Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Position: 11 degrees 45' S 128 degrees 26.0' E (UTC +9.0 Hours)
Australia was one of the highlights of our journey so far. We stopped
in Darwin at the Top End of Australia for 2 weeks to prepare for our
onward trip and to take a walkabout. A walkabout is an Aborigine word
for, simply, a vacation!
During our time at the Top End of the continent we rented a 4x4 vehicle
and toured Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park last week.
We saw Aboriginal rock art that included hundreds of nearly 20,000
year old paintings on the desert rocks. The colors that they used in
their paintings was vivid and bright, reflecting their attitude on life.
We have come to understand the meaning of Dreamtime that is part of
the Aboriginal culture describing how they came to live on this
continent. Their neighbors, New Zealand and Polynesia had highly
developed cultures, fierce warriors and the ability to travel thousands
of miles across the ocean. Aborigines, on the other hand, are nomadic
people that did not develop villages or singular places to live. They
simply moved with the ever changing seasons to find food, water and shelter.
When Captain Cook arrived in Australia he offered the Aborigines that
met him on the beach trinkets as tokens of friendship. The Aborigines
simply ignored the gifts and turned their backs on Captain Cook and his
ships, pretending that they didn't exist. That is just the Aborigine
Their indigenous music comes mostly from the didgeridoo, the oldest
musical instrument in the world, as well as two short sticks stuck
together like a drum to create the beat. The didgeridoo is made from a
hollowed out tree limb that is eaten by termites. This is then
decorated to create both an interesting sound as well as a multicolored
piece of art. Of course we had to buy one but it is too long to carry
around on the boat so we had to ship it to Colorado. Look for the
release of our CD coming to your store sometime soon!
Australia is a very young and modern country with very few people. We
traveled 1,600 miles along the east coast and found hundreds of miles of
coastline without any people, services or anything except wilderness.
Cell phones are useless because there is nothing there at all. In all
of Australia there are only about 19 million people - about the same
amount of people that live in the Los Angeles area! But the Australian
people are scattered amongst a huge continent!! It is pretty amazing.
The Aboriginal people are included in that population number. In the
past and even today they tend to wander far and wide, taking walkabouts!
They are also adapted to the intense heat that exists here at the Top
End of Australia, much better than we are. We are suffering in the 100
degree daily heat and 100% humidity. It is oppressive to say the least
and we are lucky that this is the dry season!
The most common expressions that everyone uses here are "no worries" and
"no dramas". They like to end their sentences with those all the time.
Yesterday we lifted our anchor (by hand because the trusty electric
windless decided to quit) and we are now sailing toward Indonesia. Our
next stop in 4 days will be Kupang, Indonesia, an entirely different
culture than anything we have ever experienced.
Sail on sail on Aspen...
Monday, August 23, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
Position: 20 degrees 36’ S 149 degrees 1.0’ E (UTC +10 Hours)
Around midnight tonight, with a spectacular meteor shower streaking above our heads, we will arrive in Mackay, Australia after 10 magnificent days out on the great blue sea.
As the story goes, Today the sun is shining, the sea is flat and the winds are gently caressing Aspen's sails. Maria is sitting in the cockpit, sipping champagne and munching on Italian olives, French cheeses and assorted seafood delicacies with a dessert of Belgium chocolates. Captain Steve is sitting at the helm, with his captain's hat on of course, steering Aspen with full sail on a glorious 7 knot downwind sail behind Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Dolphins are leaping across Aspen's wake as whales breech in the distance creating quite a show. Ahhhh, isn't this just grand? But maybe reality is just a little bit different?!?
Or perhaps the story could go something like this: We left Vanuatu with a weather window that said the winds should be just right for sailing. Fortunately we did leave Vanuatu as there was a 7.5 magnitude earthquake the next day that created a small tsunami in the harbor and some minor damage to the boats there. Unfortunately the forecasters forgot to mention that 30-40 knots of winds are really too strong to be comfortable. We could have experienced the strongest winds and highest seas we have encountered so far on our journey. The seas may have been over 20 feet at times, looking like mountains as Aspen surfed down their slopes at over 11 knots. We sailed before the wind with our strong little staysail emblazoned with the Leadville Trail 100 mountain logo propelling us forward.
It could have been that our faithful generator, used to give Aspen electricity, failed after the first day out. The third day out, during the ferocious winds, the engine alternator decided to quit charging our batteries so we would run out of power to run the autopilot, GPS and instruments within 24 hours. The refrigeration was shut down to conserve power and we had to throw quite a bit of our food overboard when it began to smell funny. Oh, it's not over yet!
As the story continues, the dreaded prospect for both Captain Steve or Admiral Maria staying awake for 7 days while hand steering Aspen in the midst of the towering waves and nearly gale force winds was not very appealing. Desperately, Captain Steve spent many many hours with his feet sticking out of the engine compartment as he tried to find a solution to the electricity issue while replacing part after part with little success.
Two days away from the Great Barrier Reef the massive storm relented and the wind dropped, enabling four boats full of our Blue Water Rally friends to find the proverbial needle in a haystack and rendezvous with Aspen in the middle of the ocean. Rafting up in mid-ocean, the sailing vessel Enchantress passed Aspen two of their precious batteries. Drenched in sweat and not being an electrical engineer, Captain Steve managed to find the correct wires and restore power to Aspen within minutes of certain drifting before the rather large, featureless Pacific Ocean toward Antarctica, or at least somewhere as cold and miserable like that in a small sailboat.
With power now restored, hot showers, cold beverages and even a vienna sausage or two were enjoyed by Aspen's crew with our friends sailing close by in case we needed assistance again. Entering the intricate passage through Australia's Great Barrier Reef was a sight to behold as the five sailboats sailed together under sunny skies with dolphins playing in our wake and whales breaching in the distance.
We trust that each of you will know which story is true.
Sail on sail on Aspen...
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Position: 17 degrees 44’ S 168 degrees 18.0’ E (UTC +11 Hours)
Enroute to Australia
We had a nice stay in the country of Vanuatu. We made landfall in 38 knots of sustained wind at Port Vila, Vanuatu on their independence day. Fireworks streaked into the air and covered the sky in front of us as we sailed in. We thought they were just happy to see us!
There were bands playing in the harbor as we gained shelter from the beating we had taken getting here. The sheltered harbor a very enjoyable place to be at 12:30 in the morning.
One of the many highlights of Vanuatu is to visit the live volcano on Tanna, a neighboring island. We went with a group of our British friends from the Rally. Vehicles can drive within about 300 yards of the summit of the active volcano Mt. Yasur so all you have to do is hike up the loose ash to the crater's rim. From there you can look down into the bowls of the simmering beast. Well, it really isn't simmering, it is shooting lava, boulders and steam higher than the rim we were standing on. The volcano is in a constant state of erupting!
We stared, mesmerized, at the fury beneath us as we stood on the crater's rim. Then darkness settled in around us, leaving only the brilliant red hot lava spurting into the air. Each eruption occurred less than a minute apart with some eruptions much larger than others. The bigger eruptions created an air blast that pushed us backward, away from the crater, followed by a roar that was deafening. The ground shook under our feet and the volcano tried to build the crater rim higher and higher. Luckily none of the flying lava came in our direction but we were constantly aware of where the projectiles were in relation to us.
We were the last ones to leave the rim of the volcano that memorable night after witnessing the ultimate power of nature. We would not have been able to get within 20 miles of a volcano like this in the US, that's for sure!
Once back on Aspen we had the usual preparations to make before our next passage - onward to Australia. There were welcoming parties to attend, trips to the grocery store, repairs to complete on Aspen from the bashing she took to get to Vanuatu and Steve even had time to run a half marathon that was staged on the island.
Runners came from Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Samoa, Marshall Islands and the other islands of Vanuatu to compete in this international race. Maria came along as Steve's cheering section and watched the field of 45 runners sprint out of the only stadium in Vanuatu, toward the countryside. Steve ran with a pack of runners who were barefoot or in socks, no shoes. It seems that the locals are not accustomed to wearing shoes and do not wear them when they are running either. This is a poor country by most standards and shoes are pretty far down the list of essential items. Steve even saw one runner who must have been given shoes by the race sponsor, take the shoes off at the 2nd mile and hide them in the bushes so he could pick them up after the race.
Luckily for Steve there were rain showers throughout the race, cooling things off a bit but also increasing the humidity. It was hot! The course was an out and back route where you simply run far away to the turnaround place and then head back to the finish. The turnaround place seemed a little short to Steve. Running back toward the stadium and with the stadium in sight captain Steve was directed to turn around and do the out and back again! Geeze!!
Normally this would not have been a long distance to run but since captain Steve had not run for the past 7 days while sailing, the distance was taking it's toll. There were aid stations every 3 miles with local water and coconuts. Drinking the water in Vanuatu is not the best thing to do so Steve just got dehydrated instead.
After the 2nd out and back part of the race the stadium was now welcoming the runners home. Watching Steve cross the finish line admiral Maria, with our friend Donald who is also in the Blue Water Rally, stood there with many of the local population cheering and clapping. Captain Steve may not walk properly for some time now he thinks.
The sail to Australia should take us about 10 days and we hope the weather is nice to us this time!
Sail on sail on Aspen...
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Position: 17 degrees 44’ S 168 degrees 18.0’ E (UTC +11 Hours)
Port Vila, Vanuatu
The forecast was not the best but it promised to be a tolerable sail to our next stop, Vanuatu, as we departed Fiji. We stocked up on some great Fiji drinking water and sailed out of Musket Cove and our protected marina located behind the reef that encircles Fiji.
The wind was blowing 20 knots and it helped push us merrily on our way westward. This leg is a 520 mile passage and we expected it to take 4 nights and 5 days. Nearly the entire Rally fleet was with us so it was fun keeping in contact as we sailed near one another.
On our third day at sea Fiji issued a Gale warning for our area. A Gale means we should expect winds in excessive of 30 knots. Unfortunately Fiji was a day late with their warning since we had the gale on our second night! Geeze!!
At night we always reduce our sails for safety, just in case something like this happens. In this case we had reduced them even further because the winds were very strong, gusting up to 48 knots now and the seas uncomfortable, to say the least. Yet we felt secure with our nighttime preparations as we sailed into the night.
At about 7:00 pm one of the larger waves came hissing alongside Aspen and it decided to see what the other side of Aspen looked like. Instead of just peeking around our stern this rather enormous wave made a path right over the top of Aspen, dumping it contents of sea water right on top of us! Water poured in through our companionway and even through the dorade vents that are designed NOT to let water into the boat. That was not nice!
Maria has some choice words to say about this, as you might imagine!!
We then closed the companion way top and even put a board in place, something we have never had to do before.
It was so rough and uncomfortable that we decided not to go out into the cockpit for our watches but to stay below, popping our heads outside every 20 minutes to look for other ships. Again, safety first for the crew.
Our trusty autopilot had control of Aspen as we sailed through the blackness, steering us far better than either of us could in these foul conditions. The wind began shrieking through the rigging with a high pitched scream, as huge seas hurtled themselves against the side and stern of Aspen, trying to throw Aspen off her course but to no avail, luckily. We were now setting records with our speed, topping out at nearly 10 knots with very little sail up!
At the darkest hour of 11:20 pm, on Maria's watch of course, Aspen sailed beside the trough of a large wave and leaned normally toward her left side to take the force of the wave that would come at us. This wave must have been a monster because it immediately threw Aspen violently in the opposite direction causing Aspen's right side to became parallel with the sea as we lost all forward motion and control and stopped instantly. Water poured in through the little opening in our companionway as things became abnormally quiet inside of Aspen where we were huddled. That is called a knockdown!
It seemed like an eternity that we laid on our side but it was in fact no more than 5 seconds before Aspen proudly rose up from the sea, shook herself off as she seemed to sneer at the cascading waves all around before continuing strongly on her way westward carrying her precious crew with her.
We arrived safely and without any damage to Aspen in Port Vila, Vanuatu early this morning.
Oh yes, Maria and Steve are fine too!
Sail on sail on Aspen...