Nov 25 2010

Boys will be Boys

Tag: fun activity,humorous,interacting with the localsmattholmes @ 4:44 am

I would like to extend a thoroughly vigorous thank-you to Richard Switlick, Chris Reardon, Kevin Tompsett, and Philippe Boujon, who provided the drink-link funds for Jon and myself to enjoy a correspondingly vigorous evening of refreshing alcoholic beverages.  Additionally, Karen expresses her appreciation for the quiet evening of solitude that she enjoyed while we were on the town. Thank you friends!  I regret that we do not have any pictures of the event, but I have included a great shot that Jon took of the city as it appears from our ferry stop–exactly as it appeared as we entered downtown in search of some fine Belgian beers.

Upon hearing of our male-beer-evening, a female cruising friend living down the dock from us commented that the sole topics of conversation among single men when lacking female company seem to be 1) women and 2) alcohol. Given that we are no longer single (I am married; Jon is in a relationship), she was curious about exactly what we might discuss.  A ready defense of the quality of our conversation jumped to the tip of my tongue, because I recalled that on the evening in question we had an unusually philosophical back and forth for at least two hours.  I paused before answering, however, when I realized that we had started the event at 4 and continued until 1–a duration of 7 hours–minor mental calculation says that 2 out of 7 hours is not a significant portion.  Upon further reflection, I recalled a spirited debate regarding the top three brands of each and every type of liquor present on the shelves of the bar.  And what else did we talk about? Oh, right.

I was forced to admit that the primary topics of mature non-single male conversation remain 1) women and 2) alcohol. At the same time, I regret nothing and make no apologies.

For another exhibit of male arcana, I present the preferred method for one dude to cut another dude’s hair.  I think you will agree with me that it is a paragon of efficiency: note in particular the minimal amount of male-male contact and the utter lack of escaping stray hair.


Nov 14 2010

Completion of a Journey, Passing of Command

Tag: introspection,route,victoriesmattholmes @ 4:39 pm

For Karen and me, this journey is completed. We departed the San Francisco Bay in mid February, and arrived in Australia nine months later to the day.

In the beginning, when asked how long our trip would be, we would say “anywhere from a few months to two-years; however long it stays fun and the money lasts”.  And that’s how it turned out, too.  Nine months has been a pretty ideal length of time for us–both for the fun factor and the money factor.  When we return to life in the US (the details of which remain unknown), I will feel a measure of sadness about leaving this cruising life behind, and a distinct sense of happiness and gratitude for the future that I am returning to.  So: I am glad that we did it, and glad that we are moving on.

I feel generally uncomfortable with the feeling of pride, and decidedly uncomfortable with any form of boasting–I don’t think they are attractive traits or behaviors, it being more respectable and impressive in my mind to, well, just do it, and then not mention it.  It is an indication that one is motivated by the right reasons: if you are willing to plan big then do it and afterwards not brag about it, then you sure didn’t do it merely “to say that you did”.

But in this case, come on, right?  Can I throw my arms up here and give a shout?  We accomplished something pretty big here–who can look at this whole thing and say that I can’t do whatever it is I set out to do?  Even if a) I didn’t grow up doing it b) we don’t even know if I’m going to like it c) I have none of the required skills d) didn’t start out with any money e) almost everyone thinks I’m crazy f) it’s really hard, apparently these are all surmountable.  Well, hell yeah.

We arrived in Brisbane on the 10th in the dark in the middle of the night–we seem to have established a predilection for navigating foreign ports in the dark. The passage from New Caledonia was the most enjoyable yet: we buddy-boated with a couple on Dagmar, staying within sight of them almost the whole way. We kept the radio on a private channel and used it like a phone all day long, which turned out to be a novel and successful way to stave off boredom.  Jamie and Isabelle rock.  Besides the friends, we also had killer wind–after an initial zone of the windy rainy shitty shit, we had perfect wind from the perfect direction for four days. On the final day jon set up as many sails as possible–the jib poled to windward, the drifter out to leeward through the end of the main boom, and the full main besides (which was sort of extraneous at that point).  It was beautiful–and we almost kept up with Dagmar.

Brisbane is truly wonderful, especially for this convenience-starved traveler. The river runs right through the center of it, so the public transportation starts with an extensive and efficient ferry service, and continues with a large rail system and enormous bus network. To give you an idea of the emphasis they have put on the public transportation: some of the bus lines have their own dedicated overhead roadways (as do the railways, sometimes right next to each other). The whole city looks brand new, and everything is spotless. Walking through the financial district as people get out of work, you’ll see women in their business attire walking home barefoot down the city sidewalks–that’s how clean it is. Instead of having a single trendy district, it seems to be the whole city motto; every neighborhood we visit has a bewildering number of neat/trendy/upscale bars, restaurants and cafes.  They built a floating running path out in the river along the edge, extending around two bends of the river right in front of the financial district.  On the other side, there is a half-mile long rock cliff along the river with public climbing, lit by spotlights at night–climb as late as you want. Yesterday I got confused (turned around, partially lost if you will) while shopping with karen, in some sort of 7 floor maze of a mall, an underground bunker of womens clothing and jewelry and food and coffee and perfume-yness . . . that was just one building along an entire 10-block walking mall filled with identically sized buildings.  There’s a trendy restaurant district next to a park next to the river, with high-end stainless propane grills under gazebos, first-come-first-served, and four or five artfully landscaped pools spread out through the park, some with beaches, others with complicated fountains and waterfalls–go swim whenever you want.  Having the river through the center provides a gap of space, so that you can step back a bit to get a good view; they have seating on the roofs of the ferries as well.  At night, the city is particularly beautiful.  The downtown district of skyscrapers is lit up the way a city should be (all pretty-like).  Of our entire trip, this experience feels most like a honeymoon for karen and I.  I’m digging it, not gonna lie.

With my departure, Jon becomes captain, and the responsibility for the boat passes to him.  Since joining us in the Tuamotus, he has come fully up to speed and turned into a first-rate sailor, and I have no qualms about leaving the boat in his care (no more trepidation, at least, than I would have with anyone else I’ve ever met).  Some people are never very good with finessing the sails, seeing and actually comprehending the systems; a good sailor gets it.  And Jon gets it; he understands the sailing, he can sense the nuances of trimming the sails just right.  He hears and knows when something isn’t right in the middle of the night.  He knows how to best baby the main so that it isn’t getting needlessly destroyed on the spreaders.  He sees and fixes things that aren’t just right–the way they should be, that is.  In fact, for a couple of months now he has been sailing the boat at least as well (or better) than me–a couple of times now he has corrected the trim of the sails to make things better after I went off watch.  Granted, he may not yet have fixed or f’d with all the boat systems that I did, but who in the world did?  That was part of the point of fixing it in the first place, so that it wouldn’t be breaking now.  So if something breaks he’ll have to figure out how to fix it, but that is no different than all of us, all the other sailors out there, and quite frankly he already has far more skills in that department than most other sailors out there.  So I’m not worried that he’ll fix whatever breaks.  In short, he’s fully ready to be the numero uno on Syzygy, and it is a relief that I can walk away from the boat knowing that, if anything happens, it will have been something unpreventable (or at least as unpreventable as it would have been even if it was me in the hot seat).

There’s nothing to match the responsibility and reward of being the one to make the hard decisions–calling the quick shots when the squall hits, saving the day when the engine quits, slipping out of sticky situations, but also deciding wherever in the world to go, whenever you choose.  This trip didn’t turn out as it was initially conceived; specifically, it was originally three single guys and instead it started out as a newly-wed couple and became a newly-wed couple plus my best friend.  I know that Jon hasn’t had the same experience with Karen and I as it would have been with Jonny and I.  I also know that he’s okay with that, no problems, and has enjoyed the trip for what it is rather than what it might have been.  There’s never been any judgment on that account.  At the same time, he gets a different experience now flying solo, responsible now as captain in a way beyond even my experience (I always had someone else to share in the responsibilities).  I regret that I am leaving him to continue on by himself, but at the same time my departure will make possible a different level of satisfaction, and I wish him all the joy that the responsibility brought to my experience.

As they used to say to newly promoted captains in the British Royal Navy: I wish him the joy of his command.


Nov 02 2010

Last passage

Tag: routemattholmes @ 10:50 pm

We are currently in the marina in Noumea, New Caledonia, getting ready to sail to Australia. This last passage will be another big one, 800 miles, 5-7 days, and the weather is going to kick the hell out of us, no two ways about it. We’ve been sitting here for an extra week and a half now, waiting on a decent weather window, and it looks like the best we’re going to get is still going to be Big.

I haven’t written hardly anything here for quite a while–ever since leaving Huahine in french polynesia back in mid-august my enjoyment of the trip has been steadily increasing. We’ve seen incredibly cool things, gone places that so few people ever see, done things that I’ll never have a chance to do again. Beveridge Reef, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, all of these places have been really fantastic. Great times, great people, un-beatable experiences.

But it’s time for me to move on. I’m ready to be done with the uncomfortable passages, I’m ready to be off the boat. I’m excited to be passing the torch on to Jon–it’s his turn to be captain, to shoulder the responsibility and corresponding reward. It took us over 7 months to get from California to here; the thought of being able to walk away from it all, jump on a plane and be back in the states in less than a day brings an overwhelming sense of–freedom. Freedom, and relief. We’ve done it, haven’t we? Yeah. Yeah, we sure have.

So it’s this passage, one more passage.


Oct 23 2010

Mt. Yasur

Tag: fun activity,interacting with the locals,VanuatuJonathon Haradon @ 10:09 pm

Our sail from Fiji to Tanna Island, a southern island in Vanuatu, lasted for four days.  The passage was not unpleasant, but it took me a couple of days to get over a lethargic feeling of seasickness.  The last two days, however, I felt fantastic, and I remember thinking ‘I’d forgotten that passage making was enjoyable!’

I have to remind myself of that feeling repeatedly so as to give it more prominence in my memory, because most of the time, passage making is not enjoyable.  Like our three day bash into confused seas and high winds from Tanna to New Caldonia where all I felt like cooking or eating was Ramon and a general malaise infused my entire being.

The last stretch of sailing to Tanna happened at night.  We were forty miles away when I took over the watch at midnight.  Two hours later we were thirty miles away and I noticed a glow on the horizon.  The mysterious glow seemed to hover over the island, like the lights of a metropolis from a distance in the evening, though a metropolis we certainly were not approaching.  The mysterious glow was why we were here.  The mysterious glow was from the boiling molten magma in the crater of an active volcano.  Our plan was to stand on the rim of this rumbling, lava- spewing, debris-belching beast.  Mt. Yasur.

Us and, as it turns out, 40 of our not-so-closest tourist friends.

We traveled by pick-up truck which somehow managed to transport thirteen people there, winding through a veritable four wheel drive jungle road.  Tiny villages occasionally dotted the sides of the road, and we passed clearings were Vanuatians were playing soccer.  There were many tree-houses, full-fledged houses not like little kid versions,  the banyan trees being enormously large; I saw one that had a spiral staircase ascending around the 20 foot diameter trunk system.  Other banyans had a multitude of tree limbs that jutted for 100 feet away from the center.  Once the road began it’s climb up the sides of the volcano however, the jungle quickly gave way to drier and drier conditions, until we were in a veritable wasteland.  It was about 5 pm, the sun was casting a terrific eerie light and the smoke and ash billowing from the volcano added a layer of depth to the color of the skyline.

We made the final climb to the rim of Mt. Yasur and peered over.  The edge sloped away at 45 degrees and then a few hundred feet away, cut down steeper, hiding the actual bottom.  Smoke puffed out at random intervals.  Sulfur filled the nostrils with an acrid stench.  Booming sounds of explosions and rumblings echoed up.  And the ground.  The ground shook when a large explosion would deafen the air sending a shock-wave of sound and air streaming past.  Projectiles shot up above the level of the rim.

Someone asked our guide if you could see the actual magma pit from any vantage point on the rim, and he replied they wouldn’t take tourists to those places.  If you can see the magma pit, the guide said, that means it could shoot something directly at you and you were vastly more likely to be in the path of flying debris.

Our guide held us where we initially gained the rim for a few moments as he stared into the pit of the volcano.

“Can we hike higher along the rim?” he was asked.

“We must wait for a moment.”  he replied.

“For what?”

“I must see which which way the volcano is shooting debris today.”

And shoot it did.  A few minutes later it exploded, and the senses were assaulted with the acrid smells, booming sounds, sights of billowing smoke and projectiles, and feel of a shuddering ground and shockwave of air.  One got the feeling that nature was very much in charge here.

Our guide then led us higher on the rim of Mt. Yasur.  The random and intermittent explosions continued, but now with a better angle to see, we were witness to lava exploding forth, sending showers of molten rock high into the air and spreading red hot glowing debris over a vast area of the inner slopes.  As the sun set behind us, the scene became even more impressive as the glowing became more brilliant.  Glowing debris from even the smallest explosions could now be seen more easily.  And when the largest explosion yet erupted, it was simply awesome.


Oct 23 2010

Mt. Yasur pictures

Tag: fun activity,pictures,VanuatuJonathon Haradon @ 10:02 pm

Oct 23 2010

Vanuatu Kava

Tag: fun activity,interacting with the locals,routeJonathon Haradon @ 9:05 pm

Vanuatu kava is stronger than Fiji kava.  20 shells of Fiji kava and mostly what I felt was bloated.  2 shells of Vanuatu kava…. mmmm mellow.  mmmm numb mouth.  mmmm slurred speech.  mmmm difficulty in concentrating on anything other than mindless action movies, like Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale.

As Matt, Karen and I were waiting for the small pickup truck that would take us and eleven other people up to the active volcano on Tanna Island in Vanuatu, Matt inquired of Stanley about kava.  Stanley, a native Vanuatu-ian, (he must have another, non-English, Vanuatu name) was responsible for setting up the transportation and seemed to be well connected in the village.  Stanley said he could get us some kava.  This was perfect as we didn’t think we would have time to visit a nakamal, a place where they serve kava in Vanuatu, after seeing the volcano.  And we would be leaving for New Caldonia the next day.

Stanley asked Matt how much kava we would like.

“Well how much would a liter cost?” Matt replied.

“100 vatu.”  Stanley replied.  This was about one dollar.

“We’ll take four liters,”  I told Stanley.  I was tempted to ask for three times that amount.  We’d have enough kava to last us a year or more!

When we returned from the volcano, Stanley had our kava.  Unfortunately it was only half a liter of kava.  Somewhere in the verbal communication something got lost or mistranslated.  Resigned to our meager amount of kava and unwilling to try and figure out why it was so much less than we expected, we took our kava back to the boat.  Whereupon, at the boat, we began to drink it.

The guidebook we have says you should drink kava on an empty stomach to heighten its effects.  My forays into alcoholic consumption have confirmed this is a good technique for enhancing effects of mind altering substances, so I believe it and Matt and I abstained from eating dinner for two hours while we drank some kava.

To drink it right, we broke out the shells I had purchased in Fiji.  We poured the kava into them; the kava looked more thick than Fijian kava.  In Fiji after pounding dried brown roots and adding water, they strain the liquid through cheesecloth.  In Vanuatu, they grind green roots and do not strain it.  I hope they grind it and don’t mash it in their mouths.  The different texture did not change the taste, it still was dirty bath water, but now with a little more viscus thickness to it.  Texture-wise, think whole milk versus water.

We drank one shell, and Matt started in immediately on another.  “Why not go for the full effect?” he reasoned.  I followed a little behind.  After two shells, I felt mellow, a numb mouth, slurred speech and difficulty concentrating.  If I focused hard, I could force myself to talk normal, or at least what I presumed sounded more normal.  But if I just let aimless ramblings come forth, I felt like I was slurring my words and my mouth wasn’t functioning the way it normally would.  It was fun.

Matt lapped me in kava consumed, and I handed off my last 1/2 of a shell to him to boot, as he was saying there didn’t seem to be much effect.  I wonder if he was simply focusing harder on what might be happening, his more analytic nature trying to quantify and categorize the effect, but consequently forcing out or marginalizing those effects by the act of analyzing them.  Analogous to quantum mechanics, perhaps you can’t analyze the effect without changing the effect.  The physicist in Matt defeated by the physics of it.

In the end, Matt lopped on a couple of shots of prime fine Scotch, and this he paid for dearly over the next 24 hours as we began our sail to new Caldonia.  Kava and alcohol apparently don’t mix.


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