Menu Members Guests LTQ
BOFHcam navigation bar

BOFHJournal

1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017

August's Journal
October's Journal


30/09/2006
[13:30] Luganville shuts in the evenings. All the places to eat which advertise as being open until 21:30 are shut by 20:50. This resulted in the three of us needing to eat in the grumpily-staffed Hotel Santo restaurant just before official closing time. THe food was good though, I had banana-stuffed chicken in bread crumbs. With nothing to do afterwards we simply went to bed. This morning Anja and I just lay around to some indecent time like 08:30, showered and then went out for breakfast. Back at the Nataronga Cafe (have I been spelling that consistently?) we found Josef and ate with him before Nick and Sarah (on their off-day) popped in for some food too. Nothing really happening at the moment. The town is still dead, it's hot but raining and even Penny (who came over from the resort and shared a milkshake with us) is just sitting around in town waiting for a ferry back.

The taxi to the airport is at 16:30 and I've booked somewhere for Anja and I to stay tonight in Port Vila. My last night in Vanuatu.

29/09/2006
[06:15] The farewell was basically a chance for the entire ship's company to come together on the main deck and say goodbye. Certificates were handed out, statistics were listed (970 nautical miles sailed, at an average of 6.2 knots, 96 hours between Fiji and Vanuatu), and thanks and jokes given and taken. As each certificate was handed out to the voyage crew Sally said something about each person. The comment about me paraphrasedly came out as "if you can't find Ben, try looking up" owing to my propensity for sitting in the rigging, up a mast whenever possible.

Finally and sadly we loaded up a RIB with everyone's luggage and when it returned from the resort island just off the main island of Santo we boarded and powered away from the Soren for the last time. Many of the voyage crew had opted to stay at the Aore Resort so around 11:00 we were sitting in the reception area awaiting check-in. Anja and I on the other hand couldn't afford the really quite high prices there so we took the ferry boat to the mainland with our bags.

We walked through Luganville with rucksacks on and I felt like a backpacker in the proper sense for the first time. Anja's been all over the place (New Zealand for one) so it wasn't anything special for her. I kept my thoughts to myself. The first place we tried to find rooms was fully booked so we walked on, well-thumbed Lonely Planet guide in hand until we found the Riviere Motel which had a room we could share for a very very good price. Beds, pillows, very very nice showers and even a towel (although it smelt terribly of smoke). What more do you need?

After a pleasant conversation with the person on the front desk (trestle table) and our bags dumped we went in search of those others from the ship who'd come ashore either from the ship or from the resort. We met Josef and sat by the landing point for the ferry waiting for it to arrive with friends. After fifteen minutes nothing had appeared we were hungry enough to repair to the Naratonga Cafe on the main street for milkshakes and burgers. Did I mention that Olive (the nickname for Martine (no, I didn't get it for days)) makes the most excellent burgers. Not only that the breadbuns she makes are exactly the same size for perfect eating. Anja and I also decided to on a trip for the following day; the Millennium Cave. We didn't know much about it except that if you only had a day to spare, seeing it was a good use of the day (given that I was off to Port Vila the next day). I asked our waitress how to get there and was recommended to ring Timmy. Timmy turned out to be her uncle and also the book-recommeded guide for the thing anyway.

None of the public phones are coin-operated, you need to use a telecard. I found this out through repeated conversations and journeys to various shops and public phones. Eventually, card in hand, I was able to place a call, only to find that his mobile was out of range.

The waitress had been joined by a western woman (probably from Australia, who turned out to be the owner) who dug out his home number from the very thin directory. When I rang it a small child answered in Bislama and asked who it was (I understood that at least). When I asked to speak to his father the phone was carefully put down and I heard running footsteps and him shout "Mama! Iss a whiteman!". I've never been called a white man before, kimosabe. I found it most amusing. Timmy's wife told me to try his mobile again after 4pm.

Around this time Penny and the others turned up, having caught the 13:30 ferry (the 13:00 didn't actually exist. We sat and chatted over more drinks before a few of us drifted over to the Vanair (Air Vanuatu) offices to check and book flights. I'll be flying to Vila at around 17:00 on the 30th. Following that there was more wandering and looking for a phone card which would allow Anja to ring Germany and her parents (fruitlessly it turned out). In the end we got her to an internet cafe with a very slow 56k6 link for her to email them instead.

Job done we wandered back to the motel (saying goodbye to Penny and Ray along the way (although we may see Penny again on the flight to Vila)). Back at the motel I rang Timmy again, having tried a number of dead payphones and finding out from the cafe owner that the entire landline network was prone to dying now and again over the course of a week. Finally through to his phone (although I'd been recommended to stop one of his minibuses in the street and get them to use VHF radio to contact him) I organised the trip for the next day, including an 08:15 pickup from our motel's front door.

As light faded we grabbed dirty laundry and walked onto and up the road out of town, to where we through the Beachfront Resort might be (listed in the Lonely Planet guide) as having laundry facilities). We walked about 1km without seeing anything so asked some school children who seemed to say it was quite some distance. A taxi pulled up nearby so we paid 200Vt to go the rest of the way. This turned out to be 400m around the corner. Not really arguing over the money we got out and quickly found the laundromat, a spare token for the dryer and some left-over washing powder. After buying two more tokens we put a wash on and looked around the resort's private beach before it became fully dark. We settled into the resort's bar with drinks to wait for the washing to wash so we could stuff it in the dryer. The wash went well, but the first token of the dryer session didn't seem to cause the clothes to be any dryer. It took me going to check that the gas was on for the bartender/laundromat guy to come back and do the necessary mechanics. Thank goodness for the free token we'd found which meant we got to dry them, rather than just tumbling them.

By the time the clothes were dry it was pitch black, the bartender had recommended somewhere to get a packed lunch for the trip the next day (the Nataronga Cafe, the owner turned out to be sitting behind us and was happy to agree to our requirements) and we'd had enough hot chocolate to sink the Soren.

As we had torches, the walk back in the dark was no issue whatsoever, and the cars flying by held no fear for us given our good illumination. I really never thought I'd be walking along a starlit road in Vanuatu with a load of washing slung over my back in a sheet sleeping bag, using a torch to avoid pot holes, warmer than on a sunny day in the UK with a German woman walking next to me talking about motorcross and snowboarding. Just goes to show you can do almost anything if you put your mind to it, I guess. We headed to bed pretty much as soon as we got back given the early morning ahead.

Anja decided to cut short her time in Vanuatu and see more of New Zealand so decided to book a flight to Vila with Penny and I on the 30th. This means getting to the Vanair offices for 07:30 this morning (when they open), having breakfast and getting lunch made in the cafe and getting back to the motel before 08:15. No worries! Now I just have to wait for 07:00 to roll around.

[18:00] What a day! Blimey! We left the motel on the dot of 07:00 and walked to the Air Vanuatu offices which are opposite the cafe, luckily. Both were closed initially so Anja went shopping for water and chocolate until she could go to get her tickets done. As soon as the cafe opened I got in and placed our lunch order and then waited for Anja so we could have breakfast. As time ticked by she still hadn't finished and it was getting closer to 08:00.

Eventually she made it out of the offices and we ordered brakfast. Turns out she still hadn't completed her changes and was going to have to go back later. In the meantime we had breakfast as quickly as we could. It was gone 08:00 so I decided to ring Timmy and ask if we could be picked up from the cafe instead. I tried to remember my telecard number but couldn't recall the last four digits correctly. Luckily there was an American girl in the cafe with a mobile on the local network who I was able to call him on that and get the meeting point changed. The minibus arrived 5 (not the announced 15) minutes later so we made it wait outside until we only had toast to eat. This was then eaten in the vehicle as we drove to the end of town and picked up a brooding, bearded man who turned out to be the chief of the village we would be departing from to the cave. Two other people other than the driver were already in the cabin too. One in the front and one at the very back. It wasn't Timmy, but one of his men who was taking us today. Anja and I looked at each other as we drove out of town and both admitted later on that we were very glad neither of us had decided to do this trip on our own, despite the reputation of Vanuatu for being very safe for tourists.

Ten minutes out of Luganville we turned right and onto what could only charitably, with a squint and a generous spirit, be called a track. The minibus grounded out, bounced in and out of potholes as big and apparently as deep as it was without breaking. This only got worse for the next forty minutes until we broke out of the foliage and onto a WWII airstrip. The whole southern end of Santo was a large American military base in the Second World War and aside from Million Dollar Point (look it up, amazing, stupid) there are airstrips dotted around all over the place. While the tarmac was in a bit of a bad way these days, it did allow the driver to get us up to some frightening speeds as he wove through the trees and other greenery which had encroached on the tarmac. At the far end of the runway we turned off and back into the forest again. At points I was sure the Toyota Hiace would become totally stuck, immersed in mud and water until someone could pull it out, but no, it continued to make only moderately heavy going. Another twenty or so minutes and we simply ran out of drivable track. We stopped and began walking. The walk quickly became a mud slog, and then a rain forest mud slog of truly epic proportions. If it'd rained more recently than two days ago I think the whole route would have been impassible. For about an hour we hiked through nearly untouched forest, fighting to get through the branches and fronds sometimes. We passed through one village without stopping. A rare glimpse into how a village looks when tourists aren't expected to come wandering through at the drop of a hat. Very clean, almost spotless ground, little bright decoration but very well built structures.

After leacing the village the ground became a little more contoured and we began crossing small ravines, more like dips in the ground. Suddenly though we found ourselves climbing down a bamboo ladder and then crossing a bridge over a rather deep ravine at the bottom of which was a rather fast-flowing river. Ladders on the other side enabled us to come back up to ground level again. For about an hour we slogged through the forest until we arrived at the second village. Here we waited for the guide who would actually take us to the cave. We took the opportunity to wash our feet and legs clean of mud, slim our bags down to my one rucksack containing our lunch, water and my dSLR, wrapped in a Tesco carrier bag.

As soon as the guide arrived we set off. Myself, Anja, a small boy of about six, his mother and two dogs who looked like they were having the most fun of all of us. For at least an hour and ten minutes we made our way through similarly dense forest, working through mud and trecherously slippery rock areas before finally beginning to hear the muted thunder of a large amount of water going over equally large rocks. We paused. The guide explained that the cave had been the subject of a land dispute between two villages which had culminated in a death. The spirit of the dead man now inhabited the cave and consequently those who had not been before (me, Anja and the boy) would need to have our faces painted to prove that we'd paid the money required to go into the cave. Not wanting to anger the spirit we readily agreed.

Once that was achieved we began to descend a series of steep bamboo ladders, at least seven in all, the sound of thunder becoming louder and louder with each rung. Suddenly we were at the bottom and before us was the entrance to the cave. Fully 30m tall and at least 20m across with a huge river pouring into it. Rocks and boulders littered the river bed, both submerged and projecting out in ways which made the water froth and churn. The guide turned to us and handed us waterproof torches and simply jumped into the water... up to his waist. I considered my camera and in fact my entire bag. There was nothing for it but to strap it on as tightly as I could and step in after him. Dearly hoping I would lose my footing in the pitch dark I used the torch to identify good areas to step at the same time as trying to look around as much as possible. During the forty or so minutes spent navigating the cave we saw waterfalls bursting from the walls, hundreds of bats, a vaulted ceiling which at times was over 50m above us and some magnificent stalegtites. No camera could have done it justice, especially the slit of an exit that appeared around a corner suddenly. Initially bright white it shaded to green as the forest behind became more visible to our adjusting eyes.

Once we had emerged (at this point I was holding my bag above my head given that the water was up to my underarms) we forded a deep and fast flowing river (still managing not to get the camera wet. On the far side the guide turned to Anja and I and remarked that we were now half way and it was time to eat lunch. I shared my sandwiches with the guide, the boy and his mother before surrendering the bag and its contents to the mother. This was because the guide had suddenly flourished some rubber rings which he'd begun to inflate. We were going down river, express.

I watched the mother shoulder my rucksack and she and the boy scaled an almost vertical cliff of rocks and greenery and vanished into the forest, on their way back to the village. I only had time to worry about my camera for a few minutes before, "Dora the Explorer" rings in hand I jumped into the river with the other two. We swam for a few dozen meters before working our way over a set of rapids and back into the water again. This routine was repeated many times over the next hour and a half. Now and then we'd have to squeeze between huge boulders (much like I'd had to in Egypt with Rachel all those years ago) and sometimes under them, the water just below our chins. Eventually the rocks in the water petered out and we found ourselves floating down a deep ravine, both sides magnificently erroded sandstone, the foliage above us made up of trees and vines, much like the scene in King Kong (the new over-long one by Peter Jackson) where he's fighting the two T-Rexes. Looking up was just like being there. Creepers and vines stretched across in a laticework that looked like a climber's playground, the massive sandstone walls gouged and tempting too. Waterfalls occasionally cascading down from high above, providing opportunity to drench the parts of us not already submerged.

Standing now and again in the shallower parts we made our leisurely way down river with Anja and I struggling to commit everything to memory in the absence of a damned waterproof camera! Now and again I'd caught the guide taking bites from a coconut shell and spitting it into the water and I wondered why until I felt the tickle of fish against my leg. Literally dozens of fish were crowding around him eating the coconut. It was amazing to watch them mass so much they made the water boil.

Eventually we reached the point at which we needed to climb out and deflate the rings. The guide packed them away and we began to climb up the face of a waterfall. That was fun in aod of itself! Following that we switched to ladders again and then we were at the top of the gorge. A thirty minute walk back through the forest, past herds of wild pigs and cattle lead us back to the village where there was hot water, coffee powder and fresh grapefruit. We drank and ate as a few of the villagers watched, which felt a little odd.

After filling in visitor forms we met our original driver, and the chief who was coming back with us too, and began to retrace our steps through the forest, through the other village, over the bamboo bridge and eventually, finally, to the minibus. Both the walk and the drive back to Luganville seemed to take far less time than the other direction but that may have just been the semi-trancelike state I was in by that time.

We stopped at a cash point in town to pay for the experience itself and were then dropped at the door of our motel around 15:30. At this point all we could think about was getting in the shower. Feeling clean and in dry footwear (dirty sandals having been rinsed under a tap and then a hot shower for bodies) we headed out in some rare clean clothing back to the Air Vanuatu office for Anja to finish her flight rebooking and for me to get my internal flight changed to be the same as her's and Penny's. By the time we'd finished the cafe which had become our regular haunt was closed so we headed to the Meal Booths near the market when we saw Josef. We invited him to join us for some drinks before all splitting up for a walk and a nap pre-dinner plans. I think it's nap time now, and then some food!

28/09/2006
[08:25] Most of yesterday after breakfast was spent sailing or under motor as the wind dropped the further west we sailed. Throughout the day I polished brass, watched the sea go by and stood my watch. Gentle progress, eventually under sail only across from Maewo to Santo. As we came into the channel it was all hands to the braces, then rushing fo'ard to set and head the tops'ls as required to sail neatly onto the anchorage without any need for the engine. The whole crew voyage and permanent alike working in near-perfect harmony. It felt... good, a solid feeling of teamwork and far simpler to do what needed to be done without thinking than all those weeks ago (three, not so many, Ben!).

Anchor dropped I went aloft to undo all the coiled sail gaskets so that a whole slew of people could come up to do neat, tidy harbour stows on the sails. The clew is pull inboard and then the whole sail is neatly folded and rolled like a cigar in front of the yard. Eventually, when everyone's ready the call goes out "Atu! Batu! *guttural grunting sound*" and the whole thing is lifted onto the top of the yard and the gasket neatly wound around it and the yard, securing it in place. This rather than simply pulling the gasket around in a spiral to get as much of the sail up against the bottom of the yard.

The evening of the last day is always fancy dress and rum punch on deck so everyone was given free rein over the masses of costume clothing (smelling rather like the shirt I was given a few days ago) found in the fo'c'sle. All (un)suitably attired we beat a hasty retreat to the main deck and had at the punch, chatting and laughing until dinner. As per there were long, involved "discussions" at the table involving the 1st Mate. As before most of us went up on deck to escape and many of us were still in bed by 22:00, having begun to pack for today's departure.

This morning has been slow and lazy; packing, breakfast, more packing. We're also all signed off the ship's roster so we now officially guests, or passengers rather than crew. The 'Farewell' is in forty-five minutes, then we're off the ship and ashore for the last time.

27/09/2006
[06:10] Crap, forgot to write anything at all yesterday. I can't even really remember what I did the night before last after dinner. Probably just went to bed, it'd been a long day. Whatever, I was the first of the voyage crew up yesterday morning and in my swimming togs to drive off the front of the ship around 07:00. For some reason I'd just woken up really needed to get in the water. After a good swim, including diving off the top of the side rails, I was joined by a few others including Anja and some of the permanent crew. We got out only when the smell of breakfast became too much to bear. We also discovered that James had done a water temperature test. Unbelievably it was 27 degrees centigrade. It'd felt pleasantly cooler than the air temperature, even at seven in the morning. I love the South Pacific.

Plans for the day came next with all kinds of things to do on Maewo (the island we were anchored off). I oped to go ashore on the first boat which stopped for a few minutes offshore to let us take some shots of the wonderful waterfall very close to the sea. On land I wandered around the very well tended village, chatting to the villagers and learning about brothers, fathers, sons and husbands who'd gone fishing and haven't come home yet. Memorial dot the southern coast of the part of the island we're on. A sad fact of life for a sea-faring culture. The people remain happy, smiling as soon as, if not before, you do. The village itself is the nicest I've seen for environs and the personableness (a real word?) of the people.

Past one of the memorials on the southern side of there was a coral beach where, as the windward side, the waves crashed ceaselessly onto the shore. I have no idea how good the pictures I got were (and I've been giving this camera so serious abuse on this trip; I'm not sure the new 24-85mm lens is quite as 'factory fresh' as it was) but I've taken about 900 now so I'm sure one or two of them will be passable.

After some time alone on the beach in amongst the rocks I went back into the village to meet the children of the local school who were on their morning break. As usual they were happy, smiling, cheerful and inquisitive. Once they'd gone back inside I passed around the loop of the village and back to the beach we'd landed on. The chief's adult son (Nixon) advised me on the route to the waterfall we'd seen from the RIB. Initially I walked along the beach, practically wading at some points, at others climbing over large rocks. Eventually (obviously I'd gone the wrong way) the route became impassible so I went inland until I spotted some rocks painted orange spaced at regular intervals along the direction of travel I was aiming for. Thinking they were guide stones I followed them... over some really, really strenuous terrain until I reached the waterfall. At that point I realised that they weren't guide stones, they were markers for the 'as the crow flies' cable from the newly-installed hydroelectric system at the waterfall.

Covered in mud I put my camera bag somewhere safe, stripped and jumped under the waterfall to clean up. Colder than the ocean it was refreshingly pleasant after the walk/climb. Penny and Anja arrived about half an hour later, as did a woman and her two children (via outboard) from one of the other yachts in the bay. We all swam around and stood under the powerful flow of the waterfall before I snagged the three of us a ride back to the Soren in the woman's boat (rather than fight our way back to the beach again). Obviously this necessitated a quick tour of the ship her her and the children.

I read for a while before lunch and then while others went to shore a few of us took a RIB to a huge bombie in the bay and snorkeled. So Many Fish! I wish I had a waterproof camera for underwater shots. We ranged all over the place and saw huge shoals of of brightly coloured fish, underwater caves that I would have loved to have entered (so not going to happen with a snorkel) and a huge, huge grouper (although I'm the only person who saw that). It must have easily been 2m long. Back on board for 15:30 there was time for a quick shower before we all headed ashore for the evening's festivities. We stood around for a while drinking and socialising with all the other yacht crews who had also come ashore to make it a real party. The craft places were open so many of the crew bought bags or similarly woven items before the chief's son called us together to sit.

After a welcome we had a show of the most energetic and certainly the most enthusiastic dancing I've seen on the whole trip. It also included one small boy who was obviously just being taught the dances. Every time the men moved right he moved left. Every time they were off the ground he was on it. It actually made the whole thing a lot more genuine. I'm not sure how well the camera caught the high-speed, low-light movement, but we'll see. Eventually, as you might expect we were asked to join in. That was a whole heap of fun too. Following that tables were set up and we were invited to eat.

Now, around lunch time we'd all been lazing about on the ship, about 250-300m out in the bay when there'd been the loudest squeal ever uttered by a pig. It echoed across the bay spectacularly. Heaven knows how loud it must have been on shore. Either way, one of our non-vegitarians didn't eat the pork at the meal. I found myself sitting on a table consisting entirely of yachties including a really rough-looking Glaswegian and his Scottish-accented Thai wife. A completely different breed, yachties. All bloody good people people though.

The rest of the evening was spent talking and dancing and laughing at the permanent crew who'd drunk too much of the Vanuatu kava. You don't get drunk on the stuff (which is far stronger than Fiji-style); it's narcotic. After one coconut shell's worth I lost all feeling in my throat and after two I couldn't feet my feet at all. A few more and your legs and hands go numb. Dan had about five. His eyes rolled. Completely composed and sensible, just unable to coordinate.

We returned to the ship in dribs and drabs around 21:00. I was asleep on the gallery roof by 21:30, dead to the world.

[08:30] Up and about and helping the crew raise the mains'l around 06:30 we used the engine a little to move off the dead calm anchorage and out into the sea for our final island hop to Espiritu Santo. Breakfast and then some sail work as well as doing this journal. I'm damned glad I've kept it; many of the days have just blurred together into a single amazing whole.

25/09/2006
[07:10] Spent most of yesterday walking up and down a volcano. Not the actual volcano cone itself as that is closed at the moment for taboo reasons, but the outer bit, whatever it's called. Around midday a few of us took a boat to the black sand beach to wait for a guide. After more than half an hour no-one had arrived so we waited some more in the shade on the edge of the beach with the insects and the flies and meagre coverage from the sun. Eventually Pauline arrived to tell us everything was arranged and we headed off along the coastal path past huge trees wrapped in vines to find the village. Having waited so long a few of the group decided that they just couldn't be bothered to do the hike so went back to the ship. This left just three of us to do the hike. Of course, the sudden announcement of there being a charge for the hike might have had something to do with it too.

Either way, the three of us arrived at the village after about fifteen minutes of walking and met the guide. After a few minutes for him to pick up a large machete and organise some things we set off into the interior of Ambrym. The walk passed through densely wooded rain forest, occasional clearings and mini-plateaux, deep dark bamboo-filled ravines and lush fern groves. On its own the hike itself would have been worth the effort for the sheer wonder of the flora we walked through.

We stopped for a brief while around 14:00 to eat the packed lunch Martine (or possibly Lucinda) had made for us before carrying on (up). We stopped only once more before the ash plains we were heading to when John (our guide) enquired as to whether we'd ever had fresh coconut juice before. Obviously we had at the previous island, but those in the know had said it hadn't been that fresh. In any event John suddenly vanished skywards up a nearby coconut tree and, with a shout for us to stand back, he dropped five or six huge coconuts to the floor from around 20 feet up. We were easily seven meters away and still felt the impacts as solid thumps through the ground. With a few swift strikes of his machete he'd hacked them open enough to drink from and suddenly we were drinking the ultimate in fresh coconut juice.

The hike continued with more ups and the the occasional down until suddenly the forest ended and all we could see for the next 20m or so was featureless black ash. It wasn't what I was expecting. That is to say I thought we'd be coming to see rock, lava tubes and very little in the way of ground for things to grow on. Instead it was black gravel and rocks with numerous runnels and mini gullies where floods of water had carved into the hard-packed aggregate. Here and there grasses poked up between the sands. Don't get me wrong, it was still a mildly surreal and interesting landscape.

We walked for about thirty minutes stopping again only when John asked if we'd ever eaten palm heart. Now I'd heard of palm heart and even seen it sold in tins in some of the more specialised shops in the UK, but never eaten it. John vanished into the dense undergrowth to one side of the ash plain and after a few seconds there were the sounds of hacking. Suddenly an entire palm tree fell onto the ground in the open and John reappeared, grinning. In no time at all he'd reduced the tree to a small chunk of the inner core of the trunk (perhaps 50cm long and as thick as your wrist). This he broke into chunks and handed to us. It tasted like unsweetened sweet potato. Would have benefited from something to flavour it. Either way it was actually still rather tasty.

Leaving the remains of the decimated tree where they were (it's not like there aren't millions (really) of other palm trees) we walked until we could see the actual cone of the volcano in the distance. Unfortunately it's almost always shrouded in cloud (and steam/smoke) so the shots I took aren't that good. We rested.

The journey back was a mirror of the walk out with a similar stop for more coconut drinkage. The light faded very quickly with only a few minutes to catch a reasonable sunset before it was well past twilight. We walked through practically full dark to the village without stopping and no accidents. We tried radioing the ship for a pickup from the beach (another 15 minutes away) but contact was spotty. Luckily by the time we got through to the ship a RIB was on the way to a spot a lot closer to the ship and we encountered them a few seconds after finding out they were on the way.

On board everyone was in their Sunday best (it apparently being Sunday, I'd lost track weeks ago) so I showered and put on some actual clean clothes. This just wasn't good enough so Nick found me a shirt from the fo'c'sle while I took some shots of the yards illuminated by an arc light from below.

Following drinks on deck we descended and ate together for the first time in many many days. The meal, as all of them have been, was wonderful, the anecdotes amusing and interesting (and sadly unrepeatable). We adjourned to the main deck when the 'discussion' between James and Dan started. More laughter, more stories of old cre and voyage crew and renditions of the best limericks from one of the longer sea passage only voyages. In the end we all went to bed, or in my case, to the galley roof.

[18:40] This morning there was an opportunity to swim in the bay (from the shore, not the boat, due to sharks) so a few of us did so. We then sailed off the anchorage (hurrah, no engine rewquired again) with Joanne and Lucy as joint Captain. The firty miles sailing up the west coast of Pentecost (home of the 'land jump', inspiration for the bungee jump) began uneventfully and in beautiful weather with good winds but then these died and we had to add in the engine to keep moving appreciably. Around 16:00 (hurrah for the end of watch) the rain began to come down and has only worsened since (yes, it started yesterday).

Excitement came in the form of doing a regasket job on the t'gallant again in the driving rain and backing winds with a lovely swell going on. I probably should have clipped my safety line every time but hey, I was busy. Dry and warm (all hail equtorial temperatures, even during rain storms) I'm writing this in the galley watching Martine groove to some of the music on my iPod and am about to have dinner.

24/09/2006
[08:10] Yesterday's walk to the waterfall was initially along well-used jeep trail and then through a village before we entered almost virgin rain forest. Fairly dense undergrowth had been hacked aside in places but still sometimes a machete was required or we resorted to walking in the river bed where at least there was no vegetation. All told the walk there took about forty minutes. On arrival the waterfall wasn't stunning but a very welcome plave to strip down and stand under. The natives were amused to watch us wading about in the splash pool. Of course the rock looked perfect to climb so up I went right in the path of the water. Turns out I was being followed by the owner of the waterfall who was concerned I was going to fall to my death. I explained at the top that I was a reasonably good climber. He also would have liked to have been asked first. My first social faux pas. I was so proud. Not a very big one though, so not so bad.

At the top I discovered another, larger pool below a slightly smaller waterfall but I had no camera and no-one else was there so only I got to see it. After swimming around in it for a while I found my way to the top of the waterfall again and looked down on everyone below. Given the time I thought it best I start making my way back down again and, still barefoot, I carefully clambered back down and rejoined the others as the hike back to the start village began. We met others from the ship and everyone took a good look at the really rather good local crafts. After a little while we were shown to a secluded grassy area surrounded by trees and the men of the village, in native dress danced for us. They were dressed in nothing but a palm leaf foldered around their bits and some other things such as feathers. They stamped and whirled and generally put on an excellent show but I could see that for some of them this was a "same again for the visitors" thing and they weren't quite into it. It spoke either of excessive repetition or a lack of regard for the older ways. Whatever, it was mirrored in the womens' expressions when we were ushered through to their part of the area. Again, the dancing was excellent, but I could see that they weren't truly in to what they were doing. There was real happiness and enjoyment only when some of the ship's women were invited to join in. That's when the smiles came out.

After the dancing we went back through to the men's area and were each given a fresh coconut to drink. It was delicious and my first. I now understand how someone could live on the stuff on a desert island. After the chief had given a speech we were all asked to say something about the trip we were on. We then shook every man's hand, and then all the women's too.

Back on board the ship we had an early dinner so we could go back to rejoin the villagers and listen to a string band. Finding the right point on the shore without hitting a reef or a bombie was quite fun, but nowhere near as much as standing on the shore in the pitch blackness surrounded by small children and getting them to sing the second boat load of people from the ship to the shore. Their wonderful, naturally harmonising voices apparently carried all the way to the ship. The children, as I've said I think, sing with a natural grace and complete lack of self-consiousness. They're so happy that it's almost easy to deal with the complete lack of respect for personal space.

The band started soon after with guitars and a box bass (tea chest, long bow of wood and string) and a lot of enthusiasm, but oddly only one chord. Being tired anyway it wasn't long until I'd dozed off a few times. James played his guitar for a few songs but the locals couldn't harmonise or get a handle on his chords. Still, there was laughter and general merriment. I took the first boat back and was asleep on the galley roof long before the second boat came back.

It rained in the night so around 03:30 I went below. We're on route to Ambrym now, in a roughish swell, but it's all good. The minute I poked my head above deck in a bit of a sleepy fuzz this morning I was on the sails and going at full tilt until breakfast. A great way to start the day!

23/09/2006
[08:35] Unsurprisingly I didn't stop being in the sun, but insterad went up on the galley roof with my iPod and enjoyed the gentle breeze for a while. The snorkeling people returned without seeing any turtles, sea grass or dugong. Instead they'd seen some good reefs instead, which was nearly as good.

We filled the RIB with barbacue equipment and I went ashore with some of the crew to collect fire wood. Sme of the locals came over to help and before long we had a good fire going between the treeline and the beach. I went for a wander buy couldn't go too far in the end as I'd left my sandals on the beach and while my feet had toughened up considerably, the coral was just too sharp for me. As I returned to the fire I met the others who'd come ashore so we all went for a walk suitably shod. Walking along Anja spotted some odd-looking hanging flowers which turned out to actually be nuts (don't ask). A woman appeared and showed us the rest of her garden which was a horticulturalists dream. I have no idea how she'd mananged to get some of the seeds past customs, but it made for an amazing display. It turned out that her husband was actually the owner of the entire part of the beach we were on and it was by his permission that we were eating there this evening. We invited them to the barbecue too.

Back at the fire the food was almost ready to eat so I took some shots of the Soren in front of the setting sun (possibly some of my best shots to date) and then settled down to eat, drink and chat.

As the light faded James got out his guitar and I played my harmonica a bit as well as doing some poi on the shoreline. I really wish I'd had some fire poi as all my latest tricks came off perfectly so I was able to put on a bit of a show while there was light to see me. I think I may buy some when I get home.

After we'd all eaten a second fire appeared a little way down the beach lit by some boys and their father. Over time we migrated from our cooking fire to the brighter palm frond-fueled fire where James played more tunes, we all sang and the children who had appeared out of the dark danced and joined in. Eventually we all ran out of energy and the boat took people back to the Soren in two trips. Being in the second boatload allowed me to walk off down the beach for a while out of sight of the light pollution and take in the sight of all of the stars. Once back on board I got to sleep on the galley roof again, even if it was rather windy.

[13:35] On waking around 05:30 this morning I was helping people set sails before I was even out of the things I'd been sleeping in. Nothing like a bit of exercise to get the blood flowing. We sailed off the anchorage before I settled in to some more brass cleaning (it tarnishes so quickly in salt air). We sailed between Ambry and Malakula at a good clip and anchored about an hour ago. Following lunch just now we're prepping for a walk to a waterfall somewhere in the interior of the island (where we can swim apparently) before returning for some dancing (watching, not doing) and socialising after we briefly return to the ship for dinner.

22/09/2006
[09:15] It was a sleepy 12-4 watch. Windy, but warm in the main. With the water breaking over the bows I retired to the galley roof to do bow watch and sitting there, in the dark, watching the dark sky and ocean with a mug of hot chocolate I was so very, very content. As the wind dropped and moved during the night we altered sail configuration now and then and slowed the ship such that we wouldn't arrive at our next anchorage too soon.

I felt like crap this morning when I struggled awake for 08:00. Food and a shower saw me right though. We're dropping anchor in a bay at Epi at the moment so I should go and help sqare the braces and prepare the ship.

[14:10] Turtles! Once anchored we relaxedfor a while before a group of us went aloft to sea stow the sails. Even at anchor (which we redid due to dragging) at the yard arms there's still appreciable movement. Nothing as bad as the storm though, obviously. I got a few reasonable shots I think, of people working on the yards. I'll have to see when I get back. I don't think everyone is entirely comfortable with the camera being out quite so much so I'm keeping shots of people to a minimum for the moment.

Anja and I were the only people who expressed a preference/were awake enough to want to go snorkeling from the voyage (as opposed to permanent) crew so we, plus a permanent crew member took a RIB to shore and he read a book while Anja and I buddied up off the beach. About 20m off the shore we saw our first turtle. It must have been at least 1.5m across the shell. Truly huge. It seemed very relaxed and let me get within about 2m before with a lazy flick of its flippers it shot into the haze of the watery distance. We turned and went across the bay randomly and were amazed to see another turtle on the bottom just about to head off. Anja got to see this one a bit more before it too got bored or similar and easily outpaced us.

Otherwise the sea floor was completely devoid of life apart from small bombies (coral outcroppings anything from 2m to 40m across) around which fish congregated. We saw tons of clown fish as well as dozens of others which I can't even begin to remember, let alone identify. Back on land I took a walk down the beach looking to see if anything interesting (shells, coral) had been washed up. Now and again as I walked along the beach I stopped, looked out to sea, drank some water and contemplated the fact that I was standing on a beautiful sandy beach in the Vanuatu islands in the blazing sun as warm water lapped at my feet and behind me, muted by distance and the sound of the wind in the palm trees I could hear villagers quietly getting on with their lives. This was a moment to fix in my mind. I'm not sure how long I stood there, smiling and looking around but I completely missed Anja coming up behind me.

Back in the real world we wandered back to the boat to chat with Dan before heading back to the ship for some much-needed food. Amazing how much swimming can take out of you. Lunch was excellent as usual and I had more than my fair share by dint of sweet-talking Martine who's cook today. I felt like I could eat an entire cow to be honest.

Cow wasn't on offer (pasta and salad) but hopefully will be tonight when we have a barbecue on the beach tonight. Since lunch there's been some discussion of accommodation after we leave the ship in just under a week and some people have gone snorkeling elsewhere in the hope of seeing the dugong which apparently hangs around the island now and again here in Lamen Bay. I'm staying aboard for now, I think I've had enough UV exposure for today. Still not burnt other than a little on the side of my nose, but otherwise it's all good.

21/09/2006
[07:45] A bright and windy day in Port Vila. More like the weather I was expecting from the South Sea Islands. Slept very well, may head shore again later. It rained in the night so sleeping on deck didn't happen. The chess game remains set out to be completed later on today perhaps. Breakfast was good, the Captain has gone ashore for more Customs wrangling and the chief of a village the ship will be visiting in a few weeks has come aboard to say hello.

[21:30] The Swiss guy came back over again as we were going about some ship chores later on (I did say we got up early). I was brass polishing when he got to me with his camera. He asked some questions and then pottered off to bug other people. I headed back into town later on on one of the boats to do some more shopping but came back empty handed. With Customs finally finished and everyone back on board we sailed off the anchorage, a rather complex operation requiring us to backfill the sails, turn the ship and then rebrace to take the wind on a rear quarter and head out of the bay, never once using the engine. We had dinner at the usual time but Anja had made the mistake of reading in her bunk as we passed through a wind/rain squall an hour or so before so finally suffered a bout of sea-sickness. This was something of a surprise as we all thought she had some kind of lucky ability not to succumb. In solidarity I ate dinner on deck with her. Although part of that was knowing she'd not be able to eat it all and I'd get it. Call me mercenary, but I was hungry. I headed to bed soon after to do this and sleep. We're back on the watch system again.

20/09/2006
[08:10] The hardest watch ever. The day went on from the last with gray skies and rain squalls now and then. Lunch was pasta and just what I needed; big and filling. The afternoon watch from 12 was easy with bow watches and wheel duty and handing and setting sails as well as the occasional brace of the square sails for better wind. The wind and seas did rise as the evening went on and the light faded from the day. It was a blessing to have dinner and be able to get my head down for a few hours however, even if I needed to wedge myself into my bunk so keep from sliding around in the night.

My wakeup call at 23:30 was something of an understatement when Ian said "It's a bit wet topside, bring a waterproof." From the moment I stepped out of the galley door into the blackness wearing a pair of shorts and a waterproof jacket and nothing else, enfulged in something approaching a Force 8 (40mph winds, big seas) with the ship submerging both rails on each roll, I knew it wasn't going to be a quiet watch. The relentless pounding of the waves, along with something like one wave in seven breaking over the stern of the ship meant that I was soon drenched, even inside my waterproof. Whoever was on bow watch at that time was likewise being almost submerged as we sailed towards Vanuatu.

As we still made good speed through the storm we were forced to head the outer jib and set the inner. Common practice when in winds stronger than you would like is to removed the peripheral sails and use those closer to the centre of mass and also on stronger parts (lower part of the mast for example) of the ship. We also rebraced the yards and eventually headed the course and upper tops'l eventually. This left very few sails set, but we still made good speed.

The lights of the southern coast of Efate, Vanuautu were sighted around 12:00 apparently. All I know is that around sitting on the deck near the poop, feet wedged into anything that would hold me, along with many of the other crew bringing the mains'l boom over to wear into the wind for the journey up the west of the island to Port Vila.

More torrential rain, shouted orders in the dark to find braces, halyards, sheets, downhauls, outhauls and so forth, acknowledgements of the positioning for hauling or easing ropes passed back and forth. Those of us on watch or joining for this eassentially dangerous part of the journey had learned where everything was well enough that we performed as useful parts of the crew. Stupidly I had my glasses on so much was done by the feel of the ropes; their thickness, position relative to others, etc. Watching Dan stow the outer jib (baiscally the sail furthest forward on the jib boom) in the pitch dark as we made hard going through the storm, having to hear his shout every 30 seconds to ensure he was still on board was interesting. I only wished I'd been doing it myself.

Minutes later I got more than I could ever have wished for. The t'gallant needed stowing to stop any chance of it blowing out (tearing in some way off the yard) and I was asked to climb to the top of the foremast and do it. Imagine a circle 8m across, now imagine the tip of the mast I was climbing describing a very nearly random line within the bounds of that circle. It's pitch dark, there's a 40mph wind blowing you sideways as you climb the rigging (which is also black) and the rain is hitting you like bullets. As the rigging gets narrower there's less places to hang on to until eventually you have lean out and reach for the jackstay on top of the yard. It's dark, you're sure it's there but finding it takes a moment and at that point you have one hand off the rigging and are even more at the mercy of the roll of the ship. There's a moment when you're on both the rigging and the rope beneath the yard and you wait for the ship to swing you fully onto the yard. It happens and then you've one arm wrapped around the yard and the bunched sail, other hand struggling to untangle the gasket and then spiral it around both sail and the wooden beam you're clinging to.

As I hung there, the elements trying their level best to remove me from the ship I had a moment of almost perfect happiness. I think I even laughed out loud. No-one, not even me could ever had heard it. I can't really explain more than that. It was everything I wanted.

Some time later, maybe around 04:00ish, I was up at the bow with Jo looking for the red/green lead lights that would indaicate the bearing to take into the harbour and safe/calm waters I remembered that about two hours earlier I'd needed to go to the head. Time flies when you're 45 feet up in the air. Also we spent a lot of time discussing what types of pizza are the best, also Burger King, chocolate and cheese. Around 04:40 we brought down the mains'l and turned the engine on for the first time in days. As we motored into the harbour Sally (who'd been on deck for the ride into the harbour) dismissed the 12-4 watch with thanks and we headed below. My hands and feet looked like they belonged to an old man being as they were one solid mass of wrinkles each. I dried off as best I could and fell into bed.

Penny woke me around 07:30 to tell me about breakfast and I was damned glad she did. By 07:40 I was up, about and eating enough to sink a small pocket battleship. Peeling potatoes with Anja on the main deck was a relaxed and pleasant way to start the day as we waited for the Customs boat to make its way over to us. We're heading ashore fairly shortly for the first time in a while. Get some laundry done, have some food, maybe check email.

[22:35] A late night for once! That'll be because we're at anchor. I went in on the first boat in the morning with a few others and we dropped our laundry off at the (wo)manned laundrette. We then found a restaurant and had an early lunch at which Penny, Anja and I spent as much time puzzling out the bill as waiting for and eating the food. Port Vila looked interestingish so we went for a walk to find the Air Vanuatu office to reserve/book flights for after we leave the ship (in this very port) in a little while. Following that we looked every shop for fun things to buy. I managed to find No Fear and Mambo T-shirts which are probably not knockoffs. Turns out one of them's a bit too small so I've given it to Anja as part payment for the T-shirt she paid for for me in Fiji.

To fill up time before meeting someone else from the group at the laundrette and to get away from the noise and bustle and sheer sensory overload of the town (after being onboard a ship for a while) we walked up and over the hill behind Vila and came around in a big circle to end up back at the same restaurant for coffee and a danish. We hadn't meant to return to a place that sold meringues the size of the ship (how we managed not to buy one I will never know) but the yacht club bar had no coffee and it was beginning to rain again. Happily it didn't last long and it was pleasant to see a culture that welcomed rather than hid from the rain.

Either way it didn't last long so I wandered down to the laundrette while Penny and Anja remained to natter and finish their snack. We all met back at the wharf where we took the 17:00 boat back to the ship. I got to drive the RIB for once, which was fun. A fairly good effort apart from a bit of a bump at the far end against the hull of the Soren.

Dinner was excellent and, for the first time in days, we all got to eat together in the saloon. I spent some time on the poop deck after dinner doing some more poi and watching the sun go down when I wasn't half-meditationg with the poi, it also meant that I got to let someone else show the really, really, really enthusiastic Swiss man who rowed over from his yacht (and had to be motored back in one of our RIBs, his boat and ours looking like a 747 giving the Space Shuttle a ride) around the ship for twenty minutes or so. After leisurely chat amongst the crew I took some time to teach Anja to play chess. She'd never so much as moved a pawn before. Being the stunning teacher that I am before the end of the night we were into a rather good game. Around 22:30 we moved it downstairs from the main deck and left a note asking for it not to be moved until we'd finished it. Bed time now, and this entry...

... Although. My first impression of Vanuatu. From the markets and shops and people in the streets my observation is that the people're not as super-happy as the BBC report made them out to be (unless it meant the villages on the islands we're about to visit). However the ni-Vanuatu people don't seem to be as... contaminated/jaded by Westernisation as the city dwellers of Fiji that I met.

19/09/2006
[09:30 VST (-1 hour from FST)] Slept very well last night. As apparently did pretty much everyone else. Following dinner, which was had with all but the on watch crew, we had some time to chat and decided to make bread on the 12-4 watch this morning. Bed after a shower was the obvious thing to do and Iwent to sleep thinking about not very much at all, which was lovely. The change to Vanuatu time was accomplished by staggering the watches by 20 minutes and making them last 20 minutes longer each. I thought I'd hate it but from the time I started making bread at 01:00 I was wide awake and eager to hand hand set the sails just as much as line on the poop (hur hur hur) deck and feel the wind. Throughout the night the wind moved around and we had to rebrace the yards a few times to keep the sails happy and us on the right course.

The bread mixture was preprepared too loose for the water I was told to add (in my opinion) and I was asked to leave it to prove too long as well, so by the end of the watch it hadn't risen as much as I would have liked. Still, not and covered in melting butter at 04:40 in the morning it tasted pretty good. I have a sneaking suspicion that the head cook banjaxes the mix so that only her bread comes out perfectly.

Sleep, as I said, was good. Maybe it's the light seas we have at the moment, or the hard work of the watch but aside from not enough I'm getting some damned good kip. The cook didn't deem the bread to be a complete waste of her ingrediants and so forth when she encountered the loaves in the morning so that's good too.

There's a sweepstake running on when land will be sighted and a tot of rum for whoever is closest, also for whoever predicts the time we drop anchor too. The Purser always wins. No-one knows why.

Work on board continues with saild handling when you're around (on watch or not), sanding, painting, varnishing, polishing, etc. Also clearing flying fish from the deck and watching the trailing fishing lines for more fish. The 4-8 watch have two tuna to their name already. One over 1.5m long. Bastards.

18/09/2006
[12:35] Slept until dinner time yesterday, and then after dinner until my watch. I was slightly more awake on watch but seeing less of the ocean (which isn't so bad) and no sunrises or sunsets (which is a bit disappointing). Swell is moderate, visibility good, winds Force 4 to 5.

Took down and stowed the main stays'l during the watch early this morning, which was a bit fraught but came off OK even if the knot I lashed it with wasn't great. Bed was nice. Up for breakfast (well I can't miss cooked food!) and then bed again until lunch. Watch begins soon (12:30 rather than 12:00 so we eat first). I'm begining to understand the appreciation sailors have for their bunks and the concept of bunk time. Not only that but how time can both fly and drag interminably. There's a quintessential clarity of purpose to being at sea. There's no room for people who don't pull their weight on purpose. If you're on watch you do the job you need to do, what you're assigned to do or what you see needs doing. If you don't things go wrong.

Did I mention we caught a fairly large tuna (1.5m or more) from the back of the ship on one of the trailing lines yesterday? Fishing line, a hook and some rubber glove to give it some attraction to fish. I was lying on the galley roof at the time chilling out and listening to my iPod at the time when the shout went up.

[16:45] Afternoon watch was pleasant and uneventful. We set the top stays'l, which meant going aloft (yay) and taking the gaskets off as well as the sail cover. My first time on the swan lines (lines which span the two sides of rigging for the foremast). Lunch was good and I was pleased to note that my appetite has returned completely after the sea sickness. Some people are still a little afflicted and I'm hoping they too get over it soon.

The ship creaks tremendously with every pitch, roll and yaw. I wonder (for the few seconds before I fall asleep in my bunk evern time I lie down) how someone new would manage to deal with it. I tend to stir more now when the creaking diminishes or stops. When we're underway and there is a lull in the creaking for some reason (the ship is balanced and the stresses on the masts and superstructure are cancelled out) you can hear the water slipping past the hull. It's a lovely sound...

So we're a few days into the crossing to Vanuatu now. The watch system is esablished, working well and days just seem to go by. The sea remains huge and both empty as well as full of a kind of lazy power. Without tryping it simply picks up 300 tons of ship and rolls it to one side or the other. It's almost a worry until I realise how sea-worthy she is and how good the crew are.

I'm not sure I'd want a permanent life at sea. The lack of sability (not just the pitching deck) isn't something I could accept long term without more changes to my life. I've made a good few to date, especially in the last nine months. Some have been good, some have been not so good. Some have (and hopefully will remain so for a while) extremely good but I've also revealed a side of me I didn't know I had and I'm not sure I like it completely. It's odd; I'm a much more gregarious and outwardly confident person now. I talk to people a lot more and I'm making all kinds of new friends. To date I don't think I've caused anyone any hurt or harm and that's how I aim to continue. Sitting on the bow of the ship at 03:00, arm around a wooden post held firm deep within the ship with a swell making the ship roll within an arc of 90 degrees or so watching for lights and awaiting relief or the end of the watch you soon run out of things to distract yourself with and end up only with your inner self for company. It's an odd feeling and leads to some odd ponderings.

I miss certain people, I miss how things were. I've said this before. I think I'm coming to terms with the things I've lost though. I don't think I'm doing it in precisely the best manner possible, or a way which'll leave me the best person I'm capable of being, but it's the way I've chosen for now. So long as I keep a weather eye on myself I think it's all going to be OK long term. I just sometimes wish I had some idea of what life was going to present to me next. Whether I'll be happy, attached, in love, have a family... Some may say that all these things are within my grasp. They probably are. They key factor is maybe if I'll find someone else I can connect with as fully as I feel I have in the past. Thus far I've only ever found two people with whom I felt I had something and I was too slow in letting them (and myself) know. Maybe I just wasn't ready at the time, who knows. I wonder if I'll find someone and be able to work things out in my head and express how I'm feeling to them and myself in time to keep them from heading off.

I think maybe it's time to get my head down for a bit before dinner. More musing and sea-bound navel-gazing later I'll warrant.

17/09/2006
[10:50] I'm still feeling a little bit unwell despite slightly calmer seas and a stays'l up to help the rolling. The watch was tolerable although I'm very tired at the moment. Bow watch and the wheel are fine as they keep the brain active, but sitting around when there really isn't anything to do can lead to dozing. I could do with some proper uninterrupted night's sleep though, at some point. I could only really do the above deck part of the safety rounds owing to still feeling a bit dizzy below, but that's nearly gone now. Despite everything I'm grinning like a fool for most of the day and always volunteering to do anything that needs doing, especially if it's in the rigging. Bed was much appreciated and it's one of my greater blessings that once my head's down I don't feel sick at all and sleeping really hasn't been an issue despite the ship creaking like a live thing when she's at sea and under sail.

Sadly the 1st Mate misread a note this morning left by Dan and woke me an hour before I was supposed to be so I got even less sleep than I wanted. That hasn't helped. Turning up to the galley to ask for breakfast to be told it was in an hour from now was amusing for everyone but a very bleary-eyed me. I assume I must look a little bedraggled at the moment. Bags under my eyes, someone said I looked as white as the white T-shirt I was wearing yesterday and I haven't shaved in a while. I haven't looked in a mirror in a good few days. There are some in the heads (bathrooms) but it's usually dark when I go there and I do everything by touch so as not to wake people with the light and losing my night vision.

An aside on the heads. The heads (toilets) flush. Which is nice. They consist of the usual pan (if a little smaller of drainage hole), a pump out and a seawater pump. The former is A, the latter B. A seawater valve (C) also exists. To use: Complete reason for visit, pump A until pan empty, open C, pump B until pan filled to line, pump A to empty, use B to refill again. Repeat three more times. Fill pan to line with B, close C.

So I got up and hour later and made the tail end of cooked breakfast. Since it was before 09:00 (before which you're not allowed to shower as it keeps the heads busy for people who need to do morning things) I went aloft with my camera, but not before losing my footing on the very slippery deck and banging my tailbone and also my camera on the floor. I'm surprised the camera hasn't give up on me yet, or the lens. I'm being as careful as I can but they're taking the occasional knocks and bumps. Oddly the counter on the back still hasn't moved off 999 and I've taken more than 200 shots thus far.

So aloft was fun with the swell (remembering to climb on the windward side so as not to be blow off the rigging but rather on to it) but I'm not sure how good the shots will be. I took part in polishing the brasswork mainly so I could get a shot of the ship in the reflection of the wheel's hub. Once 09:00 had come and gone I went below for the first shower in a while, to put my contacts in and to bring my journal out on deck to get up to date on. Morning smoko's just been blown (we have a huge conch shell for the announcement). I don't feel half bad at the moment so I may have a bug mug of tea and some papaya.

[16:35] Watch was unspectacular apart from my first go at 'calling' a sail. I was resposible for bringing the main stays'l down which I managed to organise fairly well after directing people to the right halyard to ease off, the downhaul which needed to be pulled and the outhaul which need to be slackened. As it was I forgot to check if there was anyone sitting on the galley roof (which the sail is right above) but it was Anja, doing her journal so she mucked in to put a sea stow on the sail for me. Which was nice.

Otherwise the second half of watch was on the bow where I saw nothing but a few flying fish (which seem to jump onboard when we're moving at night) and lots and lots of water.

16/09/2006
[02:30] Nothing to report. At anchor. I didn't actually hear the chain go down but we're in Naomi Bay in about 15m of water. Dan and I were on the second half of the 12-4 watch as it turns out that while we're still out of blue water and doing 'anchor watches' the watches are halved so half the people on it do one half and the other do the other. Makes for a more gentle easing into the routine anyway. We've been sitting, tea in hand, eating the leftovers from previous meals and doing safety rounds (touring the entire ship to check for issues, things out of place, etc.) as well as talking about tickets (maritime qualifications for sailing ships). Bed at 04:00.

[08:45] We're just clearing the reefs to the West of Fiji. Winds around Force 4 or 5. Getting up wasn't too hard actually. Half a watch wasn't that bad. I must rememeber for tomorrow to be up for 08:50 to be in time for the cooked breakfast. I guess I can always go back to bed again afterwards.

Oh cool! We just saw a huge swordfish jump clear of the water. No-one had a camera anywhere near to hand though. Food time!

[23:55] Spent most of the morning feeling seasick. breakfast was fine but from 10:00 until 12:30 I didn't feel good at all and lost some of my breakfast (bacon! a crime!). Lunch was three mouthfuls which I seemed to somehow keep down. I've been drinking plenty of water, standing bow watch, chatting to Anja and others and doing lots of sail handling which keeps my mind off the rolling and so forth and requires me to concentrate. By the end of watch at 16:00 I'm pretty sure I was well and truly over things, so long as I was above deck. This meant that after dinner I was getting fresh air until the moment I went below to lie down (which is OK). The good thing is that I was able to eat something and have it stay down. I slept from after dinner until pretty much now. Heading up to do watch now. Wind steady Force 6, course 270, good swell.

15/09/2006
[07:15] The air mattress took a bit of effort to find the hole, which turned out to be the original one which I just hadn't patched properly. It took a long time to repair too because I couldn't find any more holes despite wetting the thing down repeatedly. It wasn't until I tested the patch that I realised I'd not done a very good job on it. Using a hot iron and a teatowel to fix something made of thin, rubberised plastic isn't my idea of fun on a rocking ship. Still, I managed it in the end. Following that I wandered aft and got to pilot us into our anchorage at Lautoka, sitting in the favoured position on the mains'l boom crutch using my foot to turn the wheel and keep us on the correct course. Very nautical.

We made port just as light had faded and with some easing back and forth were in place well before 19:00. As this was Jim's (the previous Master and current 1st Mate) last night before the new 1st Mate (James!) came on board to replace him there was a mini auction of all the things he'd picked up around the ship that should have been squared away. He had canvas bag of waterproofs, clothing and misc items which people should have known better to not keep tidy. Monies went toward the permanent crew's beer fund (a very worthy cause apparently). Following that the new 1st Mate arrived and dinner was server along with a rather potent (read: brutal) rum punch.

I went to bed around 22:00 and boy was that sail comfortable. It was just a shame about the thin whine of some kind of insect in my right ear for most of the night which I was unable to kill or drive off. Luckily I didn't seem to get bitten either, so small mercies I guess. It didn't rain overnight, but as Jim left around 06:00 in the morning by RIB I found that Anja (who also normally sleeps outside too) and I were covered in a thin layer of black ash from the sugar cane factory upwind of our anchorage. Most of it dusted off but I'm going to need to wash the sheet sleeping bag I was using when I get home in a few weeks. The sunrise and rainbow and swallows playing in the rigging which I really should have woken Anja to see more than made up for looking like we'd survived a limited nuclear holocaust.

[12:15] After breakfast we took boats into town and three of us wandered in to the centre rather than use a taxi. It felt good to stretch our legs moving in a straight line for more than fifty feet without having to move over, around or under something. Our first port of call was a nice cheap internet business where one Fiji dollar bought us an hour of time which I used to talk to a few people by MSN as well as email people and let them know I was still alive and well. 09:30 FST is 22:30 BST yesterday. Nuts.

We took a walk through town, stopping in various shops where I got a free glasses case and in another shop a T-shirt. Anja bought a sarong and Ray something I don't recall. The town was dusty, busy and filled with asian shops as well as Fijian-run ones. It reminded me of parts of Cairo for it's general look and feel. Oddly everyone in the South Pacific seems to wear Bilabong, Quiksilver, No Fear and other surf-branded clothing. Stuff that would normally cost an arm and a leg in the West. Either it's just really cheap here, or the forgery market here is very, very good.

We wandered along the streets, obvious targets for street sellers. Basic routine: "Hello! Welcome to Fiji." *offers thing which you automatically accept*. "What's your name?" *relates first name, persont takes thing back, unwraps it and quickly chisels it onto the wooden part of what ever it is*. "Ten dollars please." Slick. I avoided this happening once before working out how to even have someone come up to me to try it. We went into the food market where I've never seen so much fresh organic produce so well displayed. I guess when everyone has the same things you have to have some way of making it stand out from everyone else's. In the end it was just too hot to walk around so we retired to an air-conditioned coffee shop to sit and chat.

Walking back to the commercial dock where the Soren had tied up to take on fuel, water and lots and lots and lots of booze (so much booze!) I went barefoot along the roads as my new sandals were beginning to chafe (I really should have brought my old but split ones, I think). Once inside the dock complex we came back on board next to a huge cargo container vessel with one of the really fun-looking dropship lifeboats. We're waiting for a few people to come back from town and then it's lunch and a departure of about 14:30, Customs willing.

[18:30] The watch system is in full effect now. Even more strictly followed than before. When everyone had returned we cast off and had a talk on how the watch system was actually going to work in full. After that everyone set to work cleaning the ship of the layer of ash which had come down overnight, scrubbing the decks, polishing all the brasswork and generally cleaning the ship up. After doing my part in scrubbing the decks I was assigned the bell to give a shine to and spent the best part of an hour with some Brasso and a selection of cloths.

Underway, iPod playing, ship swaying and bell wedged somewhere tight (hur hur hur) I polished it until it gleamed. As we got further out I took the time to nap a little for my first night time 12-4 watch as well as helping with some sail setting and standing a long and enjoyable stint at the helm. For the last hour the seas have been rising with the increase in wind speed, creating quite an exciting swell and therefore moving the ship (all 300 tons of her) around a lot, giving a wet and wild experience (yes, yes, I know) when on bow watch.

Dinner soon, then sleep before the start of the graveyard shift.

14/09/2006
[06:30] We dropped anchor almost right on time and the Captain went ashore to do the usual negotiations. The route in to the beach is over some very shallow reefs so many journeys will be required when we all go ashore so that the RIB isn't too low in the water. In the meantime I went aloft again to stow and gasket some of the sails. Just a 'sea stow' which means spiraling the rope gasket around as much of the sails' lengths as possible to keep them out of the wind's grasp.

I've been meaning to wear sandals since the cut on the bottom of my foot but I never seem to get around to doing it and with all the sun and occasional salt-water dunkings it seems to be healing quite quickly anyway.

The bay we're in is large and dominated by a large horned (it looks like a slightly dulled version of the modern movie-based Batman cowl) on the south east side. The permanent crew were sitting looking at it and talking about Pratchett and other authors on the foredeck, on and around the foc'sle hatch. For a group of people who don't see land, and bookshops that often they're very well read. I joined in for a while, extolling the virtures of some authors they might like and picking up a number in return, many maritime-related of course. In the twenty minutes or so remaining before my turn to head ashore I chatted to Martine - the younger of the two cooks - about music and the contents of the three iPods on board.

Around 17:30 we began going ashore and as night fell we stood on the beach watching the sun go down and turn the water of the bay golden. As we were waiting for our hosts to prepare for us I pulled out my tailed poi (how I wish I had some fire poi with me, but getting paraffin across the world on planes would probably have been an 'experience') and did an impromptu performance. I understand now why so many videos of poi routines are on the beach. Moving across the sand, whirling and spinning, hearing the rippling sounds of the water and the tails of the poi moving through the air, smelling the clean sea air and feeling the warmth of the sun and the almost unconsious decisions to change the directions of the poi into different patterns I was as close to perfect contentment as I think I can remember being. Unfortunately I was only able to keep going for about six or seven minutes before I tried a mexican wave move and tangled. There was still scattered applause from some of the crew who were watching.

A few minutes later we were informed everything was ready and we walked up a gentle hill to the village and took our places on a large mat in the middle of the open area surrounded by palm frond huts. After a brief ceremony which required us to drink more kava I took some reasonable photos of the chief and some of the crew, lit by lantern-light as we waited for the singing and dancing to happen, and happen it did with a vengeance. Men in grass skirts, women in brightly coloured shirts all of them singing lustily and very, very well. The lead male dancer was very enthusiastic and after a while we were encouraged to get up and join in. Although I'd paired up with one crew member a local quickly interjected herself between me and her and I was whisked away into the maelstrom of bodies. I sat out for the inevitable local version of the conga as I was stamping a little too much sand into my cut. Soon covered in children (they really don't have any idea about personal space) I was a camera-holding climbing frame until the dancing finished and a few of the locals rescued me from the youngsters' clutches. Not that I minded.

Around 19:00, it being full-dark and all of us rather tired we decided to leave for the evening but ran into a number of the locals who were really quite put out that we hadn't had time to look at their arts and crafts (and buy some). A few of us (myself included) managed to get the first boat back and thus weren't required to spend some time looking at what was on offer.

On board, with everyone back, dinner was served before we chilled out for a while. I tried sleeping on top of the galley again but for the first time since I'd arrived it began to rain lightly before morning so some time around 23:30 I slowly sidled indoors.

This morning there's cloud over the hills and even out to sea. It's still perfectly warm though. Really, really wonderfully good.

[16:20] Breakfast over I went forward and onto the bowsprit and jib boom to take the gaskets off the inner and outer jibs'ls. That was fun in and of itself, even if it was interrupted by a quick lesson on more sails again. It doesn't matter, every time we go over something again it sticks a little more.

So, with a few sails set we came around the island with the engine off to anchor near some allegedly superb snorkeling reefs. We split into two groups, with my group doing some really excellent drift dives over reefs packed with fish and live coral. No manta rays though, unfortunately. I've never seen quite so many different kinds of fish, including clown fish and dozens of others I couldn't begin to recognise without a book.

As we climbed back into the RIB and powered back to the ship it actually began to rain during the day, heavily. Therefore we all figured it was better for ship's resources if we just wandered around in our swimming stuff for a while in the rain rather than have a shower. This would give the fresh water maker time to make enough for us all to have a shower later on in the day. We started the watch cycle around about midday and therefore began to eat by watch grouping. I'm on the 12-4 watch which means 12:00 to 16:00 and 00:00 to 04:00. Known as the Graveyard Shift it means I'll miss sunrises and sunsets (if I want to stay sane) as I'll be asleep.

As I was on watch I took the wheel for a short while until the rain stopped. As the sun dried the deck rapidly all hands were called to raise the mains'l as well as setting a stays'l and some topsails and jib sails which I'd regasketed on arriving at the previous anchorage. Again under sail only (it's so quiet and graceful not to have the engine running but still be under way) we left the bay to head back to the main port of Lautoka to clear customs for the passage to Vanuatu. Still on watch I've been bow lookout (a job which requires you to continually watch the horizon as well as near sea for any other ships, land or anything in the water), set more sails and done a very enjoyable stint on the wheel again. The ship pulls very differently under sail than when engine powered. Watch ended at 16:00 with afternoon smoko, so I'm about to wander the ship, read and maybe repair my air mattress, again. Seems I didn't quite deal with all the holes caused by using it the second night on top of the galley before I resorted to just lying on the sails. I think a need a Thermarest, something a bit more thick-skinned.


13/09/2006
[08:15] The meal last night was wonderful. After ferrying over to the village we were welcomed by the stand-in chief (the old chief died last year) with kava. No, not sparkling white wine but instead a root which is pounded into a mush and strained through what appears to be a sock with water to create a white liquid which isn't alcoholic but is more narcotic in effect on the body. In large enough amounts it'll numb the extremities while leaving the mind fairly untouched.

The food was meat, rice and potato eaten with the fingers in near-dark conditions on a straw mat next to a coral beach overlooking the bay in which the Soren sat, resplendent. After the food was done and the children had begun to settle onto their parents' laps we sang and listened to the first mate play the guitar lit by lanterns. We drank more kava and watch the sea slowly extinguish a fire on the beach. It was peaceful and exotic and everything that wasn't sitting at home or in work in England.

Back on the boat I tried sleeping in my actual bunk for the first time since I'd got on the ship. The verdict? Hot. Also the ship creaks wonderfully. I think tonight I'll sleep on deck again. It's much nicer. I think tonight I'll be back on the galley roof where I can see the stars and it's not so hot and close. There's a chance I could sleep on one of the gasketed sails on the bowsprit spider lines, but I'm not sure if I'd be allowed. I woke around 06:00 this morning. Note that most of the crew are in bed by 22:30 every night and up by 06:30 at the latest. This is pretty cool as it means things are getting done from very early in the morning and we're using the more useful part of the day. Obviously the sun's out, the wind's up and we weigh anchor in five minutes to backtrack to the previous anchorage to go visit a school.

[15:00] We motored around to our anchor point as we were going against the wind as it turned out. Myself and Dan were on reef-watch again. I love it up there. Once anchored (really loud rattle when the chain goes) we went ashore and met all the children of the school who were just coming out on a break. Landing on the island was wonderful. Brilliant white sand beaches and a few fishermen launching or landing boats just down the sand from us.

Anyway, yes, once we were ashore we walked the few hundred yards to the school and after seeing the boarders dorm cabins we were suddenly innundated and surrounded by many dozens of children all of whom wanted to claim us for themselves and holding our hands possessively would take us to each of the classroom cabins to see the work they'd been doing. I have to admit the level of work was quite impressive with a standard of English similar to that in Western schools. Following some school singing (the children here are so willing to sing and express no self-consiousness about their voices. They also seem to be able to harmonise instinctively) we were shown the library of rather old but useful books, some of which I remember from my own childhood over two decades ago. Eventually the children drifted away to netball or rugby or football with the crew who'd remained outside and boisterious games of all three ranged across the playing field, sometimes interleaving in amusing ways. As soon as break time was over they wished us all goodbye and obediently returned to their classes.

We all went for a quick tour of the village, which was decorated (no other real word for it) with the occasional beautiful display of flowers growing next to a hut. Those of us who missed the first trip back to the ship decided to go for an impromptu swim off the beach (I managed to cut the ball of my right foot quite deeply on some coral, but it seems to be a clean wound. Iodine's sorted it anyway). After lunch we set three sails for the first time to turn us (back-filling them, basically) to turn us and take us out of the bay and around the island to our next anchorage. This required a number of rebracings of the yards on the foremast.

Being part of the crew, climbing the rigging to loose the sails from their gaskets and hauling on the sheets, halyards and other assorted ropes on the ship is much of what I wanted from this trip, it's wonderful. We're due to drop anchor some time around 15:45 so I should put this away and standby to help head (put away) the sails we're using.

12/09/2006
[06:35] About 09:00 a few people began to appear in reception and we chatted to each other about who we were and why we'd come to do this whole sailing thing. There were four of us in total. Not many, I thought. The ship was going to be practically empty. Around 10:00 someone from the ship arrived. This turned out the be the Purser, Pauline. In two taxi rides we were all quickly transported to the wharf where, a bout 400m out in the water sat the Soren Larsen. From a distance it actually looked a little small. Oddly I think I'd been expecting something larger. Either way it was beautiful in a way I've always thought of tall ships and I couldn't wait to get aboard her. On the docks we met some more of the crew who'd been collecting provision on shore before we all went out on the RIB to the ship.

On board it was just time for morning smoko (this is an Aussie term for "Smoking break" and has come to mean time for tea/coffee and some kind of snack) so we took our bags to our individual bunks bewfore having a much-needed cup of tea. We introduced ourselves to each other and those of us who'd just got on discovered that there were some people who were remaining on from the previous voyage from Tonga as well as the permanent crew, obviously.

Among others is a father with two youngish teenage children and another girl who's the daughter of one of his freinds, a Polish man from England, a woman from Macclsfield, a German woman of my age, a man from Sydney and myself. The permanent crew number eleven and are the Master, 1st and 2nd Mates, Engineer, Purser, two cooks and four deckhands. They're all extremely personable and nice but I get the impression that for them it's like having a succession of houseguests. After a while at sea it must be very similar to a blur of faces which change before you have any real time to get to know the people behind them. Either way, after being shown around and signing the Ships Articles to become a member of the crew (we're voyage crew as opposed to permanent crew) and be given our safety harnesses I took my first opportunity to go out on the bowsprit and onto the jib boom as we motored out of the harbour and off to the Yasawa Islands. With no wind to speak of we remained under engine power for the day and I watched, fascinated, by the way the water creamed up in front of the bow.

Lunch was served a little later and I realised that I was eating my first proper meal other than airline food since Friday evening. Not that I was completely sure what day of the week it was already, having lost a day going over the International Date Line. I don't even remember what that meal was anyway. More safety talks followed, chatting to people and trying to sound them out as well as a chance to raise the first sail of this yoyage, the main staysail (or stays'l for the lazy sailors). After some instructions on the names of the ropes and how things worked we actually had it up in just a few minutes and providing some stability to us as we moved through the water. I missed some excellent photo opportunities of stacked clouds over Levu but I'm sure we'll see them again before we sail for Vanuatu. "Sail for Vanuatu", how cool is that?

As the sail was being brought down again (turns out it was just for practice) I was asked if I wanted to go aloft on the foremast to help one of the crew (Dan, it turns out) reef-spot. So up we went, hand over hand on the tarred ropes (getting it on my shorts and t-shirt a little too) to the cross-trees. The view was tremendous even if the movement wasn't as big as I thought it would be. I imagine it'll be a bit more exciting in the middle of the sea, rather than in the protected waters of the islands.

Reef-spotting took us all the way into a bay at the south end of Waya where we anchored and decided to go swimming. My first time in tropical/equitorial water. It's the perfect temperature and so salty that floating is even more effortless than in other sea water. We took turns swinging into sea from the side of the ship on a rope attached to the bottom of the yards on the foremast (the course, it turned out). After that paled (and I'd sustained a cut to my right shin from not letting go of the rope in time as I came back to the ship) we swam around until the sun went down, cleaned up and then lazed around on deck until dinner was served. We relaxed some more and I realised how tired I already was as we chatted to each other as the light faded from the sky.

The lack of sleep, hunger (still, even after dinner) and the lack of visible landmarks (given it was dark) began to make me feel oddly dizzy so I brought out my poi and gave an impromptu lesson to most of the people on board. At least half of the people onboard had a go and I was pleased at how many of them seemed to be pretty good at it after only a little tuition.

As ten o'clock came around and people began to head to bed I grabbed my gear and climbed up on top of the galley roof to find somewhere to look at the stars (they're all here) and sleep. The German woman, Anja had had a similar idea and so we both found places to sleep and after working out how to brace against the gentle movement of the ship we both went to sleep.

I'm pretty sire I've missed out all kinds of stuff. Like the amazing islands we're anchored between or some of the interesting conversations I've had with people. I don't suppose it matters overmuch, I'm sure there's plenty of other things I'll fill this journal up with before too long.

[17:30] At 08:30 we moved the ship around the island and reanchored before breakfast. The generator comes on at 06:30 so I was awake and watching the sun rise well before everyone except those of the permanent crew who were awake and getting the ship ready for the day. Cereal, pancakes, toast and of course tea and coffee provided a good start to the day. There's an awful lot of tea and coffee drunk on this ship as far as I can tell. Following breakfast there was the requisite muster to emergency stations to conform with maritime regulations and to show we could use the different kinds of life vests. After tea and pineapple at morning smoko a rapid RIB ride to shore allowed us to meet our first Fiji islanders. The Captain and Purser had already been ashore to perform Sabu-sabu (basically "Hello, do you mind if we come and visit?") so we arrived to offers of tea on a groundsheet while young children and dogs played around us. We had a quick tour of the village before the more adventurous of us followed a guide up the side of a very steep forested hill to the rocky top which, after about an hour's climb afforded us an excellent view of the bay in which the Soren was anchored. The hike was tiring in the heat and the breeze at the top was very welcome.

On coming down we picked up those people who hadn't made it all the way to the top but had instead paused under the shade of the tropical rainforest canopy before all of us taking the RIB back to the ship.

Amazingly it was only time for lunch when we got back. Lunches seem to be salad and rice/pasta which is happily helping keep us all hydrated as well as fighting off scurvy. After devouring lunch in a series of ravenous swallows we split into two parties, one of people going ashore to do basket-weaving and the other for snorkeling.

Of course I went snorkeling and saw more and varied types of fish, coral and other marine flora and fauna that I ever did in Spain or even off Ras Mohammed in Sinai. The tide wasn't much of an issue so we stayed in for an extended period before coming back aboard for a shower and pieces of a custard apple (something else I've not had before). I took the time to write this journal entry before the main meal this evening. This is going to be hosted in the village by the shore this evening and will be cooked in the ground, native-style and is, by all accounts, going to be very good. More later.

11/09/2006
[04:00 FST / 17:00 BST 10/09/2006, confusing, eh?] Whoever said that getting there is part of the adventure was dead wrong, and dead right. I don't think I know what time it is any more. I've been through at least two, perhaps three midnights and dozed my way through at least half a dozen timezone changes.

The journey from home to Heathrow was uneventful apart from running into Rachel and Tony on the same train to London on their way to Mike and Tara's wedding. At Heathrow I was required to take my shoes off at least three times to get through security and spent some time chatting to anyone who looked like they would feel like talking. Not exactly a Blitz mentality, but I figure if I'm going on a trip on my own I may as well be as gregarious as possible and enjoy myself. I sat next to a German/New Zealand couple from LHR to LAX. Lovely people, married by civil ceremony three months ago and now going to Fiji to see the wife's parents and have the fancy wedding itself on a beach somewhere. Nice.

Takeoff was actually an hour late and for a while we were worried that we'd not make our connecting flight to Fiji from LAX but we made up the hour during the flight and a flight attendant reassured us that as it was another Air New Zealand flight and a recognised connecting path it'd wait for us. This reassured us, especially when it turned out that LAX's customs and transfer systems are the most convoluted, understaffed and disorganised in the known world. I've been to Middle Eastern countries with smoother-running operations. The biometrics felt invasive and unnecessary and given the lateness of the hour on the west coast of the country the whole place was bereft of staff to help speed up the processing of everyone. This therefore meant that those of us going on to the flight to Fiji had to sprint to keep from keeping the plane too long. As I was one of the first to make it through to the next skyway I spent some time outside the aircraft chatting to the flight attendants and getting as much fresh air and leg-stretching as possible, rather than sitting in a cramped seat next to the world's largest Fijian.

Another ten hours in the air that time already spent on the flight from LHR took its toll and I flaked out a few times. I don't remember much about the journey other than getting up every now and then to stretch and unfold myself rather than be cramped into an uncomfortable position in a seat accidently invaded by my seating companion.

Arrival at NAN was effieicnt and we deplaned (I know, I hate it too) quickly and collected bags rapidly. Oh yes, the one thing I found out while queuing in LAX with my married couple friends is that their bags hadn't even made it out of their starting airport in Germany so they only had what they were standing up in, no wedding outfits or anything else. Allegedly their stuff will arrive in a few days, well in tome for the things the want to do, but I guess that's still to be discovered.

Right now it's 24 degrees centigrade and pitch dark outside the airport in Fiji and I'm about to get a taxi or bus to the Waterfront Hotel in Lautoka where I may attempt to freshen up before I meet someone from the ship and my fellow sailing companions.

[05:30 FST] Well that was extraordinary. I took a taxi from the airport and had an animated discussion about Fiji, its politics, social aspects, mores manners and customs, living conditions and where someone from Fiji goes on holiday (one of the other 304 islands apparently) with the taxi driver as we sped through the night at nearly superluminal speeds. Not that that meant we got to the hotel quickly. After agreeing a price the taxi driver and I took a meandering route up the west coast of the island, stopping to look at all kinds of things, discussing the price of suger cane and export costs as well as pausing by places of interest roughly on the route to Lautoka.

The weather was humid but only just on the cusp of being sticky. The moon was bright and full and the constellation Orion and friends is central to the night sky. This struck me as odd until I realised what hemisphere I'm now in. The evocative smell of the raw sugar cane, windblown palm fronts and a flagrant disregard for roadcraft. Ah, Fiji.

Right now I'm in the hotel, sitting in reception and trying to stay awake. It being this time in the morning there's no-one but the hotel night porter and myself around so I'm catching up on the journal and getting to stretch out on a sofa far more comfortable than the kinds of seats I've been in for the last thirty hours or so.

[07:50 FST] It may just be me, but walking around a slowly awakening Lautoka with a set of chilled out tunes on my iPod, the heat of the day beginning to rise even as a light breeze comes in off the blue, blue waters of the South Pacific, being greeted by every person you pass with a cheery "Bula!" is a surefire way to banish a few errant thoughts of loneliness and worry. Not only that but the shoreline makes for some reasonable shots, as does the narrow-gauge sugar cane railway line through the centre of town. I'm back at the hotel now, awaiting company.

09/09/2006
[16:15] 0 (days remaining) Aaaaaaaaand... (wait for it) now! That's it, I'm in the air. Don't stop me now, I'm having such a good time. I'm having a ball... Rolling, rolling, rolling. Keep them waggons rolling. Rolling, rolling, rolling. Rawhide!

That's right, baby; I got the lucky ticket. I am out of here. Adios muchachos! I'm gone, buddy. But look on the bright side; I'm gone, buddy! Yup, as you read this I would imagine (depending on just how avidly you read online journals) I'm either just taking off, leaving UK airspace or somewhere over the Atlantic/United States of America/Pacific... Yes, those numbers make sense now, have a look at the 30/03/2006 entry and various dates between now and then.

OK, so what's the deal, Ben? What are you blathering on about?

Well, way back at the beginning of March I was sitting around feeling like there wasn't much going on in my life and I really wanted to do something that I could point at and say "Hey, look what I did." or "That's a memory I'll keep for the rest of my life." (note: I have actually already created some of these in the meantime, but what the hell why not something else as well?). I was generally feeling at a bit of a low ebb and wanted some cheering up. As a result, and catalysed by something someone else was thinking of doing which made me envious I suddenly remembered my 'dream holiday' scenario and had what could be referred to as a quintessential "fuck it" moment. A few minutes later I'd navigated my way through the Explore Worldwide web site, booked a trip of a lifetime and paid the deposit, thus neatly putting paid to having my kitchen redone this year. Still, who wants a new kitchen when there's the option of doing this?

C'mon Ben, what're you on about? Where are you going?

I'm flying to Fiji from Heathrow via Los Angeles. Once there I'll be joining the crew of the Søren Larsen, a one hundred and forty-five foot, wooden hulled, square-rigged brigantine out of Auckland, New Zealand. For those of you who don't know anything about it (I imagine almost all of you) feel free to go to the ship's web site and browse the ship's history and specifications. The Søren Larsen was the ship used in The Onedin Line and Shackleton among other film works you might have heard of/seen. Have a look at the web site if you want to know more about her. She's done a ton of very excellent voyages and been around the world a few times as well. How cool is that? No, I know, Pretty Damned Cool, you don't need to tell me.

Once I've boarded at Lautoka (just north of the airport in Nadi, and getting there, finding the meeting point and so on is looking like an adventure in its own right) (map of Fiji, see left of image) at 10:00 11 September FST), and having signed the Ship's Articles I'll be part of the crew, stand watch like everyone else and help sail the ship across a part of the Pacfic for eighteen days to the Vanuatu islands (I was most amused to learn that the island state of Vanuatu was recently voted the happiest place on Earth).

Anyway, those of you who're really curious as to what I'll be doing can read about the voyage (see also: the Explore Worldwide description and PDF dossier) and even (if you've got nothing better to do for the remainder of September) track my progress (requires Java, a bit cumbersome to drive) via the Søren Larsen web site. Here are two images to make this entry look a little more interesting. Note the leg I'm doing (top left of right-hand image).


  


For a better idea of where I am in the world there's a wider area map (bottom right hand corner) which seems to cover a useful area at a decent scale. Note the lines marked "180" "Equator"...

So, yes, I'll be on board ship until 28 September at which point I'll disembark at Luganville on Espiritu Santo (map of Vanuatu, see left of image) and potter around the islands hopefully doing fun things like volcano walking, seeing something of the native culture and stuff until my flight back a little later. Of course, I also need to get from Santo to Efate and Port Vila where the 'international' airport is (which is going to be another little adventure). I'll be flying back via Brisbane and Singapore (changes only, no stopovers) to Heathrow again. So, not only a holiday of a lifetime but my first (possibly only!) circumnavigation of the globe. Also, I lose a day of my life due to crossing the International Date Line on the way out. I think I'll more than make up for the loss by cramming pretty much every kind of fun imaginable into the time I'm away...

A thought struck me when I first started looking into this trip; I'm going to be pretty much as far from home as it's currently possible to be without leaving the planet when I arrive in Fiji (apart from maybe New Zealand, yes, I know). Well, it means something to me anyway. I'm taking a short break from an awful lot of old things (and a good few new things) for three weeks and all things considered this is probably a very good time to be doing so. I'm not expecting to come back a changed person, but I do believe it's going to be very good for me.

Out of sensible precaution (lots of international flights, one of which is to America (around 11 September), spending time on a wooden ship in the Pacific, horny whales, ravaging natives (them, not me), my own stupidity, etc.) I've made out a Will and stuff and even tidied the house and left things where people can find them. I've also assigned my Death In Service Benefit (filled in the form and posted it). Not that I expect anything untoward to happen, but hey...

I've taken my camera, my lenses, anti-malarials, sea-sickness tablets, a hat, notepad for the inevitable paper-based journal (log?) and a huge amount of expectation and desire to have a bloody good time (yes, clothes and the usual stuff as well). It's possible the webcam here at work may stop updating (not that I'll be on it anyway) and I'll apologise in advance if I bore you all to tears with stories and photos when I get back. I hope everyone has a wonderful remainder of the month and, winds willing, I'll see you in October. Have fun!

Hang on, hang on! Why didn't you tell anyone until now?

Everyone's got to have a secret.

[ This entry brought to you by the letters "a" and "t" and by the characters "4:15 PM 9/9/2006" ]

08/09/2006
[14:50] 1 So, Friday here again. Had another relatively early night (midnight) which meant I didn't feel too bad this morning. This is good as I thought I needed to get all kinds of things cleared up before the end of the day, so being rested would have been great. Obviously and considering the other things I've had to organise recently I've not done much work at all, but luckily found out that there isn't as much as I anticipated, so that was OK. We've also all been to lunch with an ex-work colleague which was nice too. Great weather and the chance to catch up on what we've been doing and are going to be doing. I'm very envious of my ex-team leader as her new place sounds stunning.

I have some things to impart to my co-workers this afternoon to let them know what I've been up to work-wise. Other than that it's going to be an 'early doors' type of Friday I think. Lots to do this evening, then a nice early night so I'm rested for the things I'm up to. Everyone have a stunning weekend.

07/09/2006
[09:35] This has been a test of the emergency broadcast system. Had there been an actual network outage you would not be reading this message. Go about your business friend citizens. It's not like network connectivity isn't up and down like a yo-yo at the moment here.

[15:55] I really want it to be the end of the week. Things keep jumping up at the oddest moments from the past to bite me. It's sad that they still keep happening but then this is how things go on in life. As far as I can tell (when I'm feeling good enough to be rational about things) all you need to do is ride them out and eventually they fade away again (and one day they fade away almost completely, for good). I imagine for the next little while I'll be occupied enough that it won't actually matter what is happening elsewhere.

I had another great night last night. Popped along to a pub to listen to some Blues jamming before being driven home for a pleasant evening which allowed me to be in bed nicely early for once. Something of a rarity these early nights, but I really need to get up to date on sleep.

I wandered along to read some of Wil Wheaton's journal again this morning. Sometimes I really wish I had interesting, erudite, witty, smart or generally just interesting things to put in my journal. There's a lot of people I know who write journals and some of them write extremely well. I just kind of write down things as they (will) occur, happen or appeal to me. No real style to it at all. I don't appeal to you, "gentle reader", or stick to a particular mode of delivery, spin my words in any direction (I don't think) or even stick to the same topic for a single entry.

No. My journal is pretty odd, really. But it's mine and although I barely, if ever, read back over past entries, sometimes the act of writing things down renders what could be described only as the cathartic hit I don't need so much as engineer into my day. Also I have a terrible memory for some things and having a fairly complete corpus of aides memoire is going to be excellent when it comes to remembering some of the things I've done in the past, and especially in the recent past of the last few months... Although I've just looked back at a few key entries from the end of June to very recently and I'm damned if I can remember precisely what happened, never mind anyone else. That's probably non-optimal. Ah well.

I should get on and finish up some more of the tasks I've got to get cleaned up before the end of the week. Observation over.

06/09/2006
[16:55] Last night was great. Spent it watching Office Space and eating pizza and generally having fun. Didn't sleep so well, but made up for it in the morning if nothing else. I had the opportunity to roll into work late but actually ended up getting in well before eight. This was fortunate as I was actually in town in one of our other server rooms doing the reinstall of the other load balancer with the newest version of Solaris 10 x86-64 and Zeus' ZXTM on top. Initially I made a mistake with the BIOS and console redirection and then screwed up with the terminal handling but eventually the thing was installing smoothly and eventually I was able to install the patch cluster and get out of there to do some essential shopping. The rest of the patching and general set up could be done from my desk here at work so I felt vindicated in a) doing shopping for things I need and, b) going home for the remains of last night's pizza so I could eat it in the church grounds with Elaine who'd popped into town to tell me about her recent trip and to return a cardigan. We swapped news and stuff like that before heading back to respective work places.

Since I've been back I've finished patching the load balancer, installed the ZXTM software, rebooted both load balancers to make sure they fail over for each other (awww, it must be love) and then spent a considerable amount of time being educated in the problems one of the developers is having with a tiny little application I installed for him on a development box which his two Resin applications are having issues working with. I don't know if it's firewall rule problems, bad SSL certificates (I'm going to attend to that tomorrow at any rate) or simply that there's some badness in the code. I'll tell you this for nothing, I feel I've been smothered in verbal effluvia, the mental equivalent of a gentle pillow on the face of an elderly loved one. My brain hurts and I just want to go home and fill it with ice cubes so there's some kind of shock to get it working clearly again.

Still, only two days until Saturday.

05/09/2006
[12:40] Hurrah! So the perl issue which popped up yesterday as I was about to head home and was still trying to get the reinstalled load balancer back on its feet has turned out to be, as both I and my team leader thought, the issue we've mentioned numerous times to the person or persons who contacted me. Yes, if you move from MySQL 3 to MySQL 5 the password authentication mechanism has changed. Do you hear me? It's changed this means you need to use the documented solution we've told you about and printed out at least once in easy to read large font face.

In other news it looks like the reinstalled load balancer is happy and stuff and I've got the CDs, machine settings, recommended and security patches zip file and hopefully everything else ready to go for tomorrow morning. With luck and a following wind I should be able to get the machine reinstalled with some pace tomorrow morning (if I get out of bed early enough, it might be a late rising), do some shopping over lunch and patch it during the afternoon. As it is I've dropped the machine's ZXTM application so we're actually already failed over to the new one. Today's a live test of it, I guess. Zeus' software is fairly smart in some regards though, so I think everything's fine.

04/09/2006
[12:20] Another Monday, another crick in my neck and an ache in my right arm. Then again the weekend was uniformly excellent with a visit to see a friend and some nice food here and there. Just the thing considering how busy I'm going to be in the coming month. I managed to be completely relaxed, everything drifting away for a while (rare for me, considering what's on my mind at the moment). Not that that's not going to happen again soon given the things that're about to go on, but still. Just a shame I was worried about another of my friends now and again who's having some problems here and there (how vague can I be, eh?). It seems that on asking about things this morning there hasn't been anything irrevocable happening. I have to admit I've been rather concerned.

Anyway, life moves on as usual and for various reasons I won't be seeing that weekend friend again for a few months, which is a shame. In other news I've been 'booked' for Wednesday to go and see an evening of Blues at a local pub. This means I miss out on climbing again, which is a shame, but as I'm being bought dinner I can't really complain over-much. I have to get an early night though. Tuesday should be fun as I'm ditching my usual gym session to see a friend from out of town and have some food with them, too. It's all good considering I'm trying to empty the fridge and freezer a little and I don't think I have enough to last the week if I do.

At present I'm in the middle of a reinstall of one half of our load-balancing cluster with a new update of Solaris 10 (06/2006 release). This replaces the boot loader with GRUB which makes a lot more sense considering the machine's an x86-64 thing (Sun V20z). Once the thing's patched (attempting to use smpatch from a local source rather than Sun's) I'll stick Zeus' ZXTM software back on again and get it back into the cluster. Other than that I need to convince my team leader that the patching of all the other Solaris 9 boxen should just be a simple Rec. and Sec. application, rather than going through and working out which have what and trying to tailor a solution to each machine.

For now though, more patching (unless it's locked up and not actually doing anything any more), climbing this evening and trying to write my Will.

01/09/2006
[15:35] I think I ate my pizza too quickly. Bits of me ache. Serves me right for wanting to get out and swap the Friday backup tapes. I should have kicked back and just eaten at a sensible pace. Had a conversation over lunch which went from amusing to sad. I'm now left hoping good things happen for a friend shortly.

Last night was pretty good. Saw Lucky Number S7evin which was pretty bloody excellent and The Descent... which wasn't. Still, pizza and friends. Had a fairly late night afterwards trying to talk to another friend and ending up feeling like I was hitting a brick wall. I don't know if it was because I was tired, or thinking too much or just because of something else. I'll find out shortly anyway. It'll be fine. Friends, eh? Who'd have 'em?

Thus far the highlight of today has probably been getting another 3.3GB of tunes from one place to another intact over a shoestring network. To brighten my day a tad I intend to go to the gym this evening and make it through my routine, home and showered in time to get to to the hairdressers for 19:00. Then I think I will collapse and get an early night for the weekend ahead. Hopefully I'll have an excellent time and be back with you bright and cheerful on Monday.