Posts Tagged ‘Aluna’

Sweating Towards A Third Life

October 17, 2019

It was a bittersweet homecoming aboard Aluna at the Helena Marina in Sorong. Sorong is the capital of Indonesia’s West Papua province, situated at just shy of one degree South of the Equator. I did have to cry a couple of silent tears, as I had dearly hoped never having to see our Aluna in that same state of abandonment I had seen so many other boats along our journey to the remote corners of the Pacific. Those boats that languish in muted suffering at the far end of piers of remote harbors or anchored out on a rusty chain under flapping pieces of disintegrating tarp amongst other local relics in a bay just slightly off the charts. Those boats that had lost the care of a watchful owner willing to squeeze the needed elbow grease onto the decks and below, where swift tropical deterioration tickles any bank account not fit enough to stand the test of time.

The grey green of monsoonal moisture had laid itself heavily over Aluna’s shrouds and more of it along the hull sides. Dark grey soot from the nearby charcoal factory had encrusted itself on the cockpit cover whose plastic windows had been replaced with little signs of love and care. On opening the galley hatch a stench of moldy mess made itself known as the one predominant intruder who clearly had decided to make itself at home and keep any benevolent spirit a good distance away.

How Aluna looked on my arrival at the Helena Marina in Sorong

Now eighteen days later, days of equatorial sweat and buzzing sandflies, days of selective reanimation strategies, days of simple down to earth baking soda scrubbing and vinegar spraying, days of lightening the ship onto a growing rubbish pile ashore, testimony to my years of hoarding materials to remedy any imaginable situation out in the isles past the end of Western goods supply chains, days of cleansing the tired sails of the hundreds of mud wasp nests, but also days of thinking how to best prepare Aluna for another stretch of undefined length, during which she will be eagerly waiting for her new masters, stemming my fickle will heavily against the tide of careless abandonment.

Before and after: Aluna’s galley on arrival

… and two weeks later!

Our fourth attempt at finding a good caretaker to inspire Aluna with new life had once again failed. My good friend Christoph had come all the way from Switzerland to find out first hand if Aluna could be fit to serve as a vessel to provide his rapidly growing boys with a maritime adventure of the superior kind before being absorbed into the tentacles of educational stress and inflicted social aspiration. Unfortunately, he turned out to be unable to muster up enough manhood to counteract the sprouting fears running amok in his nicotine infused imagination. Strangely enough, against my own lingering fears, Aluna’s enchantment did work wonders in his soul, he pronounced all kinds of enchantments about what a fine and spacious ship she could be. But alas not enough of it to live up to the only right decision: look one’s fears into the eyes and say yes to all the uncertainties of an adventure about to be born, and give vivid testimony to the stern fact, that this is the only life form truly worth living!

Anther quick chapter of modern humanity just no longer being fit enough for the basic requirements of life closed therefore rather quickly and Christoph’s journey ended instead amongst the hordes of tourists grazing the wonders of Raja Ampat, where snorkeling humanoids soothe themselves in what might be the last healthy coral reefs of the planet.

On the upside of things after barely one week of work Aluna’s splendid offer of a cozy and rather comfortable home on the water, where you can live independently, fully immersed in the spirit of adventure, the cruising ground of Southeast Asia spread out before you, became immediately apparent and for a short while I settled back into this sweet life of laying out a day’s work after waking up with the sun and the chanting birds, fix a hearty breakfast with tropical fruits and then get at it. Doing practical things while the mind rolls round and round, finding its way out of the self-imposed labyrinths, unstuck emotions lingering way past their deadlines, contemplating the crude absurdity of egotistic world views and capitalist colonization, being fully aware if I would be able to continue for a month or two more, Aluna would be slicing the waves again and sail away towards the horizon, where wonders wait in the whereabouts of watery worlds caressed by winds of monsoonal moisture…

Tomorrow morning quite some time before dawn I will sneak out of Aluna’s comfy quarters, making one last round to check that everything is left properly so as not to suffer too much by the absence of a caretaking eye and make my way through the muddy road towards the airport/ There I will begin the arduous two day journey back home, knowing quite well that with Aluna now out of the water with her ‘vital organs’ protected from sun and rain with a sturdy tarp, she will wait patiently but persistently insisting that a new owner is wanted, somebody with enough lust for adventure to make her shine again.

Amphibious Aluna

… and now definitely on land!

After having inspected her health in person I now have a better understanding of her condition and we have accordingly adjusted the sales price to reflect the work that needs to be done and the money to be spent to bring her back up to the strident specs of ocean voyaging. The list of what needs to be done is hanging on our wall and can be requested by any interested party. Most if not all of it can be done where she lies now, either by a willing new occupant on site or remotely by instructing the capable workers at the yard for what are very reasonable fees. Plus: You’ll be starting your journey in the magic area of Raja Ampat, premier dive location of SE Asia!

If interested, please do get in touch!


Closing Arguments: This time for good!

March 22, 2019

All other options having evaporated, Aluna’s Travel the World Blog is coming to a full stop here. Aluna herself however has plenty of life left in her. She is structurally sound and is desperately looking for a new owner to continue her journey.

Located and safely stored in Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia she is now for sale.

More information on Scott Brown Multihull and also here.


Aluna watching out over Ta Atua, Tongareva, Cook Islands


Aluna returning from Whangaroa to the Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand

All Set for a Second Life!

April 29, 2018

I am sitting for a good while at the galley table inside the belly of Aluna, contemplating the warm texture of the plywood panels of which she is made. My head turns right and left to let the gaze wander, while the tropical autumn sun outside burns hot in the mid-morning air. Through the tiny window I see a flock of white herons gingerly walking through the mangrove stumps. We have come less than a mile up the Tingalpa River to find a protected spot for Aluna.

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A profound sigh lifts my chest and yet another look wanders around the carefully designed living space. The gas stove waits with the red kettle just sitting there, the sprouting tray harbors fresh vegetable energy, the newly installed fridge hums inside its Styrofoam coat, the obnoxious walking mat on the floor once again would have to be stretched out and put back in its place, the stairs lead up into the bright blue sky. A flash of man’s eternally catastrophic thinking crosses my mind like a ghost wandering about gaily in plain sight: I might not see all this again!

A bit over two weeks I have now spent aboard with Nadine and Matthew, who will be Aluna’s new inhabitants for the next year or two.

alunamoreton - 6My mission was tight and well defined: to transform those to sailing novices into trustworthy sea people worthy of that name, to make sure they will be able and willing to take charge of the trusty vessel that had been our home for a good nine years and brought us from one end of the vast Pacific to the other. We have crisscrossed Moreton Bay in Southeast Queensland, to the South of the outflow of the Brisbane River, always visible from afar with the giant horse-like cranes of the container port. The weather has been kind enough to provide us with a good array of different sailing conditions, from hot, dead calms to breezy 25 knot winds, where the two apprentices experienced the crucial threshold where the big mainsail has to come down in a hurry and then one continues to claw one’s way upwind with the number two main. We have anchored in a crowded weekend anchorage and also in a river with tidal flows. Little by little their initial clumsiness has given way to a hint of new modalities ready to grow in efficiency. They do have a long stretch ahead of them with nature’s dangerous game awaiting them out there in the wide blue yonder.

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My task is now complete, and I will step off Aluna in an hour’s time. The jump into the canoe and then ashore is a substantial leap of faith. Faith in the human capability to transform if the pressure from the environment is high enough; faith in the forces of brazen craziness that can, if focused enough, break the borders of normality; and finally, faith in the brutal fact that safety and control are dead end streets, which many a time have pulled us astronomical distances away from life and its endless sources of energy.

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Aluna is now getting a second chance in life, spreading her mighty wings anew for her next adventurous flight into the bristle space of all those many things we do not yet know. Those two young people will stand the test of time, will brave the winds of change, will face their inborn fears and will deliver Aluna safely around half our mother earth’s girdle. The goal is in a couple of years’ time to have Aluna living in a secret spot amongst the Windward Islands at the edge of the Caribbean Sea. But that’s a long and winding way into the future. Who knows what crimes humanity will be committing at that time!

Please follow the well-crafted and tastefully served adventures of Nadine and Matthew on their home page at Navigating Nature, and on their facebook and instagram pages!

Closing Argument, For The Time Being!

June 16, 2017

This might be one of the hardest post to write. Its duty is to fill you in on the reason for what has been the longest absence I have taken from Aluna’s Travel the World blog since we started this amazing journey almost exactly eight years ago. Change is in the air! Big change!

Almost to the date eight years ago Aluna set out to sea under the Golden Gate Bridge that connects the city of San Francisco with the Marine County headlands to the north. It was with a deep disdain for the global corporate culture of consumption that this daredevil adventure had been set in motion and a good six of those eight years have been spent away from it all, or at least so we tried to kid ourselves. We have seen, lived and learned an unmeasurable lot and the most pertinent conclusion of it all is that there is no away from it all anymore. The culture of plastic wrapped and artificially and exaggeratedly sweetened goods has reached the gloomy eyes of every lone inhabitant of even the most remote little spec of land on our aching planet Earth. There is no sense anymore in running away!

There are reasons of personal finances too, but those are not the actual mover of things as we like to conclude with ever suspicious haste. Our batteries are charged, our vision is clear, it’s time to go in and work the system from the inside. I have accepted a teaching position at a Waldorf School in Switzerland, and we will be living in Langnau im Emmental for the next couple of years, far far away from the soothing swashing of the surf, hoping to instill some of the much-needed love of life in the next generation, who will have to find ways to deal with the big mess ours has created.

But this is by no means the end of Aluna’s travel. We were amongst the many options toying with the idea of outright selling her, but her uniqueness does not make that an easy undertaking. Storing her here in Australia for such an extended period also does not make any sense at all. We would pay an outrageous amount of money pretty much to have her slowly rot away under the tropical sun. By fortunate coincidence some German sailing friends we have met a couple of years ago in Tonga and then again in New Zealand, ever since they sold their small sailboat and returned to Stuttgart, had voiced interest in Aluna in sporadic spurts of electronic communication. Sophie and her Trinidadian partner Junior, in the meantime proud parents of two beautiful kids, have just last week booked a long haul flight this coming September from Germany to Brisbane. They will be taking Aluna on a run to New Caledonia and Vanuatu to celebrate their very own escape from the lands of consumption and along the way provide their offspring with the perfect opportunity to see a good bit of the real world out there, where fear can be embraced as the vociferous pointer it is towards the very lands of freedom.

I might sporadically continue to babble on here on this blog for a good bit more. There are many open ends to be tied up here, about the meaning of it all when looking back, about the spurts of continuous upgrades to Aluna’s fitness for aquatic life done here between those two concrete piles in the Brisbane river, about our half year spent in Australia without sighting a single koala bear nor kangaroo, and of course about the strongly resonating echoes of our extensive travelling that will most certainly illuminate our temporary return amongst the settlers of houses, those badly built boats so firmly aground that you cannot think of moving them.

Tikopia On The Move

December 15, 2016

Tikopia might seem paradise to the fleeting glimpse of an outside visitor. While its over one thousand inhabitants are living a carefully and smartly controlled life in intimate embrace with nature, modernity has carved a solid foothold right through the middle of it, and the deadly diseases of the consumer society driven by greed and systemic exploitation have grown like cancerous tumours, eating away with lightning speed at its very core. However, as in any other human society, these unfortunate inflictions are diligently hidden away, its weaknesses pushed aside by potent bragging with crippled testosterone, its dark sides kept carefully veiled by well-guarded secrets.

I had contacted Norwegian Thomas Lien by email while still in Luganville, Vanuatu, to get details about the present state of the Lapita canoe. A little over two years ago he had lived for six months on Tikopia with his family of four, hoping to get away from the perils of civilization for a time while producing a television series for kids starring his charming six-year-old daughter. His answers to my persistent questions provided some very helpful information about the technical state of Lapita Tikopia, but once I enquired about the social context and the possible reasons behind the boat’s abandonment, the conversation abruptly stopped.

The two Lapita canoes had been delivered to Anuta and Tikopia in March of 2009. From my detective work on piecing together a history of Lapita Tikopia since then, it seems that for the first three years it was managed by Ariki Tafua’s inner circle, his younger brother Pa Tilo taking on the role of skipper. Four or five trips were made to Lata and back, providing transportation for government officials amongst other lucrative ventures. Pa Tilo is an open hearted guy, with a modern mind tempered by years of working with Solomon Islands fisheries, but leadership is not very high up on his personal skill sheet. Taking advantage of a break during our first week of work on Lapita Tikopia I sat down with him overlooking the bright white sandy beach, which would be an absolutely picturesque scene were it not for the strange fact that this happens to be the Tikopia’s toilet with the dizzying amount of flies that goes along this persistent habit. His account of one of these journeys must stand for most of the others.

‘There were these government officials from Fisheries visiting our island,’ he said in his rather charming intermittently broken English. ‘They needed to return to Lata and suggested why don’t we bring them there with Lapita. They offered a good bit of money. So we went, stopping at the Reef Islands on the way there. Then coming back, I knew we had to go way out to go up into the wind, so I went almost down to the Torres Islands. That’s when my crew started to complain, asking why we go that far and why don’t we head for Tikopia. After four days we finally sighted Tikopia, but they said it was a different island. Then I was sleeping down in the cabin when I heard the sails bang about on top. I went up and nobody was looking after things. Everybody wanted to know better than me, but when it came to doing things they were hopeless. We finally made it back but then they didn’t want to sail with me anymore.’

By 2012 it appears that accusations started to rummage about in the island. That the Tafua clan was making a lot of money with the canoe, that it should be the property of all the island folks, why don’t they share the profits and other similar things. After a while Ariki Tafua, at the time the present chief’s father Edward, gave in and transferred ownership to a steering committee in the neighboring village of Saint Michael. More trips were made but the moneys earned ended up carelessly in private pockets instead of being reinvested in the maintenance of the boat. It looks as the Solomon Island disease of corruption and misuse of public funds and property has made great inroads in Tikopia as well. On one of the last trips in 2014 the foot of the main mast broke and repairing that proved to be too great a feat for the designated captain and crew. No more use was made of the sailing canoe and not only was there nobody looking after it anymore, but things started to disappear from it, probably to mend more urgent personal needs somewhere else on the island.

These two years of abandonment were now at our hands and I was doing my best to explain again and again that I had not come to do the work myself. From our first meeting with the three chiefs I had demanded working hands, skilled and unskilled, ideally from the different villages on the island, to come and help with the restoration of the canoe, so that a sense of communal ownership could be reestablished. This took a good week and a further visit to Ariki Kafika in Ravenga on a rainy Sunday to sink in to the realm of reality. By week two a small team of four of five constant helpers and a short list of intermittent appearances had materialized. The rotten wood was being scraped out from underneath the fiberglass of the decks and pieces of the miserable plywood we found at the local school were cut to be fitted back in.

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As was to be expected progress was terribly slow and the original optimistic goal of sailing to Vanikoro together with us on Aluna at our return to Lata by the end of the month soon had vanished into very thin air. But soon our new island friends were mixing epoxy with cheap Latex gloves on their big hands. Their work was far from a pretty sight with blobs of hardened glue all over the place. Pretty was not what we were after however, and at the start of our third week on Tikopia, the coaming of the worst affected hatch was being reinstalled. Locally cut timber started to appear at the sight to be transformed into new bearers for the deck platform. Ariki Tafua had generously donated a sturdy bed frame from one of his guest houses. This provided good quality timber for replacing the rotten parts in the hull sides. New pieces for the hinges were being cut out and shaped by a very tall and viscously skilled wood worker. On good days food was being prepared by nearby families for the work crew and the constant supply of beetlenut and tobacco kept things moving along.

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It was now the last week of our stay, the end of October was approaching and with that the onset of the cyclone season. The repair of the worst section of the hull decks was almost completed and I designed a new motor bracket to mount the 15hp engine that had been donated by the Tikopia member of parliament. This in fact was a bit of an engineering challenge of its own, as it had to be done crudely without any fancy blocks and tackle. I keep my fingers crossed that it will work in the harsh reality of maritime abuse. While there was still a good amount of work to be done, a solid beginning had been made.

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Figuring out what had gone wrong in the past beyond the general notion of money and accessories of the canoe mysteriously disappearing, proved to be an impossible task. The present Tikopia society is one in disarray. Modernity is overrunning the island at a time when three of the four chiefs had to fill the shoes of their fathers at a very young age, while the fourth is clearly losing his wits to old age. With the money economy infiltrating the island’s social fabric at breakneck speed, the power of decision making is sifting through the stunned fingers of the immature chiefs towards the more astute, and discontent and distrust is growing along the fuzzy lines of clanships like mold and moss in the tropical heat. Nobody I managed to talk to had the courage to speak out against the chief’s clan or give clear cut information about the whos and the hows of the managerial catastrophe that had stifled the sound development of Lapita Tikopia.

Against all odds Ariki Tafua seems determined to give Lapita Tikopia a second life. That there may be a good deal of self-interest fueling his resolve does not matter all that much in the destined evolution of things. Given the lack of interest demonstrated by his fellow Tikopia citizen, it might in fact be the canoe’s only chance of survival. The very visible truth is that the Tikopia have made a firm step into the modern day consumer society. Money and its distorted evaluation of reality is infiltrating the merry minds of these charming island folks like a viral outbreak of contagious disease under the burning tropical sun. Maybe the burgeoning middle class haunted by their very recent stone age past will sooner or later claim some or all of the properties of the flailing chiefly clans and in a neo-liberal take-over Tikopia style realize, in appearance at least, the communal intentions of the original donors of the canoe. That can and will of course happen only once the hard work of restauration from the past neglect has been accomplished, once the profits promise to be smooth and fat and sufficiently effortless…

In The Thick Of It

December 8, 2016

A week had gone by and we were in this adventure well over and above our ears. The work on Lapita Tikopia had started with the help of some youngsters, but soon a sizeable group of workers was assembling on a daily basis. A giant green tent top was strung over the canoe to shelter it from the rain that threatened to fall any day and time. The platform slats were removed and submerged in the sea under a pile of coral rocks to soak them in salt water and rescue of them whatever possible. The rotten wood around the hatch coaming was being carefully scraped out trying to leave the outer layer of fibreglass in place.

lapitaprogress-6Plywood however was nowhere to be found on the island. The best we could get our hands on was a pile of thin wall board, a low grade plywood with one side covered with a plastic coating that looks like wall paper. I decided that three layers of it with the plastic coating rough sanded and glued in with plenty of epoxy glue would have to do. Soon pieces were being cut to refill the hollowed out parts. I then gave our Tikopia friends a crash course in working with epoxy. We set up a station in one of the hull compartments with the resin and hardener jar and their calibrated pumps and a bucket with the glue mix. The latex gloves I had brought proved to be too small for the big hands of these island people. They provided much food for jokes and laughter and some ended up as udder-shaped balloons for the school kids passing by the work site daily on their way home.




From the very beginning of our stay on the island the idea had been floated to pull Aluna up on the beach next to Lapita Tikopia. The anchorage just outside of the fringing reef, while protected from the trades that howl out of the Southeast most of the time, promised to be marginal to dangerous should bad weather hit with a passing front that could bring nasty westerlies and corresponding onshore waves and swells. The offer of having plenty strong men available and an assortment of logs of the magic ‘slippery wood’ was too tempting to let go by and without thinking it through too much the day of the highest spring tides just after new moon Aluna slid across the reef and I rammed her into the sandy beach within a stone throw of the maritime patient we were diligently working on.

Unfortunately the promises made by Ariki Tafua and his younger brother, ‘engineer’ Dani, had trouble materializing. While a good crowd had assembled on the beach to watch the spectacle unfold, only a handful of them were able men and after much puffing and pulling the sun threatened to set and we called it a day, once the tide had retreated. Other intents were made the high tides of the following days, but Aluna proved too heavy to be pulled up the incline of the sand beach. The round underwater shape of her keels did not help either. As it turned out, we were now confined to a miserable existence with Aluna lapped on by the surf at high tides, with a slurry of coral fragments rubbing off her precious antifouling paint. To the discomfort of our vessel our own was added. As already mentioned, for the Tikopia the beach is far from a picturesque place to go for a pleasant evening stroll. Their well-encrusted habit of using it as a toilet had hordes of flies descend on our living quarters from sunrise to sunset.



No doubt practical it was to have Aluna and my workshop right there, to be able to run back and forth for tools and pieces, but the price was a too high one to pay. We stayed there in the surf and the smell for two weeks until the full moon tides came along and threatened to dislodge our eroding comfort for good.  With a push and a shove from an at this time reasonably testosterone infused crowd, Aluna returned to her element after her interlude in the surf. It took another week to have a half way decent mooring installed on two prominent coral heads inside the protected inlet and once again we could feel reasonably safe and concentrate on the work at hand.

By the end of week two new antifouling had been applied to both hulls and able woodworkers were busy carving replacement parts for the hatch hinges and the coamings. The goal was to restore the most deteriorated hull compartment before our departure and leave a model the Tikopia could reference to while finishing up the other three on their own. Some of the workers had had employment with the Solomon Island fishing fleet and with that experience with basic maintenance tasks like scrubbing off old paint and applying new one. The work with the epoxy didn’t come across as too difficult for them and while the cleanliness of their work left much to be desired, little by little the repairs progressed.

A pleasant interruption arrived on October 14. I had just crept out of the main hatch in the wee hours of morning, shaking off the grogginess of sleep and ready to face the notorious flies, when I hear a schoolboy calling me from the beach. He points out to the horizon and only says two words: ‘Lapita Anuta’. There she was, bobbing gently up and down on anchor just off the reef. Sam, the captain, came by later for quick chat. Of short stature and with an honest face framed by a round beard he sounded a story of confidence, counting over 20 separate trips done with Lapita Anuta, most of them working for pay, like this time for instance, as they were bringing the teachers of Anuta and Tikopia to Lata, the capital of the Temotu Province, for professional workshops offered by the Education Department.




Once again I pushed for closer collaboration between the two islands, to share maintenance chores and other know navigational knowhow. While there on Tikopian territory I received a shy affirmation from Sam, later when I ran into him again while back in Lata, the sad reality came to light instantly. ‘We have tried to work with the man (Ariki Tafua),’ he said, ‘The man cannot be trusted!’ There once again you have the human condition in all its splendor, throwing a wrench in the transmission. So close the two intimately related people live next to each other, so far they are apart when it comes to opening up their hearts!


August 18, 2016

From the little we have seen there are some very smart people living on the island of Malakula. The highlight of our visit has been the second day of the Port Sandwich Art Festival. I’m not usually a big fan of these organized events, they mostly only present a watered down version of whatever they pretend to demonstrate and very rarely are ‘worth their money’. Well, here we happened to chance upon a delightful exception. The inhabitants of the small village of Penap proved to be quite skillful at presenting their rapidly dwindling culture to a small handful of yachties, who had arrived at the tranquil bay of Port Sandwich for that specific purpose. The admittance fee to the two-day festival, like just about everything else in Vanuatu, was rather steep and we decided to skip the first day and attend only the second. We had at that time heard the enthused comments of our friends on their return in the evening of the first day.

The excellent organization of the festival’s producers included transportation from the little hamlet of Port Sandwich, where Aluna and most the other boats laid at anchor, to the village of Penap, which is situated on the outside of the Lamap peninsula, in view of the smoke spewing island of Ambryn and conveniently protected behind a vast reef running up and down the coast. That reef was laying bare and ochre brown abandoned by the salty sea at low tide as we arrived midmorning on August 6, sitting knees under chin in the bed of a white pickup truck. It had pulled into a clearing amongst a group of those majestic looking banyan trees adjacent to a village of huts with palm leaf thatched roofs and plaited bamboo walls. There what must have been a good portion of the village population was assembled to welcome us into their midst and after a brief overview of the program expecting us in the course of the day we were lead over a short path to a circular arena in midst of a garden of banana and pawpaw trees.

The first ‘number’ on the program was the women’s dance. They soon appeared from behind an entrance screened by woven palm leaves. Dressed in pandanus skirts their worn bodies started stomping the ground in circle formation while a diffuse moaning slowly turned into a retained chanting. A slight drizzle floating down from the heavy grey clouds overhead polished their dark brown skin to a charming shine. The younger girls had their breasts prudently covered and looked uncomfortable with all that public attention boring through them, while two babies sat frolicking on the ample mats in the center staring at the whole world at once and chewing on a short stick of sugar cane. Round and round the procession went, then all down on their knees and slapping the wet earth with their hands and passing green oranges from one to the other. The last dance was a hunting ritual, with a bird being chased across the circle with an imaginary bow and arrow. Then the multigenerational cast retired in impeccable formation behind the green plaited curtain, but reappeared kindly for the customary photo-op for the picture hungry toursist, just like gang of seasoned actors would do after premiering their latest comedy on New York’s Broadway.

2016-08-06 P.Sandwich Festival (18)We were now lead back to the village square where the remainder of the women demonstrated all kinds of domestic skills of old, from the preparation of the traditional laplap, which includes grating green bananas on a spiny stalk and wrapping the mash into a carefully folded banana leaf, to palm frond weaving of all kinds of handy things like roofing panels, various forms of carrying baskets, hats and a row of smaller trinkets to adorn that lovely dark curly hair of Melanesian stock.

All this curious watching made us tremendously hungry and at lunch time a buffet of delicacies had been arranged under a tin roofed shelter. We were all given a plate fabricated from a couple layers of banana leaves topped by one of a dark purple vine, which made the whole contraption absolutely water- or sauce-proof. Once again the organizers proved to be thoughtful enough to lace the culinary feast exclusively with local goodies, not like in some places where we’ve been served Asian rice with Australian corned beef at such supposedly traditional events. We all loaded up our leafy plates with morsels of laplap, kumara, yam, boiled island cabbage, tomato and cucumber salad and then gorged on the freshly cut fruits for desert.

In the afternoon it was the men’s turn to show off their dances, which they did with much pride, their bodies painted with streaks of light-colored clay and clad solely with the famed namba, which consists of a penis sheath tied around their waist with a string. Buttocks and lose testicles bounced up and down to the rhythm of their deep-chested growls, while in their midst the young chief worked the slit drum, that stood two men high and was crowned with two sculpted faces, all the while the village eldest, from what I had heard eighty years strong, kept a menacing gaze on the spectacle while gingerly leaning on a walking stick with his back weighted down by a great amount of time. The rhythmic stomping of the muscular bodies made the ground shake during the peaks of their cathartic choreography and the audience of cultured white folks hid politely behind their many sophisticated machines of mechanized memory, standing in a half circle around the dust raising spectacle, while themselves being watched by an additional circle of women and children, who seemed just as eager their guests from the other side of the world to get a good eyeful of the action while allowed to do so. We were informed that at all other times of the year these rituals happen carefully and purposefully hidden far away from their passionate gaze.

2016-08-05 P.Sandwich Festival (64)Back in the village the mood lightened with the end of the festivities in sight. A string band strummed contagious rhythms built on a box base line, an instrument, which must require a good deal of practice to master adequately. One foot stands firm on a two feet high plywood cube, from the top center of which a string is strung to the top end of a stick, the bottom end of which sits in a notch at the edge of said cube. The player pushes the stick forward with his left hand to raise the pitch and relaxes it backwards to lower it, while the left thumb plucks away on it to create the pulsating beat. All kinds of guitars join in the acoustic party, a smaller, solid bodied and ukulele like string instrument weaves in a slightly tighter rhythm while nasal tenor voices overlay the whole experience with man’s eternal stories of longing love, tempered lust and gently deferred despair.

I heard explaining that this kind of music had emerged from raunchy Bluegrass music implanted a good while ago by American troops stationed here during the fierce battles of the Western Pacific towards the devastating finale of World War II. It seemed to be an exclusively male affair, but soon enough the local women folks in their colorful dresses decided it was time to loosen up and started a gentle swirling dance, which in turn proved contagious enough for the better halves of the wind-worn yachtsmen to join in with joy. All throughout the day there had been plenty of intermingling across the racial divide, which makes me think there must be a sound solution to the mad crime of social injustice that plagues the many corners of the world dominated by Eurocentric thinking. Cultural information streamed back and forth between the care takers and the annihilators. Nature must have smiled slightly for a little while, relaxed a wee bit and lowered its wounded guard just enough for the windows of change to swing open and let a stiff breeze of awesome possibilities blow through the human mind.

2016-08-06 P.Sandwich Festival (28)A long and loving goodbye rounded up the soothing experience, our ladies received a colorful addition to their maritime wardrobe. Many speeches assured us that the dynamics of the festival, which apparently emerged half a decade ago from the mindful presence of a American Peace Corps volunteer, will continue to expand the conscious of humanity, with the hosts of next year’s edition receiving the flaming torch wrapped in a bundle of rose red flowers, promising to make every effort to improve upon the existing tradition. There was talk of reclaiming an overgrown area further down the peninsula, where a sacred place once stood before the arrival of white bearded men in blood stained missionary robes, and demonstrate the spiritual dimension of the circumcision of an adolescent male, ritual of utmost significance in all the Vanuatu tribal culture.

An eerie calm reigned in the back of the pickup truck that brought us back to our floating homes just as darkness settled down from the high crowns of the coconut palms. Most certainly it was not just borne of a long day’s tiredness. It seemed as if each one of us was obliged to look inward and witness the emptiness left by our own cultural origins. Our addiction to material things and accumulated virtual riches has deprived us of much of life’s real and raspy meaning, so much so that we have to wander endlessly around the globe in search of hand- and footholds with sufficient solidity to allow temporary mending of our broken selves.

A New Beginning

June 11, 2016

The forecast was in fact less than ideal. On the morning of Monday May 30 we were up at Christian’s house, who had been keeping his keen eyes on Aluna for us over the last two years while she sat patiently on one of his moorings. A good part of the 86 years on his square German shoulders have been spent on the sea and this is the kind of people you listen to when they speak, because their advice is priceless. “Looking at Monday or Thursday, Monday is not as bad as Thursday,” he said looking at the screen of his laptop, “but for the first two days your tea cups will not stay on the table!” I had come to a similar conclusion myself in the early morning hours and decided not to follow the contrary advice of maritime weather guru Bob McDavitt, who had recommended Thursday as the ideal day for departure.  The promised westerlies for Tuesday and Wednesday had been compromised by a trough that had materialized in the weather models overnight. It was supposed to sneak up along New Zealand’s west coast by Tuesday, then concentrate into a circulating low pressure system and chase our tail before by Thursday being sucked off abruptly to the east by the jet stream aloft. All the models however coincided in predicting something brewing up in the islands at the end of the upcoming weekend, which in turn conjured up the hope of making it into port before that if departing now, while a Thursday departure clearly meant having to deal with the disturbance half way through our journey.

In my nervous mind’s eye the fickle lure of postponing departure, which in my view promised no more than a period of prolonged anxiety, was unable to overrun the promised discomfort of having to pound our way through a beam-on sea. It boiled down to man’s archaic choice between action and non-action and life had taught me hard enough that in these critical moments there really is only one correct option. In spite of the concern shining in Beatriz’ eyes, in spite of the slight tremble in her voice and the many buts and what ifs in her speech I sternly said: “We’re leaving!”

For the last time we paddled our outrigger canoe across the Elizabeth Channel over to Opua to go and complete the check-out at the customs office, take a last warm shower and shout a final goodbye to our friends. Once back on board it was midday and it takes me a good two hours to transform Aluna from a comfy floating home into an ocean going vessel, disassembling and securing the canoe, hoisting the sails, tying down the hatches, all in a long frantic string of furious activity that soothes the mind and keeps it from going berserk. In the meantime Beatriz had cooked up a hearty meal with plenty leftovers to hopefully keep us well fed for the following couple days where cooking in a roller coaster galley promised to be great torture.

Shortly after 2:30 in the afternoon we were ready to let go of our last connection to New Zealand soil. The orange float and the rope loop of the mooring splashed into the murky green waters and after a 180 degree turn to starboard we were riding the outgoing tide towards Russell and then out into the bay with the many islands. By night fall we had watched a couple rain bands coming off the land, move overhead and then out into the darkening sky to the east and had left Nine Pin Rock, the northern sentinel of the Bay of Islands, astern. As we moved further and further away from the shore the winds started to freshen and a long, lonesome and dark night later we were getting pounded beam on by persistent Westerlies that did their very best to make our lives truly miserable.

Those Westerlies were in the twenty to twenty-five range, so Aluna with her clean, slick and freshly painted bottoms shot along, jumping from wave to wave, quite clearly enjoying the fact that she was being slapped broadside by onrushing, white capped wave trains again and again. The shudders this wave smacking action sent through the hobby horsing catamaran resonated profoundly in our entrails and food was at the very bottom of the list of desirable things, some of it  in upheaval actually reversed its intended direction! I don’t get seasick easily but there I was: green as a rat in sewer pipe, twisting and turning on my watch bunk, sliding closer and closer to the edge of the realm of impaired physical functionality. And this definitely is not a good thing to happen to somebody on a fickle boat out on the middle of the open ocean.

This devilish dance went on and on, every time the hopes towards improvement found a little spike to notch their longing into, they saw themselves dashed by a yet stepped up howling of the winds and churning of the waters. Eventually after three days of rough and tumble a cold front rumbled over us, at night of course, as fronts seem to fear the daylight and never develop the same fury when they’re being seen. The hypersonic hiss in the rigging ripped through my fatalistic state of mind, but nothing moved. “Let it break!”, my withering life energy lisped and I did not rise from the bunk to brail the mizzen sail as caution persistently dictated. My leaden arm barely managed to raise the mobile phone from the little ledge beside my head to check up on Aluna’s break-neck speed. A little number there danced rhythmically up to 13 and then down to nine, up to 12 and down to 10, up to 13.7 and down to… In the early morning hours of Thursday the howling slowly subsisted and for once my phlegmatic gamble had paid off. The mizzen sail sat faithfully up in the wind above the deck pod. Its foot had managed to dislodge the bracket where the mast passes through the roof of the deck pod and twist it to one side, but that was clearly a minor affair, and a peek up at the tell tales fluttering on the shrouds confirmed that finally the winds had shifted South of West.

The riding then got gradually easier as the winds continued to back. At Thursday noon I was fit enough to plot our position into the phone and it revealed a staggering 380 miles of our journey laying behind us. We were by now a good 100 miles to the East of the rhumb line between the points of our departure and destination, but that didn’t have me worried in the least. There was another great piece of advice from the master sea salt rummaging around in the backrooms of my mind. Christian had said it a good four times during our strategy meeting early Monday morn: “Go plenty East, almost like heading to the Kermadecs. Then keep to the East! It’ll be like money in the bank!” I did adjust our course though to now run parallel to the rhumb line and two days of nice, smooth sailing followed. The winds continued in the twenties, but running with them you could care less, their grip is considerably softened by the movement of your vessel.

Saturday evening our ritual of contemplating the color-hued spectacle of sunset was hampered by a light grey bank of clouds stretched across the western sky. During the day already a slurry of high cirrus clouds had announced possible trouble brewing ahead. They raced in the opposite direction as our surface winds delineating the meanders of the jet streams with their icy crystal maze. Sunday morning awoke with a leaden sky with different shades of grey, many of them clearly on the dark side. Curtains of rain hung from the underside of the most somber clouds and sprinkled Aluna’s decks with soft tropical moisture. The winds had returned from the good to the not so good, backing way more than needed to a good bit north of east. Temptation was imminent to renounce a wee bit of our easting to make the going easier, but I held sternly to our course, fearing that conditions might get worse. As a good Swiss I labored to keep our money in the bank!All too soon we were back to the broadside smackers, however with the waves now crashing into us from the opposite side. Salt water squirts had made their way into our sleeping quarters during the first part of the voyage finding their way up from below and under the main hatch washboard. They were now threatening to do the same on the galley side and ruin our comfy carpet flooring there. Some hastily squeezed rags had to prevent this from happening while other visits to the galley became once again a rare undertaking. At night the squalls were hard to spot under the moonless sky, but their roaring made it clear they were up to no good. This time I did heed the warning and brailed the mizzen sail to have Aluna run through the darkness of night under the number two mainsail alone. By late Monday morning the skies finally started to clear, the winds steadied but were still threatening to creep forward of our beams. By now our easting capital had matured to the point of wanting to pay out some dividends. We were approaching the latitude of our destination and I gently notched the dial of our autopilot a good ten degrees to the West. What a difference that made! Our ride smoothened out and the smacking diminished considerably. But no more than that! What if the wind turned further to the North or even to the West and transformed our final approach into a terminal nightmare?

Like an interplanetary space probe fine tuning its ballistic trajectory by midnight I did begin to fine tune Aluna’s course over ground further and further until by Tuesday daybreak we were heading due West. Out of the dull darkness in front of our twin bows, just as the twilight spread from behind our double sterns a flat shape emerged above the horizon with gentle inclines on either side and a cap of boiling cumulus heaps that soon started to gleam in rose colors, leaps above their still grey peers around them. Quite obviously revealing its volcanic origin, the island of Aneityum, the southernmost speck of land in the Republic of Vanuatu was laying before us.

With the sun breaking through the clouds and climbing higher into the sky the flattened and weathered cone became a verdant platform of paradisiacal aspirations. Bright white jets of sea salt froth lined its ragged coast, jumping frantically up into the misty air while we made our way past the southwestern tip. Here and there even blowholes puffed their shoots of spray like angry dragon’s blustered nostrils expelling prehistoric pneumonic phlegm. The treacherous task of landfall was imminently spread out before us.

At the island’s southwestern tip a massive reef jots a good mile and a half into the ocean and we had to make our way around it and then enter the natural harbor of Anelcauhat from the West. Now in the lee of the 850m high mountains the going slowed to a trickle, with time to sort out our vessel’s gear for arrival. Make sure the anchor is ready to deploy, zoom the chart plotter in enough to see the details of the harbor entrance, untie the outboard motor from its stowed position and lower the well, open the fuel tank vent, pull out the choke just a tad, give a couple of hearty pulls on the starter cord and… Nothing! Maybe in the tropical warmth there’s no need for the choke, so back in it went. Pull, pull and pull. Nothing! Not even a sputter to give me a hint that this piece of metal intended to collaborate! My temper quickly flared and a couple of wicked curses later I realized that once more Aluna was going to sail into an unknown harbor under sail alone!

The wind was fickle and the translucent heaving backs of crashing waves were near. Still we were moving in the right direction albeit at just barely over a knot. Not for much longer however. Soon the characteristic whining of the autopilot trying to keep a still standing boat on course while it banks away from puffs of oncoming wind alerted me to the fact that radical action was needed. I dug for the 3 meter long paddle stored for just this kind of occasion on the starboard tumblehome roof and dipped it over the side. I hadn’t done this in a good while and the position was rather awkward to say the least. So it took me a while to get into the motion, but once a good rhythm is established Aluna will move under oar power alone. You can get her out of the irons in a calm or like then get her moving at a knot and a half when fickle puffs of wind tried to lure her in dire straits. But boy, good exercise it was and after fifteen minutes of it I was at the brink of exhaustion. But we had rounded the perilous corner and found a feasible wind coming down the western side of the island. It was weak and on the nose. There was no way we could make good use of it with the number two main sail up. It needed to come down and make way for the big main sail with its close to 40 square meters of pure wind power. Now we were talking! One long tack later we were sailing towards the small group of houses that huddled at the bottom of the bay that by now had opened up to the north of the reef.

The anchor dropped into the azure water and soon took firm hold in a new soil. An unknown land and people lay there in front of our exuberated senses, waiting to be explored with raging passion and caressed with bottomless curiosity!

Aluna between two worlds

Home Sweet Home

January 13, 2016

The circumnavigation of our Earth has been completed! I’m bound to believe now that our world must be round, not flat as many still believe, and the one day we will now be living longer comes as a welcome, albeit a bit expensive, gift.

I was a bit nervous, to say the least, driving down the narrow road along the ridge where the view opens out over the Waitakere Inlet beyond the little hamlet of Opua in Northland, New Zealand, the cruiser’s mecca during the austral summer in the Southwest Pacific. Every year this spacious body of protected waters gets jam packed more tightly with sailboats of every kind, most brought here by their owners to spend the cyclone season in a place accepted by the almighty insurance companies as safe from natures fury.

We had jumped off the Naked Bus at Opua Hills with our two loaded suitcases, coming up the four hour ride from Auckland, where our ocean crossing jet plane had landed a couple days earlier, and were just wondering how we were going to drag our unwieldy luggage downhill to the water’s edge, when our good and ever helpful friend Ted honked horns coming up the road in a car he had been able to borrow for the occasion. A very quick glimpse between two rows of blooming Putukawa tress is all I got on the way down the winding road. At least I was assured now that Aluna was still there where we had left her a year and seven months earlier, floating peacefully at her mooring just off Okiato Point.

Then it took some mingling with a tiny outboard to drive Ted’s hybrid tinny, an aluminum skiff that had been designed way too short and therefore had been generously extended by the master experimenter with a fat tail of glassed plywood. She handled well with the weight of all our gear and brought us across the water slowly but safely to reunite us with our floating home on the waters of the world.

Again and again during our extended absence my ever busy mind had conjured up all kinds of nightmarish scenarios with screeching seagulls depositing heaps of guano all over Aluna’s decks, the subtropical sun’s merciless rays burning deep cracks into her paint, cyclonic winds ripping her canvas and covers apart, nasty rot seeping its proliferous ways into her vital parts and so on and on, and I guess this profuse exploring of man’s innate lust for imagining worst case scenarios had created a solid platform for the screams of joy the two of us were shouting and the ecstatic dancing we were able to perform once standing on deck of this mighty vessel, and seeing how well Aluna had stood up to the elements and the nagging teeth of time!

Once the hatches were pried open we sneaked inside and found the interiors absolutely dry, a bit dusty for sure and a wee whiff of moldy air, but totally livable from the get go. Furtive memories passed through my mental eye of our hasted departure back in May 2014 with the intention to return in six month’s time. Back above the decks gleamed in the sun free of guano, only a shy coat of dark soot from the diesel fumes spewing car ferry just upstream had layered over the white paint, which did look a bit tired and clearly awaited renovation. The one massive mess of course lied under water. Aluna’s underbelly was profusely decorated with an impressive biomass of fist sized mussels, dense algae filaments and bloated barnacles, nature’s way of telling us that man’s constructions if left unattended will be claimed with an unbound fury and repurposed to foster life unclaimed by mental deviations.

So here we are, rocking once again gently in the waves and nibbling lazily on a sweet carrot, and making growing lists of chores needed to be done to ready Aluna for a mid to late May departure north towards the tropics. And once again the horizons of destructive civilization beckon and the search for the roots of human madness continues!

a hell of a view...

a hell of a view…

Coming Up For Air

December 16, 2015

Yep, the earth has swallowed me whole! Two months of living a backpacker’s life has taken its toll on my writing discipline. Since our delayed departure from Switzerland (for which I continue to owe you a description of the final details and for the swearing in the first part of it I have gotten quite a bit of heat, mainly from concerned friends…), we’ve spend some quality time visiting friends in the Caribbean and then a crazy three weeks in the urban heart of Colombia, where there was no rest whatsoever for the tranquil soul, I’m now sitting in a café inside the transit area of Santiago, Chile’s Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benitez, having suffered half way through a monster layover of 12 hours waiting for the connecting flight that will finally complete our aerial circumnavigation of the globe and bring us back to Auckland, and within a couple more days back on board of probably very dirty but hopefully sound Aluna.

I’m hoping to have some time at hand soon to let you in on the highlights of this journey, but through the wisdom of approaching old age I know better than to make any kind of promises. The real hope of course is that the new upcoming adventures will overpower the fading memories of the old ones and that there will be no time to contemplate the memory traces edged in our flesh.

The months of the austral summer will have to be spent with getting Aluna back in top shipshape, to continue her life as a true gypsy of the seas, setting her on a course Northwest in direction of the looming human masses of Southeast Asia.