Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Burgoyne Church.

The wooden church.

The winter sun skims just above the ridge and lights the Burgoyne Valley in a pallid cool light. I stop the car and take a stroll around a little white pioneer church sitting primly behind a picket fence. I photograph the remains of some flowers in a window, and then wander around to the plain back wall. White painted wood siding, a single leaded glass window set high in the center: nothing here, I think. Then I notice the cast shadows of bare branches. The wooden horizontal siding is patterned with a complex web of vertical stripes that reach up toward the sky.

There is a confluence here that pulls at thought. The little leaded window is made in a formal pattern that obviously came from the same curving up-reaching form of trees as are now patterning the wall. How much of our art patterns and architecture can be traced back to their roots in nature? How much of their power to touch us deeply rests in their common ground with our own elemental selves? We know that the original Stonehenge was a woodhenge, that the Parthenon`s progenitors were wooden buildings. Even this little church is built of wood. Nature has provided both the inspirational image and the materials to realize it into form.
I take the photograph and record the discovery that has been waiting for me here. How close I came to driving right past.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 78. The Westerlies.

A freighter says hello.

Charlie`s Charts of Hawaii’ has urged us to arrive at this vacant spot on the sea`s surface. Boats headed home to North America from Hawaii must sail close hauled to this position where they can catch the enormous circle of winds that curve around the North Pacific High. We have used these same winds to sail down the coast of America and across the ocean on the way to the Marquesas. Now we plan to catch them again.
We have been sailing on and on and further north through fog that has made even our bedding wet and clammy. The low pressure systems arrive packed with more punch too as they roar eastward between us and the Aleutians every few days. It is so tiring and so annoying to be going in the right direction and be forced to deploy the drogue which slows us down even as it saves our bacon by keeping us safe and in control.

On the drogue again and again and again.

Moonflight is well ahead of us now but keeps precious contact. We make up riddles for them to solve by next day`s schedule. Once at the end of a session we are called by another voice: a crab fisherman in the Bering Sea who has been listening in. "What are you doing out there?" he wants to know. We are at a loss for a good answer. We wonder ourselves. Australia, so far back around the curve of half the world, keeps sending Robbie`s voice and we begin to know that home is ahead when we talk to Tofino Coastguard Radio one night. It seems another lifetime since we sailed along that west coast of Vancouver Island. It seem a lifetime we have been sailing out here.

NOAA weather Radio waits until we finally reach Charlie`s magic spot on the chart where we expect to jump on the wind escalator to home and then announces in it`s Darth Vader mechanical voice that the Pacific High has dissipated. DISSIPATED?? This means that we will be in the midst of these frontal systems all the way home! We shrug, we feel fated already and railing against the fates just uses up too much precious energy.

Albatross does fly by.

My birthday arrives in the last week of August in what we call Dad`s Birthday Storm. As the grey rain-swollen clouds rush overhead we decide to celebrate on another day. Heather steers and chats away to me as I hunch under the dodger. This scenario would once have seemed high drama to us but by now it is situation normal. In all this time we have never taken a green and frothy wave into the cockpit but as I watch the waves behind Heather I wonder if this could be the time..... The S.E. part of the front has passed and the strong Westerly gale is now forming a new set of waves that cross the previous ones. As they collide they cause great spouts of water to shoot up and collapse in foam. An albatross flies beside us and paddles it`s feet onto the water to help itself up the wave face. A kittiwake flutters nearby. Much as we mutter and mumble, this is an amazing place we are in, still a thousand miles from home.

Casual cockroach crunch.

We start counting down the last set of hundred mile segments even as Anne and I struggle with sail changes . One early morning we are hoisting the reefed Fores`l after yet another rough night when the VHF radio calls and off to leeward is a big freighter. He has seen our sail rise and drop again as we struggle with it and is checking to see that we are not in distress. Anne chats to him and as she does so a big cockroach scuttles across the seat beside her. There is no pause in the conversation as she picks up the daily journal and smashes it to oblivion! The freighter captain offers us any supplies we might need, a phone call to our relatives when he reaches Vancouver..... "Good old Yanks" we say as this thoughtful American vessel carries on with our no-thanks but thanks anyway. Despite a few close calls, we have been so fortunate to belong to this camaraderie of the sea.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 77 The Horse Latitudes.

Mother and calf swim beneath Shiriri.

If it was n`t for the enthusiastic reports from the Moonflights, who have reached Midway Island and are having a wonderful time helping to band albatross`legs and eating fresh fruit and vegetables, we would enjoy this area of gentle breezes more. "You must come and see!" they call, and we would like to except that we are three hundred miles west of Midway. With these calm seas we could motor nonstop for three days and be there. Of course we would use up a lot of fuel that we might need later and really the calendar tells us we must keep moving toward home. We settle to enjoying their radio reports and catch up on our sleep as we gently sail onward.

One very black night Heather calls the whole crew on deck. "I can hear breakers!" she says. This is enough to get us wide awake! We know that far off Midway is the closest land but still we can hear the steady splash of waves in a calm barely ruffled sea. We imagine an uncharted tip of a volcanic island until we realize that the sound is tracking from right to left ahead of us and it dawns on us that we are listening to a line of dolphins crossing our bows and leaping and splashing as they travel.

As we edge north we become caught up in the trailing fronts of low pressure cells that are tracking east farther north. We are sailing due east now to use these moderate winds and we hear from Moonflight that they have left Midway and will rendevous with us to hand over some fresh vegetables. One late afternoon we see them bouncing toward us and we heave-too as they drop their dinghy in the water and row over with a profusion of gifts. They have even remembered that I have a birthday coming up soon! We haven`t seen them for over a month and must look like a group of weird castaways grinning like mad with this human contact!

Besides our daily chats with Moonflight on the radio we have been keeping a radio schedule with Robbie, Anne`s friend in Australia. We begin to pick up a collection of eager listeners from all over the Pacific, some even acting as relays when direct contact is full of static. One evening we talk to our old friends Tom and Jodie and their girls on Flyer which is anchored at Jededia Island back home in the Strait of Georgia. One important contact we have maintained is with the Seafarers Net that keeps daily track of our progress and posts our position on the internet so friends and family can know where we are.

Now we have crossed the Date Line once more we feel almost close to home but keep sailing east at about 35 degrees north. We will start edging north-east again far north of Hawaii to sail around the top edge of the Pacific High and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Heather and Anne start complaining of being cold on watch at night: there is a distinct damp chill in the air. I point out that they are still in shorts and barefoot and that we are only going to get colder still. We dig into plastic bags of cool weather clothing that seem strangely bulky and so bothersome to put on. One misty day I can see whales leaping on the near horizon as I sit semi-asleep with the rest of the crew in the cockpit. Suddenly, only a quarter of a mile away, a long line of spray rises from the sea. I think dully, "more whales," and it is only some time later when Heather asks Anne, " What does a periscope look like?"that I rouse myself. Heather draws what she has seen over the other side of the boat a few minutes before. "Yep" says our navy girl, " that`s a submarine." We hear later that this big patch of ocean is a favourite training area and we guess they were practicing sneaking up on us. If only they had thought to surface and offer us some delicacies from their galley! We are losing weight even though we eat filling meals: the constant motion and sail handling is using up more protein than we are taking in and I especially am getting very skinny. The occasional fish we catch just does n`t provide enough and after my metabolism has used up all the fat available, it starts to consume solid flesh.

We see a lot of flotsam in this part of the Pacific. Bik lighters, fishing floats and bits of rope and nets lie in windrows on the surface. We also begin to see albatross and kittiwakes and one day a humpback whale cruises along beside us, leaves and is replaced by a mother and calf that dive beneath our boat. We are a little nervous but we have been so long at sea that we are sinking deeper and deeper into a sense of oneness with this oceanic world.

The little sea lion that swims over to us really does seem to be coming especially to say hello. Yes we are becoming a little weird by shoreside standards, but our impression is that we have been privileged to pass through a portal into a clear vision of the world. In a way we are no longer subservient to the Gods but now are seeing the world through their keen eyes. Considerations of life and death fade in importance because we now know that if we were killed out here we would simply remain in the eternal steady state that lies already folded tightly into this real world. This will always be the most valuable of gifts we gain from this time and yet the one that will be most difficult to touch again or communicate when we are absorbed once more into human society.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 76. Typhoon Dodging.

A Close Encounter.

Moonflight, our American buddy boat calls us up on our radio schedule and warns of a typhoon to the south of us. They are further east and in the clear but this nasty brute is headed our way in the next 48 hours. Head east they say. We start the engine and motor all night into the easterly wind and waves and gain perhaps twenty miles for our pain. We are full bowed, have a lot of wind drag on our masts, hull and rigging and do not have a lot of push in our engine. We decide to sail north and try to outpace it. Although the circular winds within the typhoon can be very powerful, the actual movement forward can be slow. Perhaps we can keep ahead of it and hope it will wander off to the west as most do.

The next day, Moonflight reports that the typhoon has turned and is headed for the Marianas to the west of us.( Over the next while it will devastate the island of Truk and thrash the shores of China) We are back into convergence zone sailing amid an endless procession of enormous rain and squall filled clouds. We turn the radar on at night to see the rainy cores hidden in the black cloudy skyline to windward. We make rough guesses that lots of rain means lots of wind but really we are taking chances just to keep sailing and adding up the daily miles. We are already bone tired from constant sail changes.

We are sailing through the spawning ground of typhoons and sometimes find ourselves in the center of a perfect ring of big thunder clouds. The light is a coppery colour, the feeling oppressive. Just a little more energy and the right upper level winds would start the engine to turn this into the swirling winds of a typhoon (typhoon, cyclone, hurricane - all the same event.).There are some really vicious squalls roaring out of the base of monster black thunderclouds that force us to turn and run with them thereby losing more and more precious easting. We seem to be headed for Japan. Every mile lost to wind and current now is an extra mile we will have to make up once we get up into the Westerlies.

We listen to NOAA weather radio each day and are frustrated when they spend much time on a hurricane off the Mexican coast and forget our big square of the Pacific entirely. Does that mean we are OK or what? We are tense and tired. At last they describe a typhoon starting up to the south-east and predicted to have 160 knot winds in three days time near where we will be. We feel a cold stone settle into our hearts. Our chances of surviving this would not be good. Anne and I raise the mainsail, heel Shiriri down, bury her bulwarks in foam and race northward. We must try to out-sail the typhoon as it is almost on an identical course. The only safe direction would be for us to go east and we now know that we can not do that! Perhaps this one too will turn west. The next day we listen to NOAA once more . Please let them not forget us! Blaaa, blaaa, they work their computer voice way through all the other regions of the Pacific and then tell us that this typhoon has dissipated after twenty-four hours. Phew!!

Slowly we reach the half way mark of our voyage. There are thousands of miles yet to go but we start counting down the distance at around one hundred miles a day. We are a thousand miles due west of Hawaii now and see the con-trails of jets headed for Asia. We speak to a freighter headed for America. One moonlit night we see masthead lights coming over the horizon on our port side. Our radar shows us to be on a collision course. What are the chances of hitting another boat way out here? Pretty good it would seem!

First we call up the boat on the VHF to call their attention to our presence. No reply. We know that they would not be looking for another boat out here and might be chugging along on autopilot with no one on lookout. We have the right of way according to the regulations but we do not want to be right, dead right, either. I call for the red strobe light and play a spotlight on our sails. We can see the bow wave flashing in the moonlight..... We start the engine and scuttle forward and out from under. The Asian style fishing boat, silhouetted against the moon, plods indifferently on over the horizon.

The Trades now permanently switch from mostly east to north-east and become stronger. We really do not wish to go to the west side of the Pacific so we furl our trusty gaff fores`l and hoist a storm jib between the masts as a mainstays`l. That together with the jib, forestays`l and storm trys`l gives us a small but efficient upwind sailing rig. Shiriri heels less and goes closer to the wind than we have ever experienced before. The clouds are in ferment as they swirl and twist high above, indicating we are approaching some new celestial boundary. The warm air that rose high in the atmosphere near the equator has travelled north and cooled and is now descending as a belt of high pressure to begin its return trip to the equator as the trade winds. Finally the wind eases, pauses and then very faintly at first begins to blow from the west!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 75. Tarawa Atoll.

Rowing ashore at Tarawa.

Palm trees fringe the horizon and our GPS confirms that the atoll of Tarawa is just ahead. It is now three weeks since we left Noemea in New Caledonia and we have crossed the Equator just yesterday - June 26th. Those 25 knot easterly Trades that rattled us up the coast of Vanuatu finally eased and were replaced by the clouds and squalls of a convergence zone that went on forever. How we longed to return to those strong winds and bouncy waves!

We have a photo-copy chart of the lagoon so we sail beside the fringing coral reef until we find the pass, line ourselves up and enter the enormous lagoon. Two sleek tuna fishing boats lie at anchor and the shore is littered with rusting hulks. We know that this was a famous battleground of WWII but these despite their rust seem too new to date from that era. (They were fishing boat wrecks.)

We anchor near the wharf and then notice another yacht arriving .It turns out to be Moonflight sailed by a family from Seattle. They are returning home from New Zealand and will be our buddy boat for the rest of the way home. Our main interest is to top up our fuel and water tanks and to buy what food supplies we can find, but we have a more interesting mission as well. A friend back in Victoria has asked Anne if she will attempt to find the grave of a missing American Marine whose body never came home from Tarawa.

What we find ashore on the island of Betio is a crowded, sandy, palm tree covered bit of land with starving dogs tottering around the village, a small container port, fish plant (Japanese), a fuel depot, a few stores and a garbage dump over which children crawl. Poised along the shore are big naval guns still facing out to sea. It seems a surreal place: a sort of post-apocalyptic vision where people carry on their humble lives just ten feet above sea level amid the shards of a crashed star ship. This little island was the site of one of the fiercest battles of the war: Nov. 20 1943. The war in the Pacific was starting to roll up through the Japanese held islands and Tarawa had an airstrip that was needed to facilitate the next attacks in the Marianas. The assault was to teach the US Navy some important lessons about amphibious assaults against strongly fortified islands but at a terrible cost in human lives.

While walking along the causeway that connects Betio to the next in the ring of islands around the atoll we are picked up by an Australian Missionary who is married to a local woman. We tell him of our mission and enlist his help. He shows us a school he has built and the concrete fortification that stands behind it. We stop at a little graveyard of all the missionaries who chose to stay to help the local people rather that leave before the Japanese arrived. Too bad; they were all executed. We feel his bitterness and know we are talking to one of the ongoing casualties of that war in the lives of the present.

He drives us through a more fertile area at the beach near where we are anchored and where the worst casualties took place. Old rusty pieces of iron fluttering with garbage bag flags litter the beach but these too are of recent vintage: we are on an old garbage dump site and that accounts for the fertility as well. At this rate of garbage pile up, Tarawa will struggle ever upward to keep ahead of the rate of sea level rise due to global warming. Of course, it could also sink beneath the weight!

We never locate any American grave sites ( although some were discovered after our brief visit) and start the process of checking back out of the country. Kiribati, this far flung nation of many small Pacific islands (of which Tarawa is the crowded capital), must try to fulfil all of the functions of a nation state and we find it is a struggle to get the right rubber stamps put into our passports. " Could you come back tomorrow? I think the right stamp must be at the airport." "What about this one?" I say, determined not to make the long hot walk once again, "It`s OK. Just stamp it and put your signature and date in the middle." Ta Daaa! We are checked out!

As we hoist anchor we look thoughtfully at the scar on the shore line where a couple of days of big swells have eaten it away. Those waves were generated by something very fierce to the north of Tarawa and that is where we are headed. The season of typhoons has already started and we must run the gauntlet. We are still far short of being halfway home. It is July 4th.

That evening we sail between two little islands that are brilliantly lit in the evening light as we round the northern edge of the Tarawa Atoll. They are so lonely and so beautifully green. They are land, no matter how minute. We will not see any more for the next two months.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 74. Volcano in Vanuatu.

Rolling past Tana`s volcano.

The wind is from the west! The next morning after leaving Havannah Pass the wind switches direction and starts to blow us eastward toward Fiji. Now this is more like it and is what we have hoped for but did not dare dream of happening. The prevailing easterly winds do falter and switch around from time to time: we were held up in Bora Bora on our way to Australia for several days by just such a wind pattern and it is believed that the early Polynesian and Melanesian settlers of the Pacific used these winds to voyage eastward relying on the easterlies to blow them home again if they did not find new land.

We see another yacht behind us and they call us up on the VHF radio and offer us a big piece of the tuna they have just caught. Even motoring, they take a long time to catch us up. I trail a plastic bag on a long rope in our wake so they can put the fish in it and we haul it in. No they don`t have the plague, but it is dangerous for sailboats to come alongside each other while rolling in ocean waves and risk crashing together or tangling their rigs.

Soon our westerly wind fades and the east wind returns. Even so, as we reluctantly turn onto a northerly course we have gained enough easting that we hope to pass to windward of the islands of Vanuatu. As usual, it is the middle of the night when we arrive at the most southerly island, Aneityum. Shiriri has n`t quite managed to get far enough to windward. Perhaps we have been overly optimistic or the west setting ocean currents are messing with our expectations. We turn on the radar on this black rainy night and with the screen showing us the island and the fringing coral reef close to windward, we angle out across the broad passage between this and the next island in the chain, Tana.

The morning light shows clearing skies, Tana and ----what`s that? -a volcano belches a plume of ash just down wind of us. We remember now that other cruisers have come to see the volcano, so it did n`t just happen especially for us. It feels weird to be simply sailing past and eating breakfast while a great geological event is happening nearby. We imagine how it must have been in ancient Rome when Pompey was buried in Vesuvius`volcanic ash. Did folks nearby sip their wine and say "Oh yeah, there she goes! So Octavia, what`s for supper?"

Over the next week we thrash our way north with the islands of Vanuatu clear on the western horizon. The easterly trades continue to freshen (25 knots) and Shiriri rolls rail down in the steep beam seas. Now we are paying for all those sunny months in the Australian marinas: the wooden planks above the waterline have dried and shrunk and are now letting steady streams of water find their way into the bilges. The normal bilge pumps do not work well on water that sloshes back and forth at high speed as the hull rolls and we must regularly use a hand pump to catch it briefly on the vertical and suck the water up and overboard. This will naturally correct itself as the planks swell back tight in the damp but in the meantime I think it would be a good idea to duck into Port Vila just over there to leeward and take a break from these miserable conditions. Anne is stern however and as our navigator, points out to her old dad that we will only get home if we buckle down and keep sailing!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 73. New Caladonia hangs on.

Shiriri in the Baie de Prony.            

We are in a rush to leave just as soon as we can top up our fuel and water because we must arrive home on the West coast of Canada before the winter gales start in the North Pacific. Here it is still the end of May and yet so great is the distance yet to cover that we must plan three months or more ahead. We also have to check our rigging after the knock down and the engine exhaust system is leaking fumes. I shinny up the masts just fine but asking in French for the right gasket cement draws on all my linguistic and drawing talents!

As Shiriri leaves Noemea en route to Havannah Pass we discover that we have battery problems. Friends from the Manley dock -Amatuana II- help us diagnose the problem at anchor in the Baie de Prony and reroute some wires so we could proceed on only one bank of batteries, but in the end we turn back to Noemea for a new starter battery and a manual battery switch. With a solution still so close at hand and a great blank on the chart ahead of us it only makes sense.

A few days later we are ready to leave again even though this time the harbour master points out that the trade winds are persistently easterly and that we should wait until they settle back to south-east if we wish to make any easting at all. Yes, we agree, he is right, but no we can not afford to wait around. We must get through the warmer parts of the North Pacific as soon as possible to avoid the hurricane/typhoon season even if that means losing our easting.

Back in the Baie de Prony near Havannah Pass we are forced to wait a few more days as the pass is too difficult for us to exit in strong eastery winds. We visit with Noasson, also from the Manley docks and waiting to depart for Vanuatu, and then one morning with an iffy forecast of lighter easterlies we bounce out of the pass at last and start a long tack south-east to gain some easting so we can miss the Loyalty Islands just to the north when we tack again and sail close hauled to clear the south end of Vanuatu. Shiriri puts her shoulder into it and we begin to refine our windward sailing expertise.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Burgoyne Bay. Reflections in Reality.

                                         Reflections in Reality.

Just across Salt Spring Island from where I live is a bay that faces toward Vancouver Island. Cradled between mountains, the land slopes down to the waterline. Beaches are always exciting places, a meeting of two eco-systems, brushed by the sky. In late Fall the light is often cool and the skies overcast; not, one would think, an exciting time for photography. What it is though, without it`s summer flash, is an opportunity to look more deeply into the nature of reality in the reality of nature.

As I wander with my camera hunting for a “good” image I`m pulled toward the small streams that have gathered together the water draining off the fields and hills. There on the still or rippling surface is the even tone of the grey sky and the flickering reflections of trees, grasses and, if I lean forward with my camera seeking yet another reflection of thislandscape,myself.
Why do I take these photos anyway: is it as a form of self expression, a kind of trophy hunting, or am I a kind of intermediary acting like the streams and reflecting the reality of the world back to others of my species? If so, I must accept that I am also an integral part of the process: I too lean forward into the picture frame and select what will be seen.

I walk the shoreline, still in the shadow of the ridge to the south, note the ducks feeding in the shallows and choose to picture not the ducks alone but the dark shore and the curve of the stream as it empties into the sea. That big stump that has been stranded here for years: how can I be true to it`s place on the beach except to place it amid the lines of kelp so recently cast up on the strand? This is all such a delicate process of divination that I feel I have stepped out of my human skin and sunk deeply into the landscape itself.
Behind the beach, through the trees, up a steep muddy trail, are old farm fields carved with great labour from the forest a hundred and fifty years ago. Can I find another truth in these green meadows open to the sky? A great boulder pokes it`s boney head through the sod and I am down on my belly in the wet grass struggling to change mental gears and understand what it has to say. It`s rocky form echoes the lines of the mountain behind. The wind ruffles the taller grasses and I choose a slower shutter speed and wait for a gust to set the tall seedy tops a dancing before tripping the shutter. A line of May trees lining a farm road are stripped of leaves and display grey branches and the red fruit that will feed the birds all winter long. I step closer and fill the camera`s frame with nothing but twigs and fruit repeated a thousandfold. Won`t this repetition of form and rhythm that is the dominant feature of this landscape be boring? I hear my inner human designer, conscious of a future audience, worrying about composition and shrug: this feels true to the reality of this place and that trump all other considerations.
As I leave Burgoyne Bay I see a final image waving to catch my eye: a field of arching gone-wild blackberry vines and uncut field grasses are backed by abandoned rusty-roofed farm buildings. Even as artifacts of human settlement they are saying something I`m sure about the beauty and regenerative power of nature through the seasons and the changing but enduring relationship that I and my human species have with the land.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 72. Knockdown in the Tasman Sea.

In the heart of darkness.

Several days out from Brisbane and the east coast of Australia, we are dodging some dirty looking clouds with waterspouts trailing beneath them. We motor along with only our storm trys`l and forestays`l up. We are still on anti-seasick pills which make us drowsy, but are already adapted to being back at sea. Australia seems to belong to another world far back in the misty past. We are back to living minute by minute in the present moment.
"Look," says Heather. "The clouds are all rushing south." Sure enough, the sky to the north begins to clear, while to the south the clouds seem to be piling up on the horizon. As we are going east, we feel they are welcome as long as they stay away from us. Then it dawns on us that a boiling black mass is racing north toward us. I just have time to get to the base of the mainmast when we are hit by a seventy knot blast of wind that heels Shiriri down on her side. Suddenly I am standing beside the almost horizontal mast and the sea is half covering the top of the cabins. We are in the midst of a thunderstorm. Lightning flashes continuously through the mist that rips across the flattened sea.

Shiriri is over so far that her rudder is out of the water and we remain pressed down and unable to manoeuver. I haul the trys`l down, or rather sideways toward me, coil and hang the halyards back on the pin rail and lash the sail to the boom. I`m sure that my thinking mind is in shock but it is here that our months of sail training pays off: the routine is so well established that I operate on automatic. Shiriri pays off with the forestays`l pulling the bow downwind and rights herself. I edge back to the cockpit and find Anne steering with her eyes bugging out as Shiriri takes off downwind in a flurry of hail. I decide that is the best possible thing we can do. We are presenting Shiriri`s narrow end-on profile to the wind which keeps us upright and are giving with the punches by running off. The forestays`l gybes back and forth from time to time but everything holds together for what seems hours until we see a lighter patch of cloud to port and edge over toward it. Suddenly we are out in bright sunshine and gentle winds.
Ahead of us a massive cloud bank is quivering with lightening flashes. Behind and to the north are more of the same so we motor south through a narrow gap toward some clear blue sky. Anne calls some friends who are sailing towards New Caledonia somewhere to the north of us to warn them of what is coming their way. They get all sail down and motor into what Martin later described as the wildest experience they have ever been in.

We have had no weather warning of this Southerly Buster but the radio now speaks of strong storm force winds on the way. The further south we go the nastier it will be so we alter course toward New Caledonia and manage to avoid the worst when strong winds and high seas arrive the next day. We decide to try trailing our storm drogue off the stern on the bridle I made for it back in Australia. With no sails set, the wind pressure on our two masted rig keeps us sailing at three knots even with the drag of the drogue. I find that I can still steer enough to swing the stern to meet the two different wave trains and yet every thing is relatively quiet and under control.
On the drogue again...

The wind finally dies during the evening, changes direction and blows fiercely for an hour,( It is my turn to steer with my eyes bugging out) and then leaves us wallowing in the chaotic waves. No one is going out on deck to make sail or take in the drogue in these conditions, so we wait for daylight and calmer conditions before picking up the lost threads of our voyage.

We are happy sailors to finally sight the lighthouse at the pass into Noumea . This is a new pass to us but a familiar harbour and we are soon at anchor in the dusk waiting for daylight to enter port and check in. We have been given a rough beginning to our homeward voyage but it has served to get us quickly back into voyaging mode. And that, as it turns out, is a good thing!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Our Stone Age Past.

                                           Our Stone Age Past.

We read in books how back before history was recorded, life was brutal and short: uncivilized in fact. There was a progression through time from hunting and gathering groups to agricultural communities to political empires and industrial societies. The implication is that things get better along the way: more refined, in step with more complex.

Those brutish people back in the stone age: artists, part of nature, no concept for genocide, no words for war. That must have been hell back then!