[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.
[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
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
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
[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
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!
[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
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.
[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
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.
[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
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
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
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.
[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
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
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!
[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
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
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.
[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
[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
[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.
[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
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
... 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
[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
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.
[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
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
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
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.
[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
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
[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.
[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
[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,
[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
Dinner soon, then sleep before the start of the graveyard shift.
[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.
[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
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
[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.
[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.
[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
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
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
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.
[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
OK, so what's the deal, Ben? What are you blathering on
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
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
voyage (see also: the Explore Worldwide
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
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
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,
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.
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" ]
[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
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
[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.
[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
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.
[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.
[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
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
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.
[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
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