Posts Tagged ‘Aluna’

Long Distance Worry

March 24, 2015

If one happens to call oneself a writer one should be able to, I guess, produce something on command, and there certainly is by now an urgency for publishing some sea-travelling related content to keep this blog alive. I better sit down, pay my dues and do my chores. Chores, which I have fallen into the nasty habit of asking my students to do at least a couple of times every single day. It would most certainly be a pity should our readership be led to believe that the adventurous story of Aluna’s travels has come to a screeching halt!

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Over the vast grain fields that stretch out in front of my office window at the outskirts of the sturdy township of Langenthal, between our apartment building and the neatly manicured row of buildings of the school up on that gently rolling hill where I go to work every day, three raptors are circling elegantly under the milk-grey sky. Their high-pitched calls enter our cube-shaped living space with a message of ancient and timeless aerial domain. They might be buzzards, although their forked tails make me tend more towards the red kite, which I have heard has displaced the previously endemic raptors I remember from my youth. The three gliders are the latest discovery in my diligent observations of the manifold processes of nature awaking from the monotone deep freeze of northern hemisphere winter. I imagine that their interest must lie in the busy stirrings of life down on the surface between the growing foliage of the sprouting stems of winter grain. Rodents of the smaller sizes must be improving earthworks there to adjust their subterranean homes to the by now definitely above zero temperatures. But there is also a careful choreography of soaring turns noticeable between the three of them where distances are kept and territories guarded. The run for the coming bounty of spring is measured by a very reasonable and well-reasoned distribution.

While here on a latitude of just over 47˚ N spring has been established beyond any doubts, in the Southern hemisphere the cyclone season is closing in on its peak. Last week no less than four cyclones were simultaneously putting up their forceful dance in the eastern ends of the Pacific. One of them especially packed a punch and was hitting a bit too close to home for our creature comfort.

While Cyclone Pam wrecked havoc on the island chain of Vanuatu, stripping the leaves off trees, flattening vast villages, obliterating entire human existences and generally leaving no stone unturned with angry lashings of its fierce 300km/h winds, it became clear that once it was going to be done with all that devil’s work it had to turn its eye with a very clear definition in the direction of New Zealand, where our Aluna gently rocks fastened to a mooring ball after having survived one whole winter without too much of wear and tear. And what is one to do if nature threatens to throw a major disaster at ones treasured property that just happens to be rather far away, something like on the other side of the earth? Can one grow a pair of hyper-long arms that extend around the globe and snap the vulnerable vehicle away from the approaching menace just in time to avoid its deadly blast?

With today’s digital surveillance of our every environment we have obtained the privilege to sit like our very own private version of god up in the heavens and watch the situation unfold below us from a very safe distance. And of course there are these never-ending predictions. The weather people with their machines always seem to have things under control. For once, fortunately for us, they had done their job well enough to predict the correct development of monster storm Pam with astonishing precision. Cyclone Pam was heading for colder waters and with that straight into its doom. But the enormous amount of energy accumulated over time in its spiral movement had to be spent and it continued to pack a serious punch. Pretty soon in the game the forecast models all agreed, that Lady Pam’s navel would miss the northern tip of New Zealand and pass well off to the east. Still its roaring arms continued to develop winds of hurricane strength and some of those were going to tickle the East Coast, if not up north then most certainly toward the North Island’s belt line where the country’s westernmost extremity jots out into the South Pacific Ocean like a spike on a spindle dry desert rose.

We do have to thank the universe for the privilege of having made some good and sturdy friends during our visits to Aotearoa. They keep an eye on our floating travelling home while it slumbers quietly and while it patiently awaits the eventual return of its blissful occupants. So should the worst ever come to happen, well, maybe it won’t be avoided, but at least we would come to know about it without major delays and could initiate a string of suitable actions. And while we are busy thanking the universe, there is that burning question about what it might be that steers those ephemeral atmospheric phenomena? Who sits there and reckons benevolently: Well, let’s spare these guys for this time, let them get away with if for now and steer the thing just a bit to the left, will ya? For the time being I think we have wrecked havoc enough up there in the lower latitudes.

While our misfortunate brothers and sisters in Vanuatu are picking up the million pieces into which their humble homes have shattered, we are on the side of the fortunate whose accumulated wealth has been spared the imminent destruction of our ever-moody Mother Nature. Watch the following loop of a lonely weather satellite’s sequence of observations very carefully; I have been known to do it for long stretches of time without ever getting bored. You will see the determined dynamics of life in their chaotic beauty spreading across the vast spherical space below you. You will catch the intricate and highly elaborate patterns of heat exchange turbulence weaving hedges on your visual cortex enough to make you lose your sure footed certainty with dizzying determination.

pam

See how dramatically once the storm crosses the path of the screaming jet streams that meander at high altitudes around the globe at the latitudes of the tropics, it gets its top blown off and literally turned to shreds. Thereafter it puffs at a much much lower frequency with what seem like a broken heart. Fact is, the system practically came to halt once it had slowed enough to transform into a typical tight low-pressure system of the roaring forties. It stood still for almost two days more just to the Southeast of New Zealand’s East Cape before finally heading out for its waggling journey across the Southern Ocean.

One of the soaring red kites, one of those three in front of my office window over the fields of sprouting winter grain has dived down toward the tilled field and his claws snapped something from the surface. The peace is broken and for a moment tumult takes charge. A hot pursuit ensues with highly skilled acrobatic maneuvering. The catch seems to be too small for sharing. But soon it also becomes too small for throwing any more energy and enthusiasm at it. The two peers of the lucky hunter let him get away and have its minute meal in relative peace atop a skeleton tree with almost bursting buds, where a verdant explosion of foliage is about to unfold. They calmly and serenely return to their artful circles of lustful vigilance up under the by now brilliant afternoon sky of spring. And that spring has just sprung from a premature Easter egg no longer hidden, no longer shackled by the crystals of winter’s frozen frost.

It is good to be alive and partake in the awakening. The songbirds are returning from their long journey south across the snowcapped mountains. Spring flowers spread vibrant colors across the many manicured lawns and meadows. The days grow longer, the shadows shorter and change is as usual not very far away from our paths. Some unforeseen circumstances with my work are pushing our return to New Zealand back further into the future, which lets it slide very close to or maybe already trespass the cutoff-point set by the onset of the austral winter, where a departure from the land of the flag with the Southern Cross with our small sailing vessel could easily transform into a major undertaking in need of a very great portion of luck. After almost a full year now living huddled at the bosom of civilization with such luxuries as a bathtub with unlimited hot water and bubble bath a la discretion, we might no longer be willing to lend our lives to such risky and rowdy behavior and will have to decide if it won’t be better to let another seasonal cycle pass before heading out. Could this be the wisdom of age gaining traction against youth’s despair, or has the spirit of adventure allowed itself to weaken? I’d cautiously say, let’s not be too judgmental here and lets let things run their natural course. Those things, by the way, should most certainly clarify sufficiently within the next couple weeks to come to feasible conclusions and make suitable decisions. Boredom might just spring from knowing too much of what the future will bring!

Bamboozled by Bamboo’s Beauty

March 10, 2014

Oh, the subtle elegance of bamboo! Its slender culms, its lush, green foliage, its supersonic growth, its dry rustle in the slightest of winds, its ever-expanding rhizomes underground, its million practical uses, its formidable stiffness, its poetic representation in Japanese ink drawings, the simultaneous flowering of a all members of a species across the entire globe, well, I could go on and on and never even approach the essence of this simple grass, witch obviously has clear aspiration of wanting to become a tree.

As you must be aware, bamboo spars are an integral part of Aluna’s aeolian propulsion system. The slender pine saplings from the dense Humboldt County forests I originally tried proved to be not only heavy but much too bendy to give the crab claw sail an efficient shape. The stiffness of the bamboo culm is essential to make it all work, and its minute weight makes it practical to wield the bundled sail across Aluna’s heaving deck and raise it up the mast without breaking your back. The dimensions of our main sail are so big that not just any bamboo will do. Its vertical spar is a good thirty feet long and the lateral loads on its top third are substantial as the wind increases. To find a bamboo culm that is still at least four inches thick at thirty feet of height has proven to be a serious challenge. Only thanks to last year’s mishap while sailing close-hauled into stiff south easterlies with Aluna’s hulls a bit too fouled for comfort are we now closing in on achieving this goal.

You must remember the mainsail’s vertical spar breaking at the point where the halyard attaches and the following temporary repairs from last year’s post in mid-May. At the time our good friend and master ceramic artist Peter Yates had kindly donated two splendid specimens of phyllostachys latiflora culms. That species happens to be one of the best timber bamboos available on the face of the earth. After carefully cutting them down with minimal lesions to its naturally protective waxy coating, we had put them to dry slowly in the shady twilight under Tony’s porch, right up the hills of Opua and overlooking the almost always windy Kawakawa Inlet. A good half of a green bamboo culm’s weight is in the water it contains. But that water has to be extracted slowly. If the culm dries too quickly it will split between the nodes, which would immediately compromise its lateral stability.

So while we were basking in the tropical sun up in the Fiji isles, that excess water evaporated little by little out of Aluna’s new spars, and when I went up to see Tony and the long and skinny temporary protégés of his under the porch, I was pleasantly surprised to see the two culms dressed in a splendid yellow. I pulled the first one out from its shady winter nest. It was light! We easily carried it down the hill through the winding path in the bush underneath his house. Though turning corners with a ten meter long stick in dense underbrush isn’t exactly a piece of cake. We ended up down on the old railroad track, where in ancient times meat was ferried from the abattoir in Kawakawa to the Opua wharf. That track had also had its subtle transformation over the winter. Now covered with a layer of thick metal it had been converted into a bicycle path. For those of you unfamiliar with the quirks of Kiwispeak, metal here refers to grey split rock, which is used extensively as a road surfacing material. I had brought Ted’s bicycle there previously. All that was left to do now was to strap the long stick on its side and I could walk it the half-mile or so to the shop. I must have looked like a kind of present-day Don Quixote, stubbornly spearing invisible windmills while riding his tired old mare!

So here’s how you transform a simple bamboo culm into a high-tech sailing machine: The waxy top layer of the bamboo, as beautiful and naturally protective as it may be, has to go. Epoxy does not like it at all and will refuse stubbornly to adhere to it. Out comes the belt sander and with a good 80-grit belt and many swaying sinusoidal movements of my forearms that outer layer is completely removed and while doing that, the crested ribs at the nodes are also shaved off. Before the end of the afternoon a first coat of neat epoxy is painted on. With energetic brushstrokes I slap the sticky liquid onto the culm but all of a sudden I notice with horror that the couple hours of naked exposure to the burning New Zealand sun had been enough to initiate splitting in three or four places. There are fortunately only slender hairline cracks, but they are growing fast. I turn the culm over half way every ten minutes or so to distribute the heat, and hurry on with the epoxy coating. Soon enough the sun has moved overhead and down to the east. The long stick is now safe, resting in all its splendid length in the shade.

bamboo01 bamboo02There are many ways to skin a cat and many ways to glass a spar. The fiberglass socks I had used to glass the pine saplings are definitely my favorite. Once cut to length you bundle them over your forearm, slide it over the spar and then pull from both ends. The diagonal fibers now squeeze tightly around it for a perfect fit. But here in the New Zealand hinterland I had no access to such refined materials. A leftover roll of 6oz cloth left over from the building of Aluna still lives on in her bellies, so that’s what has to do. I cut the meter-wide cloth into four strips of a little less than a foot wide, with the idea to spiral wrap those around the spar with just a small overlap. For that to work without ending up wrapping that strip of epoxy soaked fiberglass cloth all around yourself in despair, the spar needs to rotate freely, so that you can apply the cloth always on the top. I screw a plate of scrap plywood to the bottom end of the culm and insert a strong screw into it at precisely the pivot point. This screw I then suspend in a notch on a stand, while the upper end of the culm is free to roll on a horizontal one on the other end. Yet another quickly fabricated stand serves as a helping hand to put down the roll of fabric while epoxy is applied.

bamboo05 bamboo07 bamboo06Good fortune is it that Tony had offered to come and help with the operation. It would have been a heck of a challenge to do this on my own! Once we have worked out the methodology of it all, it works beautifully, just like a charm. A soon as we have covered about a third of the 10 meters with cloth, and the epoxy starts to get tacky at the beginning, my very own cellophane trick needs comes into play. A roll of simple kitchen wrap is spiral wrapped tightly over the still wet glass cloth. This not only squeezes the epoxy down through the cloth into the underlying wood, but also shortcuts the laborious process of fairing and sanding. If done with sufficient dexterity it leaves an almost smooth surface behind once peeled off after the epoxy has hardened. On a flat surface the perfect tool to apply the fairing mix is a stiff squeegee or a trowel. I’ve experimented with many different things to be able to do the same thing on a rounded surface. This time I stumbled upon the ideal tool for the job. A simple length of round electrical cable of about a foot is held with both hands and pulled along the top half of the spar with the fairing mix spread on irregularly. Once again a certain amount of dexterity is needed, and practice creates the master. If you do it right one, round of fairing and sanding is all that is needed to make a good-looking finish. I was so enthused with my new invention that I used it also to apply the primer. I’m never after a glossy finish in anything I build, so I’m quite happy with how it has all turned out without having to sweat excessively and waste too much time for jus the looks. Two coats of white enamel paint should provide enough longevity to our new spars to justify the quite taxing workout!

bamboo03 bamboo04 bamboo08 bamboo12 bamboo11 bamboo10 bamboo09Once the spars are coated and painted I carry them on my shoulder down the same new bicycle track to the little beach under Tony’s house, where little Alunita is waiting to play the role of a tugboat. Both spars have a rope tied to one end and I slide them into the water. Before the little wavelets push them over to the rocky shore where their still tender enamel paint would be scraped and scratched, I paddle out with the canoe and the two long white sticks in tow. I’m unsure of what literary figure I might resemble now, but soon they pulled up over the hullsides and come officially aboard their new home on the decks of Aluna.

Business unfortunately calls out again for another stint down south to Auckland soon. Beatriz will take a course there to become a certified Pilates instructor, transitioning from the wild performer she used to be, to a diligent reformer of human bodies. I therefore do not have time to assemble the new mainsail before leaving. I’ll have to report back to you on how it all ended up. But there is just enough time to tackle another little project that has been sitting on the list for what seems to be approaching eternity. It all comes out of nowhere and is finished in a fleeting moment.

Surfing the Exclusive Occlusion

January 18, 2014

That fiery glow of all imaginable reds and oranges was the last we were to see of the sun for the rest of our journey. A thick grey blanket of overcast moved in and annihilated our spectacular rainbow plus any other enjoyable celestial phenomenon by pushing them away to the east. Throughout the morning of that 2 December the wind slowly but steadily increased, slowly raising the pitch of the hum in the rigging, the pressure on the sails and of course Aluna’s speed through the water. Whenever that last one’s peaks start tickling the lower double digits I’m getting itchy, because I know action is required from my sea-worn body. Something’s got to be done to reduce sail, which must bring down the speed to a bearable rate! At that stage the mizzen sail was next in line to be stricken.

The last time that had to be done was back on our pretentious trip from the Hawaiian Islands to the Marquesas back in 2009. Then we were going upwind, beating furiously into the Northern trade winds, and once they screamed at us with over thirty knots we put the little shred of our number two mizzen up on our smaller mast. At this time we were lucky enough to be running with the wind just aft of the port beam. Once the brailed sail was wrestled down and stowed securely in the groove between the deckpod and the port tumblehome, there was no need to put anything back up into the howling winds. Aluna continued to race through the frothy waters at a good seven knots under just the number two main sail, which clung to the foremast and its aft starboard shroud like an overenthusiastically ironed and starch-saturated bed sheet.

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Periods of heavy rain steamrolled over us. Their horizontal downpours painted streaming streaks of water across the narrow windows of my secluded cocoon in midst of a marinated turmoil. From my resting position on the watch bunk in the aft portion of the deckpod I stared out dazed into this world of a million shades of greys in a dervish dance of fusion and confusion. The mind gets weary and reason retreats when nature manifests its over-potent dominion. Thoughts therefore become like flimsy and worn-out rags strung carelessly on a fickle cloth line into the fury of the gale. They rip and shred, degenerating into fluttering fragments of language with its meaning torn to a million homeless splinters. They bounce off the shuddering shocks induced by foaming wave crests smashing into the hull sides. Those in turn travel acoustically through dense material and into my backbone. They traverse carefully calculated and engineered composite structures of timber sections and sticky petroleum derivate polymers turned rock-solid. Those end up being highly transparent to this troublesome package of brutally pure energy and each impact of yet another waver train leaves its native imprint of commotion in my defenseless awareness bound only by splintered remnants of my shattered self.

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After savoring for a good while the delicious chaos of the grey and senseless mayhem around us, I pulled myself together to contemplate the rational side of things. The low-pressure system to the west of us had deepened considerably and trailed an occluded front along its eastern flank, which a bit further away from the center of that system forked out into a cold front chasing a warm one in a text book demonstration of maritime weather dynamics. That warm front was the one causing our misery, but its natural wish to progress to the east was blocked by the stationary high-pressure system that given us our previously peaceful ride south so far. Its route of travel therefore was precisely parallel to our own and I knew that we would be enjoying its company for a good long while to come. The weathermen were obviously under the impression that this front would eventually catch up with us and come to swallow us. But reality mocked their efforts as it so often does, and for the remainder of our trip Aluna was to be bravely surfing the froth churned up along the frontline maybe sixty miles or so to our west. Not that it didn’t try and make an effort to come and get us with its bullyish game of wedging the life out of its cooler companion laying lazily in its way! The winds kept getting stronger and towards the following morning our mighty vessel shot down the by now majestic faces of waves peaking at fifteen knots. Again there was an urgent call for action.

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I scrambled my limpid bones out from underneath the side flaps of the deckpod cover, crawled forward over the heaving deck and started to tug on the small mainsail’s brailing lines, which I had previously fastened to the legs of our sturdy workbench with a piece of practical foresight, with the pressing notion that things might get a little rough. I pulled on the line and pulled and it felt like I was pulling on slab of solid rock. The sail was glued solid to the shroud by the immense pressure of the wind, which by now must have increased to a good forty knots. I was in need of some helping hands, somebody to gradually release the sheets, while I was to inch in the brailing lines in miniscule increments. I had to go and extract my sturdy first mate from her bunk where she had been spending her own version of wave-induced commotion inside the cocooned protection of Aluna’s starboard hull. I opened the companionway hatch, holding onto it with all my strength so that the howling winds could not rip it out of my hands, and announced my need for help. At amazing speed Beatriz transformed herself from her seasick and bedridden existence to a sturdy old salt in full foul weather regalia, and her head popped gingerly out of that same companionway.

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Her ever-sparkly eyes were the size of a high roller’s favorite golf ball, once she had taken in the furious scenery around us. After all this was her very first heavy weather experience, and she did later confess that a good amount of naked fear was pumping through her veins while climbing up the seven rungs of those stairs that brought her up to the level of the heaving deck. But there she was! Gripping the bitter end of the port sheet in one hand, the starboard one in the other, shaking them lose from their grip in the cleats and slowly paying them out. With whatever strength I had left, I pulled like a madman on the brailing line, while wedging my lower limbs against the workbench, and inch by inch and with a minimum amount of uncivilized verbal expressions we got the crab claw to loosen its fierce grip on the hyper energized air. Little by little the boom rose along the slanted line of the shroud and approached the vertical spar. To my great relief the sailcloth decided to bundle up quite nicely without flapping furiously in the wind, as I had been afraid it would. Once the two spars touched, only a slender portion of it formed a funky looking belly on the upper part of the sail, but the pressure of the air made it stay put as if sculpted in gleaming marble.

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We gave ourselves a relieved high-five and retreated each to our private quarters of misery in hopes of weathering out the rest of the storm in relative peace. Beatriz back down onto the relative comfort of the main berth, me under the flaps in the deckpod in the trusty company of the ever-noisy autopilot, which once again shone by mastering the tumultuous seas without ever missing a beat. Now under bare poles Aluna continued to hurry towards the Bay of Islands through the rest of the day and later the entire night all the while averaging a good six knots.

What next? I silently wondered while trying to give my body some rest stretched out on the watch bunk. Running before a storm is always a bit of a risky strategy, but quite an obvious one whenever it blows you towards where you want to go. Should things get out of hand though, you could find yourself surfing down ever more monstrous waves at breakneck speed, wishing you had turned your nose around into the wind before that maneuver risked your vessel toppling over sideways by a breaking sea. Anticipating a possible worsening of our situation my mind started assembling warps to tow behind the boat, which would be the next logical action to slow down a boat running wildly before an increasing storm.

Fortunately it did not come to that. The morning of December 5 found us about forty miles away from the wide entrance to the Bay of Islands and the winds had kindly decided to diminish a good bit. Confused seas still ran under Aluna’s hulls from behind, lifting her tail up high before foaming away towards the still invisible shoreline ahead, before tilting the bows up into the sky. The swells were now clearly mixed with reflected ones coming towards us. Even when fifteen miles off there was nothing visible whatsoever of the land we desperately longed for. But nothing at sea answers our wishful thinking for a linear and logical sequence of events.

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One last intense rainband slowly approached from the west and once it had wrung itself out all over us, the wind, which had been furiously lashing out at us for a full four days, shed itself now of all its awesome powers and all of a sudden Aluna was bobbing up and down with her progress towards our destination slowed to just under a single knot. Gradually though it was kind enough to build up again a bit, after it had backed to the northwest. So the final stretch into the mouth of the bay was slow going, to say the least. It took a good two hours and the added exercise of putting the big main sail back up to bring us across the imaginary line that stretches from the famed hole in the rock at the foot of Cape Brett to the jagged rock of Ninepike Island. The by now familiar coastline had started to appear out of the grey mist and just as we were finally entering the bay the sky cleared up in the most spectacular fashion. A sharply demarcated line of convective clouds that separated sad greys from very happy blues slowly drifted over us and away to the southeast before disappearing altogether behind the rugged ridgeline trailing inland from Cape Brett.

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Once in the calmer waters of the Bay and basking in the austral summer sun, there were a couple of important chores we had to pay our attention to. Our loyal companion the feisty warm front had helped make our passage a quick one. We had left our winter home up in the sultry tropics of Savusavu just under ten days ago and over the last couple days done daily runs of 169, 151 and 120 miles. This and the fact that when the weather is nasty you don’t eat that much when under way all meant that there was quite a bit of perishable food left in our fresh air fridge in the corner of our deckpod. We knew well enough that all this would end up on one of those heavy-duty black trash bags of the New Zealand biosecurity guy waiting for us on the Q-dock at the bottom of the Victoria Channel straight ahead. Especially the two beautiful pumpkins bought in the twilight of the colorful town market in Savusavu we were not willing to give up without a fight. Then there were the two flying fish! Obviously aware of our humble suffering the sea had decided to grant us a little parting gift the last night of our trip. That same morning a joyful me found the biggest flying fish on our center decks I have ever held in my hands, plus a smaller cousin of his. All these goodies went now down the companionway into the galley and while Aluna was peacefully sailing through the final stretch amongst the picturesque shapes of the bay’s outer islands a fresh pumpkin soup was served accompanied by lightly sautéed fish.

We jumped down onto the concrete floats of Opua’s Q-dock at precisely 4:45, the perfect time for a smooth and efficient check-in to the country. The officers are all very friendly but also very anxious to get through the procedures fast and call it a day. They appreciated all the filled out forms I had prepared and printed before leaving our last port, but did claim the second pumpkin, for which there had not been enough space in the cooker, and half a dozen of happy Fijian eggs. A quick run from the Q-dock back towards the bottom of the inlet brought us to our temporary resting place for the day. The anchor dropped into the soft mud, invisible underneath the murky waters, and within a couple hours we were trying in vain to find the soothing slumber of the tired sailors who have once again made it safely into port.

It’s like a big, heavy concrete door had slammed shut behind me with a deafening thump and I was left with all but memories of grey skies, foamy crests, hissing winds and the ever elegant petrels on their sinusoid trajectories of unperturbed bliss. In vain I was trying to drift into the sweet realm of peaceful sleep. The mind was set on staying awake at any cost. It had done so for the last four days and nights, once things had started to shift to the ugly side. The trip had started out very nice, with perfectly smooth sailing, although not without excitement.

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Aluna Safe and Sound in the Bay of Islands

December 5, 2013

After having been licked by a baby water spout just off Gau Island while leaving the many Fiji islands, followed by five and a half days of gentle fair weather sailing and then four lumpy days of riding gale force winds 50 or so miles west of an occluding warm front, doing six knots running under bare poles for a day, Aluna sailed into the Bay of Islands on the afternoon of December 5 just as the front finally passed overhead and the skies cleared.

More reporting on this latest blue water adventure will follow as soon as we have caught up on sleep!

Aluna Heading South Once Again

November 24, 2013

With a bit of a fluky forecast we’re setting out today from Savusavu, Fiji, expecting to arrive in Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand sometimes within nine to fifteen days. The weathermen and –machines foretell fluky winds, mostly favorable with one or two days of calm. So we are looking forward to a calm but maybe slow passage to the land of the Kiwi birds and the Kiwi fruits.

Smooth and Soothing Return to Fiji

June 18, 2013

After ten days on a benevolent sea we’re hove to in the lee of Koro Island, a little fat-banana-shaped Island in the middle of a sea named after it just to the South of Vanua Levu, the “Big Island” of the military republic of Fiji. Picture perfect sailing it has been to the point of being a little boring, but then that does depend on one’s attitude, or does it not? The only hiccup in our journey is that today is Saturday, and overtime fees for ever-cash-hungry officials would add considerably to the already quite substantial check-in fees into this touted island paradise. So we’ve escaped the rocky waters of the open sea, churned up by peaceful but persistent trade winds, and are stretching time to push our arrival time at least into Sunday afternoon, hoping that we’ll be allowed to hang on the quarantine buoy until Monday morning and clear in during regular hours.

A silver waxing moon in transition from half empty to half full hovers gracefully overhead and, underneath racing shreds of convection clouds that rise over the wooded crest of the island to our East, casts speeding shadows on the dark and smooth waters around us. Gently rocking Aluna allows us some hours of sleep, while she bobs back and forth with her mizzen sail and rudders pointing in opposite ways. Like this we’re drifting in a jagged yellow line on the luminescent chart that slants slowly away from the coastline. The routine though is still the rigid one of life on the open ocean. An hour and a half of slumber, then get up, look around, scan the horizon, and check the position. Then I’m allowed to huddle back into the sleeping bag on the deck pod’s watch bunk that’s been my friend since we left the Bay of Islands just barely escaping the strides of yet another frigid Austral winter. The eerie calm is cut from time to time by gusts the tumble down on us after spilling over an island that reaches barely four hundred meters in elevation. The dreaming is still hectic, chaotic and of epic proportions during the interrupted sleep. Medieval battles, cybernetic gadgets, abnormal physics and outrageous personalities put the likes of Fellini, Dostoyevsky, Kurosawa and even the notoriously poor imagination of the well-remunerated and over-celebrated creators of Hobbits of sorts and the many other modern pseudo legends projected on the silver screen are all put to shame by what an overhyped and quite feverish mind can do in the freefall of reality deprived of the regularity and normality of living on land.

The next morning it’s a short four-hour sprint across the last stretch of the Koro Sea and we round Point Reef while it lies fully submerged by the high tide. Radio conversations soon reveal that our hopes of a lazy Sunday afternoon are doomed. Whoever comes into the harbor has to bite the overtime fees! This seems to be the present rule, but: contrary to the very strict sounding official policy that no vessel is allowed to touch Fijian soil before checking in at one of the designated customs ports of the country, the officials generously tolerate us anchoring overnight in front of the Cousteau Resort at the very extremity of the Savusavu Peninsula, and like that allow us to come into Nakema Creek on Monday morning.

Now it’s hot again, really hot, sultry, sweaty, sticky, simply sweet and  lovely! The officials are truly nice, polite, very professional and with plenty of Island charm. By the end of the day we’re legal. A quick stint ashore reveals much of the same as last year. The big office building with the giant glass window is now finished, well mostly that is, but it stands almost empty. One giant office space contains a single desk with a secretary typing something into a computer. The market stands and bus terminal bustle busily just as they always had. But of course, for Beatriz all this is new and I’m sure there will be new and exciting things in it for me too before long!

In the meantime I promise to get to work and talk story a good bit about Aluna’s latest maritime adventure. Life out there in the big blue is after all still highly sacred and on a very different plane. So much is there to be learned out on the wavy gravy that it always happens to shatter the monotony of the bloated and blistered comforts of our weary existence walking the entrails of civilization.

Trespassing the Breaking Point, Twice!

March 12, 2013

After all the rummaging around in Northland’s rural laziness for months on end it had become high time for a change and I was in need to head South towards the urban madness of Auckland, New Zealand’s multi-ethnic and ever pretentious metropolis. Beatriz was due to fly in from her 11 months stint to Colombia on March 12. I thought that two weeks must be more than sufficient for sailing the just a little over one hundred nautical miles to the always busy Waitemata Harbor. My mind’s eye even optimistically conjured up the vision of a leisurely cruise, day hopping between the many bays and inlets of this sailor’s paradise of a coast.

The lands of Northland’s eastern coast look a bit like a fluffy rag pushed in front of a sturdy mop, which makes it ripple into a series of rounded folds and crevices. Ragged ranges of barely a couple hundred meters elevation come running down from the interior to the West and end up jotting out bravely into the pounding surf eastwards way past the lower terrain that has been gnawed away long ago by fierce erosion. Cape Karikari, the Cavalli Islands, Cape Wiwiki, the majestic Cape Brett with its notorious Hole in the Rock, Whangaruru, Tutukaka, then the imaginary Bream’s head and tail, Cape Rodney, Kawau Island and the Whangaparaoa Peninsula are all accented notes in a little symphony of geological ups and downs on an imaginary run down the East Coast of the upper North Island.

further-north

I’m saying imaginary here not without a hint of irony, as you shall see. When Aluna set out to touch upon the notes of the last section of this sonic tectonic masterpiece, the elements were definitely stacked against her, at the very least the aerial ones. With my notorious stubborn persistence it took me a while to understand that fact. First of all, the weather forecast wasn’t good. The subtropical ridge had planted itself firmly over central New Zealand and was directing a steady and quite sturdy flow of Southeasterlies up towards us, and Southeast is pretty much the course I had to lay for our journey down the coast. In spite of everything I was hoping to be able to dayhop from one of the many little bays on the way to the next.

Once the tide had allowed me to pick up my second anchor in the Opua Town Basin, which was set way too close to the beach to be retrieved at anything but high tide without getting stuck in the mud, it was mid-afternoon on the last Saturday of February. Just enough time was left in the day to sail out through the slight curvature of the Veronica Channel and make a small jump out into the Bay. Mangahawea Bay is tucked into the Northwest corner of Moturua Island, the name of which, if my tremendously rudimentary mastery of the Maori language happens to serve me right for once, must mean “Second Island”. This makes sense only if you think of yourself as coming out from the bottom of the bay, as I had just done, and count only the islands on your starboard side. You would pass Roberton Island and then stumble upon my little sheltered home for that night, which offered much needed protection from the winds howling out of the Southeast. Those winds I was about to get to know quite intimately. Another quite fancy-looking cat was already anchored in the little cove and two keelers, as the Kiwis call the boats that have either lost or not yet acquired their second hull, heaved back and forth further out. I maneuvered Aluna around my new neighbors to inspect the area and look for a suitable spot to drop the hook. The inhabitant of the supercat was gesturing wildly towards me without any clearly recognizable vocabulary, which was a bit of a distraction from my delicate task. I did however find a suitable patch with no significant troubles and as soon as the anchor bridle was attached and the motor turned off, the guy now verbally sent his message over to me at the top of his voice. They had a surplus of Snapper fillets cut for the night and wanted to invite me over for diner!

Well fed and well rested during the night I set out in the morning to face the elements, which, as was quite obvious, were not going to stand on my side of the equation. Hugging the wind tightly I was making progress slowly and it wasn’t before one in the afternoon when I finally emerged from the lee of the rugged ridge of Cape Brett. The wind had picked up considerably since the morning hours and I wearily looked up at the spar of Aluna’s big main sail, sensing that soon the threshold for having to take it down would be reached. We were a good bit to the North of the Cape by now, which meant that in order to clear it on the inward tack we had to fight our way about two miles past it to the East. By two o’clock I tacked, confident that I would be able to lay the course for the little and very protected cove of Whangamumu Harbor, just South of the Cape. The winds and seas continued to build and about half an hour into the new tack the virtue of prudency had me take the big sail down. I knew that the consequence of that maneuver were drastic. With the small mainsail up I needed another substantial increase in wind strength to be able to do any kind of efficient windward work. I knew I was going to lose my tack when I saw the outermost tip of the Cape slide slowly across the bows. By that time the bouncy sea had already eroded a good part of my motivation for pressing on. It seemed wise to lower my expectations and make for the entrance of Deep Water Cove, back in the lee on the North side of the Cape.

Just past the Cape on the way down.

Just past the Cape on the way down.

This beautiful cove would become our home for almost a week. Aluna hung on her anchor there protected from the brunt of the fierce winds, which raged on he other side of the mountain ranges around us, with only some violent gusts of turbulence racing down the hillsides towards us from all directions. Finally by Friday a low-pressure system had come traveling down from the tropics and cut into the high-pressure ridge sufficiently to veer our winds over to the Southwest. A bright and sunny morning saw Aluna ghosting in fickle winds past Cape Brett and start her journey South. After the morning hours had withered by with more light wind dancing, once the sun was past its zenith little whitecaps made their appearance, shyly at first, but soon transforming into horses of froth who for once shared the privileges of ridership. Towards five o’clock once again the bending of the spar above the forward mast announced the approaching point of no return. Since Aluna was hugging the wind tightly and barely hanging on to her required course I hesitated, considering too that usually towards the end of the afternoon the diurnal fluctuation of the winds were past their peak. The hope was that I would get away yet again with leaving the big sail up there in spite of my instincts telling me otherwise. That hope, alas, was without any substance whatsoever in the real world and a vicious cracking noise made me aware that I had just flunked today’s exam in practical seamanship. The top forward corner of the once proud mainsail hung sagging sadly from the top of the mast and started to flutter violently in the wind.

A slur of swear words later the tangled mess was wrestled down onto the deck and the trusty mainsail number two was doing the best it could in its place up the mast. But it was not enough. It was more than obvious that with the present winds our course would take us out to the many offshore islands instead of down along the coast. After having just messed up my reputation as an able mariner a more prudent decision was in order and I decided to turn Aluna to starboard. Whangaruru Harbor as I had seen on the chart was just over five miles away to the West. Against the short seas and stiff wind I knew Aluna could make way at about three knots with her trusty little outboard roaring away under full throttle, which meant there was just barely enough time to arrive there before dark. The anchor did drop with the last wink of daylight and it was definitely nice to spend the night comfortably on the bunk instead of bobbing up and down angry seas and listening to hissing winds while contemplating what could go wrong next.

Up early the next morning it was time to put the bamboos from Fiji to work. I knew that time was precious; Southeasterlies loomed again predominantly in the forecast for the upcoming week. So I planned to work like a madman for two days. I hadn’t had a close look at those bamboos since before leaving Savusavu when I had tied them down underneath where the sails are stowed on Aluna’s outboard sides. I had hastily slapped on some paint back then to make sure the picky bio-security officers of New Zealand’s border control would understand that these poles were part of the boat and not some suspicious vegetable materials trying to sneak some nasty alien organisms into the pristine local environment ready to upset the delicate balance f the native flora and fauna. Some of that paint had peeled away and there were some patches of the typical black mold bamboo acquires invariably when exposed to the marine environment. I lifted up the 30’ long culm for the main spar and was surprised how feather light it was. This was great news to me since it meant that the hoisting of the bundled sail would be bit less strenuous from now on. But then I wondered if maybe I was seeing too much of a good thing in front of me. How would those fickle poles hold up to the stresses right there were the halyard attaches, the place I had just seen breaking on my old and tired spars? There was not much I could do for the time being to remedy those worries. Glassing a bamboo spar is a time-consuming and very messy affair and I had neither the time nor the proper workspace available for doing such a task. All I could do was assemble the spar by lashing the doubler culm to the top two thirds of the main one, attach the fittings for the brailing line blocks, fit the loops where the halyard will shackle to, make the flexible connection to the boom at the foot of the sail and then spiral lash the bordered tarp sail in place between the spar and the boom. While this can all be said quickly in one simple sentence, the actual process took a good day and a half.

Sunday at three in the afternoon the new sail flew hoisted up on the mast and looked very, very good. I thought it would be wise to spend a quick hour cleaning Aluna’s underwater hull sides before heading out. That hour would be recouped very quickly on the eighty some mile journey ahead. Then the anchor came up and off we went sailing towards the jagged row of rocks that guard Whangaruru’s harbor entrance. A gentle breeze seemed to come nicely from the North. I saw by the texture of the water surface past the rocks that the winds out there would be a bit stiffer, but nothing like the churned up white froth riding the waves when the mishap happened two days earlier. The stiff spar gave the sail a great shape and for a moment I could feel it’s powerful pull. Unfortunately the magic was not supposed to last very long. Just barely into the rippled water the spar cracked in precisely the same way its predecessor had, without the slightest sign of remorse. Once again a tangled mess of tarp and crooked poles was soon laying in deck and I returned to the harbor for the night.

That was it! The gods, or whoever happens to be in charge nowadays, didn’t want Aluna to go to the big city! The following day a stiff Southwesterly brought Aluna back up to Cape Brett under her small main sail, and another day later she had made it back to Opua, where now she must wait lonely for our return from a road trip South to Auckland. My always helpful friend Peter offered his impressive stand of bamboo for the harvest of two replacement poles for the spars. Those perfectly straight culms are now starting their painfully slow drying process in the shade below his house on the hill, while we are exploring the urban valleys of concrete, scanning them for those rare human activities worth pursuing with integrated passion.

Cape Brett on the way back up.

Cape Brett on the way back up.

Once coming full circle back in the relaxed rural setting of the Bay of Islands we’ll have to engage in some serious engineer’s pondering to find a way to reinforce that critical spot where the amazing power of this ancient apparatus to harvest the winds for locomotion seems to concentrate, pushing the structural integrity of the building material persistently beyond its breaking point.

Aluna Sails By You

February 18, 2013

It is always a refreshing sight when you see another sailboat actually make use of their sailcloth and when it’s done hard on the wind with the need to tack ahead to arrive at the intended destination then it is just one notch more laudable still. To all those reckless people and their quasi-criminal argument that it’s just too easy to crank up the motor when the going is hard or just slow enough to make your boredom twitch, many of whom I see committing the utmost travesty of powering downwind under bare poles, let me refresh your memories and kindle your isolationist awareness, that while it has been purposely made easy for you to fill your tanks at the pump, and the multiplication of forces from the tiny and lazy effort of turning the key in the ignition switch to the explosive power harnessed as and partially transformed to outrageously violent locomotion is truly astounding, you cannot help but notice that that little motion of the wrist has outrageously far-reaching implications. So if your self-centered attitude and self-serving mentality allows you to consider your miserable self for a short and painless moment as a piece of a whole, and to see your wounded ego for a fraction of your ever so precious time as a responsive and responsible member of our human society at large, you would have to include in your argument of convenience not only the environmental costs of extracting and combusting fossil fuels in such massive quantities, the social and cultural devastation of the globally managed commerce of those fuels, the catastrophic degradation of your own mind, body and spirit through this seemingly comfortable means of transportation, the fact that every time you pay at the pump you literally pour money down into the infinitely deep pockets of a very ruthless few and grant them ample power to influence the key decision making of our already sold out politicians, but also a whole slew of dire consequences you can easily come up on your own if you just allow yourself to have an open minded look around. It should then emerge with blinding clarity that this little motion of your wrist should never be undertaken lightly. If we care at all about the wellbeing of our offspring and future generations of ourselves, then less devastating means of transporting our goods and ourselves across the vast surface of the earth need to be given quite urgent priority!

Should it now come to pass that the already heroic occupants of that other sailboat frantically wave in greeting, seem to be as frantically talking pictures of you with their cameras, sweep by your boat close enough to be within shouting distance, and then communicate through those shouting airwaves their email address and a promise to send the pictures taken to you if you send them a message with your contact information, well, then that truly configures an almost once in a lifetime occurrence.

Just such a unique coincidence of fortunate events happened to me under way from Flat Island towards the entrance of Whangaroa Harbor last week. SV Mylady came up on a quite obviously opposite course, hugging the wind tightly and making considerably good progress. Her masters and proud owners turned out to be a Dutch couple and you can read more about their adventures on their blog. For all you people who when sighting Aluna for the first time were wondering about her stubby masts and how her unique rig looks in action, for all those of you who have grown tired of Aluna’s bare-it-all appearance in all those shots of her in splendid looking places, and of course for those of you who are intrigued by the actual workings of her simple but efficient, and very ancient but forward-looking Polynesian rig, here’s SV Mylady’s splendid series of shots of yours truly sailing comfortably on a broad reach through Whangaroa Bay, past Stephenson Island towards the golden portals of a magical sculpture land.

alunabymylady1 alunabymylady2 alunabymylady3 alunabymylady4 alunabymylady5 alunabymylady6 alunabymylady7 alunabymylady8 alunabymylady9 alunabymylady10 alunabymylady11 alunabymylady12 alunabymylady13 alunabymylady14

On The Weather Side

January 5, 2013

One of the more annoying things about writing this blog has been that it often tends to drag me back into the past. There’s so much I would still like to keep telling you about all the comings and goings of the adventures just past, but the fuel supply for the storyline is running dry and its dramatic tension is fading away fast into the droll doldrums of oblivion, evaporating feverishly under the scorching sun of the present experiences. The motivation for sitting still and writing the thread then becomes lethargic at best and has to be artificially coaxed back into active life with all kinds of dubious moral imperatives. Then again this might just be a chronic character deficiency of mine, which has seen countless novels, theater and movie scripts, experimental documentaries, symphonies, even socially very relevant community projects, and many other brave and worthwhile human endeavors and brilliant ideas of genius-grade textures being born with awe inspiring enthusiasm and highly toxic adrenaline levels, only to see them quickly taper out and all too soon join their comrades on the slippery slope down memory lane.

I must therefore now quickly and efficiently bring the recount of the most recent blue water journey of Aluna to its merry ending, so that I can have you join me in the present times with the latest of my joyrides through Aotearoa, this land of growling Maori pride, this place of wicked Pakeha backroom deals, and last but by no means least this nation subject to a no longer subtle but clearly imminent Asian invasion.

To bring this story to its due ending sooner rather than later is not such a difficult thing in the end, since there was very little drama and tension in this voyage, and the tranquil beauty of sitting on glassy waters and contemplating gorgeous sunsets is quite frankly most often futile to put in words. Should I be tempted to do such a thing might lead you into thinking that the amazing beauty of life is far away from you in some distant land or faraway place, akin to a stylized photograph on a calendar sheet or in a fancy travel brochure, instead of lurking longingly and sometimes screamingly right in the corners of your eyes, whispering softly behind your ears and waiting to brutally explode exactly under your nose.

Since half of Aluna’s crew has remained dry and very literally high on the lofty and might mountain range of South America’s Andes for the last couple months, I was able to collect a record of the meteorological dealings during the voyage by having Beatriz download daily weather satellite imagery while I was underway out there in the big blue wetness. This certainly gave her something to keep busy with and prevent her from succumbing too heavily to the fishermen’s wife disease, which consists of worrying a lot and imagining too many things. But it also allows us to have the highly arrogant luxury of being able to have a god’s eye view down onto the meandering cloud formations and atmospheric water vapor dynamics that were bearing down on me during those fifteen lonesome but very wholesome days. This makes us all truly modern wise wise men, or homo sapiens sapiens, as we happen to call ourselves with no little pride, who splurge in the fact that we have bravely replaced those ancient eyes of god we used to adore and fear with a slew of our own technologically advanced observation instruments up there in the heavens, being driven by the just as ancient aspiration of wanting to peek down at ourselves from as great and safe a distance as reasonably feasible. This then allows us to delve with utter carelessness in the smooth and soothing feeling of having some kind of broad overview of the brutal chaos of life around us, nurturing our ever-latent cravings for needing to be in control. This self-confidence corroding description is of course no more than my best and halfway educated guess. But it is no doubt at all really kind of cool! Have a good look for yourselves!

But let’s back up for moment here. This is what the forecast promised on the day I left.

passageweatherwind

As you are able to see, there’s a sea of gentle winds waiting for me out there for as long as the weathermen and their number crunching machines dare to look into the lonesome realm of the future, once the remnants of a low-pressure system to the South have cleared. There are quite a bit of contrary winds in the picture, but they are all very light and benign. And as I mentioned before, the window was a narrow one, the notorious conversion zone that always hovers somewhere near Fiji’s latitudes was closing in fast and would make a departure a couple days later an unwise adventure at best.

Finally, in order to bring some intellectual peace of mind to the table, here’s one last animation, based on the sea level analysis of New Zealand’s Metservice. These were my rational safeguards during the trip. I received them through the small shortwave receiver we have on board. I took me a bit of time to get it to work again. The new computer seemed to spoil it all the first couple of days. I had previously realized that the DC power supply I use to drive the computer makes a hell of a radio noise and I had to let the laptop run on its own battery power while receiving the transmissions. After some fiddling around I realized that now it must be the graphics chip spewing out an additional fanfare of radio interference. Whenever the display went to sleep, the decoded image would turn from noisy to clean. I ended up timing the reception so that once the decoding software arrived at the map portion of the image the computer had already put the display to sleep, and quite obviously the laptop display does not suffer from radio snoring!

wetherfax

So there you have it, a little insight into the dealings of modern day seamen with the harsh reality of maritime meteorology. As in most anything there’s a fine line there to walk between the compulsive neurosis of hyper-science and the dare devil nature of carelessness. Once out there in the middle of this vast stretch of bumping and bobbing liquidity you’re on your own, your paranoia your most persistent company, and you begin to ride the learning curve of sensing, careful and intensified observation, smell alerts, temperature and humidity changes, wind variables, cloud density, bird moods, swell rhythms, sunset colorings, star clarity, haze extent, contrail distortions, pastel color variations, and many, many more incredible everyday occurrences that need to flow through your transparent modes of diminished egocentricity. The most essential virtue you’re bound to experience once you wallowed yourself through the varicose veins of uncertainty and anxiety is allowed to fade away, is the divine and timeless gift of trust. You realize that nature cares deeply for all life in and around you, and you humbly understand that it will not foolishly put at risk the highly complex organism it took the hassle of creating, nurturing and sheltering all along your miniscule and short lived existence.

On the Home Run

August 2, 2012

We had been waiting for the wind to fulfill the terribly rational prophecy of the meteorologists and back to the South. It had been huffing and puffing feebly from the West for the last couple days, painting heaps of churned up grey into the sky above and sending a full day of calming drizzle down to us as a sweet and refreshing heavenly gift. Finally on the morning of June 22 they obliged, cooled down and came at us gently but with a clear hint of the icy sphere of Antarctica. We left our cozy, cradled cocoon in the late morning hours, pulling the anchor out of its azure holding ground, squeezing through the tight opening of the atoll’s pass, and soon were underway on the final stretch of our voyage north to the temperate climes.

For a good while the seas were flat and only after we had left the reef and its temporary inhabitants a couple miles in our wake that we entered again the rolling reality of the open oceans. But the wind was gentle and on the stern, from where little by little it wandered down the numbers of the compass rose and settled in the Southeasterly quarters for the rest of the passage.

The second day the breeze had stiffened a bit and by nightfall we were doing a steady seven to eight knots. I’m never comfortable leaving the big sail up during the night. Even during the day the big main sail up the mast means constant worrying. Will the wind pick up? Will we get it down in time if they do? Is that bend in the yard as much as it can take? And so on and on! Anything can happen out there on the oceans and the fragility of the slender bamboos that make up the spars of that sizeable sail are a bit like propping up over-cooked spaghetti when it comes to their task of holding up the 260 square feet of white tarp. Even a slight increase in wind can make them deform into all kinds of wicked shapes and make the hair in the back of your neck rise from slumber like a waking monster of the netherworld. But I was in a what-the-heck state of mind at this stage. There were certainly bamboos of sufficient size to be found in Fiji, I tried to calm myself down, so worse come to worst if we brake one of the spars, we should be able to reach the islands easily with our smaller main sail. Aluna raced through the night like a galloping horse on a dusty racetrack. I kept a keen eye on her speed by turning on the GPS every now and then. There were peaks of ten and every now and then hits of eleven knots and the riding was good. Exhilarating in fact, the rushing of the water along the plywood hulls seemed like the bow of a high-pitched fiddle caressing its master in a tight embrace. Big slabs of dark clouds wandered overhead, obscuring the myriads of sparkling stars for long and lonely moments before moving off with all their towering might to the distant horizon in the Northwest. The moon was young and only with us for the first couple hours of the night. The rest was laid in darkness until after seemingly endless waiting the morning hours announced their imminence. First with a timid shine creeping up from the horizon, then with the trepid tremor of dusk and finally with the red burning luminous explosion a new day broke. And we were still speeding along. For another whole day and another whole night.

Matuku Island

The following morning a solid landmass lay just off our port bows. Matuku Island loomed mysteriously in the morning mist, its high and verdant peaks thrusting up the cottonesque trade wind clouds into heaps of cumulonimbus formations. We had entered the Koro Sea and territorial Fijian waters, delimited in the West by Viti Levu, Fiji’s mainland, in the East by the many low and strewn about islands of the Lau Group, and in the North by Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest landmass and our intended destination.

Totoya Island

Two more islands soon came in sight. Far off to the East in the gleaming light of the morning sun sat the silhouette of Totoya Island, a volcanic cone with its South face collapsed, opening the submerged caldera to the sea and creating a splendid natural harbor. About thirty miles further to the North Moala Island loomed and we spent the day admiring the outrageous beauty of these outcrops, the fruits of violent volcanic upheaval in a not so distant past.

Moala Island

By four in the afternoon we had made our watery way past Moala Island and were getting ready for our last night on the bumpy seas, the eighty and some miles stretch to Koro Island, around which we would have to make our way in the morning to enter the great Savusavu Bay, centered on Vanua Levu’s South coast. There were more little islets and treacherous reefs off to port only a couple miles from our intended course, so a careful watch was needed all night long. As we had grown used to by now I stayed up in the cockpit until two in the morning, but which time Nephi emerged puffing out of the port companionway and took over the duty of diligent attention, staring into the night, scanning the horizon for possible hazards to our navigation. Feeble lights from scantly electrified human settlements, but none of the navigational lights indicated on the charts seemed to be on working order. Not until getting close to the Southern tip of Koro Island did we see the first effects of Fiji’s cash strapped government, emitting its sweepingly reassuring message of navigational certainty out into the darkness of the early morning hours. Once rounded the last jagged promontory of this island with a backbone of volcanic cinder cones it was a last run towards the light tower sitting gingerly on the seaward extreme of Point Reef, which marks the entrance to Savusavu Bay.

Navigating the gusty downdrafts in the lee of the feisty green palm tree studded peninsula I called Waitui Marina on the VHF, announcing our imminent arrival. We were met by a small outboard motor powered skiff just off the concrete commercial wharf at the entrance to Nakama creek and guided to a mooring buoy close by. By 10:30 in the morning we were tied up and safely connected to solid Fijian ground through a world renowned helix mooring, which like a giant corkscrew is twisted and wedged into the seafloor and guarantees to resist the violent pulling and jerking of a super yacht tossed about by a major cyclonic event. Like in trance we waited for the friendly officials to come aboard. Patiently we filled out the many very important looking forms. Grumpily we paid the rather steep fees for the health this, customs that, immigration here and bio-security there. Gratefully we accepted the news that we were now free to go ashore!

The hustle and bustle of the little town of Savusavu looked surreal. A beat-up truck spewed clouds of badly combusted diesel fuel into its immediate surroundings and collected garbage left in black, white and orange plastic bags at the roadside. A handful of tinted windows sporting SUVs pursued smaller and quite obviously lesser vehicles for personal transport, the latter mostly rusty and worn out beyond fashionable style, advancing exclusively thanks to their owner’s trustworthy friends of mechanical genius in the messy world of an intentionally crippled economy. A good amount of men, women and children preferred the ancient form of displacement on proper feet and walked leisurely along the dusty waterfront. All this commotion however was only a shabby background painting for a slew of shiny cruising yachts clogging up the elongated harbor basin that stretched out between Sauvsavu town proper and the verdant Nawi Island. That slew reeked obnoxiously of self-importance and demonstrated cultural (and monetary!) supremacy. Welcome back to reality, my friends, welcome back to the realm of capitalist contrast where the plush haves are very much busy obscuring all light and lust from the thin plastic plates of the sadly sober, clearly curious and slightly jealous have-nots!

Sunset over Nawi Island, Savusavu Bay in the background