Posts Tagged ‘sooty tern’

Festive Flashbacks

January 5, 2014

I’ve never quite felt at home during this so-called holiday season. The hypocrisy of it wrecks havoc on my digestive system and it’s decidedly harder to wipe away the always-lingering bitterness from the plentiful plate of daily living. Looking at the state of things around me in this modern, disjointed world I wonder what makes everybody around me pretend to be serene saints on three or four occasions throughout the year and for the rest of it just let everything slither into hapless chaos and uninhibited destruction. On my end I feel a sense of urgency towards having to get my act together after this prolonged stretch of absence from my writing chores. After all this blog is my lifeline to the world! It is where I communicate with you, where I overcome my innate introversion, and where I realize that we in fact are in this together, interdependent and bound intimately together as fully emancipated peers. Each one of us is a fully self-regulating organism and needs to actively do its part. Every day, all year long! How come then is it that we always want to blame someone or something else for whatever is going wrong?

Back on the plane of our stubbornly continuing traveling adventure it is always deeply astonishing to me how quickly the experience of Aluna’s journeys on the open ocean is forgotten and the rut of civilized landlubbering creeps back up on us without the faintest hint of mercy. The extraordinary side of life with its awesome power of transformation is the price each and every one of us has paid for our lives of dull comfort inside our square little boxes anchored concretely on the land, and not much of it is allowed to flower amongst us, when we go about our daily business of splendid isolation.  An effort needs to be made to reverse this transaction! It is the poisonous fruit of a cowardly pact with the devil we made some time back! He promised us a quiet life away from the threatening dangers of nature, and it is now sucking the lifeblood out of our veins.

Let me take you back to a note I jotted down hours after arriving shaken, but safe and sound, in the beautiful Bay of Island up in New Zealand’s verdant Northland on this past December 5 of the just evaporated year of 2013. From there I’ll lead you further back to memories of the wavy and windy realm of the Southern fringes of the tropical Pacific Ocean.

‘It’s like a big, heavy concrete door has slammed shut behind me with a deafening thump and I’m 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’m trying to drift into the sweet realm of peaceful sleep. The mind is unable to sit still and set on staying awake at any cost. It has 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, smooth sailing, although not without excitement.’

Sultry heat and humidity had been on the menu for quite some time as the sun in its yearly procession of rising and falling declinations had climbed overhead while our stay up in Savusavu on Fiji’s Vanua Levu Island was beginning its winding down. The trade winds had slackened as is we heard is typical during cyclone season, making cruising amongst Fiji’s seven hundred or so islands actually quite pleasant. Therefore a diurnal rhythm of land and sea breezes was the order of the day as we finally set out for our journey South on November 25m after having waited for over two weeks for a suitable weather window. It was late in the afternoon and we rode gentle Northerlies on our way out of the bay towards the lighthouse that sits lonesome on the southwestern edge of always frothy Point Reef. A line of black-footed convection clouds waited for us just outside the reef, stretching from the Hibiscus Coast to our East all the way across the wide mouth to the South of Savusavu Bay towards the deep blue silhouettes of Vanua Levu’s Southwestern mountain ranges. After bobbing about for a good while in the windless shadow under its murky skirts we made it out into the steady easterly trade winds on its other side just as darkness set onto the waters around us.

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Just as last year on my solo trip (read about it here, here, here and here) we had to make our way through the maze of islands and reefs of central Fiji before heading out into the open sea. The four and a half mile wide pass between Batiki Island and the Wakaya reefs lay about fifty miles ahead and we hoped to weave our way through there with the light of the early hours at the crack of dawn. For once the timing worked out beautifully and by late next morning Aluna was approaching another gloomy line of dark squall clouds, this one trailing off the Western tip of the sizeable island of Gau, which lay on our port beam. Inching our way underneath it once again all of a sudden I felt the main sail jibing violently to port for maybe twenty seconds before flapping right back to where it were. A round area of churned up water about twice the size of Aluna’s decks emerged from underneath the starboard hull and hurried away to the East, little white foam crests dancing wildly on it in a furious merry-go-round. I glanced up at the clouds above and there was a dark gray but translucent hose descending from a protrusion in the puffy ceiling, aiming very slender looking for that very same spot of dancing water. It slowly descended from its lofty heights and before we knew it a full-blown waterspout did its daredevil tango moving away to the West.

Where there is one there might be more, went through my head for some strange reason or another, and I turned my sight to the East where two of our spout’s cousins were doing their dance coming towards us, their style more resembling a boasting inner city hip hop riff. A barrel of twirling spray sat at the base of the one closest to us and from its top the slender hose rose up in an elegant arch until it entered the angry clouds. A quick bearing taken and tracked over time revealed to my relief that it should pass us aft. If it fancied to stay on its present track that is, of course! Aluna fortunately was already picking up speed and we came out into the bright light again to the South of the cloudbank, staring back at the spectacle. The triplet of spouts wandered off to the West, doing their little mayhem for just a bit longer. Eventually they were dissolved and rinsed away by a black curtain of rain as the giant cumulus cloud above it collapsed in a massive downpour of rain.

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From there onwards the trade winds grew steadier. A diminutive ribbon of land, the barely visible visual manifestation of Fiji’s big mainland, Viti Levu, separated the watery sphere from the areal one along the horizon line to the West, and kept creeping slowly aft of our beams. Towards the evening the jagged outlines of the Kadavu Islands, famed for the world-class diving along its many reefs, took its place, themselves slowly drifting northwards. The time had come for us to bide farewell to the last remnant speck of land under the moody rule of Commodore Josaia Voreque Bainimarama and his Bainimarama Republic. A spotty wireless hookup just before nightfall brought in a last fresh version of the nicely groomed seven-day weather forecast served up by the diligent folks at It confirmed the previously acquired notion that the next couple days promised to bring very smooth sailing and beyond that a dubious we-shall-see flickered tantalizingly in the crystal ball of our future.

For the night I settled in my all too familiar watch bunk routine of dozing off for an hour or so between poking my head out into the dark to scan the horizon for possible intruders, ready to poke holes into our blind trust in being the only human presence out there for miles and miles, plowing the nocturnal but for the time peaceful South Pacific waters unhindered by any solid obstacle. The trillions of twinkling stars looked down from their steady little chairs embedded in the blackness of space across the firmament, rocking back and forth in perfect synchronicity with the chaotic rhythm of wave trains big and small, running under Aluna’s twin hulls in unceasing succession.

The second or third day in a passage the knots that tighten up your guts on the bumpy sea for the first couple days slowly start to unravel and you can dedicate a bit more attention to what happens in your surroundings, which, as long as the weather is kind, can with a little carelessness be considered as monotonous at times. With this backdrop every unusual event becomes highly dramatic and you delve your whole self into it like a ram on a testosterone overdose. When the first avian hitchhiker of the journey touched down wearily and sat a bit stunned on the spare sail just aft of the starboard companionway, we went completely gaga over it. Of course the term hitchhiker used here is a slip into the realm of careless or superficial linguistics if not the outright politically incorrect.

Those birds are not hitchhikers because they have no thumb to hold up in the air when we pass them by, and this one hadn’t even asked for a ride. They are no blind passengers either because they usually have their eyes open and are perfectly able to see. Nor are they stowaways because they always spend their short time aboard on deck out in the fresh air, usually with their tired feathers ruffled by the wind and a weary expression on their beaked faces. But those few seabirds that manage to land on Aluna’s decks are always good company, taking the edge off the permanent loneliness of the open sea for the duration of their stay.




Our avian passenger, let’s settle on this for a temporary label of our furry friend, had asked for a nickname right away, as soon in fact as he had landed. He begged to be named. We did not want to burden our guest with his common name of ‘Sooty Tern’ and even less with his lofty sounding scientific denominator of ‘Sterna Fuscata’, so ‘Rascal’ sprung to mind quickly enough, because ‘intruder’ would not really be a name. Although his face looked more like the feathered cousin of a raccoon, his charming smirk was convincing, if not outright irresistible. He seemed oblivious to the mean spiritedness of the human race but was also not inclined to accept any kind of well-intentioned culinary donation from our part. Tiny tuna fish flakes and little cheese scrapes extracted from a quickly assembled sandwich in our hands, crumbled nuts from a half-munched can in the back of the cockpit, and specks of lettuce leaves and miniature cuts of papaya flesh whisked from the fresh provisions in our open-air fridge were offered one by one, but were met with the most stern rejection, as if nothing in the world of human consumption was going to be able to corrode our feathered friends habitual and certainly for him much healthier diet of freshly caught seafood. While our gastronomical offerings were so very much below Rascal’s level of tolerance, our general company must have been agreeable enough for him or her. At least enjoyable enough for staying put on that perch for the rest of the day, in spite of us clambering in and out of the companionway whenever we pleased. Sometimes during the night Rascal decided to return to his own realm of wilderness. Left behind in memoriam sui were the signature marks of his avian kind: streaks of greyish-brown droppings that, once washed away with a bucket of seawater or two, revealed semi-permanent yellow stains of acid burn on Aluna’s weathering topside paint.

To be continued shortly!


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