Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We sailed across the Pacific Ocean.

We have sailed IO from the Northern BC coast, down North America, across to the South Pacific and all the way to Australia.

I counted how many miles we have come. I counted how many days we traveled pushing our tiny vessel to the opposite side of our planet. I have written about how many perfect anchorages we found, how many countries we visited. I have photographed how many fish we caught, how many markets we shopped at, how many perfect white sand beaches we walked. I have remembered how many days we feared for our lives, how many waves tried to break IO and terrified our minds. I have experienced what it means to fulfill a dream, to think it into being, to plan, to build, to begin, to endure and enjoy and finally, now, to end.

But friends, fret not. We will continue to post our Australian adventures over the next few months and know that I believe that a person is only as good as their next great adventure. So stay tuned, as the next great journey has already formed in my mind. I am planning on leaving the Ocean far behind and returning to my Cowboy roots. I hope you will come with us along for the ride as we Reinfree.


Approaching the Australian coast

We approached the Australian coast just as the sun was setting over the Glass House Mountains North of Brisbane.

The last of the spearfishing in New Caladoinia

Af few last shots of spearfishing Trevally and Walu.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

november 15, 2010 The Approach

November 15, 2010 The Approach
My head told me making landfall in the evening was not ideal and so all my senses became more alert. But my heart simply melted at the sight of a beautiful sunset decorating the landscape of Australia. Those peaks are Australia! This is my first time on this continent! The city lights appeared and drowned out the entrance marker lights. Numerous giant freighters started to light up. We decided to follow one ship into the NW channel, and for hours, dodged them one by one coming and going. Even inside the channel, we were still exposed to the wind and waves and got tossed around. I sucked on a piece of dark chocolate to numb the intimidation. Marker after marker, we concentrated on flashing green, flashing red, and strong currents that almost got us crashing into a cardinal marker. During the 360 scan every two minutes, I caught a glimpse of the moonlight on the water. It was only one of the many stimulations and things to process in my brain. Wow, what a contrast to the previous night when it was the main focus. Then it hit me, my goodness, that was it. That was the end of our trip.
Arriving in Australia had another kind of exhilaration to it, just as significant as arriving in the Marquesas. We went up the Brisbane river at dawn and realized, we did it. We made it across the Pacific Ocean. We made it to Australia. Of course, now that it's done, I think it would have felt unfinished to leave the boat in New Caledonia. That could have easily happened. Oh, how thankful I was to arrive!

I think it will require some time for all this to sink in. I had complained, cursed, cried, sobbed, and shouted out of frustration on some passages. The sucky part about cruising seem to never make it into spoken or written tales about sailing. It is a double-edged sword, a cruel mistress, a love-hate relationship. Yet all of that seems to quickly fade away as each hour goes by, almost as quickly as the saltwater on deck got rinsed away. It's strange how things work that way. Now, I am going look for a Magnum bar. Arh, sweet as!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 11, 2010 The Moon and Stars

We started this passage on new moon. Nights were spooky dark. The seas had calmed down and so have my nerves. Usually, the night sky would be stunning and I could observe the stars to my heart's content. However, it was overcast for night after night and we were getting water sprayed from the beam incessantly that I stopped looking up at the sky. Then last night, the slit crescent moon shined its light on the jet black water, like an old friend saying hello, and laid before me my favorite scene in the whole world. Just like staring at a campfire, watching the moonlight is mesmerizing. It comforts me very much at night. She briefly said her hello, then hid behind the clouds.

On passages, Mike and I have passed time daydreaming and talking about many things. If it's not about a big bowl of ice cream or endless long hot showers, it's about the kind of land activities that sound enticing. What lies ahead? What are our next goals? What do we need to do to get there? Although I'm looking forward to many of the conveniences offered back home, I cannot help but think at some of the significant things our friends have said upon their return home. The common theme of the culture shock is contained in this quote:

"It's shocking how fast we were pulled back into the crazy rat race, despite our determination to keep a good balance."

This sentiment also seems to be there whether they were cruising or not. Our friend who spent a year traveling and climbing shared with us how crazy it was to return to the consumerism frenzy and how she missed the simple lifestyle she had lived. Is it all a fleeting dream? There are many thoughts on my mind, but for now, it is to soak in the moon and the stars.


Aboard IO in Vanuatu

November 13, 2010

G'day, mate!

Mike & Hyo-jung

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 11, 2010 Remember, Remember, November, November

Position S26 21 E155 20

The last night far out to sea. Beautiful day of rolling waves and trailing winds. Today has been the most calm and pleasant day of sailing since I can remember. Far out to sea, today slid by in the endless wake, with the gurgle of water sweeping past the hull and a gentle lull of the waves lapping as we are swept on by. We dislike passages so much, but one could dream, if we had experienced the elusive "trade wind sailing" on the trip, today would be what it should have been like.
I watched a movie today. actually several movies. Pleasant, lazy and enjoyable. I promise that even in this lifestyle, those days are few and far between. Watching a movie or being enthralled in a book far out to sea is like nowhere else. When you stop to take your mandatory 360 look around, you are transported out of your dream in to another reality that is so vastly different than your mind is ready for. You step outside of your faraway place, back into a tiny boat. When you look around, you are in the middle of an ocean. Water, windswept water as far as you can see, farther than you can even imagine. The vastness here is so grand, it extends farther than your book or movie can take you. This endless water is our reality. It is the oddest sensation that one could try to describe.
Today is the last day out to sea. Tomorrow we will have to think about all the things required when approaching a new continent on a small sailboat. Big freighters, shipping channels, shallow water and other hazards to navigation must be minded tomorrow. But today, just worry free off-shore gliding. Don't get me wrong, sailing across an ocean is so very stressful. I have often said my PhD work was far less stressful than this trip has been. Just three days ago, I worried all day about being over-canvassed in rough and building seas with the possibility of breaking the rig. But that was then, not now, not today, that was then some 200 miles away.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Morning day 5: The crux

November 10 2010
Position S25 53 E158 55

Early last night we passed the halfway mark and the height of the winds we should see for the rest of this passage. It did get windy, 25 gusting 30 knots with a large breaking sea developing. We have been getting slapped with breaking seas on the beam (side of the boat) which for the most part are loud and scare you but are not dangerous unless they get to big. Sometime last night at O'dark-30, we got hit with a wave so large that it completely engulfed IO such that water spurted in the butterfly hatch on the roof. This hatch is covered by our dingy so there must have been a tremendous amount of force to spurt through those window seams. We cleaned up the water, checked the bilge to make sure we were not taking on any more and then went back to bed.
The wind finally began to back (move counter clockwise) and ease up so we spent the rest of the night running down wind which sounds better but in fact is worse. The motion of the boat as it rolls down each wave gets old fast. My chest is tight this morning from trying to sleep in such a way that holds my body immobile while trying to rest. That is simply not restful!
I guess I'm a bit cranky this morning. In about 35 miles (5 hours) we will be turning right (east) and that should bring the wind back on the starboard quarter making for more comfortable sailing. 310 miles to go!


Monday, November 8, 2010

The last passage; Morning day 4

November 9 2010
position S24 54 E161 02

We are currently riding the North end of a high pressure system located in the Tasman sea which is keeping the wind fresh and the boat speed up. Yesterday we ticked off 143 nautical miles, not our best day ever, but good for IO. If we keep that speed up we will shave 2 days off this passage. Race IO, please race. It's always a balance of trying to fly enough sail to keep her moving fast but not break things. We are still almost 700 kilometers from land, and to break anything out here, especially the rig would suck is so many ways.
We have been lucky in this respect; we have not broken anything major at all on the trip (knock-on-wood). I actually don't believe in luck, luck is simply opportunity seized and in this case the opportunity to prepare IO to be strong and have lots of new oversized gear has certainly paid off.
We have seen many boats with snapped masts, heard of man-over-boards and even heard about two lost vessels (one with all hands) this year, which remind us that things could go wrong out here fast. I having been climbing and mountaineering for over 15 years, I thought that I had been in remote places. The Pacific brine is simply so vast and movement here is so slow that despite our little radios and beacons which likely offer only a false sense of security, we are simply out here remote and alone. Truly more remote and more alone than anywhere else I have been.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

The last passage: Morning day 3

November 8 2010
Position S23 52.2 E163 15.4

We are under way to Australia. It's just another gross passage, but it does feel a bit different. 550ish miles to go, but it's the last 550. The piped up to 25 gusting to 30 last night so I dropped the jib and raised the staysail with a double reefed main. Now the wind is on the beam at 20 knots, waves are down to 2 meters since last night's 3m. Still getting the occasional big wave slap against the hull. I might drop the staysail and put the working jib back up after the morning's radio net. All is well aboard.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Walu not Wahoo

November 5, 2010
New Cal

Early morning light flitters and dances and fades into the deep blue depths. One at a time Jaime and I dawn the gear and slip in to the water. It's a bit colder here, we need shorties to stay in for a couple of hours. After the initial splash and chill and when all the bubbles from the entry rise clear from view, I always do a quick 360 to both orient to the surroundings and look for the brethren, the dudes in the grey suits, sharks. We have repeatedly returned to the southern point of a small nearby atoll where we can anchor in 10 meters of water and then swim out to where the bottom drops from view as the depth drops to 30 meters. We have found a spot where the pelagic fish seem to frequently pass by looking for near shore baitfish. It is a game. The game has rules and players. We are learning the rules and have learned that we are not the biggest players. 4 times now sharks much bigger than me have approached.
For me, the most satisfaction has come from how much we have learned from our now countless hours in the water. We watch the baitfish, they usually tell the story. We swim past the edge of the reef, where the depth drops beyond sight and try to find a school of Blue Streaked Fusiliers, (Pterocaesio tile) which are about the size of a trout. In the hundreds they abound, schooling and meandering this way and that, feeding on plankton, never venturing to far away from the reef or each other. They don't mind our presence, we are of no threat and they seem to know that. So we sit and wait in the blue depths, hovering, watching, usually within sight of the other swimmer. Abruptly the school tightens and spins 180 degrees heading for the reef. I dive. Out of the blue a predator will appear. Often we have seen various species of meter long Trevally and Dog Tooth Tuna larger than my spear gun (1.7 mteres). Mostly we are after Walu, (king Mackerel, Scomberomorus commerson) a 1-2-meter silvery fusiform predator that has teeth like a wood saw and blazes through the schools of Fusiliers selecting out any that are weak or unaware. We have learned the trick to getting the Walu to approach closely. When at depth (5-15 meters) a pack of Walu will usually approach to check you out, but usually never close enough for a good shot. However if one blows out a few bubbles, they come in closer to investigate, then WHAMM! My 160 cm spear hits the sweet spot behind the gill and the real work begins. These are ultra fast, powerful fish that have pulled me through the water for longer than I have wanted before I could get to the surface and breath. Once at the surface, I struggle to lift them out of the water as much as possible because the thrashing fish and the blood in the water often bring in the brethren. We swim towards the dingy and the other swimmer escorts you back always looking for the dudes in the gray suits. Pure fun!

Now when I speak of the baitfish turning 180 and tightening up the school for a retreat, when a predator is near. It turns out that they also do this in response to the brethren. We have gotten used to the behavior of the three species of reef sharks and know when to draw the line (usually) but here in New Caledonia we have run into bigger and (supposedly) more aggressive sharks. Yesterday I saw the school tighten and I dove, only to find that no larger fish came in, that is until I turned around and looked directly into the jaws of a bulky gray shark that was much larger than me. It was so large that it had its own entourage of smaller fish schooling with it. I looked directly into its small eyes and saw both the first and second rows of recurved teeth. When I startled and raised my gun, it turned from me and slowly swam away. While this was the closest view I have had so far, I have had three other similar experiences where I have turned around to find this same species of shark approaching me from behind. Each time that I have faced it, the shark has retreated, but it is a bit unnerving of the repetitiveness of this rear approach behaviour. I have narrowed down the species to either the sandbar or bull shark, both of which a bit of a reputation for aggressiveness. I am convinced that they are of no real threat, especially considering that I speared a Trevally and was fighting it to the surface when out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of these large sharks in the distance. I immediately let the fish drop to the end of the spear and line, putting at least 3-meters distance between the bleeding thrashing fish and me, but the shark did not take interest. Regardless we left the area.
We did hear that there is also a Great White Shark that reportedly ate a surfer last year in the reef pass 10 km from here. So there is certainly cause to stay on our toes.

While we are stuck in New Caledonia waiting for a decent weather window for the last passage across to Oz we have taken advantage of this time to get lots of water time and spearfishing, which has turned out to better than anywhere else on this trip save Suwarrow.