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Land Ho! Bula Fiji!

After three weeks of waiting for favorable weather, we finally departed Marsden Cove Marina, New Zealand, on Saturday, May 27.   We gently backed out of the slip and slowly motored out of the marina.  The gurgling purr of our vessel’s 75-horsepower engine was drowned out by our carefully-selected “departure soundtrack” blasting from the stereo, including hits like “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”  We waved goodbye to onlookers as the three of us headed out to sea. 

We hoisted our sails as we passed Bream Head on our port side.  When we were clear of the magnificent rocky point, we turned to port and headed north, hoping to sail as close to our rhumb line of 007T degrees as possible for the next 7-9 days.

As we expected, a stiff breeze and heavy swells greeted us immediately, forcing us to put on our ‘sea legs’ quickly.   We hunkered down and weathered the weather, establishing a routine watch schedule (e.g., 3 hours on, 6 hours off).  We stayed hydrated and nibbled on simple things hot soup and pre-made sandwiches to stave off seasickness.

Several other cruising boats left the same time we did.  (The delay in good weather had created a bit of a back-log of cruisers waiting to head to the islands.)  The first day or two it was fun to see the other boats off in the distance, either ahead, behind, or beside us.  We passed a couple of boats, one in day time, one at night time, so that was a morale boost.  As we sailed north, distances became greater, and we kept a close eye on AIS (an automated identification system that vessels at sea use to identify and avoid each other) to maintain safe distances.

After two days, we’d made progress north and a bit east (to stay well clear of the New Zealand coastline, which could be treacherous if the wind shifted around to the east).

We then encountered a high-pressure ridge that was sitting across the passage route, and brought blue skies, high wispy clouds… and no wind.  We were becalmed!  With absolutely no wind and perfectly glassy water, we dropped the sails and sat adrift for nearly two days.  We played with light-air sail configurations, but also just enjoyed the amazing experience sitting hundreds of miles from anywhere.  

I was tempted to jump in the water and go for a swim, so that I could say I swam in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, in over 10,000 feet of water.  But I knew it was too dangerous; too many things might go wrong.  We did use the calm-water opportunity to take showers on deck, hang laundry on the lifelines, and cook bacon in the oven!  

You may ask, "Why don't you just turn on the engine and motor?"  Well, we only carry enough fuel to motor for about 700 nautical miles.  The passage is over 1,000 nautical miles!  So we have to be prudent on fuel usage - not just how much, but when.  We need to make sure we have plenty of fuel for navigating the reefs in Fiji, for docking, and for emergency situations.  

Eventually, the wind picked up again – a lot – and it was blowing in the right direction!  Delighted, we blasted toward Fiji with the southeast trade winds and rolling swells behind us.  

But then, we encountered another obstacle that caused us to deviate well off course. 

At 3:00 am on a dark, moonless night, I was on watch.  I noticed string of bright lights appearing on the horizon, off both the port bow and starboard bow.  Nothing showed up on AIS.  But something was out there.  Earlier in the week, we had heard reports that three other sailboats making this passage had gotten their propellers tangled up in fishing nets and lines.  I woke the skipper.  Possible danger ahead!

Checking both radar and binoculars, we could see these lights were vessels of some sort.  We hailed them on the VHF radio and, yes, it was a Japanese fishing fleet.  In broken English, they informed us their fleet and equipment stretched across 38 nautical miles – directly in our path!  We knew they weren’t about to haul in their nets to let us through (nor did they advise us of a safe heading to stay clear), so we had to make a drastic (and lengthy) change of course to protect ourselves.

After the detour, we clawed our way back toward Fiji, dodging (or enduring) the occasional squall which brought with it heavy wind and rain.  By Sunday, June 4, we finally arrived outside the shallow reefs of the island nation.  At that point, though, it was nightfall, and the reef was too dangerous to navigate in the dark.  We decided to “hold off” (kind of like pacing back and forth) and waited for morning light.   

So under the rising sun on Monday, June 5, we motor-sailed through the narrow break in the reef and into Nadi Bay.  We docked at Vuda Marina where we checked-in with customs and immigration.  With paperwork done, we headed ashore.  A cold beer and hot shower never felt so good!

Thanks to skipper Tom and admiral Di for trusting me to help them make this passage!  What a memorable and fun adventure, yet again!  

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And We're Off!

After a final weather check this morning, we've decided to cast off the dock lines and set sail today, headed 1,200 miles north to Fiji! 

I know that ocean sailing is not to be taken lightly.  The ocean environment can be wild and unpredictable.  It can foster feelings of loneliness, insignificance, and fear.  And it certainly commands respect. 

Yet, at the same time, it provides an opportunity for us to be completely free, self-reliant, and totally surrounded by Nature.  If we’re lucky, we might sail alongside a sunset bursting with color, or sail under the darkest of night skies accented with twinkling stars and a smiling moon, or sail with puffy white clouds racing us to the horizon. 

I’m thrilled to be back on board the sailing vessel Avalon, as we begin this adventure!  

If all goes well, we plan to arrive in Fiji in 7-8 days... but we are dependent on the wind and waves to help us!  So long!

The sailing vessel Avalon.  She's a beauty!  And fast!

The sailing vessel Avalon.  She's a beauty!  And fast!

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Until Next Time, New Zealand

UPDATE:  It's Monday morning and, after checking the weather/routing, we've decided NOT to depart.  So - New Zealand - you're stuck with me for another few days.  I've modified the post below to reflect the fact that we aren't leaving yet after all.

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We had spent the last several days in a bit of a holding pattern, waiting for the weather to improve, but also continuing with boat jobs, of course.  As of Sunday night (May 21), we believed a weather window had opened for the coming week, so we planned to depart for Fiji on Monday morning.

BUT, on Monday morning, we checked the weather forecast and routing scenarios and decided to postpone our departure.  Crossing an ocean is serious stuff, not to be taken lightly.  We're making a safe, conservative decision.  We can't enjoy Fiji if we don't make it there safely.

The rest of this post documents what's been going on these last few days of what we thought was final preparation.

This past weekend we here hit with 45 mph winds gusting through the marina, as well as heavy rain at times.  It was pretty nuts.  We could only imagine what the conditions would have been like out in the open sea.  

Two of the boats that had departed on Friday or Saturday (in heavy wind/seas), actually ended up returning to the marina on Sunday - one with engine trouble, one with autopilot issues.  

Apart from boat jobs, gale force winds, and rain, we also enjoyed relaxing in the quiet marina community of Marsden Cove.  The neighborhood houses are very modern; the landscaping is impeccable; and the streets and sidewalks are clean and safe.  We found a great Airbnb with super nice hosts (and a cute dog).  Getting off the boat allowed us to get a few nights of good sleep, and good breakfasts.

I’ve also been spending some time in the only restaurant/cafe in town, Land & Sea.  I’ve tried just about everything on the menu by now, preferring Eggs On Toast for breakfast, Fish Tacos for dinner, and a coffee each morning, noon, and night. 

We've mingled a bit with the other "cruisers" that are here in the marina... maybe 10-15 other boats.  Each group (mostly couples) has great stories of their adventures at sea (and on land) from various places they've sailed.  I enjoy walking the docks and admiring all the boats, too.

Sunday, there was a small farmer’s market at the marina.  Skipper Tom and I roamed around and picked up some freshly-baked bread and a few more fruits/veggies for the passage. 

Oh, our other major activity this weekend was to choose our departure music - a couple of fun (and sailing-relevant) songs to blast as we depart from our slip and bid the marina (and New Zealand) farewell.  Not everyone does this, but we like to.  I'll try to capture it on the GoPro.

After looking at the weather all weekend, we had decided that there was in fact a decent weather window opening for a departure Monday.  So we spent the better part of Sunday (and will continue early Monday morning) making final preparations, including meeting with the customs officer to officially check out of New Zealand.  

But, as I said, then Monday morning came and we decided to postpone our departure.  The models and consulting services we use to analyze the weather are not consistent, and do not agree.  I'll provide another update later this week as we get better information on a new window for departure.

In the meantime, New Zealand has been great to us.  The people here are super friendly and welcoming.  One of these days I'll have to make it to the South Island.  Likewise, though, we are looking forward to the warm smiles and the first "Bula!" from the Fiji people!

Stay tuned!

A sunrise walk along the marina's edge.

A sunrise walk along the marina's edge.

Headed to Land & Sea cafe for breakfast.

Headed to Land & Sea cafe for breakfast.

A few of the big catamarans waiting patiently for the passage to the islands.

A few of the big catamarans waiting patiently for the passage to the islands.

Farmer's market and fresh baked goods!

Farmer's market and fresh baked goods!

Skipper Tom making a purchase!

Skipper Tom making a purchase!

Healthy meal the night before we depart.

Healthy meal the night before we depart.

Milly, the fox terrier.  

Milly, the fox terrier.  

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Headed to Fiji! (Almost)

On Friday local time (Thursday in the U.S.), if all goes well, we will depart from Marsden Cove Marina on the north island of New Zealand, motor out the channel, hoist the sails, turn to port (left), and head north to Fiji.

I’ve enjoyed participating in the preparation and planning on this, my third passage, between New Zealand and Fiji.  It’s been a tremendous (and fun) learning experience.  Every day I pick up a few more morsels of knowledge from the skipper, the crew, fellow sailors, and local tradesmen.   

I imagine some people wonder how exactly we prepare for an ocean crossing.  I'm not an expert and so I won't go into detail, but I'll share a little from my perspective as 3rd-time crew.

As you might expect, we do a massive amount of boat preparation for a passage like this.  We will be hundreds of miles offshore – far away from any outside help – so we want to make sure everything is in good working order.  The list of "boat jobs" is virtually infinite; I don't think we can ever be (or even feel) totally "done."  I'm learning that staying organized, prioritizing projects, managing others, and multi-tasking are very important skills.  Kind of like an office job, maybe, but way more fun.  

Here are some of our recent activities:  servicing the main and auxiliary engines, like changing fuel and oil filters and inspecting belts and hoses; testing the water-making and refrigeration systems; inspecting the standing rigging, running rigging, and fixtures; drying and cleaning the bilges after a few days of rain; reviewing the charts to familiarize ourselves with distances, hazards, and safe harbors; stocking up on fuel, water, and food; and giving the new dinghy a test run around the marina.

All the while, we had to keep our eye out for a huge leopard seal that has been seen around the marina "playing" with fenders and dinghies.

In the next day or two, we will continue with final preparation.  We'll finalize our route and enter headings and waypoints into both paper notebooks and electronic GPS devices.   We will do a final stow-and-secure effort so that items in the storage lockers and living areas don't shift in the heavy seas.  We'll hook up our lee cloths - which are basically cargo nets that prevent us from falling out of our bunks as the boat heels (leans) from side to side.  We'll have a safety briefing and review the contents of our first-aid kit and ditch bag. 

Again, I'm only citing the highlights, to give you an idea of the types of things we're doing. 

One thing that may not be quite as obvious is the amount of weather analysis that comes into play.  We don’t just say, “Ok, the boat’s ready, let’s go!”  Especially not in this part of the world where low pressure systems spin out of the Tasman Sea every 6-9 days or so, bringing high wind and waves across our desired route.

We review the weather forecasts using computer software and online/radio services to analyze possible routes, conditions, and travel times.  

For our passage from Marsden Cove, New Zealand, to Vuda, Fiji, the distance to cover is about 1,200 miles (1,040 nautical miles).  At an average boat speed of 8 mph (7 knots), we could sail that distance in 6.25 day IF the wind and sea cooperate by allowing us to sail efficiently, smoothly, and safely along the most direct route. 

But that is pretty unlikely.

In reality, the wind and sea are highly dynamic.  We have forecasts, but we don’t *really* know what to expect.  Obviously the forecast for next week is less accurate than the forecast for tomorrow.   And Mother Nature always reserves the right to change her mind.  Thus, the more days we take on the passage, the more we subject ourselves to the less accurate end of the forecast.  We try to sail fast, and get to our destination as quickly as possible within the forecasted weather window.

Remember, you can’t just point a sailboat in a direction and say, “Go that way.”  The direction and speed of the boat are subject to the direction and speed of the wind, and direction and size of the sea state.   Light wind or big swells may slow us down.  Wind in an unfavorable direction may force us off the most direct route.

We analyze a lot of weather data from a variety of sources to piece together a forecast and choose an optimal departure date and route, balancing safety, speed, and comfort - probably in about that order.  I’m pretty sure that anyone who does this passage would say that there is some element of guesswork, and even luck.  

So amidst our boat jobs, we've also been patiently waiting for a favorable weather window.  We hope it's opening toward the end of the week.  I don't mind waiting at all.  Our goal is to arrive in Fiji safely.  Our hope is that safe passage takes 7-8 days. 

We’ll do our best and see how it goes.  

Giving the new dinghy a spin around the marina.  

Giving the new dinghy a spin around the marina.  

A screenshot from PredictWind, one of the online services we use.  This picture shows strong 25mph winds coming out of the north, directly in our path (We are the green dot, trying to go north to Fiji).  It also shows high winds (red) in a low pressure system moving toward us from the west side of New Zealand).

A screenshot from PredictWind, one of the online services we use.  This picture shows strong 25mph winds coming out of the north, directly in our path (We are the green dot, trying to go north to Fiji).  It also shows high winds (red) in a low pressure system moving toward us from the west side of New Zealand).

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Acclimating in Auckland

I've been in Auckland for a few days now.  I've recovered from the long flight, adjusted to the time change, and rendezvoused with sailing vessel Avalon.  She looks great!  Owners Tom and Di live aboard now, so they are keeping Avalon in ship-shape condition!  

Still, there is a lot of work to do before we embark on the 1,200 mile sail to Fiji.   So, after a reunion dinner and a couple days of rest, I am ready to get to work!  

We've been cleaning, organizing, and securing items on board.  We've been meeting with a few service professionals to fine-tune the operation of key boat systems and to research/purchase a new dinghy.  And we've done some preliminary provisioning at the grocery store.  

For me, joining Avalon on these voyages continues to be a fantastic learning experience on boat ownership, passage planning, and the "cruising life." 

In my downtime, I've also been revisiting some of my favorite restaurants and coffee shops in the bustling city of Auckland.  And I've enjoyed a few leisurely walks along the waterfront admiring the various sailing and power vessels in port.  (If I remember and have time, I'll go back and add particular names/places to this post.)

Today, I'm up early to help finish our boat jobs here in Auckland.  Hopefully, then, by midday we will depart and make our two-day passage up to Marsden Cove Marina.

There, we will spend another several days to do final planning and preparation.  We will wait for good weather, and then check out of New Zealand and head north.  

For now, all is well and I'm excited for our adventure!

 

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Another Brick in the Wall

Over the last couple of years, I've cast away my career in financial planning, and I'm slowly building a career in sailing.  Brick by brick, so to speak.  I'm slowly making progress.  One day in the not-so-distant future, I hope to earn money by teaching sailing, by delivering yachts from point A to point B, and by skippering tourist and/or corporate charters.

I started with training and education, in the way of additional U.S. Sailing certifications in 2015.  Then I moved on to my first ocean passage in 2016.  I closed the year 2016 by completing another ocean crossing as well as skippering a charter in Croatia.  

In 2017, I trained to become a Sailing Instructor, which was my first confirmation that I can actually get paid to sail.  It was an huge win, one that was made that much sweeter by including all the joys, rewards, and, yes, challenges of teaching (which I already knew about, as a former high school math teacher).

Now, having taught my first few sailing classes (which was more fun than I could have even imagined), I'm taking a quick break to lay another brick in the wall, or foundation, of my sailing career:  I'm heading to New Zealand this evening to meet up with sailing vessel Avalon.  In the next couple of weeks, we will attempt another ocean crossing up to Fiji!   

I say "attempt" because that's exactly what it is.  An attempt.  Yes, we plan for it, we prepare for it, and we expect to complete it.  But you just never know what can happen with Mother Nature, the Ocean, and sailboats.  All have their own personalities and complexities.  We just can't say "We leave on day X, and we arrive on day Y."  

Regardless, I'm filled with excitement and anticipation for another experience of a lifetime with the skipper and crew of this great boat!  

With a successful passage, I will have nearly 5,000 ocean miles under my belt... which will increase my marketability worldwide to skippers looking for experienced delivery or passage crew.  As I mentioned before, that's the second way I hope to make money sailing.  (In case you lost track, the first way is teaching.)

As those future crewing opportunities present themselves (and assuming I pursue them), my ocean miles will continue to accumulate.  At some point, I will become that salty sailor with endless sea stories, I will earn my US Coast Guard Captain's License, and I will be the sailor that you want skippering your tourist charter or corporate team-building sail.  That's the third way to make money.

So, yes, I do have a plan.  And a financial plan.  I'm just starting over and that takes time, and a bit of an investment.  I'm grateful to everyone who supports me, helps me, advises me, and believes in me! 

For now, watch for updates as this New Zealand-to-Fiji sailing adventure unfolds... 

This sunset was from our previous sail south, from Fiji to New Zealand in the fall of 2016.  I like this shot because it epitomizes the saying "there's a bright spot on the horizon."  And I'm aiming for it.

This sunset was from our previous sail south, from Fiji to New Zealand in the fall of 2016.  I like this shot because it epitomizes the saying "there's a bright spot on the horizon."  And I'm aiming for it.

Another sunset from the passage south.  

Another sunset from the passage south.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back at the Ranch

For the last few months, I’ve been laser focused on becoming a Sailing Instructor at OCSC.  Now, with that job in hand, I’m set up to have a fabulous summer of teaching sailing on the San Francisco Bay! 

The job is part-time, though, which is ok with me.  It allows me to pursue my other interests as well, like volunteering.

And that is exactly what I’m doing this week.  I’ve returned to Sonoma Valley (Glen Ellen, specifically) to volunteer for the same family I helped out last summer.

Their ranch is beautiful, complete with country-style home, horse barn, riding arena, enclosed pastures (which I helped construct last summer), horses, dogs, tractor, and LOTS of work!

I’ll spend a few days here pulling weeds, cutting grass, and mulching flowerbeds.  To some people, this may sound like hell on earth.  But for me, I love it.  I’m outside, I’m working with my hands, I’m getting dirty, and I’m tidying things up.  (And every good sailor likes things tidy!) 

In exchange for my landscaping skills, the family provides me with a private bedroom and bathroom, plus food, wine, great conversation, and a few hilarious episodes of "Fawlty Towers."  (They are British.)

I'm a stone's throw away from several wineries and the Jack London Historic Park.  So in my downtime, I'm free to explore the surrounding area... or just relax on the front porch, overlooking the horses, garden, and sunset.

I would like to stay longer, but I have to return to San Francisco this weekend to teach sailing on Saturday and Sunday.  I'm looking forward to teaching my next weekend of classes!

Then, to top it off, I leave on Tuesday, May 2, for New Zealand!! Yes, I’m back on sailing vessel Avalon to sail across the South Pacific Ocean to Fiji.  (Another perk of working for OCSC is that they are very supportive of this trip as a way to further enhance my sailing experience and my progress toward my U.S. Coast Guard Captain license.) 

In my former life, I would be working long hours right about now, reporting on the fiscal quarter and submitting a new forecast for the year.  Sure, I might be cashing in on some company stock and looking forward to a good performance review or maybe even a promotion.  But would I really be happier?

Instead, I'm volunteering in wine country this week.  I'm teaching sailing this weekend.  And I'm sailing across the ocean next month.  

Yeah, I'm good with that.

 

Dog #1:  Jefe.   (I think it's cool how the camera captured the sun beam right over him.)

Dog #1:  Jefe.   (I think it's cool how the camera captured the sun beam right over him.)

Dog #2:  Winston, looking regal as he surveys the property.

Dog #2:  Winston, looking regal as he surveys the property.

The view from my bedroom:  sunset-facing front porch, horse stable and riding arena, vine and trellis, and my Subaru :-)

The view from my bedroom:  sunset-facing front porch, horse stable and riding arena, vine and trellis, and my Subaru :-)

Spring is in the air!  Beautiful!

Spring is in the air!  Beautiful!

Some of my handiwork - cutting the tall grass.

Some of my handiwork - cutting the tall grass.

That's a lot of mulch!

That's a lot of mulch!

Dialing in the front garden.  It's going to look great!

Dialing in the front garden.  It's going to look great!

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Happy Anniversary to Me

This past weekend I celebrated my 2-year anniversary of… hmm…

“Being retired?”  No, I’m not retired.  I’m just redefining my career.

 “Being homeless?”  No, that doesn’t sound like something to celebrate. 

“Being a nomad?”  No, that suggests lack of purpose or direction.

“Traveling, volunteering, and sailing!”  Yep, I stick with that.

In any event, it was April 15, 2015, when I decided to “take time off from the working world to explore the actual world.”  At the time, I had no idea how long my “time off” would be.  In the back of my head, I was probably thinking 6- to 12-months.  I wasn't 100% confident I would be able to change gears and totally redefine my life and career.  Now, I am certain I can do it.  

After 24 months, I'm still on the go, loving my non-traditional lifestyle and the progress I've made.  I have no plans to return to what society would call “normal life.”  

I feel good about what I've done and how I've grown.  I’ve traveled to foreign countries to help struggling families, emerging businesses, and developing communities.  I’ve gained valuable sailing experience by earning my US Sailing Coastal Skipper certification and by sailing across the South Pacific Ocean twice.   And most recently, I’ve landed a part-time job as a Sailing Instructor to help others achieve their nautical dreams.

It’s been a rewarding couple of years.  But it is not without challenges.  I miss the routine, the stability and comfort, and the intellectual and social aspects, of a Monday-through-Friday professional job.  In my current lifestyle, I wake up every morning and immediately log onto the internet to search for a place to sleep that night.  I’ve found myself in a few undesirable situations, most notably in Eureka, California where I was assaulted and robbed.  And yes, I do my laundry in a Laundromat, eat lunch at the grocery store, and sit at the local coffee shop or library for hours on end surfing the web.  

But these are small prices to pay for the freedom and variety I experience every day, and the pace at which I experience every day.  I find myself walking more frequently and more slowly, taking my time to get to places, and enjoying the journey.  I don't hesitate to just sit somewhere, relax, and watch the people go by. 

The further along I proceed down this new path, the harder (and in fact less desirable) it is to return to the old path.  

Although my focus in 2017 is becoming a great Sailing Instructor, I also have a few adventures planned.  The first one kicks off in just 2 weeks, when I'll head to New Zealand to join as crew again on the sailing vessel Avalon for her journey north to Fiji!!

More sailing adventures ahead in 2017!  Stay tuned!

More sailing adventures ahead in 2017!  Stay tuned!

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Take This Job and Love It!

In my last post, I announced that I had accepted a position as Sailing Instructor at OCSC, in Berkeley, California.  Even after an extensive interview and evaluation process, I still faced a lot of preparation before I could actually *start* teaching.  

And that's what I've been up to this past month.  My training and development included studying the syllabus, auditing classes, and certifying for CPR/First Aid.  I also did a lot of sailing on my own to really hone my skills on the class boat, which is a J24 (24 feet long, 8 feet wide, 3,000 pounds).  

Then, finally, this last weekend, I taught my first sailing class, and loved every minute of it!  I'm excited to have a job that is active and outdoors, that involves helping individuals achieve their personal goals, and that enables me to share my passion for the sport of sailing.

Teaching will be challenging for sure.  Students learn at different speeds and in different ways. Complex ideas may have to be broken down into bit-size chunks and explained multiple ways, and multiple times.  And sailing is not lacking in such topics.  We have our own nautical language, knots, navigational aids (lights, sounds, and symbols), and "rules of the road."  Add to this the dynamic environment of 3 strangers new to sailing working together to drive the boat safely and efficiently through choppy waves in 15-20 knots of wind, and you can get a pretty exciting classroom!  

My first class was just that.  In our first hour of sailing this weekend, my three students and I faced a squall and hail storm!  I can’t explain the feeling of responsibility that washed over me, as the boat heeled over, as the horizontal hail pelted our faces, and as my students’ faces reflected everything from terror to excitement!  I smiled and said “Welcome to the Bay!”

Fortunately, that squall subsided within a few minutes, and the rest of the weekend was filled with sunshine and fresh breeze.  Teaching is going to be great fun!

Although I have rejoined the work force, I am only working part-time.  Dannyboy still travels.  I have sailing, hiking, and volunteering trips planned to New Zealand, Germany, and one other secret location in 2017!  So be sure to stay tuned!

 

 

 

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My New Office

Here it is - a big update on my plans for 2017!  But first, a bit of a recap:

Two years ago, I quit my corporate job, rented my suburban house, and set out to travel the world.  I launched the website "Dannyboy Travels" to track my adventures.

Since then, I have lived in Chile, Thailand, and New Zealand while volunteering for local families; I have sailed across the South Pacific Ocean twice; I have navigated the coast of Croatia by sailboat and by bus; I have even explored a few neighborhoods in California, volunteering on a ranch in Sonoma Valley and experiencing the, um, culture in Eureka.

Indeed, Dannyboy has traveled.  

But, as the tagline on my website reads, I'm also "Charting a New Course."

I’m not just traveling randomly, counting countries and snapping selfies.  I’m on a journey to redefine my life.  

Remember, back in April 2015, I was tired of, and unfulfilled by, my corporate life.  Although I may have been making a contribution to the company and its various stakeholders, I not could easily see, let alone feel, that contribution.   I wanted something more. 

And that is what the journey is about.

I want to base my life on activities that I am passionate about and on experiences that directly enrich the people, community, and/or environment around me.  

Travel is my primary passion and ultimate goal.  Sailing and volunteering are the means by which I hope to achieve that goal.  They make the adventure of traveling that much sweeter, for me.

Simply put, my long-term goal is to travel the world, volunteering and sailing as I go.   

The volunteering component is relatively straightforward.  I use a few online resources to find opportunities, but in general it’s been pretty easy to find people who accept a free helping hand in exchange for a bed and some food…after I fulfill any visa requirements of course.

On the other hand, the sailing component is much more complicated.  It is comprised of four sub-goals:  teaching sailing, skippering charters, delivering yachts, and cruising the oceans.  These sub-goals take significant planning and preparation, including certifications, licenses, references, and sea time.  

Over the last two years, amidst all my travel, I've made progress toward my sailing goals. I'm now certified with U.S. Sailing as Coastal Skipper.  I've accumulated nearly 3,000 ocean miles via crewing on two ocean crossings and skippering a charter in Croatia.

Today, I'm happy to announce another major step forward in my sailing career: I've been hired as a Sailing Instructor at the Olympic Circle Sailing Club!

I’m thrilled to join the OCSC organization.  This is the organization that taught me to be a safe and skilled skipper.  From my own first few classes at OCSC, I knew that the organization (its people, philosophy, and process) was special.  I am honored to have this opportunity.  Thank you OCSC!

Some of you may recall, I have been an instructor before.  My first job out of college was teaching high school calculus, geometry, and algebra.  I thoroughly enjoyed the work; it was as challenging as it was rewarding.  Those of you who know me really well may recall that I have frequently said I would return to teaching some day.  At the time, I never dreamed it would be teaching sailing! 

Working as a sailing instructor will accelerate my progress toward my other sailing goals – chartering, delivering, and cruising.  As an instructor, I will accumulate on-the-water experience, broaden my network, and strengthen my sailing resume – all while enjoying the process of teaching students new skills, helping people realize their dreams, contributing to the OCSC community, and working in my new office… the San Francisco Bay! 

Even more good news -- the new job is only part-time for now, so yes, Dannyboy will also continue to travel!

My new office = a J24 and the San Francisco Bay!

My new office = a J24 and the San Francisco Bay!

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When Nature Calls...Or Not

I love sailing for so many reasons, one of which is its connection to nature:  wind and rain; currents and tides; sun, stars, and moon; clouds and fog;  and marine life.  Nature is all around you, and in fact you depend on it for propulsion, direction, and in some cases survival.  The downside to this is we can’t always sail when and where we want to.  Sometimes we have to wait for Mother Nature to cooperate.   Crossing the South Pacific Ocean, we waited for days, even weeks, for the weather conditions to be favorable and safe.  Now, back in the Bay, I’m waiting again. 

My primary goal for 2017 is a yet-to-be-announced sailing activity that I need to be evaluated for, under certain wind-strength conditions.  This is what I’m waiting for.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature hasn’t cooperated yet, and my evaluation sail has been postponed several times due to light winds.   I’ve been riding an emotional rollercoaster as I psych myself up for the on-the-water test, but then have to put that excitement in check as the test gets postponed.    

(For those of you who might be wondering, the heavy rain we have had these last couple of weeks isn’t actually as big an issue when it comes to sailing.  We can and do sail in rain.)

So from the outside, I know it appears I'm not really doing anything, or going anywhere.  But this is the reality of sailing.  Sometimes you just have to wait it out for conditions to be right.    

That said, I haven't exactly been sitting idle.  I have made progress in other areas.

First, I researched and entertained a couple of opportunities to sail across the Pacific Ocean, from Mexico to Tahiti, in March/April.  In the end, I declined the offers, in favor of staying focused and committed to the evaluation noted above.  Why is this progress?  Because it gives me confidence that my sailing résumé (which I’ve posted online at various crew-finding websites) is gaining traction and visibility, now that I have over nearly 3,000 ocean miles under my belt.   It’s also available on my website here.

Second, I interviewed for a great volunteering opportunity at a horse- and dog-rescue operation in the Gilroy area (south of San Jose).  The owners were very friendly and offered me a one-bedroom apartment in exchange for my part-time help with facility upgrades and animal care.  It was a tempting offer, but I decided the location was too far away and the 80-hours per month commitment might be too restrictive on my travels.  I reluctantly declined, even though they specialized in my all-time favorite breed of dog:  Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

Third, I have racked up a lot of rewards points on my Hotels.com account (and less proudly, on my Chase credit card) as I have bounced around from hotel to hotel these last 4 weeks.  

Unfortunately, the other thing going on these last few weeks is I’ve been sick off and on with the cold/flu.  I’m guessing the cause (or at least a contributing cause) is the constant move from hotel room to hotel room.  I read somewhere that the hotel remote control is one of the dirtiest things ever.  Gross.  I now wipe it down before I touch it.  Admittedly, I’m guilty of going on a few rainy, cold sails too, which probably hasn’t helped either.

For the rest of February, I’ll be house-sitting for a couple of friends who have been nice enough to let me stay in their homes.   You know who you are -- Thanks!!

I'll be patiently waiting for Mother Nature to turn on her wind machine... while also working on some additional and/or alternative plans for 2017 depending on how things shake out.

 Enjoying a night sail... under a bridge, under a full moon, under a shooting star, and unfortunately, under the weather.  

 Enjoying a night sail... under a bridge, under a full moon, under a shooting star, and unfortunately, under the weather.  

The full moon was super bright.  

The full moon was super bright.  

A highlight of my hotel stays:  The bed & breakfast at Point Montara lighthouse.  The signpost is a bit indicative of how I feel... so many directions and places I could go.  I'm doing my best to figure it out and get going!!

A highlight of my hotel stays:  The bed & breakfast at Point Montara lighthouse.  The signpost is a bit indicative of how I feel... so many directions and places I could go.  I'm doing my best to figure it out and get going!!

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Heaving-To

Well, in non-sailing terms, you might say I'm "shifting to neutral."  (Heaving-to is actually a brilliant tactic in sailing that you can read about here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaving_to)

It's been an exciting few months:  I explored Croatia by land and sea.  I crossed the South Pacific Ocean for the second time.  I road tripped over 1,200 miles along the California and Oregon coasts.  I was assaulted and robbed in Eureka, California.

Now, as 2017 kicks into gear, I am actually shifting to neutral.  Shifting to neutral not in terms of progressing toward my goals, but in terms of posting journal updates.  

I have a few things to figure out.  I'm talking to a couple of sailing and volunteering organizations about opportunities; and so as to not bore my handful of readers, I will be slowing down my posts.  I won't post weekly, but perhaps every two or three weeks -- trying as best I can to stick to Mondays.  Of course, given that it's Wednesday evening, I've already missed the deadline.  Or maybe I'm just really early for next Monday's update.  

Regardless, I hope you continue to check my site and read my posts from time to time.  I remain excited, optimistic, and committed to where this new path is taking me.  I can't wait to share more.

In the meantime, I'm happy to be "home" on the Bay... 

This picture reminds me that I am on a long-term trajectory to achieve some amazing life goals.  In the short term, my path may seem crazy or risky to some, but I have my eye on the horizon and know my heading. 

This picture reminds me that I am on a long-term trajectory to achieve some amazing life goals.  In the short term, my path may seem crazy or risky to some, but I have my eye on the horizon and know my heading. 

Why do I love sailboats so much?  This picture is from the Brisbane Marina.

Why do I love sailboats so much?  This picture is from the Brisbane Marina.

 

 

 

 

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Happy New Year!

After a 1,500-mile holiday road trip that was a little more exciting than I had planned (see "Dannyboy Troubles" post), I'm now back onto the streets of San Francisco.  Well, not literally on the streets - at least not yet.  This week I'll be house-sitting for some good friends in Mill Valley.  It should be a quiet, relaxing week which I will spend catching up on administrative things -- bills, taxes, computer backup, and perhaps some enhancements to my website.  I hope to finish a couple of DBT videos too.  All the while, I will have to fend off the two aggressively friendly cats in this house!

My 2017 plan is still a mystery to you... and to me.  But I'm working on it.  Stay tuned.  It will likely continue to be a medley of sailing, volunteering, and traveling.  But the exact activities and locations are TBD.  In 2016, I focused on accumulating richer experiences as a sailor:  I crossed the South Pacific Ocean twice, and skippered a two-week charter in Croatia.  This added nearly 3,000 sea miles to my sailing resume!  In 2017, I want to build on this foundation, with the goal in 2018 or 2019 of having a "career" sailing.  I don't know what that exactly means yet, but I hope it includes a bit of income. :-)

As always, I welcome any house-sitting or overnight crash-pad opportunities while I'm in the Bay Area.  And if you have a boat, then by all means, please contact me if you need crew!

Happy new year everyone!

Here are a few obligatory selfies from my road trip:

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Dannyboy Troubles

After more than 20 years of international travel – most of the time by myself – I had to come back to California to get assaulted and robbed.   Fortunately, they walked away with only $100 cash in my fake wallet, and I walked away with only a few cuts and bruises.

I’m still in shock, but looking back at that evening a few days ago, I realize I got lazy and let my guard down.  I forgot that crime can happen to anyone, anywhere. 

I have visited rich countries and poor countries.  Within those countries, I have stayed in countless cities, towns, and villages:  some friendly, some not; some developed, some not; some overflowing with tourists, some not.

Even if I could afford it, staying at fancy hotels in the “good areas” or hiring a driver to take me around in a town car just isn’t my preferred travel experience.  I want to be amongst the locals.

As a result, during my travels I have certainly taken my share of chances with regard to safety.

I’ve explored cities known more for their trouble than for their tourist attractions.   I’ve visited the dirtiest dive bars and the most crowded discos.  I’ve walked home alone in the middle of the night.  Yes, I’ve even carried my camera on my shoulder and my (fake) wallet in my back pocket.

In all of my adventures, I’ve only had trouble a few times:  chased and cornered by thugs in Krakow, Poland; intimidated into handing over my ‘fake’ wallet in Buenos Aires, Argentina; tricked into over-paying a restaurant bill in Riga, Latvia (and again in Mexico City, Mexico).

Looking back at all the things that could have gone wrong, I guess I’ve been lucky…

…Until 10:30pm on Tuesday, December 20, 2016, in Eureka, California.

I was on a road trip from San Francisco to a few cities in Oregon to see family and friends for the holidays.  Having driven for most of the day, I stopped in Eureka for the night.

I picked a hotel close to the freeway for convenience.  I checked in, stored my bags in my room, and headed out to dinner on foot.  After driving all day, the walk felt good.

I chose a local steakhouse and savored a huge meal:  salad, rib-eye steak, fries, and onion rings.  After dinner, I took a walk through the holiday-decorated Old Town and then began the walk back to my hotel on the outskirts of town.

The sky was clear, the air was cool and crisp, and the street was dark and deserted.  I was actually kind of enjoying the quiet walk.   Nearly back to the hotel, I noticed two men leaning up against the building on my right. 

As I approached, one of them went to the curb and threw his cigarette butt into the street.  This forced me to walk between them, unless I crossed the street before I reached them.   But, being in California after traveling the world, I didn’t think much of the situation, and just proceeded down the sidewalk.

 “Spare a dollar?” asked the guy on my right. 

“No, dude.”  And I kept walking.

The next sequence of events happened so fast, I find it difficult to recount.   A fist came from the right and caught my upper lip, tearing it open.  I stumbled into the guy on my left who smacked me again, and down I went.  Stunned and shocked.

They took my wallet (full of crisp $20 bills from the ATM earlier that night) from my back pocket, and ran off.  Little did they know that this was my "fake" wallet.  My ID and credit cards were in a separate zippered pouch in my front pocket.

I sat there for a minute, still trying to process what just happened.  I couldn’t believe it.  I put my hand to my face, and felt the warm blood running down my lips and chin.  I tasted it in my mouth.

I got up and headed to my hotel room, where I cleaned myself up and inspected my wounds.  They didn’t look that bad:  a cut above my upper lip and a raspberry on my left cheek.  Both were bleeding, but after cleaning and applying some pressure, I stopped the bleeding.

At that point, I decided to just go to bed.  I didn’t think I needed immediate medical attention.  I could ask the hotel to call the cops but there was nothing they could really do now.  I would report the crime in the morning.

The next morning at 7:30 am I woke up on a bloody pillow.  I’d bled more overnight, apparently.  My cheek and upper lip were pretty swollen, too.  At this point, I decided to head to the Emergency Room to see a doctor.  Maybe I needed stitches after all.

I packed my bags, checked out, and headed to the local hospital.  The ER doctor examined me (including checking for a concussion) and said I didn’t need stitches. She gave me a tetanus shot, a penicillin boost, and a prescription for antibiotics.  Neither she nor the nurse seemed surprised when I recounted last night’s events.

I headed next to the police station to file a police report.  The officer did not look surprised at all.  He said the town has seen an increase in transients, drug users, and crime over the last few years.  

I’ve since done a little research on the town of Eureka, which seems to validate what the doctor and police office said.  It’s not the safest of town.  Crime is on the increase.

One of the sites I looked up is here:

https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ca/eureka/crime/

This says that on a scale of 1 to 100 (100 being safest), Eureka is a 1.  The rate of robbery is 2x that of the national average.  The rate of assault is 25% higher than the national average.

Lucky to walk away from this experience, I have learned a few lessons that are good reminders to us all:

1)   Do your research.  Like visiting any new place, I should have done a bit of reading about Eureka before stopping there for the night.  I still might have stayed there, but I would have at least been more aware of what to expect and therefore taken more precautions (e.g., Lessons 3 and 4).

2)   Crime can happen anywhere to anyone.  There is no such thing as “back home, safe in California” which was my mentality.

3)   Avoid dark streets.  I shouldn’t have walked home alone on that dark street.  The street just two blocks over was a major thoroughfare and would have been more populated and better lit.  A taxi would have been the safest option, probably.  (However, there are some foreign cities where I would question the safety of the taxis at night!)  

4)   Assume the worst.  When I saw the two guys loitering, I should have avoided them by crossing the street or turning around.   

5)   My fake wallet works.  They got my cash, but not my credit cards or ID.

In the end, I know I was lucky.  The incident could have been much worse.   I’m not deterred from traveling.  I’m not scared of the night.  But, I certainly will put my guard back up and be more cautious when I’m traveling, and even when I'm staying local.

Be careful out there!

Back in my car, continuing my road trip after being assaulted and robbed.

Back in my car, continuing my road trip after being assaulted and robbed.

Close-up of my wounds a couple of days after the incident.

Close-up of my wounds a couple of days after the incident.

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Happy Holidays!

I have been back in the San Francisco Bay Area now for about two weeks, and have fully recovered from my sailing adventures in Croatia, Fiji, and New Zealand.  I've been gone since August, basically, so it feels good to be back in the Bay for a bit.

Besides doing laundry and paying bills, I have been lucky to catch up with a handful of friends via various holiday parties, coffee dates, and happy hours.  I'm grateful to those friends who have also hosted me (or offered to host me) in their homes, as I continue to be homeless, indefinitely.

Ah, yes.  So what is my next adventure?  Good question!  My renter has confirmed he'd like to extend his lease for another year (which would take us into 2018), so I'll need to come up with something!  I have been scouring the usual sources of Help Exchange, Crew Bay, Find-a-Crew, etc. for opportunities abroad, either sailing or volunteering.  But I'm also pursuing something locally, which I'm very excited about.  

When I'm ready, I'll post my decision and destination.  In the meantime, I am taking a mini-adventure -- a week-long road trip in my Subaru to Oregon to see family, and take advantage of free housing. :-) 

Happy Holidays to everyone!

 

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Sailing the South Pacific

After three weeks of boat jobs, shakedown sails, and unfavorable weather, we finally departed Fiji on Thursday, November 17, to sail 1,200 miles across the South Pacific Ocean to New Zealand.

At 8:45am, we eased out of our slip at Port Denarau, Fiji, as the friendly staff from the Rhum-Ba Restaurant smiled and waved goodbye from the restaurant’s balcony which overlooked the dock.  We were wearing our Rhum-Ba branded polo shirts that we had purchased on one of our near-daily lunchtime visits to the restaurant.

We proceeded slowly through the channel and into the Bay of Nadi.  We then set course for nearby Vuda, where we would meet with Customs & Immigration to officially sign papers and check out of the country.  We had a 10:00am appointment. 

We arrived at Vuda on time, dropped anchor, launched the dinghy, and motored the smaller craft into the small circular marina to meet with Customs & Immigration.

Except… the Customs & Immigration officials weren’t there yet!   10:15am.  10:30am.  Fiji time.  Ok maybe they are a few minutes late.  We went for a coffee.  11:00am.  11:30am.

Well, it turns out they didn’t show up until 2:00pm! 

By the time we checked out, returned to Avalon, and secured the dinghy on the foredeck, it was 3:00pm.  Because of the delay, we now didn't have enough time to sail to the outer reef and navigate our way through the dangerously shallow water.   This late in the day, with the declining sunlight, the reefs would be too difficult to see.

We decided to wait it out until morning.

Friday morning came soon enough, and we were on our way – proceeding slowly around the reefs, carefully watching the electronic chart plotter, the depth sounder, and of course the water around the boat.   We needed an absolute minimum of 8 feet of depth.  More like 10 feet for peace of mind.

We made it safely into open ocean, happy with our decision to wait until morning to get through the reefs.

From here, the real adventure would start!  And it started immediately.

The first four days we faced high wind (25-30 mph) and big seas (3-4 meter swells and 1-2 meter wind waves), and not in the most favorable direction.  We made good speed but, in our effort to sail fast and efficiently and avoid slamming into waves, we headed a bit further to the west than we ideally would have wanted.  "More west" was better than "more east," though, given the likely wind and wave conditions down in New Zealand. 

During this period of rough weather, the boat heeled (leaned) over in the wind, and rolled through the confused waves.   So we didn’t do a lot of sophisticated cooking.  Our meals were pretty simple consisting of yogurt and granola, sandwiches (PB&J or tuna), and instant soups.   Skipper Tom boosted morale a few times with a hot bowl of spaghetti or tray of baked fish sticks and beans, and Oreos.

To keep the boat balanced and not overpowered, we “reefed” the mainsail.  Not to be confused with coral reefs, a “reefed mainsail” means lowering the mainsail to designated “reef points,” thereby reducing the amount of sail area and de-powering the boat.  We departed under the 1st reef point.  By the third day, we had reefed all the way down to the 3rd (and final) reef point.  That is to say, we had the least amount of mainsail up as possible.  The winds were that strong – approximately 30 knots!  We also used the staysail in our upwind effort, saving the bigger jib for any downwind we might get later.

After four days of rough upwind sailing, the wind and seas died down a bit.  We were exhausted, having hand-steered day and night for 4 days.  With the lighter conditions now, Skipper Tom made the call to start the engine, turn on autopilot, and motor sail more directly into the wind and waves. 

Using autopilot had a couple of benefits.  First, we would be moving more directly on our desired course.  Second, we would be able to get more rest.  Hand-steering in high wind and big waves required concentration and focus.  Watches were limited to two hours.  With three crew, two-hour watches meant the downtime (i.e., sleep) was only 4 hours, or really about 3 hours when you account for time to change clothes, use the bathroom, make your bunk, etc. 

With autopilot doing the work, watches were extended to 3 hours, so downtime was 6 hours (or net, 5 hours of rest).  So we were all relieved to turn on the engine and let autopilot take over for a night.  (Due to autopilot’s high power consumption, we can really only use it when the engine is on.  The engine charges the batteries as autopilot uses the batteries.)

As it turns out, the next several days were relatively calm, and the wind continued to blow from an unfavorable direction. 

So we continued to motor sail with autopilot.  We were anxious to make good time toward our destination – ensuring that we arrived before the next weather front moved in.

The calmer seas and wind allowed us to do a few other fun things.  One of the first things we did was shower with buckets of cold saltwater, with a quick fresh water rinse.  It was such a simple thing -- after four tiring days of wind, waves, cold, and clouds, just taking a shower and drying in the sun felt amazing.

We were also able to do a bit more cooking.  One night Skipper Tom made his famous Pasta Pesto.  And I showed off my skill at making egg salad sandwiches.  “Dannyboy’s Café is in business,” Rick and Tom joked.  As tempting as it might have been, we never cooked any of the flying fish or squid that we cleared from the deck each morning.

Rick and I did a bit more reading, taking turns reading “Wasting Time on the Internet”, which seemed entirely appropriate as we drifted along hundreds of miles from civilization.

We did a few boat jobs in the calm weather, too.  Most importantly, we refueled.  We opened the forward and aft lockers, removed the 5-gallon jerry cans, and poured the diesel into the big tanks of Avalon.  This gave us a chance to inspect the storage areas too.  Yep, everything was dry and secure. 

As we approached the east coast of New Zealand, we stayed over 50 miles offshore to protect us from any shift in the wind and waves that would push us into the rocky shore.

By Friday, November 25, we were ready to close that gap and head into shore.  We had feared a significant weather system moving in, but it just hadn’t materialized yet fortunately.

What did materialize was a huge Navy frigate that just appeared out of the mist on our port side!  While at sea, we monitor the “Automatic Identification System” regularly, which notifies us of other vessels – type, course, speed, distance, and closest point of approach – and notifies other vessels of our comparable stats.  Accessed via iPad app and satellite WIFI, the AIS is a great system to promote safety, especially when visibility is so poor.  But this Navy ship was literally “off the grid”, sneaking through the misty seas.  No doubt she knew exactly where we were, even though we were not aware of her approach.  

Speaking of contact with the outside world, we were also hailed on the VHF radio later that day.  A woman's voice echoed through the cockpit:  "Avalon, Avalon, Avalon, this is [XYZ} on channel 16, over." After not seeing any boats or people for 8 days, and being so far offshore, we were a bit surprised and perhaps a bit excited.  Contact with civilization!  But who could it be?  Tom answered, "This is sailing vessel Avalon, go ahead, over."  

As it turns out, the call was from an Orion P-3K2 surveillance aircraft overhead (WAY overhead, because we couldn't see or hear it).  I have later read that these aircraft were deployed by the New Zealand Defense Force in 2015 to help enforce strict biosecurity and customs requirements, especially from yachts visiting New Zealand from all parts of the Pacific.

After switching us over to a 'conversation' channel on the VHF radio, the flying Customs official asked us a few questions about our destination, purpose, people on board, etc. which we reported dutifully, and then she wished us a pleasant voyage.  That afternoon, we heard her call a number of other vessels on Channel 16 - which we all monitor for initial vessel to vessel contact and emergencies.  New Zealand is serious about their biosecurity and customs.

By Friday evening, our initial destination - Marsden Cove Marina, New Zealand - was within striking distance.  We could make it before sunrise.  But the entrance to the marina included passing through a "high swell warning area" and then navigating a narrow and very shallow channel.  Was it too dark to proceed tonight?  Was the tide high enough?  Is that storm coming?  Are we just too tired?

Still hours away, we had time to rest up and weigh the decision.  In the end, we went for it.  The skies were clear, visibility was great, and low tide had passed.  The channel was well lit with flashing red and green markers.  

At 3:00am, we slipped quietly through the black water of the narrow channel, past modern homes with private docks (part of this new marina's development plan).  I remembered going the opposite direction one grey, crisp morning back in May as we set out from Marsden headed TO Fiji.  

This time, it felt as if we were coming home, into a marina that was familiar, after 8 days at sea.

We made the final turn and pulled alongside the Customs & Immigration "quarantine" dock and secured the boat.  We shed our foul weather gear, took a few pictures, and savored a couple of beers and a can of Pringles.  We couldn't pass through the locked gate between the dock and land, since we were under quarantine until officials arrived in a few hours.  

It didn't matter.  We were safe.  Avalon was safe.  We made it!  

Coincidentally, we arrived just a few hours after the United States' holiday Thanksgiving.  Although we didn't celebrate on the passage, I know we each gave a few thanks as we stepped foot on the dock.

Addendum:

While we made it to New Zealand, the original plan was to rest a few days in Marsden Cove Marina, and then continue sailing about 100 miles south to Auckland.  But, because we were delayed getting out of Fiji, I didn’t have time to make the sail down to Auckland.  I helped clean Avalon inside and out, and then took the land yacht – the bus – down to Auckland to catch my flight home.

At the helm in high wind and big seas!

At the helm in high wind and big seas!

Departing from Port Denarau - I'm removing the bow line and storing it for passage.  Rhum-Ba Restaurant in the background.

Departing from Port Denarau - I'm removing the bow line and storing it for passage.  Rhum-Ba Restaurant in the background.

Taking a peek at the sunset.

Taking a peek at the sunset.

Running the preventer line from the end of the boom, around starboard side and bow, and down the port side.

Running the preventer line from the end of the boom, around starboard side and bow, and down the port side.

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And We're Off!

Well, almost.

After three weeks of preparation, we set sail early tomorrow morning, embarking on the 1,200-mile passage from Fiji to New Zealand.  We hope to arrive in about 8 days. We took care of some final details today, not the least of which was fully hydrating and taking timeout to enjoy the sunset.  I am excited and grateful to be part of this challenging adventure with Tom Prior and Rick Pinnone.  

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A Matter of Focus

Any update I give this week from Fiji cannot possibly compare to the dramatic and stunning results of the election back home in the United States. 

The election was the kind of event that is location-stamped.  No matter for whom we voted (or even IF we voted), a lot of us will probably always remember where we were when the results were announced:   “Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.”  Wow.

As for me, I was sitting in the casual beachside bar of the Bamboo Travelers resort.  It was an interesting scene.  About 15-20 fellow travelers huddled around the TV watching the play-by-play, trying to listen to the juicy commentary. 

The majority of the bar patrons, who hailed from all over the world, were either oblivious or indifferent – choosing instead to enjoy the sunset, play pool and ping-pong, or share travel notes. 

Even as the ‘show’ ended with the grand finale – Clinton conceding, Trump speaking – people just went on with their evening as if nothing happened.   I turned from the TV to my Facebook feed, and sat for a while reading the diverse comments.

I could have entertained myself for a few days reading all the post-election news and perspectives. 

But, down here in Fiji, we had more fun stuff to do.

Delayed by weather off the coast of New Zealand, and therefore still “stuck” in Fiji, we decided to sail over to Musket Cove, on an island about 3 hours away, to spend a few days relaxing and re-energizing.

We departed Thursday morning, motoring due to light wind conditions.  It was a pleasant cruise.  After the heat in the marina, it was great to be in open water with a fresh breeze.

The entry into Musket Cove was tricky and unfamiliar.  We had to navigate our way around shallow reefs.  Reefs are particularly dangerous because the depth changes rapidly.  You can be in 80 feet of water when you suddenly come upon an underwater wall of vertical coral growth and depth goes to 5 feet.   Midday, with the sun overhead, provides good visibility.  "If it's brown, go around" says our First Mate Rick - since the reefs appear brown in color under the water.  Approaching at low-water (although seemingly counter-intuitive) is also a good technique as the low water exposes the coral reefs.  

As we approached, we followed the path of in-water navigational aides (markers and buoys) and utilized the charts we downloaded to our iPad application Navionics.  But, reefs are constantly growing and changing so we also kept a sharp lookout on deck with binoculars.  Once we were safely in the cove, we picked up a mooring ball and secured the boat.

We took the dinghy to shore and checked in with the office.

Because we arrived on a sailboat from a ‘foreign port’ (i.e., New Zealand to Fiji earlier this year), we were awarded lifetime memberships in the Musket Cove Yacht Club!  This granted us access to the private beach, the pool, the showers, and all of the water toys (kayaks, paddleboards, mask/snorkel, and catamaran).

On our first night, the restaurant was offering an all-you-can-eat buffet, featuring roast pork and all the trimmings.   After two weeks eating sketchy food in Nadi town, and struggling with the resulting impact on our stomachs, we thoroughly enjoyed the delicious buffet.  

Back at the boat that evening, it was hot in the cabin.  I couldn’t sleep, so I crawled outside to the cockpit area, pillow in hand, and slept on the hard fiberglass bench for a while.  The cool air and occasional hint of rain was very pleasant.  I ended up sleeping outside the next two nights as well, especially after the skipper reminded me that we actually have cusions for those hard benches.  With the cushion in place, I slept like a baby, cradled by the sea and watched over by the stars.

For the next two days, we just lounged around the Yacht Club.  We enjoyed early morning swims in the sea, launching ourselves off Avalon’s deck.  We explored the Yacht Club and Resort – moving from beach to pool to café and back again.

Our favorite hangout spot was the Club’s beach bar located on a short peninsula jutting out into the cove.  The bar offered ice-cold Fiji Bitter (beer), classic rock tunes, and cushioned benches facing outward toward the west, providing a great sunset view.  

But the highlight of the bar was the self-cook barbecue dinner.   Here’s how it works:  Each afternoon by 4pm, we place our order for fresh fish, meat, veggies, potatoes, and garlic bread.   The food is delivered to the bar at 6:30pm; fish and veggies are on skewers, meat is soaking in marinade, bread and potatoes are buttered and wrapped in foil.   We choose our gas grill and ask the bartender to turn it on.  We barbecue everything, and then enjoy a tasty feast as the sun goes down.  The staff cleans the grill and clears the dishes while we relax.  It’s pretty fantastic.  We did this two nights in a row.  The price?  About $12 USD.

By Sunday, it was time to get back to the business of preparing to sail to New Zealand.  We readied the boat, untied from the mooring ball, and slowly motored out of Musket Cove and around the reefs, heading back to our Fijian home base of Port Denarau.

Arriving at Port Denarau by early afternoon, we spent a few hours cleaning the boat so she’d be ready for the passage mid-week (based on latest forecasts).   We then dispersed to our respective hotels for a good night’s sleep.

At the time of this writing, we are targeting a Wednesday, November 16, departure.  For those of you that have asked, yes, we are aware of the earthquake and tsunami in New Zealand, but fortunately it does not impact our passage.  Our thoughts go out to those whom it did impact.

So as the United States reacts to the election results with all kinds of predictions of what might or might not happen over the next 4 years of Trump, down here on Avalon we have a much narrower perspective:  we are laser-focused on the next 8-10 days and safe passage to New Zealand. 

Enjoying the sunset view at Musket Cove Yacht Club.

Enjoying the sunset view at Musket Cove Yacht Club.

Barbecue time!  Fresh fish, steak, veggies, potatoes, and garlic bread on the grill; cold beer in the hand; ocean, beach, and sunset in the background.

Barbecue time!  Fresh fish, steak, veggies, potatoes, and garlic bread on the grill; cold beer in the hand; ocean, beach, and sunset in the background.

Taking a dip off Avalon's bow.

Taking a dip off Avalon's bow.

Swimming back to the stern.

Swimming back to the stern.

Avalon floating gracefully at her mooring in Musket Cove.

Avalon floating gracefully at her mooring in Musket Cove.

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Preparing for Passage

I arrived in Fiji just over a week ago, and spent this past week helping skipper Tom and first mate Rick to prepare sailing vessel Avalon for the journey south, back to New Zealand.  

For three very productive days, we were joined by Ian, a mechanical / marine engineer who flew up from New Zealand to help us.   He was awesome, inspecting the engine, the auxiliary motor, and what seemed like every pump, belt, hose, filter, cable, clamp, etc. on board to make sure the boat was in proper working order. 

We spent the balance of the week tackling a myriad of other boat jobs like pumping rainwater out the bilges, cleaning and drying out the storage lockers fore and aft, running the jib and staysail sheets, filling the water tanks, servicing the anchor gypsy, installing covers to protect the seat cushions, hiring a diver to scrub the hull and install new zinc plates, launching the dinghy and testing the outboard engine, hoisting Rick up the mast so he could inspect the rigging, filling up the fuel tanks and spare 5-gallon jerrycans, preparing final paperwork for checkout, shopping and stowing food and water, and so much more.  Of course, we ended every day on the boat with cleaning surfaces, closing hatches, and tidying lines.

We have reviewed the basic navigation, including rhumb line, route options, dangers, etc.  And we are constantly monitoring weather which will influence both our departure date and exact route.

We did one shakedown sail this week to unfurl the sails and stretch Avalon's legs.  She was great.

It's been super hot, so we have tried to start as early as 7am to get the hard work done before the midday heat.  We try to end in time to hit happy hour at a local beachfront resort for a cold drink and sunset.  

We have been working toward a Tuesday, November 8 departure date.  But latest weather indicates that that may not be the safest departure date - as we'd be rushed to land at New Zealand before the next front moves in. 

So, as of this writing, we have actually delayed our departure by a few days, targeting to check out of Fiji around November 10 or 11.  We are ready!  

Provisioning at the local supermarket.  We're going with a lot of canned goods - tuna, corned beef, beans - to minimize risk of spoilage in this heat.  Also resorting to classics of peanut butter and jelly, pasta and pesto, and granola bars.

Provisioning at the local supermarket.  We're going with a lot of canned goods - tuna, corned beef, beans - to minimize risk of spoilage in this heat.  Also resorting to classics of peanut butter and jelly, pasta and pesto, and granola bars.

A cart full of food for the three of us.

A cart full of food for the three of us.

Morning coffee at my hotel.  What scenery!

Morning coffee at my hotel.  What scenery!

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Back to Fiji

The goal of this week was to travel halfway across the world - from Croatia to Fiji - stopping in San Francisco for a couple of days to change gear, do laundry, read mail, etc.

It was a long trip, nearly 13,000 miles, but I made it.

I am now in Fiji, and have reunited with Skipper Tom, First Mate Rick, and the lovely sailing vessel Avalon.  We are at Port Denerau, in the town of Nadi.  We spend the days doing lots of boat jobs, bringing Avalon out of her 6-month hibernation.  Cleaning, organizing, testing, etc.  These activities will continue all of this upcoming week.  We'll do a couple shakedown sails, too.  

The earliest we'll depart (for New Zealand) is November 8 (Election Day in the US!).  We need to closely monitor the weather to ensure a safe passage in the best possible weather window.

Off the boat, we've had a good time exploring local accommodation options.  It's too hot to sleep on the boat.  We have found a small beachfront area that has a number of little hotels / hostels. 

More next week.  I have to get back to the boat!  I forgot how bad (i.e., slow, unreliable) the WIFI is in Fiji.  So bear with me...

Reunited with SV Avalon!  She looks great!

Reunited with SV Avalon!  She looks great!

Cleaning out the bilges where some rainwater has collected over the past 6 months.  (Very normal for boats).

Cleaning out the bilges where some rainwater has collected over the past 6 months.  (Very normal for boats).

Enjoying the sunset on the beach while eating dinner.

Enjoying the sunset on the beach while eating dinner.

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