Looking back and ahead

Since it is a rainy day here in Tahiti, which takes much of the exotic feel away, on an overcast rainy day, things look just as dready as most other places, but maybe a nice moment for some reflection.

It has been more than one and a half years since I left Jacksonville, which can be considered the final start of the journey. Well, it feels a lot longer, sailing south along the Florida coast feels like light years back. But, that is mostly because there have been some many other places visited, that all left their impressions. I am enjoying myself, it is actually hard to imagine a life on shore, it doesn’t seem to be logical to ever go back to that (though, there will probably come a time when I will have to).

Someone asked how it was to be at sea for 4 weeks. And really, it wasn’t all that different. Like I always tell myself in anything else: four weeks is nothing more than four times one week back to back. Just like a 100 km bike ride is simply 5 times 20 km. Life on board was a steady routine, not being busy most of the time, things get dictated by the clock to the extreme. Getting up wasn’t so much timed, that sort of happended automatically with the arrival of daylight. After breakfast I would not have coffee until a set time (that I had been moving back and forth a bit, eventually deciding that 9 o’clock would be the best time to divide up the morning). Lunch was always stiptly at noon (after writing down the noon position in the logbook). Then sometimes I would allow myself a happy hour, or cocktail hour, at 4. Where I would have one, or at most two beers, assuming the fridge was still below room temperature. Once the fridge was at room temperature I would not waste the beer supply by drinking it warm. Than before sunset I would cook, just because cooking at daylight is easier than with the lights on. Not too much after that I would go to bed. On the Pacific I no longer kept up the strict routine of getting up every half hour, there wasn’t any traffic to keep a lookout for, which seemed to be right since I only saw one boat in between the Galapagos and the Marquesas. This sort of sums up the routine, and I would be doing that day in day out. Every now and then you do some math about how the progress is, looking ahead at the next achievement (like: the first 500 miles done, reaching the mid point, etc). Right at the beginning of the long leg, the notion of being completely self dependant was quite big. Whatever would go wrong, there would not be any help near, nobody would hear an alarm call on the radio, I would just have to figure it out all by myself. I was a lot more careful, moving around on the boat, stay low, use hand holds etc. In a way that doesn’t make that much sense, if I would have fallen over the side on any of the trips in the Caribbean more than 30 miles away from shore, chances of survival would have been near zero as well. But, at least it helped me being less careless, as I know I can be. As it is, I am probably one of the few boats without short wave radio, no life raft, no EPIRB (emergency signal based on satellites). But, I had been aware of that all the time, those were the choices I had made, keep it simple. When it comes down to it, to survive, all I would need to do is keep the boat afloat. Being by myself for 4 weeks didn’t seem to make that much of a difference to me. As I wrote updates for the blog, I had a feeling of being `in touch’ with the rest of the world, even though it is just typing something on a computer. After a while you realize that you never really hear you own voice, only exceptions being when I hurt myself (say when you hit a toe against a stancheon), when suddenly you cuss out loud (in Zeeuws!). But, that seems to be logical, or at least I think it makes more sense than talking aloud against yourself (which I don’t do). Arriving in the Marquesas did feel like a great achievement, when you come into the anchorage you are sort of proud of yourself: I did it. Suddenly you are back amongst people, which was almost a shock, after all the quietness, there are people around you, and are aware of you. It took me a while to make the adjustment, only when Strummer arrived, I got used to being around people again.

Over the past months I have really enjoyed the choice of boat I have made. She is easy to sail by myself, the self steering is reliable and the dependency on electricity is kept to a minimum. After the head stay broke on the way to Panama, I really gained a lot more confidence in the strenght of the boat, and the choice for a cutter rig. On a sloop rig, which is still the most common among sailing yachts, the same failure would have been a lot bigger problem. Now I was just able to go along with staysail and main, and giving the strong winds in that area, not even loose much speed (and actually gaining more comfort at the same time). Also, during some other occasions, when the winds were strong, double reefing the main and furling in the genoa made for good sailing, even in rough seas.

Looking ahead, there are still more Pacific Islands to visit. The beaten path leads from here to the Cook Islands, then Tonga, and Fiji. After that most boats go to New Zealand to sit out the southern cyclone season there. Some others opt for Australia. My plans are different, a stay in New Zealand would have to be almost 6 months, which would probably be a stretch (though not impossible) of the budget. Australia is even less of an option, it is hard to check in, visa and crusing permit even more expensive, it doesn’t sound like they really welcome my visit there. The plan for a 2 year circumnavigation is left behind me, the shaft problem of Christmas day, then the head stay delay in Panama, pushed for too tight of time schedule to stick to that. There is not really a particular moment when I made that decision to leave the 2 year circumnavigation plan behind, as time went by, that was something that more or less grew on me. So, we are now looking at making this a 3 year circumnavigation. For a while I was hoping to go to Indonesia, as another place with some old Dutch influence. But, there is lots of paperwork involved in getting a cruising permit for it, so that also makes it less inviting. Well, that doesn’t leave too many options. It is quite logical to keep hopping islands past Fiji by visiting Vanuatu, and then the Solomon Isands. Than was wanting to go towards Malaysia and Thailand. Looking at the charts, studying the pilots, I am now thinking about going via the route of the Philippines, which sounds like an interesting place to go. I am not yet sure if I will go there straight from the Solomon Islands (would be a very long leg, crossing the equator with its windfree area), or maybe hop some of the New Guinea islands (unsure about the political stability there) or maybe a stop over in some of the islands of Micronesia. That is still to be decided, as I get closer to the Solomon Islands I might learn more about the do’s and don’ts in that region. Time frame for this is no sooner than the end of the year, Solomon Islands being on the edge/outside of the southern cyclone season, which starts in December.

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