten feet under, it was easy to dive. As I went down and into an open hold, I was met by hundreds of copper sweepers, teeny-tiny fish with strangely articulated tails. Apparently they are nocturnal. I guess they spend their days lingering in the wreck. The hull was simply full of them, a fog of fish as dense as I have ever seen. They didn't shy away either. I came right in amongst them and they sort of looked at me, but without interest. (Ha, I am reading into the eyes of a three inch fish!)

Upon inspection, I found a gaping hole in the side of the yacht where it must have worked against the reef until it failed and sank. It was a concrete boat, which do not tolerate reefs with any candor.

That was enough for me. I craved hot coffee, a rolly, and some peace on deck. The day was done; an adventure was had. Tomorrow I would haul anchor and get back to the work of finding Africa at the far end of this voyage.

Of course the weather did not hold and I did not leave for Africa.


Oasis of Sea and Mind__________

Thoughts on solitude.

Christopher McCandliss (or Alexander Supertramp) as he lay dying in his bus in the far reaches of Alaska wrote in his journal: "Happiness must be shared." Sailing alone I spend a lot of time thinking about the "cost" of solitude and a life lived alone. I sacrifice family and relationships; comfort, ease, and safety; social, sexual, and mental stimulation. . . but do I also sacrifice the experience of happiness as well?

On the whole, I don't think so.

McCandliss had it wrong, or he wasn't ready for the experiences he faced. Not completely wrong, mind you. "Happiness" is a vagary in itself. Is it the comfort of love and pleasure of life? For some, for most, but is that perhaps not a bit superficial as a life goal? Isn't life perhaps a bit more grand than all that? If not, then McCandliss was right. How many times have I seen some marvel and looked around me to see who had shared the experience, only to find myself alone, the experience dimmed, diminished—no one could understand. This is true and this is what McCandliss learned I think. . . in the end. Beauty is magnified with solidarity.

But there is more to life than this wink and the smile, the "hey, did you see that??...amazing eh!—the life of solidarity and love. There is a depth to certain experiences that is perhaps bolstered by solitude—one is forced to commune only with his environment. And one is confronted by the precise dimensions of self. And there one learns—or I learned—that those 'precise' dimensions are hazy at best. Even in extreme solitude, one cannot escape solidarity. One man alone on a vast sea doesn't feel that way, alone as it sounds, instead he feels a part of the sea, a part of the vast pregnant world around him. This is the solidarity and communion of extreme solitude. And it is potent.

I think I am coming around to the idea that I am willing to suffer for experiences that, for me, transcend the mundane, experiences that recast my soul in their wake. I wish to see things that make me tremble. I am currently in the midst of an experience of this sort, and I may call it happiness, but in truth it is Awe. Akin to epiphany. But I am alone, shockingly alone.

Makasaar Strait

Beat Through Makasaar Strait_______

Trip from Borneo to Bali

Lee-shored – broke windlass – coral maze – Lankayan Island – Sulu Sea – Sandakan Entrance – Kinnibatongan River - crocodiles – Celebes Sea – 1200 miles to Windward – phenomenal phosphorescence – Makasaar Strait – Lombok one last gale – near collision – mad current – Benoa Harbor, Bali.

Leaving the northern tip of Borneo, if your goal is the Indian Ocean, there are two possible routes: the east coast or the west coast. The west coast takes you past Singapore and through the Sunda or Malacca Straits and into the ocean. The east coast is the Celebes Sea and takes you past Bali, the Lombok Strait, and into the ocean. Borneo is the third largest island in the world (behind Greenland and New Guinea, just bigger than Madagascar), so it is no trifle to pass. Also the South-West Monsoon is in force, making the route dead to windward.

However I had often said that the most windless place I've ever seen on any chart is the Celebes Sea. In deliberating on which way to go, east or west, I was strongly against the eastern route for this reason, even though the strong winds on the western side would be straight in the face. I decided in the end not to decide. I sailed out and would go with the wind east or west, depending which way it blew that day.

The trip had an auspicious being: I got lee-shored. This means that the wind veers around and pegs you to the shore. This also means that it is blowing across the water (not the land) and building up waves to further its mission of setting you ashore. I left Disneyland and simply went across the bay. Oddly, it was blowing easterly, so I stopped against the western shore for the night so I could clean my hull in the morning in the nice clear water before setting off south.

Of course, just as I hop in the water the wind veers around to the SW. I don't notice at first, as I am working on the hull, until I notice that the waves are growing. By the time I am back aboard it is blowing hard and I realize I am in a real fix. There is coral all around me. Brillig was fetching so hard that when I tried to bring up the anchor, I broke the anchor windlass (winch). Now it gets dangerous; this is how sailors loss fingers: the boat is bucking madly, the chain I am partially hauling by hand and securing before it runs out. It was crazy. But I got it up.

Then I damn near clobbered a reef trying to tack my way out of the coral. If I hadn't had an engine that day, I would have been hard put to it. I was not very proud of myself, but I was at least glad to be safely away. Not a great start, but that seems to be my way: I am only competent enough as a sailor to barely avoid disaster.

Now the SW'erlies were back, so I trimmed my sails, tightened my belt and fell off to the east. This was intimidating. The north-eastern portion of Borneo is scattered with reefs. My navigation must be perfect. Having a fair wind was a great advantage, allowing me to trim my course perfectly. But I'd have to be on watch constantly for a full day or more until the waters opened up or I could find a safe anchorage for some rest.

The sailing at least was beautiful, many lovely rocks and islands passed through my wake, the wind held until early in the morning, as the worst was behind me. I cranked Yolanda the Yanmar as the sails fluttered and motored the last five miles to Lankayan Island where there was a shallow shelf that would hold my anchor for a few hours as I slept.

I felt so good, good to be sailing again after a month in Kudat, good to be sailing alone again after. . . over a year!, and good to have navigated such a treacherous bit of water. .And the waters of the Sulu Sea (which I would soon be passing out of for the Celebes) were so colorful and rich. Simply the best phosphorescence I've ever seen. I could see the glow even in the daytime. The rudder-wash looked like a green fire shot from a turbine engine.

As I rested in calm of Lankayan, the sea was as flat as a roller rink. In the afternoon yet another westerly picked up and I set sail to use what fair winds I could garner. It was shocking to have such fine wind, but, as I should have realized—and probably did—was that it wouldn't last. However, as irony rules, the fabled calms of the Celebes Sea I would have bet my keel on never came. Indeed, quite the opposite.

The day following my departure from Lankayan I made it to the mouth of the Kinibatongan River. Some friends had ventured up it and said the depth was fine and there were no obstacles. They should have said other than the entrance. I mean shallow, seriously shallow. I must have had a foot under my keel (and twice nothing!) But as the tide rose, and I eased through the mouth, the river deepened and the jungle opened before me, and together they wound inland through one of the last wild lands on Earth.

Blind as I am, I saw no orang-utans this time, (remember, I've already once been to the Kinibatongan, but without my boat) but I saw monitors and crocodiles and kingfishers and monkeys. Just motoring up stream, being somewhere other than in an open sea with my sailboat was such an exhilarating experience. It didn't last, or I didn't let it. I was keen to cross the Indian Ocean, to make landfall on African soil. I spent only a few days on the river. Long enough to kill all the remaining growth on my hull. Going down was far quicker. . . duh.

As I eased into the Celebes Sea, my fair winds passed away. Yet the calms I expected were usurped by something altogether more predictable: the South-West Monsoon! And, of course, in force. So, though I sought to hide from them to the lee of Borneo they came for me all the same. And with a vengeance. I beat and beat, day after day. For every mile I'd sail I only would make half that distance or less toward my destination. I was lucky to make fifty miles a day. And I had a thousand miles to sail! Suck it up and trudge on.

So, what I had naively assumed would be a ten to twelve day trip turned out to be nothing of the sort. I had current, significant shipping traffic, not too much rain thankfully, but I had plenty going on without that nuisance.

The Celebes Sea narrows into the Makaasar Strait. It was here that I was concerned with current and safety. The Strait is narrow enough that it you were to fall asleep at the wrong time there would be the reality of an imminent reef to wake you from any pleasant dreams. However, once the southern portion of the Makasaar Strait is won, several things happnen: One, I cross the Equator. (Yah!) Two, I reach the southern boundary of the SW Monsoon. There the SE Tradewinds start to show. A much fairer wind, because, and Three, my course now bears off further westward. (I have been on a southerly course.) This allows me to sail off the wind, at least in theory.

In practice however it worked for only about. . . a day, or two. Bali was in my sights. The worst was surely behind me. But as I approached Lombok Strait, separating Lombok Island from Bali, my last obstacle between me and Benoa Harbor on the SE corner of Bali, the winds again quartered around to, of course, my nose. And, of course, they blew a gale.

So I sat for another day in a light gale within sight of Bali. My spirits were good. I could still laugh. I never expect to arrive until I have arrived. And so it was. The winds moderated. I had been hove-to. I set sail and with very very light winds and entered Lombok Strait. What I found there was shocking.

Though the winds were light, I was flying through the glassy water at five knots. Current: the northern waters, like me, yearned for the ocean beyond. All the northern seas: Java Sea, Celebes, ect north of Indonesia flow south into the Indian Ocean. I was thankful to be on the right side of that current. At one point just before dawn, I hove-to to slow down so I could arrive in the light—I was still doing 4.5 knots! Wow.

I should note that during the night I had an extremely close call with, luckily, a very small fishing bonka. I was strumming the guitar on deck with a bit too much attention, and their light was far too faint (as is mine I might add). As my song ended and I noticed the light, I shined out with my spotlight—and their entire hull lit up like Christmas. I went into evasive action and disengaged the windvane and jibed the boat as they crossed the bow. In the dark it is hard to say how close it was, but it was close enough.

All the same, just after dawn, I cranked up Yolanda and made my bearing for the harbor entrance and the winding channel markers beyond. By eight am I had dropped my hook in eight feet of sand and mud in a very strange harbor indeed, man-made, shallow, a bit crowded, dirty. Not the touristy-paradise one thinks of as Bali.

My first impression would not be my lasting memory of the place. I made good friends there who took me around and showed me the beauty of the island. We climbed a volcano; we ate and drank, we saw stunning beaches, (covered with stunning. . . . . . tourists.)

It was not an easy passage.

24 days and 1200 miles to windward, with one island and one river thrown in for measure. The windvane broke three times! I broke the windlass and took on a goodly portion of water. My stay'sle was unraveling in three places. My computer died. There was work to be done before I could enter the Indian Ocean and attempt the long miles between Bali and Kenya. But Bali was as good a spot as any to do it. And the passage behind me was just that, behind.