Skimpy had a day of current issues. The new alternator bought in Jayapura was fitted onto port engine, but without any wiring diagram or manual it is difficult to guess what the terminals are. Different combinations where tried of which at least some showed themselves to be wrong with a furry of sparks. The combination that did actually see the alternator produce power, unfortunately also saw the voltage rise to 18V which is suboptimal on a 12V battery unless you intend to boil something on it so we are still without generator on port engine. On this very hot day without wind and only one engine available, we reached the pass between Kurudu and Sorenarwa. A 3.5 nautical mile wide and seemingly simple pass but with a strong current running through it.. unfortunately against us. So with only 2.5kn of speed we spend most of the day inching our way through and suddenly the Cenderawasih bay is an even bigger and more inaccessible place. This was certainly a day of frustration and there were moments where nature and engine rooms seemed to join together in a mission to ruin our plans.. but then you remind yourself that you are after all making your way (albeit slowly) through beautiful islands, surrounded by warm water in which you can let yourself drag after your sturdy ship which is equipped with a most amazing fridge which is filled with cold beer and ice cubes for the refreshments you need to pull yourself out of the frustration. So maybe you have to spend an additional 10 hours of sailing but you are in company of good friends... and you are on Skimpy.
West of Guadalcanal Island lies a small cluster of islands which seems to come straight from the ocean bottom. All of them are surrounded by magnificent reef, the like which we have not seen since Tuamotus in French Polynesia and teem with big fish and sharks. Of course we haven't seen it all, but everywhere we dropped in the water seemed to be the same. And we have it all to ourselves. We are nearing the end of the season in Solomon, so the little boats that come to these islands are now headed either south to Australia or north to Asia (like us). We haven't seen a fellow sailing yacht in more than 10 days so we are not exactly swarmed by tourists.
But of course there are snakes in paradise. The fact that all islands are surrounded by vertical coral walls with drops of at least 40m, makes anchoring a somewhat more challenging exercise. Not helped by the fact that the only cruising guide we have is from 1981 and have hardly any positive things to say about anchorage in Russell Islands. Most anchorages are 20 meters and very close to coral walls which leaves you in an exposed position if the wind swings around and pushes you against the reef.
Another problem is the quick infestation of wounds that seems to get worse the further north we venture and have peaked here in Solomon. It starts out as a tiny scratch and even with regular use of antiseptic or even antibiotic powder it evolves into festering wounds that refuse to close. Every morning you can start the new day with a good squeeze of puss from the wound and every idle moment of the day must be used to nurture and treat them; like a Tamagotchi that never is satisfied. Then finally one day the inevitable swelling starts and soon your foot looks like a neoprene boot filled with water and you can feel the fluids in your foot sloshing around for each step you take. Ahh yes.. and then the magic of good, strong broad spectrum antibiotics that kills every germ in your body and leaves you with interesting fungus in interesting places.
But back to Russell Islands which is what this was supposed to be about; it is a truly magic place. Our dive guide on two wreck dives in Honiara had told us about a wall dive on the most eastern island in the group, a small speck of sand surrounded by reef. This part of the world is not the best surveyed and the various charts and guides at our disposal could not even agree on the name of the island. This only made us want to get there even more. The only possible place to anchor was a small inlet in the reef with a 45 degree slope of sand coming up from the abyss. We let out 40m of anchor chain and reversed back to the slope. It was an impressive sight (I was in the water to direct Skimpy) with the anchor slowly descending into the deep blue tied to our ship by an improbable small link that seemed incapable of somehow linking our safe haven to the bottom so far below. It did though and we secured the stern with a long rope to a palm on the island beyond the reef. Skimpy was now hovering 2m above incredible coral and with 10m on each side to the reef. All was good and we enjoyed an afternoon of superb snorkeling. Alas, it was not to last.
The days of constant, predictable trade winds are now over and is replaced by strange weather systems, impossible to predict. Winds are generally weak, changing several times a day and with the occasional squall, showering us with water and a following strong blow which always seems to choose the least favorable direction for our anchored boat. So also this time. After a successful executed cocktail hour and in the middle of dinner preparations, the wind picked up from north within a minute and pushed us towards the reef. With Skimpy only a few meters from the reef, we quickly had to swim to shore, untie the rope from the palm and then pick up the anchor while the rain and wind increased. Picking up anchor from 40m depths are not a trivial task and put our windless to the test. In the safety of open waters we decided to stay offshore for the night and then return the next day.
The anchor situation had not improved overnight so we decided to do a dive from the back of Skimpy. Until now, diving on Skimpy has always been a bit of a battle consisting of the following items:
Now the instruction manual for the live aboard dive boat Skimpy is:
Needless to say, diving directly from Skimpy was an instant success and repeated on the dives the following days. In fact, we never lowered the dingy while in Russell Islands.
On the beach outside Honiara we had spoken to a man who claimed to own an island in Russell Islands and he had lavishly offered that we could anchor in front of his island as long as we gave his caretaker who lives on the island a bit of canned food. On the chart we found a small speck of sand with a name somewhat close to what he had mentioned and decided to check it out because that's what you can when you're playing around in your own boat. It turned out to be a beautiful lagoon with the best anchorage since Bora Bora. 4 meters of water over pure white sand and with the outer reef just a quick 100m swim away. The reef turned out to be another impressive wall, in places overhanging and to finish it all off a shallow section of caves and canyons in 6-10m of water.
In a quick boat council it was unanimously decided to stay for the night and do a dive before leaving the following day. The only negative thing to be mentioned about this exquisite place was the total lack of lobsters. It is difficult to imagine a more perfect location for lobsters with its little caves, overhangs and nooks and crannies just shaped by nature for the demanding crayfish but they were nowhere to be found. Perhaps we are dealing with a lobster who is able to disguise itself better than its non-Solomon peers, a superhuman lobster looking at the bewildered hunters from it position deep within the reef and laughing at their feeble attempts to locale it. In either case there was no lobster for dinner and we had to make do with some Vanuatu steak, renowned (at least by people who has been to Vanuatu) as some of the finest beef in the world.
After a morning of Skimpy love (maintenance of the boat), we had a beautiful dive on the outer wall before setting sails for Marovo lagoon in the western province where more adventures awaits. But that is a completely different story.
An interesting but also at times frustrating thing about travelling is the language barrier. It makes a huge difference to be able to speak to the local people on a higher level than just asking for the price of vegetables. In French Polynesia most locals spoke a bit of French, which didn't help us a lot, although Simon did brush up on his old high school French and eventually managed to have some conversations. Since then things have improved as we slowly moved closer to Australia. Both Tonga and Fiji have strong ties to New Zealand and Australia and English is taught from an early age in school.
In Vanuatu there is more than 120 spoken local languages and often two neighboring villages will not be able to understand each other. Most locals speak 4-5 different local languages as well as English and then of course the official language of Vanuatu, Bislama. Bislama was apparently the language spoken between the Vanuatu migrant workers and is a form of pidgin English also spoken in the Solomon Islands. It sounds like children talking and is a constant source of entertainment when you learn new words. It consists of only 2500 words which makes it easy to learn but the drawback is of course that some common English words have to be elaborated with a few more words in Bislama.
Below is a quick compilation of some of the most entertaining words we have found.. and this is not a joke. People actually understand this although most of the time they know the English words and use this instead. It may look like gibberish, but speak it out loud and it makes sense.
Do you speak English? - Yu tok tok Engglis?
I don't understand - Mi no save
I like it - Mi laikem
My name is Tue - Nam blong me Tue
Mask - Glass blong daeve
Fins - Fit blong dakdak
Snorkel - Paep blong pullem wind
Double bed - Bid blong marred
Condom - Ruba blong fakfak
To hit - Killem
To hit something and kill it - Killem ded finis
To teach - Tijim
Sunrise - Taim sun i kam up
And our personal favorites. If you can't figure out the meaning and are getting desperate, you may email us for the answers on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wan tingting i gat tith, i go, i kam, i go, i kam, taim i go kam bak i kakae wud (hint: it's a tool)
Wan bigfala bokis, i gat tith. Sam i waet, sam i blak. Taim yu killem i singaot (hint: instrument)
Wan smal sista blong bigfala bokis. Taim yu scratchem belli i kri (hint: another instrument)
Muskat blong solwata
For the first time since arriving in Marquesas is it just the three weird sailors on Skimpy. To recuperate and avoid sailing in rain we stopped at Namena for a day. Alessio had a fever, Simon's leg is swollen and Tue's elbow was starting to swell. After a day of reading and sleeping we are all feeling a lot better and the journey to Vanuatu continues. It's a beautiful day with sun and perfect wind, as we head south of Viti Levu. Ahead of us is 4 days of smooth sailing.
Just as we started to worry about lunch (too any available options), two beautiful little tunas decided to pop in. Sashimi.
This is what paradise could look like. At least when you arrive with a fridge full of cheese, salad and beer. If not, you might be slightly annoyed of a paradise consisting of only fish and coconuts. But it sure is pretty.
We arrived at Makemo after 4 days of easy and pleasant sailing. The weather forecast promised no wind and for once we got exactly what it promised. no wind. Two days of absolutely no wind. Even more no wind than the doldrums where there would at least be the occasional thunderstorm with an accompanying squall. These are the times when we think of the sailors who would be stuck for excruciating weeks in weather like this. Then we have a sip of rum (something you should always do before commencing any kind of activity) and turn on the engine. After roughly two days of motor sailing the trade winds reappeared beam on with almost no swell. Perfect conditions to lie in the trampoline with a book or a cocktail.. or both.
An atoll is a lot of water surrounded by reef. Most atolls have just one or two passes that allows water in and out. In the case of Makemo, the atoll is 70x10km and when the tide goes in and out, that is a lot of water to transfer through a very narrow passage. In some passes, the current can be up to 8 knots.
The pass into Makemo atoll is fairly easy, but since this would be our first attempt at this maneuver, we wanted to go through at slack tide when the current is at its minimum. True to our style, it was poorly planned but well executed and looked good the whole way. Upon arrival, we had a quick glance at the pass and since there were no standing waves we pushed forward. The tide program that was used had given us a time for high time that was 1½ hour off (it was a Mac program) so, as it turned out, we were entering at the maximum current of 4-5knots. The water looked like a giant whirlpool and Skimpy was being tossed from side to side. At times we were only advancing 1knot but slowly, meter by meter, we made our way into safety and the calm water inside the atoll.
Our anchorage is located a couple of hours of smooth sailing NW of the pass. The depth inside the atoll is 20-40m but with little isolated and unmarked reefs coming straight up to the surface which keeps you alert the whole time. When the anchor was finally cast behind a little reef, a barrage of cocktails, champagne and beer was emptied while we gazed upon the beautiful beach. It looks like something straight from a sunscreen commercial, unfortunately without the tanned girls.
I slowly make my way out of bed at 9am after 5 hours of sleep in a very bumpy night. We currently have 13m/s wind coming from behind, but 4m waves creeping in from some distant weather in the south, hitting us beam on. This is the worst direction for a catamaran and it sometimes feels like a rollercoaster when you are thrown high into the air. The good thing is that we are doing an average of 7.25 knots directly towards Fatu Hiva.
We have changed our night shifts so that I'm on duty from midnight to 3am, then Simon takes over for 3 hours and Alessio has the morning shift. This allows Simon to stay up long enough to watch movies with the rest of us in the Skimpy Cinema which consists of a 40 inch projection image fuelled by a 50 lumen projector running on 12V. It is powerful enough to project twice the size onto the sail on a dark night and we are contemplating to run a paddle-in-cinema on the remote islands of Polynesia, taking admission in the form of coconuts, fish and pearls or possibly just show them porn for free the way the internet intended it.
Not quite sure of the exact placement of time lines we set our clock back an hour whenever the sunset happen too late for cocktail hour. We have reached W117 longitude and change the time zone to Pacific Time (GMT-8).
Müsli with banana and apple for breakfast. The remaining fruit on our banana trunk, Charlene (who started green but turned yellow), is quickly turning from yellow into mushy black. She has served us well for two weeks but all good things come to an end and the trunk is turned over to Poseidon along with the remaining 40 bananas. Very good value for the 10USD we paid on the market in San Cristobal.
After breakfast I finish installing new lights in the cockpit. Simon got some very neat LED light strips that we place under the bimini. When I test it in the mid-day sun it looks like tiny stars shining pale in the distance. At night in the Pacific darkness it lights up the entire cockpit like a factory floor. Fail. I might have to remove some if we are ever again to have a meal outside without having the retinas burned.
Simon prepares one of his random salads for lunch with some of the remaining vegetables: Cabbage, prunes, cucumber, pumpkin. Two weeks after provisioning in Galapagos and we still have fresh produce. Not bad at all.. but it looks like we have to dig out those creative cabbage recipes cause that will very soon be all that's left.
After lunch I prepare some dough for the burgers we plan to make for dinner while the rest of the crew indulges in the first afternoon nap. Just as I get out of the kitchen, the fishing line starts spinning and I run to the fishing pole. I increase the tension on the line and it slows down the drag of the line. As I look up, I see a 1.5m Marlin jump out of the water 100m from the boat. I've never hooked a fish that big and my heart jumps, but before I can even begin to fight it, the tension on the line is gone. The jumps have unhooked it and the Marlin disappears back into the abyss. The whole thing happened in about 15-20 seconds.
When we are sailing we always have two fishing lines trailing the boat. It usually provides a steady supply of fresh fish but lately we have had a string of bad luck and lost several lures to some giant fishes that has caused lines to snap and even pulled a swivel apart on one occasion. We have tried to appease Poseidon with gifts of Rum but we are being mocked by the creatures of the sea. And it's about to get worse.
An hour later we hook another fish and it immediately takes out two hundred meters of line. When Simon increases the tension on the reel, the line snaps. Silence. Then a continuous stream of swearing. Another lure lost. Two minutes later the other line is hit and I manage to stop it just before we run out of line. It's big. The biggest fish I've ever fought. For 5 minutes I'm working hard to keep the tension on the line as I slowly reel it in. My arm is hurting and I have to will myself to keep turning the wheel. Now it's only 5 meters behind the boat. Despite the pressure from above, it manages to stay under water and is constantly seeking down. Simon is on the rear of the boat and ready to grab it, when the hook jumps off.
I'm furious. It feels like losing the game of your life on account of a bad referee. I've never taken much interest in fishing before boarding Skimpy but battling 1 meter MahiMahis is something entirely different from fishing in Denmark. I spend the next 10 minutes walking around the boat then start baking a banana cake. This is certainly not my normal pattern of reaction and I'm not quite sure why I do it. Maybe the sugar will help sweeten the sour feeling of defeat.
Alessio posts a message in a bottle to Poseidon, asking for some consideration for our fishing. Hopefully, the Pacific postal service is more efficient than its counterpart on land. Alas, it is to no avail and before the week is over all lures are lost.
Simon makes an exquisite passion fruit cocktails that we enjoy in the front of the boat while we marvel at the sunset over the neverending ocean. This is the time of day to discuss important matters such as the economic situation of Italy, political implications of China, cocktails, food and women. Solutions have never seemed easier or clearer when staring at the distant horizon not knowing if there is still a world out there to welcome us.
I bake buns for the burger feast while Alessio prepare the meat. After dinner, Simon heads off to bed to get some sleep before his watch and Alessio and I send the message of the day to the Skimpy website using the satphone. We have not been able to get the data connection working on the satphone so the messages are uploaded using the text message function which limits the length of message to about 200 characters. This has turned out to be an interesting restriction and quite a bit of time is spend discussing what the theme of the day should be. Alessio has shown great skills in making short messages with a lofty feel to them where as Simon and I often resort to more informative texts.
I nap on the couch before my night watch and again during the watch. We check the horizon every 15 minutes, but depending on conditions it is sometimes necessary to check more frequent on the sails and course. Nothing much happens on this night in the middle of nowhere. The wind picks up and I furl the genoa a little bit. The wind dies a bit and I let it out again. Just another day on the Pacific.
Har sejlet 11 dage & er nu over halvvejs til FatuHiva. God vind, 4m boelger, gyngende. Mentalt stadig ok. Tak for hilsner. Send flere.. :-)
So what do you actually do on a sailboat when you are 5 days out at sea between Panama and Galapagos. I wrote it all down during the day and it's not much despite that this happened to be one of the more active days due to a couple of repair jobs. Here goes:
8:00 - My shift starts at 8am so I slowly make my way out of bed. 4½ hour of sleep is not quite enough. Simon and Alessio are both awake after the night watch and giving the boat a bit of love. The wind gauge stopped working and we disassemble the display and reconnects the cables. Unfortunately to no awail so the hypothesis is now that some water seeped into it and it needs some time to dry. Maybe just a fools hope.
9:30 - Spend an hour in the kitchen cleaning last nights plates and making pancakes for breakfast. Certainly not the best place to be on a rocking boat. Hot and with no visual sea. It feels good when you finally emerge with a tray of pancakes, maple syrop and Nutella.
11:30 - Alessio heads off for a nap but hears a rattling sound. The following investigation finds that it is simply the lower protection on the starboard stay that is a bit loose. Nothing to worry about. However, during the investigation we discover that a bolt on the baseplate of the starboard stay has snapped and the baseplate is coming loose. This would ultimately lead to the mast falling off which falls under the category 'suboptimal'. We spend the next hour replacing the bolt and tightens the remaining bolts on both stays. After this emotional experience we drink a cold beer.
12:30 - Alessio prepares a simple (but very good) salad for lunch. The fridge is packed with vegetables and there should be plenty for the whole week of sailing.
13:30 - We film our female companion, Judy, in the various situations that she encounters every day on the boat. She is happy to be the center of attention.
15:00 - I read in a boat manual for two minutes but the style of writing reminds me of work (or university) and I need to lie down for 30 minutes and nap.
17:00 - The bathroom light in my cabin stopped working several months ago. The switch was rusted through and we have bought a new one. One of the more annoying features of seawater is that it deteriorates everything on a boat so you have the constant joy of replacing electrical installations.
Since we are taking it all apart we would also like to replace the old halogen light with led lights which use a fraction of the energy. Simon bought 10m cable with led lights and you simply cut off as many lights as you need and connect it to the 12V supply. Brilliant. But rather difficult to solder wires onto and the unruly motions of the ocean doen't exactly help.
19:00 - Simon cooks chicken rapped in bacon with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes. Unfortunately, most of the accompanying sauce is spilled on the floor when the boat hits a wave. Cooking on open sea is a delicate act. It also affects the way you walk around on the boat with bended knees and hunched back to keep the center of gravity low. Like kids just learning to walk. It's difficult to predict the motions on a catamaran compared to a monohaul.
20:00 - The wind calms a bit so we remove the reef in the sail. Simon heads off to bed to get some sleep before his watch. I look at the video of Judy and update the log of this very eventful day.
22:00 - I nap for 45 minutes before it's my shift. The wind has picked up again so we put a reef in the sail. I spend another quiet night watch looking at the stars, listening to the waves and reading my current book on the eReader: 'Five minutes past midnight in Bhopal' about the tragic industrial disaster of a pesticide plant in India. Good uplifting reading.
02:00 - Simon takes the watch and we share a cup of tea before I head to bed. The wind is now only 4m/s so we put away the jib and starts motoring SW. Another day on the Pacific is over and we are 210 km closer to Galapagos.
We have finally left Panama behind and arrived at Isla Contadora in Las Perlas just 10 miles off the coast. The farewell to Panama was very much as expected and in full accordance with the other experiences we had with canal authorities and immigration.
Our agent in Colon (a slick, young guy with an impressive amount of gel in his short, curly hair) had promised to take care of all formalities regarding the boat and crew but when SImon and Alessio arrived at immigration that was not exactly what they got. Not only had he "forgot" to fill out two forms (which in the land of bureaucracy is almost punishable by death) but he had also added some information to a form after he left the office. When the immigration eventually rang up the office in Colon and discovered the discrepancies between the form and the copy, we were even accused of fraud. In case someone is wondering, we won't be using Yariel as agent again if we should ever have the misfortune to be in Colon once more.
This resulted in a series of harsh words from Captain Simon and once back on the boat we immediately raised anchor (with our new and wonderful anchor chain) and headed away from the wretched city. As the skyline of Panama City slowly faded away in the horizon the positive energy came back along with the exciting feeling of adventure that is about to start. Likely induced by the bottle of cremant that we opened (with the winch handle, of course).
The boat is currently a big mess since only half of the provisioning is stored away so everywhere is bags with food and machine parts. This will hopefully be sorted tomorrow and then we depart for Galapagos in the evening. What we now have on the boat is all there is for the next 10 days which is slightly scary. No more water, food or diesel until we reach Galapagos. But we have enough. 675 liters of water and 3000 dollars worth of food and essential fluids. 15L of rum. 10 bottles of gin. 12 bottles of bubbles. 12 cases of beer plus an assortment of essential spirits for cocktail hour.
Det viste sig at de eneste der bekymrede sig om min udrejse af Panama var det tyske bureaukrati i Frankfurt. Ved ankomst til Tocumen airport blev der blot spurgt hvor lang tid jeg ønskede at opholde mig i Panama og så velkommen. Godt at skrankepaverne i Tyskland sørger for at holde orden i tingene.
Inden afrejse havde jeg snakket med Señor Elias der kunne arrangere kørsel til Guna Yala hvor Skimpy lå for anker. Guna Yala består af 365 små øer på den caribiske side af af Panama og er beboet af Kuna-indianerstammenen der har selvstyrerettigheder. For at krydse junglen og den lille bjergkæde der afskærmer området kræver det en firehjulstrækker og sådan en kunne Elias få mig på. Det krævede blot at jeg ventede nogle timer i lufthavnen.
De 3 timer blev til 5, men til sidst dukkede en lille mørk mand op i lufthavnen og præsenterede sig som Elias bror. Hverken ham eller chaufføren kunne et ord engelsk så det var en glimrende lejlighed til at få øvet mit overordentligt begrænsede og rustne spanske. Det lykkedes at få forklaret at vi var nødt til at købe et par kasser øl inden vi kørte ind i indianerland. Sejr.
Turen over den lille bjergkæde var fantastisk igennem tæt jungle og med dybe kløfter ved siden af den ganske fine vej. Vel fremme ved kysten blev jeg sat af sammen med min bagage og øl. Det l ykkedes mig omsider at få hul igennem det panamanske mobilnet og fik forklaret Simon hvor jeg var. 45 minutter og en kold øl senere kunne jeg endelig ånde lettet op da jeg så Simon komme sejlende i gummibåden. Yderligere 30 minutter og vel tilbage på Skimpy fik jeg serveret Mojito liggende i vandet. Eventyret er begyndt.