5 December 2010

203. From blog to book

On my blogger 'blogspot' page I once saw an ad to convert my blog to a book instantly. I kept this in mind until recently when I thought I could afford such a treat.

I went to Blog2Print and went through the process of getting this blog Threefold Twenty turned into a book. I followed the instructions clicking on 'next' until I got to the paying instructions. I wanted to know how much it could cost and how I could pay for it. This information was unfortunately not stated upfront. I found out it would be around $60 and I could pay via a Paypal account. There was no currency exchange details but I trusted Paypal to do the job to convert it into Euros. I stopped the process without 'saving' my research.

When I was ready to actually have the book made and pay for it, I signed in and went through the same process again. When I got to the pay instructions, I went into my Paypal accont and asked to have the money transferred. Fine. Then a page came up asking me to print the receipt. This is where I got stuck.

There was no possibility to go further after that, no more 'next' to click further to confirm and sign out. I was really stuck. I did click on 'print' and waited until my computer said the document could not be printed because there was no printer connected. I knew that. But the thing is that there was no way to go past this instruction. I did not see any button sayint 'save' or put on hold or anything. I had to just leave the Blog2Book page without even being able to sign out.

I checked with my Paypal account that the money transaction had been done. Paypal confirmed it giving me details of it in Euros. So then I panicked. I went back to Blog2Print and wrote a message to get help. I received a reply some days later saying they had no trace of my order. So... where has my money gone???

4 November 2010

195. Tramp of the South Seas (6)

As I said in 191. Tramp of the South Seas (5) I was due to leave in Fiji the yacht I was on as crew since Tahiti. It was July 1997 and I had been away from home in New Caledonia since December 1995. Sailing from Tahiti westward I was finding that Fiji had a familiar look. It felt more Melanesian than Polynesian. The yacht rally around the world counted Fiji as the end of a 'leg' for all yachts, racing or otherwise. However the finish line was not in Suva but on a small island called Malololailai off Nadi (pronounced Nandi) on the west coast.

So after a couple of days in Suva and promising to return to Suva for my next job as crew to a Kiwi guy sailing to New Caledonia, we set sails to the island of Bega (pronounced Benga) on the way to Malololailai.

I am writing this from fading memories of what happened 13 years ago without maps or charts or photos. What I say might not be terribly accurate. Maybe one day I'll check with the yacht's log if I manage to get in touch with the owners of that boat again.

We sailed through a pass across a reef belt in sunny warm weather with a cool wind. As it looked dodgy I was sent up in the rigging to have a better look at the surface of the sea. I gestured to indicate where it looked shallow and this is how we entered a deep bay on the lee (downwind) of Benga.



There was a group of people living there obviously used to see foreign yachts moore there on anchor for a night or two. They were very friendly. The English captain  decided to make them honorary citizens of some town in England and gave them a piece of carving with the name of the township on it as a souvenir. What they really would have appreciated is the loan of a couple of the video tapes of films we had on board. The story was that one member of their community had worked in New Zealand and had brought back a video tape recorder. Together with a homemade power plant for electricity they used it to view films as in a cinema. I think the captain gave them a number of video tapes for their 'cinema'. They gave us a treat of their local bevarage called 'kava'...

We sailed the next morning further west and anchored for the night in a some bay. According to the GPS the spot where we dropped the anchor was 2 miles inland. I remembered that when a few weeks later I sailed with another yacht to Vanuatu.

When we finally made it to Malololailai to the venue where all yachts of the rally were assembled it was a relief. Sailing due west in late afternoon through tricky reef passes with the sun in our eyes... was fun! I could joke about sophisticated instruments not giving the accurate information. The depth sounder used to send warnings on and off with the wrong depth information. At one stage the captain who by then did not trust his GPS all that much could not make out where we were. He actually asked me to recognise the marine landscape checking it against the chart. Luckily there was a small plane taking off from an unseen strip and so we were able to identify the spot we were sailing in from that.

The welcome party was grand! Plenty of food, drinks, yachties and people of all kinds. Most sailboats were of English speaking nations. I found one who was French and crewed by French sailors. They felt socially isolated, they said, not because of language problems as all of them spoke English. I could identify with that.  

9 October 2010

192. CREW AVAILABLE... THE SEQUEL

I'm interrupting the tale of my life as a sailing tramp in the South Pacific in 1997. Something has happened in my present time.

The sailboat I was due to join as crew in August/September for an Atlantic crossing, but that I turned down last minute, has sunk.

The story starts when I registered with a website to find a yacht as a crew member. See post 183.Crew available.

There were many opportunities. I received 2 positive answers, one from a sailboat in the eastern Med and one from Sweden. The Med one I turned down straight away because I was asked questions before they introduced themselves. Being a member of the crew is like being a member of a family. I hate being treated like an employee, especially when you have to pay for your own food on top of helping get the boat going.

The other offer sounded interesting and squarely organised. A Swedish captain owner of an elegant sloop was trying to build up a women-only crew. The planned circumnavigation sailing was from August 2010 till May 2012 with a list of ports of call. I was sent by email several sheets explaining how to behave on board, the financial aspects of the venture, the safety and security measures, the captain's bio and why a female crew. I returned by email the page that said: I wish to crew... I have no navigation or diver's certificate, I speak English and French fluently, I do have cooking skills but no aerobics/yoga skills, my passport is valid and I have no proof of yellow fever vaccination.

So far so good although being asked if I had aerobics skills sounded somewhat peculiar. When I read the sheets in greater details I came across something I intensely disliked. Having sailed across the Pacific I had acquired some experience with meeting various people of different origins. So when I read: "Wear sunglasses so that no one can make eye contact with you", I jumped off my chair and soon sent an email back to say: "I've just finished reading your documents. Very thorough, thank you. Unfortunately I am not able to afford joining your crew. I wish you all the best", sending a futher email to explain my position.

The captain convinced me to join non the less as it was a simple misunderstanding. Fine. When they weighed anchor from Sweden I followed the official blog and a crew member's blog to share their crossing of the North sea to Scotland and then down the Irish coast. The plan was to pick me up in France, most likely in La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast as this was the nearest harbour to my place (a 2 and a half hour drive). I drove to La Rochelle and went to the harbour master to ask where an incoming yacht would berth. The lady at the desk replied that the harbour was closed to incoming yachts until 2 Ocotber due to an International Boat Show being organised and run until then. Again I emailed to the captain that I couldn't join them as the harbour was closed until October. He convinced me otherwise again, saying that they were pretty slow anyway and they probably wouldn't make it to La Rochelle before then.

I spent days walking in circles in my loft and in my garden agitated as to my final decision. Something had been nagging me all along, some 'little voice' saying 'don't join this boat' 'don't go on that yacht'. I fought this silly feeling that was not quite rational. I even went to see the commune mayor's wife to tell her about my next adventure and to ask her to keep my pot plants while I'd be away.

When I received an email that they would be in Britanny in a few days, that's when I replied on 18 September: "I will not join your crew... I haven't got the money. I wouldn't fit in your crew. Please don't try to convince me otherwise." It was final. I felt relaxed and relieved.

Two days ago wondering about where they were by now I tuned into one of the blogs, Cruising with Ros the Bosun. She was describing how they sunk at the entrance of the Arcachon basin and that she was now back home in Darwin, Australia... Wow. Phew.

I then googled "naufrage yacht suédois à Arcachon" and found the report of the accident in the local french newspaper called Sud-Ouest. Here's my translation of the article dated 25 September 2010.

"Last night at midnight the Swedish sailboat Olydia II launched a mayday call after having run aground on the sandbank at Arguin, at the entrance to the Arcachon basin. Shortly afterwards the sailboat mentioned a leak on board.
The Regional Operation Centre for watch and rescue at Etel coordinated several means to help the 15m sailboat: a Dauphin helicopter of the French Navy based at La Rochelle and a launch SNSM from Lège Cap-Ferret. The rescue means arrive on site aroung 1am. The conditions (2.5 to 3m swell) prevent the launch to come near the boat. The 5 people on board are finally airlifted by helicopter by 2am. Then all goes fast: at 2.15am the helicopter lands at the yacht harbour in Arcachon. The 5 rescued people (2 Swedish, 2 Australians, 1 American) are left safe and well in the care of the SDIS team who then took charge of them. They were taken to the Arcachon hospital for the rest of the night.
The last description of the sailboat was done by the SNSM launch on site. This morning the sailboat has not been sighted. Research has been started to find the yacht by a vedette of the coast guards of Arcachon in the area of the shipwreck.
Once before on 28 August a 14m sailboat had been wrecked under the same conditions, exactly at the same spot. We draw the attention of yacht sailors to the difficulties of sailing at the entrance of the Arcachon basin: sandbanks move rapidly, the night seamarks and the usually hard sea conditions make sailing in the area dangerous particularly at night."

One comment to the article:

"On Saturday 25 september 2010 the low tide at the entrance of the Arcachon pass was around midnight, high tide around 6am (1 hour before Arcachon itself), tide coefficient 86. The wreck of the 15m Swedish yacht "Olydia II" reminds us in every detail of that of "Sharky", a 14m yacht, on 25 August 2010. The same mistakes were made, i.e. arriving by night where there is no side light markers, against the tide and towards the lowest side of the tide, at a time when the sea level is the lowest, and with rough sea conditions on top of that. In this instance too this sailboat should have waited for daylight at high sea, eventually heaving-to, in order to come to the entrance pass early in the morning at high tide which is the most favourable moment. A GPS is a helpful instrument only if the route followed is that of the best passage. For that the maritime services of Arcachon can give precious information as to the best route to follow. The rescue people who intervened in those very hard conditions should receive admiration and grateful thanks from these unscrupulous 'sailors'."

6 October 2010

191. Tramp of the South Seas (5)




When we made it to Suva the first thing to do was to go to some administration to have the boat papers and our passports stamped. I remember waiting in a gloomy room with the captain wondering what was next. An Indian Fijian eventually welcome us and duly stamped several copies of some document saying we were now in Fiji.

I had previously heard on the news in New Caledonia of the troubles between two ethnic groups in Fiji, the indigenous Fijians and the population from India which had been imported in the 19th century for labor purposes. When I walked through the busy streets of Suva I realized what it meant. These two groups look very different indeed. I soon learnt not to greet Indians with the loud 'boulah' used by the indigenous Fijians.

Having come all the way from the Tuamotus in Polynesia I felt that these people were more Melanesian than Polynesian. I realized I was getting closer to home. New Caledonia is populated by indigenous Melanesians. They are people who like to keep a low profile whereas the Polynesians tend to be show-off's. Here I have to say again that I do not believe in the theory whereby the Pacific ocean had been slowly populated eastward. It simply does NOT make sense... unless the earth turned the other way round once a long time ago! The trade winds blow from East to West and it is visually obvious that the Polynesian sailors slowly invaded the Pacific westward. The Fijis are on the border between Polynesia and Melanesia so to speak. But Polynesians can be found as far as Ouvea, an island off the main island of New Caledonia. They live side by side with Melanesians on that tiny island.

My explanation does not sound very clear and some will say it is not scientific. But when scientists come out with theories that don't make sense on the ground I don't believe them. That's all.

I was due to leave this rally yacht in Suva. But as the end of the Tahiti-Fiji leg of the rally was on Malololailai (Musket island further west) I agreed to stay on until then. However the captain introduced me to the skipper of another sailboat I had found needing crew to New Caledonia. He said: "she's a good cook, it's the first time I don't lose weight during a passage". He omitted to say I didn't like using sophisticated instruments... So I was 'hired' with the understanding that I'd come back from Malololailai some time later.

2 October 2010

190. TRAMP OF THE SOUTH SEAS (4)

  Between Vavau, a northern island of the Tongas, and Suva, the capital city of the Fiji islands, there is about a week's sailing if I remember correctly. It was the beginning of July 1997. We sailed west to Fiji happy to come close to the end of this 'leg' of the Rally Around The World organised from London in which about 50 yachts took place.

I was happy to be sailing, cruising to be precise, somewhere in the South Pacific where Captain Cook roamed two centuries before. The agreement with the captain/skipper/owner of the sailboat where I was the sailing cook (...or the cooking sailor!) was that I was to leave the boat in Suva. Fiji was the end of a leg and the next one was to sail directly to the Queensland coast. As I wanted to go home to New Caledonia I had to find another crew job with someone sailing from Fiji to New Caledonia.

What do I remember from this passage? The weather was fine. We sailed with fair winds or so, the so-called trade winds from the SW. When we got to the wall of reef running across the way from north to south still a few days sail to Suva, we had to sail through a pass, i.e. an opening in the reef, . As we came across the pass, the captain decided to stop the boat and go for a dive. My goodness, I thought, this is the worst thing you can do... a pass is a place where there is current and sharks hanging around to catch fish coming through it. I knew that from living on an atoll in the Tuamotus, not from books. I said it but it had no effect! Never mind, nothing happened. The captain and the other crew fellow took a dip in the pass named after the captain of the Bounty. William Bligh had come this way rowing in a canoe after he had lost his ship through a mutiny. I have a lot of time for him. That was a sailor! And besides, he had been a crew member on Captain Cook's last trip.

Just as we started going again and as the sea was quiet, and as it was not my turn for anything like cooking or steering on watch, I stood at the bow holding the mast. Well no, the mast held me... as I was staring into binoculars at a school of large dolphins coming through the pass behind us. I counted up to 200 and then gave up. They weren't dolphins but something like rorquals. They veered north after the pass whereas we were sailing west. I lost track of them after a while. It was a fantastic sight but no one on board shared it with me. I don't think it was at all mentioned in the boat log.

As we approached Fiji I was getting really fidgetty. The captain mentioned it. Well yes, I was hoping against all hopes that my boyfriend would come and meet me in Suva. 'Tiss' was a man I had met in New Zealand in 1996. We had shared our hectic lives for a time until I had left in a passionate tearing away move to Polynesia. I used to keep a journal in those days and the whole story of the mad passion I had for him is written in my book called 'Liyan'. I had left in January and this was July. I was still passionately in love with him. I was hoping he was going to come and meet me in Suva because I had sent him a message. How stupid can you be! The first thing I did when we got to Suva was to go and ask at the airline office if he was on an incoming flight. No, there was no one by that name on any incoming flight. Flop.

28 September 2010

189. Tramp of the South Seas (3)

My mascot doll sailing  with me

So we motored into Vavau and came to dock at Neiafu.  Only a few yachts there. That was in 1997 of course, but I gather it might not be much different nowadays. The Pacific Ocean is vast and islands are wide apart. You really have to be serious about 'cruising' to get there. Perhaps with the advent of automatic sailing and automatic navigation a lot more sailboats will venture that far. In 1997, however, there were not many people cruising around there. It was the end of June or the beginning of July i.e. the cool season in the southern tropical area of the world and the weather was just fine.

After mooring everyone went out into 'town' and I staid on board. As I was in charge of the galley and the cooking I figured I had to clean up a bit after the last passage. I was in no hurry to visit the place being myself a resident of a Pacific Island at the time in New Caledonia.

Not more than 20 minutes after the rest of the crew had left I get a call on the short wave radio. A major accident. Little Tom had fallen into the water and hurt his head badly on a reef. He was rushed to the local hospital if there was one. I prayed. I prayed the Lord, God, our heavenly Father, not to turn this heaven into hell for those parents who had taken me as crew on their board.

It turned out that this very day there was an Australian surgeon on duty at the local hospital. This guy consulted in Vavau regularly something like twice a year and it happened to be this very day. Tom was promptly operated. He had an eyelid sewn back on. Call it a coincidence!

What else do I remember of Vavau? Pigs roaming around freely in the streets. A guy on a yacht having sailed from Hawaii looking for crew. I didn't take it as I was on my way back home to New Caledonia. The original plan had been to sail to Hawaii following Captain Cook's trail. That was not to be, I had to admit it. I also remember going for a barbecue somewhere on the island sitting on wooden benches at the back of a truck. We joked about going to a barbecue not to eat but to be eaten... a dubious joke, of course. Pacific islanders of old used to be man eaters. It is not diplomatic to recall this detail of history at the best of time.

A digression: in New Caledonia when I first arrived there in 1989 I met a Melanesian guy who invited me for a beer and chatted me up. I bragged that my grandfather was a farmer. He replied "well MY grandfather was a man eater"... and we laughed. Some people do have a sense of humour.  

12 September 2010

186.TRAMP OF THE SOUTH SEAS (2)



I must resume writing the story of my sailing trip across the Pacific in 1997. The previous episode is told in my post 164 when we had arrived in Rarotonga. The leg of the 'rally around the world' we were doing was from Tahiti to Fiji. The stop over in Rarotonga lasted a few days, enough for me to prepare the food for the next passage and to stroll for a couple of hours in the town of Avarua. Should I write my 'impressions' here? What I will say might not be 'politically correct' now that we are in 2010 and so aware of what is acceptable for printing.

For 6 months prior to my sailing adventure, I had been living and working in French Polynesia. I had seen how local Polynesians behaved and carried on. Like the French they were pretty undisciplined and prone to have fun, wether eating or flirting. Now when I strolled in the streets of Avarua in Rarotonga the atmosphere was very different. The lawns were nicely trimmed, people were playing rugby or cricket, school kids wore a uniform. It looked somewhat British. I pondered how a culture can rub off on people. The Polynesians of Tahiti and of Rarotonga are the same people, they speak the same language, they are of the same ethnic group. And yet some behave rather French style and others British style. In this day and age when we can't even mention the interaction between people without being labelled a racist, I dare say it looked fine to me. I know that the polynesian ways have also rubbed off on the colonials anyway.

We sailed from Rarotonga west-north-west to Vavau in Tonga, sailing past Niue half way. It was renowned to be of difficult approach, the sun was setting and we had a baby on board. We didn't detour to that tiny island in the middle of nowhere on the map of the Pacific. Captain Cook did, back in the 1700's.

Niue Google Map

The sailing was great. I remember one private incident between me and the young 2 year old captain's son. I found him once sitting seriously at his dad's charts table scribbling on charts with a coloured pencil. My exclamation surprised him, we crossed eyes and I reported him. After that, we were never friends again!

I forgot how long it took to reach this north Tonga island, perhaps a week or 10 days. When we saw Vavau in the distance, some joy invaded the company on board. I expected we were going to sail in under sails. To my dismay the captain decided to motor in. What a shame, what a shame! To this day I find it a waste of time to 'sail' with an engine. To me the pleasure of sailing is in being smart enough with sails. How can I say that? Like manoeuvering with a car. Or... I can't think of an example. The art of using the boat under sails only, the feeling of being able to manoeuver under sails only, I can't explain it. When I was taught sailing in Brittany in the 1970's we were shown how to dock under sail. It is quite an art, dropping the sails all of a sudden at a very precise time when you judge the momentum enough to take you where you want, and then use the jib and the rudder. I'd be totally incapable to perform such a feat nowadays. But I like the idea!

2 September 2010

183. Crew available

Last month I joined an Australian based website called Find a Crew. It is a very practical and efficient website aiming at connecting captains and skippers looking for crew and crew members looking for a boat and captain. Here's my profile:

Crew Member 57066, 66, female
Languages I speak
fluent English, French, acceptable German
My current location is in France
My home location is in France
Destinations I'm interested to crew: any country
Nationality: French
Boat types I'm interested to crew on:
Sailing Vessel
Boat length overal (LOA): 13 meters (43ft)
People aboard:
preferably a boat with at least 3 or more people aboard
Smoking: I'm a non-smoker
Sea time:
I've spent about 2 years at sea so far
Duration:
I'm available to crew preferably between 6 months to 2 years

Dear Shipmates,
Cruising is a way of life I love. I haven't been able to afford my own sailboat so that I have always sailed as a member of the crew on other people's boats.

I sailed for the first time on the shores of Queensland, Australia, in 1967. Later, in 1974-5 I took a sailing course in Brittany, France. Then a lot later, in 1995 I sailed from Noumea, New Caledonia, to Bundaberg, Australia. In 1997 I sailed from Tahiti to New Caledonia and then to New Zealand. Again in 1999 from Noumea to Opua, NZ.

A little about myself, my interests and my plans:
I'm a bilingual french/english citizen of Europe. I have a BA in ethnology from a French University and I studied as a post-graduate student in the United States. I lived in Australia some 12 years in all, 10 years in New Caledonia and 2 years in New Zealand, among other places.

My interests are varied and numerous: ethnology, history, traveling, computing, blogging, cooking, pottery, gardening, kids, politics. I love meeting people and exploring new places.

My motivation and reasons to crew on a boat:
My last sailing trip was in 1999 in the South Pacific. I live away from the sea and miss it. It's time for me to weigh anchor and set sails again! I do have:

- a sense of adventure
- interest in the off the beaten track places, and people
- conversation and a sense of humour
- enjoyment of a wide range of food and ability to prepare it
- absolute commitment to the boat and the other members of the team.


What position would you like to fill?
Cook, Watch-keeper, Platonic Friend Relationship, Nanny, Child care.

Type of positions you are interested to crew?
Recreational, Unpaid position.

27 August 2010

181. Weigh anchor and set sails (3)

South of Norfolk and heading for Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island of New Zealand we came across a field of jellyfish. I say 'field' for lack of a better word. We were sailing through it, left right and center. When I sailed about the same course 2 years later they were still there! If anyone needs jellyfish for any purpose of medical research, for instance, they might still be there as far as I know. We were also visited by a weird big shark who hung around the hull for 2 days. Later on from various books I figured it was a whale shark. And last, when the weather started getting moving, we were visited by an albatros.

On board life was happy, gently flirting, efficient at driving the boat and culturally interesting. The old captain had a great sense of humor. His job was to keep the radio contact going and reporting to base in NZ. He never interfered with our jobs. But what he said was law. When we (me in particular) wanted to land on Norfolk he said no and that was it.

The day after the albatros's visit the wind picked up and there was a weather warning: a strong storm coming from the far south west. Would we make it to port before it hit us? ... we did not. It hit us hard and for 3 days and 3 nights we had gales and winds up to 70 knots and a swell from the south west up to 6 or 8 meters. At the beginning we kept steering 3hrs each heading straight to Auckland. The small cutter was hitting across each wave with a huge bang shattering the whole structure. By then we had closed every door, port hole, hole that we could find and had taken refuge inside. Luckily, or rather well thought of, the boat had a wheel inside the cockpît as well as one outside. We steered from inside feeling scooped in a bit like in a submarine with waves crushing all around us and submerging the tiny cutter.

At one stage when my turn came to steer I decided to try something, a way to steer across tall waves that I had learnt in Brittany, a bit like skiing on a steep slope. Instead of heading straight into a wave, I steered up the wave at a slant and when reaching the tip of the wave, steered down the wave at the other slant. It was exhausting, turning the small wheel one way like mad and then the other way like mad while keeping a sharp eye on the sea outside through a very blurred cockpit glass. The boat stopped cracking. The next crew asked how I did it and they decided to do it my way. We then took turns at the wheel every one and half hour. We usually fell on any spot afterwards sound asleep until someone woke you up for some more. Whoever was not quite as tired as the others prepared some sort of food. We had to keep going for ever. The idea of time stopped. You just had to keep going and survive. At one stage I made everyone swallow pills against sea sickness. No one was sea sick but the eventuality of having to abandon ship was on my mind and we had to be ready for it. The captain kept talking on the radio to a guy on dry land in Australia who kept our spirits high, giving us news of other sailboats in our area... one had sunk and the skipper was being rescued by helicopter. Not no worry. Hakuna matata.

Past cape Reinga we decided against trying to go for shelter in the Bay of Islands. It would have been a risky manouver in such conditions. We kept going for Auckland. On our starboard we could sometimes see a huge cargo boat. It looked more like a haunted vessel. When we got into port 'he' (boats in french are masculine, I just can't think of them in the feminine) let us sail past and get to harbor first. Perhaps they hadn't even seen us bobbing up and down the waves for 3 days but I like to think that, by doing so, they wanted to honour our efforts as sailors.

Before getting into Auckland there's an island off the coast in the middle of the way. I'm writing this from memory and without a map at my disposal, I don't recall the name of that island. The shortest route for us would have been to cut across the land on starboard and that island on port. In these dire conditions the agreement was that whoever was at the helm made the decisions needed. It was my turn to steer when we came close to the island. My experience of having been blown onto a beach under cyclonic conditions once back in 1967 in Queensland told me that you don't take a chance sailing upwind of an island. I rounded the island which meant adding a few more sailing hours.

We got into Auckland harbor at 10pm. It was the usually strange feeling of arriving from hell into very quiet waters, in the pitch dark night of a friendly port. The Customs Officers reopened just for us as they did not want us to stay in quarantine after such an ordeal. We slept like logs in a heap.

One flash back: just as the wind picked up a long way north of cape Reinga we had to take the sails down under full gale. I remember being at the helm outside keeping the boat dead still the bow into the wind. The captain's son was up at the bow under heavy rain trying to bring the sails down. If I moved the nose of the cutter off the wind by a millimeter he'd swear and shout and I soon moved back the wheel by a millimeter. A treacherous job with the swell rocking the boat at will. We sailed all the way to Auckland with the stay sail only. Even a semi furled jib wouldn't have done the job. I like staysails!

24 August 2010

180. WEIGH ANCHOR AND SET SAILS (2)









Dreaming of sailing again, yes, and making plans to find a crew position on a cruising sailboat, I've joined a number of sailing forums on the world wide web. On 'cruisersforum' you find all sorts of conversations between sailors in various parts of the world. It is not so diversified actually. They are mostly english speaking men. I tiptoed in one conversation the other day about a sailing plan from Cairns on the eastern coast of Australia to Auckland in New Zealand. Here's my observation:

Hi,
The tradewinds are not that regular any more. I wouldn't sail that distance in a straight line anyway. Nothing is a straight line on the ocean as you know.
I sailed Noumea-Bundaberg once, Noumea-Auckland once, Noumea-Opua once.
If you could sail from Cairns to Noumea
... yes but not at this time of year. Anyway from New Caledonia you don't even have to tack once! From Noumea to Lord Howe the south easterlies push you to the west of Lord Howe and then the south westerlies push you straight into the Bay of Islands.
But don't take my word for it!

It does not sound too professional, does it? Coming from a woman writing from a village in the middle of France, it may even sound ludicrous. I think it is time I finish telling the story of my sailing trip from Noumea to Auckland as part of the crew on a cutter in November 1997. The first part is in my post 74. WEIGH ANCHOR AND SET SAILS (1).

The boat was a cutter. One important thing about a cutter is that it has a stay sail. It did come in handy. We were 5 on board, the 80 year old kiwi captain who had built the boat himself, his kiwi son, myself and the 2 new french recruits, i.e. 3 men and 2 women, the age range being from 80 to 30: a mixed bunch in other words, speaking 2 tongues, 2 genders, 2 nationalities, old and new, experienced and newbies.

Leaving Noumea late October or beginning November is already quite late. The summer season is arriving in the tropical zone with threats of cyclones and getting into NZ waters at that time is known as likely to meet rough conditions.  

We left the Noumea marina on a nice day crossing the lagoon on smooth waters up to the pass and then hitting the high swell of the ocean outside the pass. That's when you realize the sea is big and your 40 odd feet long boat is small. That's when I started vomiting. The son's captain started vomiting too to a lesser degree. The 2 newbies were fine and looked at these so-called experienced sailors turned green sitting lump by the rail on the down wind side of the cutter. The show did not last too long fortunately and we took turns at the helm steering and rigging the sails for a long trip.

If you look on a flat map a line going from Noumea to Auckland is just about due south, Auckland being only a few degrees longitude east of Noumea. But a sailboat under sails never goes straight. The line over the surface of the earth is curved to start with and the wind is going to make you zigzag abundantly.  

So the shortest way from A to B is not usually a straight line. The shortest way in time is the one where you will tack a minimum of times. I learned this great lesson on that crossing. The wise captain made us set the sails to head for Norfolk island, i.e. towards the south west. In that direction the south east trade wind was steady and we could go a long way without tacking at all.

We rounded Norfolk to the west of it sailing slowly past it all day. Us crew started fidjetting arguing that if we did not tack we were going to end up in Tasmania. The captain calmly said there was no point getting nervous, the wind would soon turn. We sailed past the west coast of Norfolk. We would have loved to go into harbor and have a beer at a pub there. Fancy sending a postcard from Norfolk! This island had been the jail of the convict colony. It had been chosen for its impossible approach by boat. Our captain refused to waste time on a difficult landing. We sailed past the west coast of Norfolk without stopping and without tacking.

The next day as predicted by the captain the wind turned and started blowing from the south west. We just left the nose of the cutter point towards New Zealand at last. Not the usual tack where you work hard at pushing or pulling the rudder and adapting your sails. No. The sails wanted to shift and the boat wanted to point in another direction. A nice feeling. Zen like.  

1 August 2010

173. Departing



To comment on a post called Last Time written by one of the blogging sailors I follow, I want to write about the idea I have of dying. In my mind it is connected with the experience we have throughout life of leaving. Departure, embarkment, setting sails. As a crew member on a sailboat I derive a special joy of casting the last line off and jumping on board last. Don't know why. I love departing!

Leaving, to me, is a special step forward to a known or unknown destination. What excites me probably is the discovery it promises: new lands, new people, new climate, new food, new everything.

Like coming out of your mother's womb. Like sailing out of any harbor's road. Especially out of Noumea's road. The island of New Caledonia, off the Australian Queensland coast by 800 nautical miles, has a reef belt. To leave with a sailboat you have to sail out of the lagoon through a narrow pass in the reef out into the dark blue Pacific ocean. Like getting born. Like 'departing' from this life into the dark blue Beyond. Physically it is a strange feeling. While in the lagoon you are still land bound, thinking of friends, people you know, bills you had to pay, books you read, phone calls you made. And then, just after the pass, you find youself in another world. You become sea bound. Everything that reminds you of land is remote and blurred. Not that you don't like those friends anymore but you suddently don't care. Your new life is on this ocean, this dark blue Beyond, with new rules and realities.

The latest last time I sailed out of Noumea's road was in October 1999. It is also the last time I sailed at all. Will I ever sail again? Was it my very last time? In any case there's always this next 'departing' coming up one of these days... leaving loved ones behind of course, but somehow looking forward to this grand departure.

8 June 2010

164. TRAMP OF THE SOUTH SEAS (1)

In June 1997, as I said before, I sailed as a crew member on the English yacht Ocean Dream from Tahiti, Papeytey harbour, to Rarotonga, Avarua harbour.

At the time it did not come to mind but now, writing this down some 13 years later, I realise that I was actually living my style of 'Vagabond des Mers du Sud', the book written by Bernard Moitessier that sent many teenagers of my generation to sea. There, as a crew on this yacht, I really was a tramp of the South Seas, without hardly any belongings, often going hungry and doing a variety of odd jobs just to keep sailing.

On board Ocean Dream the agreement had been that I would pay for my food. I hadn't been able to bargain on this issue as this yacht was my last hope in Papeytey, after having left my job in the Tuamotus. At least I was going to eat and sleep somewhere, and sail. My job was specifically to do some child minding of the 3 year old son on board and also to organise all the cooking and feeding of the 4 adults, as well as do my share of watch.

All this suited me. The problem though was the relationship I was going to have with the other members on board. Somehow I felt ill at ease and totally alien to them. They were true 'Anglosaxons' and I was French. Everybody was terribly polite but distant and totally uninterested in me, my life, my personality or my education. I guess that is the game, you're just an employee except that you have to pay for your food. I was definitely ill at ease and even somewhat stressed. In the week of sailing between Papeytey and Rarotonga I developed a sore throat and I had my periods. When we moored in Avarua it had turned into proper tonsilitis. I felt rotten and weak. I didn't even go on land to explore and see the island. My job was to manage the food, so I did just that, prepared stews and dishes for the next passage.

29 January 2010

162. A RIBBON ON A HALYARD



Those days when sailors crossed oceans with a ribbon on a halyard to indicate the strength and the direction of the wind... are gone. When I realised that, I got angry. A bit like someone who'd learnt how to sharpen a flint nicely to cut a sheepskin and an idiot comes up with a new tool made of iron called scissors to do the job!

So I learnt how to use the new instruments. Reluctantly. I still argued with my captain on various occasions. The last issue was with a kiwi sailor who had taken me on as crew from Suva to Port-Vila. He had programmed his small homemade yacht to enter the harbour of Port-Vila in Vanuatu by itself... and by night. I simply could not stand it! At night, you stand on deck and you get ready to react to anything suspicious. But he wanted to 'test' his new toy and see if he could rely on his programmed plot to turn into the harbour.

We argued. I went up on deck at the bow and waited until my eyes were accustomed to the dark. I saw we were heading not for the entrance of the harbour but for a mountain. I went down and told him. He did not believe me. In the end he came up on deck nonetheless and muttered something and changed course. We argued on and on until we dropped anchor. The next day I left.

Captains blame crew for problems. Crew blames captain for problems. It is not easy to sail a boat! But when you find the right combination between captain and crew, it is fabulous. This happened to me in October 1997 sailing from Noumea, New Caledonia, to Auckland, New Zealand, with 4 of us as crew and one old captain. More on that another day.

Post Scriptum :  The video above is not mine. I thank 'ppconsultant' of Anything Sailing for sharing it with the public.

26 January 2010

161. Wind and stars (4)

When I sailed across the south pacific in 1997 (do I repeat myself, d'you think?)... cat's pee? you sailed to the moon?... ah!

Anyway, one night as I was on watch... I know, you've heard that one before... so one night, somewhere between Bora-Bora and Rarotonga... a nice stretch of blue water. You can't fathom how big the Pacific Ocean is until you've been on it. Anyway, one night, I was at the helm on my own and the other 3 adults and the little boy were all asleep. The wheel on that yacht was very tall and, as I am only 5 foot nothing (1m50), I had a hard time holding the damn thing. I was not on automatic. I was actually steering. The weather was splendid, a million stars above my head, some fast moving clouds, and the swish-swish of the hull cutting the waves was a lovely sound. We were doing 12 knots. I know. I should'nt have. There was a baby on board and we were not supposed to speed. But the feeling was total elation. The boat slightly on its side. The sails all out on a beam wind... No, don't expect any drama, Alice, nobody fell in the water!

As I was standing there, my feet wide apart to hold on and my arms like a X on the top of the wheel humming the wind in total bliss, here comes the captain out of his den, shouts: what are we doing? So, I say something like, easterly winds, 12 knots speed, on the rhumb line to Rarotonga... or something to that effect. What? he said. Give me the instruments reading? So, I turned the lights on, got my glasses out and eventually gave a list of numbers to my angry captain. Alright then. He just didn't want to have any of my 'feelings' about it. He wanted facts.

The next day we had an argument about this. I explained that I liked sailing with my senses, humming the wind, checking the clouds and the top of the waves and the sounds of the boat and... And then I realized I was actually living through the end of an era. This captain had been taught sailing with instruments alone. He relied totally and thoroughly upon the data sent by some intelligent machine telling him what to do. I was a dodo. That species of sailors going to sea and crossing oceans with a minimum of instruments was on its way out...

This was 13 years ago. Who nowadays sails across the Pacific WITHOUT a gps, a complicated windvein, a radar, 2 computers... and a French cook?

You can see where this happened if you click on the stated 'location' here underneath. A google map will pop up.


160. TAHITI RAROTONGA FLASH BACKS

In June 1997 I joined the crew of 'Ocean Dream' moored at the Waterfront Boulevard in Papeytey. It was easy access to anyone. I invited my flute teacher from the Music School to visit me on board. The English captain asked her if she would play a tune and be filmed for the BBC. Sure, no problem, she said, and asked for my flute. She started playing but soon decided to go and get her own flute. So, I have this fantastic memory of the bow of the yacht facing the sunset and this flute teacher playing a gorgeous traditional Tahitian song on the flute. It was duly recorded, the whole scene. I have to get in touch again!



Another fabulous flash back takes place at the pontoon of the yachtclub in Bora-Bora. As I recall it, we were still approaching to moore very slowly. This mad yacht comes racing along full sails out. At what looked like a couple of yards distance from hitting the pontoon, they dropped the sails, roared the engine mad into reverse and turned around to... just touch the pontoon gently with the back of the yacht. It was flying German colours... and a pretty Tahitian lady was on board. Show off, Mensch!!!! What a manouver!

Post Scriptum : The video above is not mine. I thank SVEB6980 on YouTube for sharing it with the public.

24 January 2010

159. Wind and stars (3)

In February 1996 I arrived in New Zealand with the idea of staying there a couple of weeks visiting old friends living in the South Island. I stayed a year, now and then looking for a crew job in a marina to sail to Polynesia. I kept a journal of my days and adventures that year in New Zealand in the form of a tale now printed as the story of 'Li-Yan'. They are great memories. But my plan of sailing on Captain Cook's trail seemed to have stalled. Eventually I flew off Auckland NZ to Papeytey, worked in Polynesia for a couple of months and finally got a crew job on a yacht in June 1997.

I was on an atoll in the Tuamotus when I saw on the local TV that a fleet of 50 yachts had sailed into Papeytey harbour. I dropped everything and everybody and took the local cargo boat back to Tahiti. There I finally joined the crew of a British yacht sailing in that 'Rally around the world' organised from London. The name of the yacht was 'Ocean Dream', it fitted my purpose exactly. On board was an English couple with their baby boy, plus one American crew member. They were looking for an experienced crew able to do her share of the watch, look after the baby at times, and cook. I did just that.

No notes, no photos. I never met up again with the owners of the yacht. They had asked me to pay for my food and as I didn't have any money, I owed them the money for many years after. Eventually I paid my debt to them. We exchanged a couple of letters in 2001, I think, but no more. Maybe the time has come when I should find them out and pay a visit. They did take a lot of photos and videos. I'd love to see them.

This yacht rally was organised into 'legs' and sailboats were sorted into 3 categories, some racing, some competing for points, and others just taking the start and being counted at the finish with a large time allowance. Having a baby on board, we were of the third category. To add some spice to the sailing, however, we decided to 'compete' with another boat of the same category, betting on who would get first into Rarotonga, and who would fish the biggest tuna... The winner was to organise a barbecue for the loser!

We left Papeytey out of the pass into blue waters heading for Raiatea. I had done that trip a couple of months before on board a small sailboat with a French yacht owner and a German temporary boyfriend. My memory of it was vivid. I knew how to get into that pass and sail to the moorings at the bottom of the bay. But somehow, my English captain and his American crew decided not to pay attention to what I had to say. We sailed up and down the reef for a while. They could not see the pass. Their chart did not seem to be adequate. I did say that the two islands, Raiatea and Taha, shared the same reef belt. There is only one pass for both of them. Eventually they found it and we moored in due course not far from where I had moored previously. My heart was heavy as I remembered the hopes I had had then of finding a job and staying there with my friend.

The next day we were to sail to Bora-Bora. They asked me if I knew how to get there. The lagoon being tortuous and shallow, I suggested to follow the ferry which sails those waters everyday of the year. They said that you never ever follow another boat when you don't know your own way. Alright then. We eventually got to Bora-Bora and moored at the yacht club pontoon. From there on we sailed with our sister ship, 2 men and a woman from Portugal on a nice looking yacht.

We soon lost sight of the other boat but we were in regular contact with them by radio. They boasted having fished a huge tuna. We boasted having a bigger one still! After about a week of sailing south west to Rarotonga, we arrived one morning in the little harbour and saw their yacht already moored tight there. They had sailed in the night... following a fishing boat for guidance into the harbour. Ah well!






Post Scriptum : The video above is not mine. I thank 'leser2006' on YouTube to share it with the public.

18 January 2010

158. WIND AND STARS (2)

These sailing adventures of mine go back more than 10 years ago. I am writing them down now from memory alone. I never bothered playing journalist then. My experience was raw, rough and ready so to speak. At first I had a camera but later when I sailed from Polynesia to New Caledonia, I didn't even have a camera.

My memory can fail, of course. Thinking over it again the story about waking the captain because of the moon rise did not occur as I said in my previous post. On that sailing leg from Noumea to Bundaberg I woke the captain because I suddenly noticed a red light on the sideboard. As it happened, this red light had always been there to indicate that the mast light was on... hence the captain accusing me of being moon struck, as a joke. But I did take the moon rise for a large tanker on the horizon once. I forgot on what boat and where exactly.

After arriving in Australia in December 1995, I went to visit several friends, spent Xmas in Sydney with the family of an old Canberra friend, and then went to Coffs Harbour to wait for a possible crew job sailing across the Tasman sea to New Zealand.



I stayed there in a caravan park within walkable distance to the marina, put a note up on the notice board and checked that notice board every day. I got talking to people around the place. As it was often raining, I spent the rest of the day reading a book in the cosy caravan I had rented. One day some yacht owner told me that the New Zealand harbour authorities had invented a charge for yachts being rescued in NZ waters. The kiwi people had enough, they said, of having to rescue stupid sailors not knowing how to handle their boats in the rough kiwi waters. So the Australian sailors retaliated by banning any sailing trip across the Tasman sea that year. No luck for me. I decided to fly over instead. A franco-australian friend who ran a travel agency bought me a ticket to fly Sydney-Wellington at the beginning of February 1996.

My tracking down Captain James Cook was temporarily put off.

Post Scriptum The above YouTube video is thanks to Andreas Paschen. Many thanks for sharing.

10 January 2010

157. Wind and stars (1)



Maybe it's time I tell my 'wind and stars' story. I've kept it to myself until now as it is a precious memory and by writing it down I am scared to turn it into just a story. Precious memories can be defiled by people who take pleasure in making others feel small. My sailing years in the south pacific between 1995 and 1999 are jewels to me. Some will judge that they are useless pebbles of no value.

I wanted to go on Captain Cook's trail. However, I didn't have any means to achieve such a dream. Never mind. In December 1995 I hopped onto a small yacht with an American who needed crew from Noumea to Bundaberg. That was not going the right way as far as Cook's itinary was concerned but never mind.

The guy was drunk when I arrived on board. He had sailed from Texas across the Panama canal, then the long stretch to Polynesia and had finally made it to Noumea in New Caledonia. He was heading for the Queensland coast in Australia. It was just him and his sailboat. He used to take one crew at each stop to share the watch around the clock. I didn't find him to be a nice guy but I badly wanted to sail. So I joined.

 For my part, although I had had previous sailing experience and had done a sailing course, that was a long time ago and I felt totally inadequate. My contribution was simply to keep awake on my watch hours and wake him if anything had to be decided. One night I saw a large white light in the distance, thought it might be a huge tanker or something like that, woke the captain up... who laughed his head off, accused me of being moon struck, and said that it was the full moon rising. Idiot! Well yes, in the middle of the pacific ocean at night, all you have around you at 360° is... the wind and stars, and the moon. You soon get used to that and when later you have to sleep indoors on land, you feel totally clostrophobic.

During that crossing from Noumea to Bundaberg, roughly following the 21st parallel south, we sailed dead into the sunset every night. At one stage about halfway of the 800 nautical miles, there was complete calm, no wind whatsoever and the sea looking like olive oil. The captain kept saying he was going to start the engine but that meant using petrol and it meant additional cost. So he didn't. We waited for 2 days for the wind to pick up. I loved it. I can be zen on such occasions. Not bored but curious of what goes on around. First of all the sounds of the boat are very different. Lots of birds carry on seemingly playing on the water. Lots of birds in the middle of nowhere. You wonder how they got here. Actually throughout my years of sailing on the South Pacific ocean, I have always been amazed at the number of birds and fish, given the size of ocean, its depth and hugeness.

We hardly changed the sails, didn't tack, just got pushed to the Australian caost at about 7 or 8 knots. After the dead calm, we got 2 days of stormy winds and heavy sea. I was not feeling very safe. These yachts might look pretty when moored on a pretty pontoon, but by god they are small on the surface of the south pacific. Bobbing up and down like a cork. After the strom we were slowly coming closer to the coast but still had not encountered one single other vessel.

The captain saw a group of dolphins doing their usual butterfly swimming and coming from the opposite direction from us at quite a distance. He tapped the hull of the boat with his hands and the dolphins diverted their route to come and see us. Unbelievable. Incredible. They were 3 of them including a young. They swam under from one side to the other a few times, went round the bow. I was out of my wits racing all over the deck to see them closer. They really looked like they were saying hello, how are you, have a nice trip. And then they resumed their route and disappeared.


Finally, one day out of the Queensland coast, we saw one fishing boat. Back to civilisation. A big bird perched on the windvein as a permanent fixture. I guessed he wanted the job as pilot to get into port. There was no port, just a small fishing harbour at the mouth of a river. The captain was not too sure about coming to a mooring by sail alone. I forgot how and why we couldn't use the engine actually. And I was useless as a crew... So he called the harbour authorities, said his boat was badly injured, could we have an escort? And then he asked me to 'vamp' myself up a bit to make the Australia coast guard feel good about 'rescueing' us. I hated this man!

I have told elsewhere the story of the first night at the yachtclub. Personnally I was very happy to be back in Australia where I had lived for many years in the 60's, 70's and 80's. I left this strange captain and hitch-hiked to Brisbane.

3 January 2010

156. WIND UND STERNE

Several lives I have been through during my 3x20 years of existence. They are totally disconnected one from the other, have nothing to do with one another. I found myself at ease as a ballet student among dancers and opera singers, hanging around stages and back stages. I found myself at ease as an ethnologist among African migrants, wearing a long skirt and tentatively speaking Fulah. And, as a crew member on various sailboats, I found myself at ease being a sailor accross the Pacific ocean.

Now old and resigned, I enjoy roaming in my past worlds in daydreams. Sometimes the blunt hidden feelings get stirred again by a film on TV or on a dvd.

All this intro to say that I have been recently moved to tears by the film on Captain Cook produced by the NDR (Nord Deutsche Rundfunk) and put on the franco-german ARTE television channel. James Cook is my hero! I sailed on his tracks in the south pacific as much as I could. I had no means, just the mad urge. I often went hungry just to be there, because I wanted to sail like he did. Ridiculous. Me? a silly little french woman. But I did it. I did some. I did experience the fabulous joy of heading for the high sea and feeling so free.

On that ARTE film yesterday, I shivered on a few occasions: when they hit the reef, moreover when they got loose, that very moment when you feel your fragile vessel is floating again. It had been one of my very first sailing experience in the '60s on the Queensland coast of Australia. We had been hit by a cyclone (there was no warnings for cyclones in those days) and thrown onto the beach of a small island off the coast. The boat lying on its side shuddered all night under the pounding of a mad sea. In the morning when the weather calmed down, we were elated and screamed when we felt the boat was floating again...

The other occasion in the film "Die Reisen des Captain James Cook" that stirred me, was when they found the opening in the reef, a pass, to let them sail out to the open sea. I have experienced that feeling of escaping to freedom.

254. END OF THIS BLOG

I started this blog in 2005 under a different name. When I deleted it at one stage its title was stolen, borrowed, hijacked by someone ...