Thursday, December 29, 2011


Christmas here wasn't a big deal.  New Zealand didn't even care so much as to snow.  Instead people get festive when the flowers start to bloom.

My body doesn't understand what's happening.  I should have spent more time in the freezer of the fishing boat we were working on to acclimatize.  It never got colder, it just rained alot.  I should have spent more time in the freezer of the fishing boat we were working on to acclimatize.  The power of my chagrin imported shitty weather for the rest of the holidays & sent the heat home.  New Years saw buds on the trees, shorts & pasty white legs on everyone.  You're welcome.

Feels like a scene from an old movie.  A call from distant family abroad on christmas day.  Hearing the joy in their voices.  Sounds of laughter, eggnog, cranberry sauce & frost in the background.  People trying to talk over each other, wearing new clothes fresh from ripping the pricetags off of, glass in hand.  Tinsel & a log on the fire.

Mom tells me she woke up with pictures of me throughout the house.  My brother put them there so they could spend christmas with me.  I try to hide how lonely mine was, making an omelette on Boxing Day.

My oldest friend in Auckland had given me a big hug, looked me in the eye & promised I wouldn't be alone for christmas.  All my flatmates were out to see their families.  I fell asleep in an empty apartment to a blazing video of Yule Log.  Wrecklessly.  I got a call late the next afternoon informing me all yule-tide events were cancelled cause he had too many bottles with the family the night before & had his head in a toilet.  Yep.  Thanks buddy.

Rocked up showered & late to my backup with a bottle of wine.  A bunch of strangers at the beach.  Couchsurfers.  What orphans?  We all belong here!  Had me in open arms at Hello.  Learned the finer art of anything-goes petonque (bocce), including covering your eyes with one hand & ducking occasionally.  Barbeque.  Hard to have a cold shoulder when you're swimming in the ocean in the sun.

The best present.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The City of Sails

Auckland, New Zealand

Alright, alright, it's time to start writing again.

Certain things are obvious about Auckland.  It is everyone's first stop.  Not many people stick around for longer than a couple days before heading out on the well traced backpacker route throughout the islands.  Most people think it's nothing special.

Nothing special?!?!  Okay granted, it's been a long time since I've been in a proper city you'd want to be in.  (Panama City does not count.)  It's exciting to me that I can conjure up internet access through the air & go to the grocery store on Sundays.  In fact you can do almost anything anytime.  AMAZING!

Auckland has been particularly special to me.

I spent a couple mandatory days at a hostel, exchanging numbers, since the country's so small & well-trodden the chances are pretty good we'll meet again.  In my excitement in duty-free of having the opportunity to fianlly buy decent booze (Tahitian rum doubles as mouthwash) mixed with my first taste of Australian rum, I accidentally bought over-proof rum.  I explained my lament of having to carry around this bottle which would take me forever to finish to my new friends at the hostel, who cocked an eyebrow & accepted the challenge.  I woke up with a headache & half the bottle had disappeared.  Like magic.

I spent a couple nights at a Couchsurfer's house while I got myself (mostly) settled.  Anna's an axe-wielding bellydancer (literally) who does acrobatics, martial arts & LARP.  They are the most superhero of all the Couchsurfing houses I've been to.  I most recently have toenail marks from her from our recent acrobatics session & will definately be returning weekly!!!  (Afterall, I need to work on my handstands.)  :-)

I even spent a couple nights camping with the occupiers in Aotea Square downtown.  Mostly it's nice to get real opinions on the Occupation I hear about all the time on the radio.  There are some characters for sure, & some really great stand up people.  Every time I came around, someone was offering me a tent or a tarp or mattress for my own tent.  Even though I have a bed & warm shower, I've considered forgoing the security it provides for the community the Occupation offers.  It's nice to shake things up a bit, shake up the predictable, & it's nice to wake up safe outside in a public park.  Most of the Occupants have homes & jobs & families to attend to as well, which means they are not the ones who feel the injustice the most, so their (our) dedication is torn.  After more than 2 months a trespassing & civil disobedience order was passed down.  Most people have packed up for the holidays, 2 groups have relocated, while a handful of people are still willing to get arrested for what they believe is right.

Spent alot of days admiring Auckland, before getting a life.  Urban hills are a new concept; explorable but foreign still.  Public art pieces, sculptures, mosaics, & graffiti are proudly displayed.  The architechture is a mix of old & new & glass walls probably made of recycled bottles or something.  There are parks around every corner & every playground is an architect's dream.  There are concert posters!  There is enough of a music scene for there to be concert posters!!  Recycling, bike lanes & there are public toilets everywhere!  (For free even!)

Downtown shoulders the Hauraki gulf, where thousands of boats are docked, moored or anchored & vary between cruising yachts, ferries, racing yachts, fishing boats, cargo ships, or megayachts side-by-side.  Every night the harbour is filled with the sails of some yacht club's regatta.  (Thursday nights I sail with Fast Company).  Islands beckon in the distance.  The waterfront is rebuilt with a beautiful large park built among old storage silos, with a series of excellent cafes & restaurants made from old shipping containers.  The two main structures by which Auckland is identified are the Auckland Harbour Bridge (affectionately known as the Coathanger) & the Skytower.  You can jump off both of them.

On the other hand, it is a city & it sprawls.  To the north, south & west, all the way to the Tasman Sea.  It takes forever to get across the city, traffic is the root of all evil, the motorway doesn't make sense & public transit sucks.  Auckland has the biggest Polynesian population of any city in the world, & I think they've all been swept into hiding in the suburbs somehow.  They might never be found.  There are So. Many. Suburbs.  The idea of Suburban Polynesia doesn't make sense to me.

There are Champagne Clubs, Lamborghini dealerships, obnoxious nightclubs & everything else made of money.  Kiwis hate Auckland the way Canadians hate Toronto & the world hates America, for being loud & their shit-don't-stink attitude.  They shake their collective free-range organic fists at Auckland & she doesn't notice cause she's drinking with Australia (probably drinking & driving as well - cocky bastard) & they can't stop serving her, cause she owns the bar.

No one here is from Auckland - there is no such thing as a native Jafa.  Even the Kiwis are all from somewhere else.  We criticize, but she's adopted all of us.  Almost everyone I know is working or studying towards their permanent residency, or already have.

In 2011, Auckland was named the world's "10th Most Livable City". with the "3rd Highest Quality of Life".
No, you can't feel the earthquakes from here.

I don't know about where it would stand worldwide, but I feel there's something to Auckland.  Something I haven't quite found yet, scratching beneath the surface to keep me from carrying on.  An electricity that keeps me up at night.  I like that.  Always moving, another corner to explore.  Expand to fit the horizon.  Bustle.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Beached is

Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Overcast.  It was a long & lonely afternoon filled with indecision.  We have only 4 days in Rarotonga.  I could be out hiking, snorkeling, or getting out & meeting people.  Instead I hesitated myself into doing nothing.
Sucked it up & bought a camera.  There is no ‘new camera honeymoon period’.  It’s my 5th in a year.  (Lost in Key West, stolen in Sayulita, fell in the ocean in Marquesas, & broken in Bora.)
Uninspired.  I finally pick up my heels & head to find a beach to get in the water & lift my spirits.  I’ve gotta boogie to catch the last light of the day.  Made it as the sun broke through the clouds & turned their underbellies bright pink.  Swimming always makes me feel better.  It’s calming to cool off.  Apparently I’ve dropped my towel somewhere along the road.  Drat.  It’s going to be a soggy 6km walk back.
Disheartened.  Things just aren’t going my way.

I can’t get my head straight & wander with an indecisive stutter.  Some guys are watching from the corner store & call me over to ask if I’m alright.  It was one of those times when you don’t realize how ridiculous you look until someone points it out.  I’m trying to take it on the chin, but my heart’s not in it.

As it turns out Ianis is one of the nicest guys on the island.  Talking with him helped me get my mojo back.  After a short while, we head out to his friend Maria’s birthday party.  Suddenly I am surrounded by friends!  He tells everyone how I was astray, & we all laugh.  Great folks who took me out & showed me a good time.  Great conversations & dancing that lasted through the night!
(There may have even been a couple losing games of pool tossed in there as well.  J)

I had my fingers crossed that we could stay just a couple days longer.  Tonight is an open water swimming race I really want to partake in, tomorrow is the opening night for Ianis’ paintball club with BBQ & there’s a paddling competition all week long.  It’s a great time to be in Rarotonga.

Logistically we are already pushing to be in NZ by Christmas, with 2000+ miles to go.  We will be rushing past Tonga & Niue, with only 4 days in Rarotonga & 20+ more days on the water.  We can’t afford to waste time, in fact we can’t even wait till after the race.  We’ve got to get moving while the weather’s with us.

I cast them off around noon, with both feet firmly planted on shore.  It took me less than an hour to make up my mind.

6548 miles from Panama City to Rarotonga.
138 days & they couldn’t give me a reason to stay.   They just shrugged & said “Do what you want.”
Good thing I wasn’t bluffing.  That’s reason enough to leave.

Cathartic.  Liberated.  Ecstatic even!  Enthralled.  Stoked!
Waste no time.  The dog days are over.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Polynesian Hospitality

Maupelia, French Polynesia

It's a tight squeeze getting through the narrow channel in the reef, & just beyond that the lagoon in mined with coral heads everywhere.  Tricky tricky, but we find a safe spot not too far from shore to anchor.

We've just arrived in Maupelia; a little atoll at the very end of the chain of Society Islands.  This is it for French Polynesia.  When we leave here we are underway - another passage heading west toward new islands, new currency, new boats, new anchorages, new winds, new immigration paperwork, new passport stamps.

Nusa Dua lead us here.  They haven't steered us wrong yet & it's on the way anyway.  They told us a story about two feuding families who lived on either side of the atoll.  One family was wiped out during a cyclone & afterwards only 2 people stayed.  Years later, 11 more people came out to join them so the population is approximately 13.

It is extremely peaceful.  We are the only sailboat here.  The sound of birds nesting on a nearby island & the pat-pat-pat of rain on the roof are the only sounds.  Exhale.

Walking down the beach.  Washed up/washed out coral & reinforced concrete foundations lying in ruin all the way along.  It is cool to wade out to where little foot long sharks are hunting & imagine them nibbling our toes between mouthfuls of fish.

An odd sound, the sound of a jeep coming down the beach.  Tire treads are hard to miss on a desert island.  A group of guys hanging out the sides stop next to us shouting 'Welcome my friends!'  These are the locals, 5 for the moment, while the others will be back from Maupiti in a couple days. 

They had seen us come in & had decided to catch us some fish for dinner.  Jamie's been waiting for an opportunity to go spearfishing since Panama.  They gladly hand him a speargun & take him along.

Instead of having a big barbeque on land, the party's at the boat tonight!  Hillond & Hono clean & fry the reef fish fresh from the kill.  Some of them Jamie was hesitant to shoot for -little green ones with yellow lips- because they're the pretty ones.  Now we're grilling 'em up!  They say eating the eyes of the red snapper will make you see & think like a fish.  Mmmm fish eyes.

Mike, Edgar & Ken arrive with a pot of stewed fish & rice, & the gift of a live coconut crab!  They tie it up & hang it off our canvas roof outside.  We lean into him too much, he takes a couple snaps at us & he has to be moved.  We kind of think of him as a pet, imagining what kind of damage he could possibly do if we let him out on deck.  Hmmm maybe climb the mast & rip the sails.  Imagine if he got up the mast what a pain in the ass it would be to get him down.  I think of him more as a hostage.

Eating fish & drinking wine.  They regale us with stories about the island.  We treat them as half-truths.  There may or may not be grey, tiger & hammerhead sharks in the pass & Hillond may or may not be military, a meteorologist, mechanic, electrician, kitesurfer & the Polynesian champion of coconut tree climbing (7m in 3seconds).  It's a raucous fun night anyway of speaking French & listening to Tahitian music onboard.

They were pretty well cut when we called it a night - Saturday night after all.  While we were already exhausted at 8:30, they went back to land, smoked the cigars Jamie gave them, went out & caught 20kg of lobster to bring over for breakfast in the morning.

My dad told me his vision of Polynesia is that of sailors being greeted by beautiful women in canoes with leis & fresh fruit.  Yeah, it's kinda like that.

They took us to a motu that's nesting grounds for shorebirds.  Thousands swarming around us.  I found the amount of black shadows more intimidating than the birds themselves.  Eggs scattered along the ground like Easter, always a little bit hidden but still in plain sight.

Paradise for the lonely shorebirds we meet at sea.  You & me both, pal.

Goodbye French Polynesia!

And all our friends who made it what it was:
Aquamante, Kaweskar, Bigfish, Santa Paz, Goody, Luna, Pegasus, SuRi, SeaWolf, Tiara, Cucu Belle, Odyssey, Tourmaline, Galena, le Cochon Noir, Chiquita, Bucephalus, Nusa Dua, Natural Mystic, Sargaço
See you downwind.

And to Baju, Hindu god of the wind, we drink every night.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

This is no shit.

Maupiti, French Polynesia
The difference between a sailor story & a fairytale is that fairytales start with 'Once upon a time' & sailor stories start with 'There I was - this is no shit.'  After that, it's all the same.

On our last night in Bora we reunited with our friends Roman & Isis plus newborn baby Rahiti on le Cochon Noir - formally known as Piggy or Oink Oink over the radio.  We had them & Bill (who's at this point considered part of the family) over for the evening.  Hanne made great sushi.  One thing leads to another, as it always does, & everyone has gone to bed except Bill, Roman & I.  Bill's telling amazing stories about Vietnam, Cartagena or Key West that always start with 'There I was, this is no shit', I'm being a good host & ribbing Roman about being Australian.  In response Roman does his best kangaroo & koala impression.  Hilarious!  Great night.

By far the best part of the night was when Hanne was cozying up to Bill saying "oh I really want to get more experience on different sailboats *wistful sigh/flutters eyelashes*".  He was quick to respond with "Oh yeah! Hey Joss, you wanna come sailing with me?"

A few nights prior on Galena, Bill & I stayed up chatting & listening to music long after my crew called it a night.  We are both long in the tooth when it comes to stories.  It was a(nother) great night.  Special.  During which I had already expressed my interest of sailing on different sailboats to expand my skills as a sailor.  He watches us young whipper-snappers hiking, swimming & climbing things & had already decided to come with us to Maupiti.  Having a tagalong couldn't ruin his reputation as a solo sailor Casanova too much, could it?

Bill would say "Darlin', having you as a tagalong could only improve my reputation."

I could hardly sleep I was so stoked to crew Galena!  She is a 37footer nearly identical to the little boat in A Perfect Storm.  It was very cool.  Galena is very smooth.  From afar, Paramour looks gap-toothed without a Main sail up.  We're flying 3 sails - the Main, Stasel & Jenny.  So many differences that are only noticeable when they're working.  So interesting.  We lash our tongues like whips & crack the rum as soon as the anchor is set.  I could imagine sailing Galena alone, from the way the lines & instruments are set up, but Paramour (46ft) would be very difficult.  (She has a working windlass!  So much easier than pulling up the anchor chain by hand!)  Very cool experience!

Maupiti is a beautiful tranquil little island, where locals stare at you as you go by, wave & say 'Iaorana!' – Hello in Tahitian.  The bakery has been without flour for 15days.  We are in withdrawal for delicious French baguettes.

It was because of Nusa Dua from Huahine we even fell upon this island.  Pierre raved about it.  They are here next to us as we pull in.  When they come over we hit 'Guest mode', as opposed to when Bill's around.  They are very nice people & tell us the location of the hike, the rays & the name of the next island we want to go to.  It's good that somebody knows.

So we have a plan.

Day one is hiking.  Pierre told us about a supposedly beautiful trail with stairs to the top of the island.  We walk right past stairs on the road, because they are blocked with a sign reading Private Property.

We take a different road that goes seemingly upward.  Jamie finds a trail in the trees;  I follow reluctantly.  We spend the next 3 hours bushwhacking our own trail through the bush through thistles & brambles.  About halfway I decided it'll only be fun as a memory.  Looking back, it's true!  We all had so many scrapes, a couple bruises, & there was almost a devastating fall, but fun in hindsight.  Not so fun that day.  We took a peaceful break that would have been more satisfying if we were actually at the top & at the trail!  The trail on the way down is actually beautiful & fun.  Naturally we couldn't go up the same direction as doing down.  This way was more....interesting.

Day two is Manta Ray hunting in the morning - before 8:30.  They always come clean themselves on that rock there.  Nusa Dua is there early too, before they head out.  At 20ft the visibility isn't very good, & we never find them.

There is a reason I never make plans.  They always go wrong.  It’s nice to have goals, but don’t take them too seriously.  Seriously.  It was good fun anyway.

The cargo ship arrives on this day & we reserve baguettes for the morning.  Capped the evening off with a farewell dinner, drinks & a lesson from Bill on chick flicks.  We had been trying to to outdo him, but he is the master.  Well played sir.

It is Remembrance Day/Veteran's Day when we say goodbye to Bill.  A good friend.  We make plans to learn to work the SSB radio & keep in touch with him along the way, but never figure it out.

These horizons are endless.  We will surely meet again.

And don’t call me Shirley.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rock the Plank

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Arriving to Bora Bora is easy.  We work on our Halloween costumes the whole ride there, with Hanne at the helm!   Ripping up clothing, fashioning scars & loot, sharpening our swords (someone tell Jamie that after a couple beers it's not a good idea to spraypaint on deck).  Making ourselves dirty & ruthless.  This year, we're pirates!
We’re the filthy vermin that will set you people free

It's a funny thing to arrive at an island you've never been to & already know when & where the parrrrty is that night.  Coordinates courtesy of Bill on Galena.

Bill's costume outdoes us all.  He's got the long red jacket, tri-cornered hat & puffy shirt.  He's not a pirate - he's a British privateer!  Draw your swords you scallywag & we'll see who's the true buccaneer!  Oh, we only have one sword on the boat.  Captain Bill, can I borrow a sword & scabbard for my costume?  It's only a costume, really.

Our time on Bora was cool because it wasn't what I expected it to be.  When browsing through a tourist guide at an abandoned resort it features: Catamaran rides!  Sunset cruises!  Deep sea fishing!  Island tours!  Whale/Dolphin watching!  Swimming with stingrays!  Scuba diving with sharks!  Sounds like they're advertising our everyday lives.  We are extremely privileged.

Hanne & Jamie are both certified scuba divers, while I've only been diving twice & the first time was in a swimming pool.  We've got diving equipment on board, so we went out in search for sharks with Guy (aka Man Overboard) from Sargaço.  Let's all hop in & go shark hunting!
I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M DOING.  Advice?  Please?
Keep breathing - yeah okay check.
Don't panic - you'll be fine.
The fact Jamie let me do this says alot about his confidence in me.  He's told us stories about swimming hand in hand with other rookies.  Down to 10-15m, chilly, bit anxious.  I suppose I couldn't tell you I have trouble relaxing in the water, but at a depth where you can't tell where's up is a bit unnerving.  There's a presence behind me, electricity in the water (not making this up!) & there's an 8ft lemon shark cruising nearby.  4-5ft black tips & 7-8ft lemons.  Wicked!

On Bora Bora, there's a spire that points up from the centre of the island.  It mocks us from the bay.  It rains for 5 days before we take to conquering her.  Slippy, uphill climb.  Steep scrambling, rappelling up riverbeds.  3hrs one way.  Cool breeze, head in the clouds on top.  Muddy & legs of jelly back at the bottom.  Felt good! 

One of the coolest things we did were all night epic games of Mexican train dominoes filled with heavy conversation between us 3, Bill & Guy.  When I say heavy I mean gun control, separation of church & state, sexuality, death penalty, freedom, war with a side of abortion.  No holding back.  Great friends & great conversations!

Between these, dancing, shooting pool & karaoke at le Recife, reciting toasts, drinking girly drinks & entertaining bored-to-death honeymooning couples at Bloody Mary' get the idea.

May the winds of good fortune fill your sails
May you sail upon gentle seas
& may it always be the other guy
who says "This round's on me!"

Bora rules!  But not the way you'd expect it to.