Thursday, February 11, 2010

Figi Blog

Two years ago when I sailed to Antarctica I became fascinated with the Southern Hemi- sphere. It is not a
place many North Americans go but the cultures found here are some of the coolest on earth. My friend Holly
works here part-time and invited me to visit. It is a
journey that takes me from Homer, Alaska 7000 miles south to below the equator. I am really excited to dive here. In America we have polluted our oceans to the point that there are almost no healthy coral reefs left except in Hawaii. I grew up near what was once an incredible reef called Pennycamp in the Florida Keys. When I was a kid it was covered with tropical fish and fan coral but Pennycamp is now a dead reef.

It only took 40 years of “progress” for humans to kill an ecosystem that had survived for millennia.


From Honolulu flush with six bags of Kona coffee I fly southwest 6 hours to Nadi, Fiji. Fiji is south of the equator in the South Pacific and the native people here were once cannibals who sailed all over the Pacific in giant outrigger canoes. It is summer season-Nov-April-hot hot hot. My friend Holly meets me at the airport. Bula! Bula! (hello) she shouts as I walk down the stairs to baggage. Holly is working with a non-profit group of Fijians to install safe drinking water and sanitation systems in villages. It is a big issue on an island that depends on rain for most of it’s drinking water. Holly is a biologist and her friend Victor is a marine biologist studying the coral reefs here. He has become something of an activist because he sees what many poor sanitation practices are doing to Fiji’s beautiful fringe reefs.


We stock up on paupau (papaya) and pineapple at the huge Sigatoka Saturday market. Funny this is the kind of market my friends in Alaska would love to have. All organic foods, fish and clams and lobster fresh from the sea, raw sugar, no chemicals in the food, no processing, just pure… from the earth. Figi has missed the so-called progress of fast processed foods so they already have what America wants to get back to: locally produced organic foods! And the prices here are good too! I buy a palm fan and limes and seaweed and paupau.

Coral Coast

We dive today on the Coral Coast marine protected area where Victor is working; He has set up racks under water to grow coral and has dozens ready to “plant.” Actually you swim to a place where you don’t see a lot of the little black fish called Farmer Fish and find a hole in the main coral and shove the little “seedling” in. It’s fun! The coral are fantastic shapes and colors-scarlet, purple, green, brown and my favorite is white with iridescent blue tips.

Resorts all over the islands pump nutrients into the water. Even with sewage treatment for bacteria the nutrients still make their way into the sea. This causes algae blooms and everything gets out of wack and eventually the coral dies. A simple system using the water to irrigate plants solves the problem but getting the businesses that make their money from tourism i.e. the beauty of the land and water---to make this simple change is difficult. People would rather point fingers and shift responsibility. It’s the resort; no it’s the pig farmers; no it’s the village. Meanwhile the reef dies. Climate change is not ever far from my mind and it seems humanity has two choices-unite globally and fix it or play the blame game and watch the world move, again, toward war.

A coup lead by Colonel Frank Bainimara on December 6, 2006 ousted then president Laisenia Qarasee. Now Fiji is run by an interim military government. People tell me the last group was corrupt. That’s when all the deals were made withoverseas resort developers with bags of cash. Now the government ministers are trying to stop the corruption and heal the environment. The people have hope for the future.


We took a horseback ride upcountry to see the flying foxes-fruit bats-soar over the valley. The horses are barn sour and took off once we hit the beach on the return and I almost came off. But that one rein stop is bomb proof! Tomorrow we go to Suva-the capitol-to visit Holly’s friends then to the Island of Leleuvia. All the Dahl soup (lentils) is giving me gas! We go to dinner at a great seafood place but Victor is called away. Poachers are on the protected reef with spear guns. Later we learn they were men from another village. Fists bring swift justice for their larceny.
Holly wants me to go on a shark dive she has been on twice. The Beqa island natives have the shark as their totem and as such, believe the sharks will not hurt them-or their diving clients. So far they are right. The Bega (bee gan) folks also walk on fire and are healers. Today we talked with some divers who saw a 5-meter big mamma tiger shark that glided over as the Bega guys were handing out chunks of meat. I have seen and been in the water with tiger sharks in Hawaii and I would feel safer with the Bega Island Fijians along.


We rent a car and drive-like the English on the “wrong” side of the road-to Suva, the current capitol. Holly’s non-profit is partially funded by Rotary International so I give a presentation on Alaska at the weekly luncheon. The guys like the pictures of sled dog racing and polar bears the best! The luncheon is at the Figi Club and the place is right out of a movie script. It is the British Club where decisions about this country were once made over gin and tonics under the lazy whirring of the ceiling fans. British rule came to an end in 1970.

Suva is a city. Hot, dirty, crowded but we visit the South Pacific University, the Fiji Museum
and the handicraft market. The market is full of stalls selling cool stuff. One stall is
all about ancient Fijian weapons: neck breakers, skull crackers, brain pickers (remember the cannibals) throwing clubs, you name it. Another is all tapa products, another tanoa’s-the huge bowl the kava is mixed in. The tanoa’s run from simple dishes to elaborate mahogany masterpieces inlaid with mother of pearl. I agonize over two and finally choose. It will be a great addition to my home in Alaska. I grab gifts for friends then we adjourn to an Internet café to take care of some business.

Bau Landing

Our plans are shifting with the weather. Neither of us have been sleeping well in the heat-I’m taking five showers a day and keeping my hair soaked to stay cool. I just want to get out of the city so we head out of town in a taxi headed for Bau landing. Our taxi driver is a boxer and a bodyguard for the movie theatre owner. Guess he shows bad movies?! Like in Alaska, many villages here are only accessible by boat or plane. School children, mothers with their shopping, men with supplies wait at the landing for their boat taxis to arrive. Some kids come to school each morning by boat and the school bus picks them up at the landing.


The boat ride to Leleuvia was a trip! Forty minutes in a really hot boat from Bau Landing with 12 wackos from the Czech Republic. They hoot and holler and drink whiskey from a bottle in a brown paper bag. My daughter and I hung out with some Czechs in Croatia this spring and they were the same way. Party hard fun people.

Now on the island life is ruled by the tides. We stay in a small cabin that is so hot at night I move my bed to the porch where I sleep under mosquito netting in a lovely sea breeze. Bures--traditional thatched roofed huts-are interspersed with the more modern tin sided cabins. The bures are much cooler but the coconut frond walls are ripe with cockroaches.

The reefs are amazing. Poisonous sea snakes (Holly says they have a hard time biting you with their teeth in the back of their mouth) Giant clams, sea cucumbers, crown of thorns and of course fish, fish, and fish. All the outrageous colors- orange, scarlet, blue, turquoise- of the Pacific. Ten colors of yellow on one small sea mount. Fan coral, fire coral, brain coral, stag horn, branching, massive, lettuce leaf, finger, lace, soft corals and the sea feathers that look like a coral but are really an animal that fishes with it’s feathers. Poisonous anemones shelter orange and white clown fish. Lion and scorpion fish wave their deadly elaborate fins as we swim by. Brown stingrays with blue polka dots glide across the bottom.

Figi is home to 500 pound giant clams that live 150 years or more. The largest mollusks in the world, giant clams have been over harvested, like much of the sea. Now an effort to protect them is sweeping Figi. Brilliantly colored and patterned, the bivalves seem to be winking at a diver.

We spend the mornings snorkling in clear water before the chop makes the water murky. Then we cool off any way we can when the water system is working. They haul water by boat from Ovalau, a nearby island where the former capitol, Levuka, was.


Pole dancing. The meager bar has a aluminum pole sunk in concrete that the children play on in the day and the adults dance on (with?) in the night. It amazes me. Just think about it: Fijians once ran around these islands naked but then the missionaries came. Now the Fijians are very conservative in dress. They cover their shoulders and wear long concealing (hot) sulus. Meanwhile the tourists run around naked. The pole dancing is just out there.

Every evening at sunset the men gather on a mat to drink kava-a mild narcotic tea made from the roots of a pepper plant. It is a tradition. When you go to a new place you must perform i sevu sevu where you meet with the village leader and present kava and the leader mixes pounded kava root powder with water in a tonoa ( a wooden large bowl with four feet.) The village leader asks the ancestors and the spirit of the land to keep you safe on their land and water and gives you permission to be there.

Everyone claps once as they are handed a coconut shell cup filled with the gray kava. You drink it all at once, return the cup and clap three times. By the third cup your lips are numb. As the evening goes on you ask for “low tide”-half a cup. Then you go to bed and sleep like the dead.

One of my favorite things to do in Alaska is sit around a campfire and sing. Fijians do it every night. They play ukulele’s, guitars and drums called lali made from ironwood. They also do a form of the hula called the meke that tells historical stories.

Coconut palms are cool. You can make anything from them…a house, a mat, a curtain, a door…The bure’s are thatched roofed with the support poles notched and tied with-you guessed it-coconut fiber rope. Coconut is used, of course, as a food, the oil is rubbed on skin and hair. Coconut fiber is used to make magi magi-string, the wood for building, the leaves for weaving fishing nets, baskets, hats, fans and cooking food in the lovo (underground oven). Last but not least, you burn the husk to keep away the mosquitos.

The Fijians pound the paper mulberry tree into pulp and press it out with water to make masi then they use vegetable dyes to create the Tapa-a kind of paper used for decoration, clothing, ceremonial presentations, storytelling, darn near everything. At 6 p.m. when Leli blows into a conch it is dinne time. Tonight is the lovo. We have lentils with carrots, noodles with carrots in teriyaki, fresh water clams in coconut milk, barracuda, chicken, salad, taro leaves and onions…it’s a feast.

Food here is heavy on taro and every meal you get a sort of tortilla called Roti to soak up the coconut milk everything is cooked in.

Cy and Leli run the desk. They wear traditional clothing. Cy the woman’s sulu and jaba and Leli the man’s sulu and a salu salu necklace made of banana leaves and flowers.

We only expected to stay on Leleuvia two days but it is so peaceful and beautiful we park. I read and write while Holly works on a proposal for a new piece of metal art she will build in Alaska. We swim and talk and dance at night under a full Fijian moon.

As we leave Holly sighs, “Back to reality. Indian food and spas.”


Back in Suva at Reanu’s house we do laundry and I pack. Holly makes sour sap and mango smoothies. Then we head for a spa called the Taste of Figi. We both get massages with coconut oil then stow all our treasures and start the long drive to Nadi.

Crossing a mountain the rain explodes, a sheet so solid you must pull over to the side of the road until the cloudburst passes. Black clouds scud across the sky. But in moments it clears and with a rainbow hanging over Bau Island we reach Sigatoka. In the harbor I see huge fishing trawlers tied side by side. Their homeports are exotic to me: Jakarta, Busan, Saipan and Bandar but I know their story. These are the ships that tear up the sea floor, indiscriminately killing everything in their path: dolphins, whales, sea turtles… all just dead by-catch thrown back overboard. What a waste. And that is what I think about once we reach 37000 feet headed back across the Pacific. As we cross the equator there is turbulence. It makes me think of ignorance.

How will this world survive if humans cannot evolve a conscience about nature?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Sept 16 2007
Each morning I take Nellie and Bingo for an early walk-up H1- a main
highway. on the west side of the island. I carry a trash bag with me.
It is full in the first block--styrofoam, slurpy cups, beer bottles,
fast food containers etc. etc. I dump it in a can in the park and
fill it again. As we cross the little white bridge on the mauka
(mountain) side of the road I check to see what has been thrown in
the stream over night. One morning it was a dead pig-not a pretty
site in the tropics, today it is office furniture, a couch, cushions,
tarps and tires. The dump is only three miles away but every morning
there is something new and disgusting.

One of the main environmental threats in the islands are the feral
pigs (not to mention the mongoose and rats). These wild pigs destroy
habitat, nesting birds, native plants
. But these other wild pigs-the
ones who empty their trucks in the darkness-they are trashing
paradise. Once again I find myself appalled by my species, angry and
hurt by the thoughtless sloth.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

September 11 Oahu near Makaha
(look it up!)

I have had a great summer and am looking forward to hitting the road and visiting schools but first I have to write! That's why I am on this island dogsitting for a friend and finishing 3 books. If you are a serious writer (and I assume if you are reading this you are) then you have to make time for it and practice...yeah just like piano or surfing. So when I am in writing mode I work about 5 hours a day on my projects. Here in Hawaii I try and work for a couple hours before dawn-say 5-7 then I get up, do the doggy chores (I am taking care of 3 really old guy dogs and 1 fiesty female named Nellie.) After that I take a run while it is still cool enough, then a dip in the ocean then home for doggy breakfast, birdy breakfast and my breakfast then I settle down to write during the hottest part of the day inside.

I have 6 projects going, all in different stages. Two are final drafts, 1 is the first of a series, 1 is just an idea with notes and pictures, 1 is a memoir, 1 is a journal and the last is a picture book. I try and work on couple every day. Last year I wrote a book on Hawaii while I was in Alaska. Now I'm writing a book on Antarctica while I am in Hawaii. Weird.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Antarctica Journal day34 - February 16, 2007

10 knot SW wind; floating off Stanley, waiting for sunrise...

This should be our last day so I asked my sailing pals to write about their impressions of our adventure and Antarctica.

Steve: you ain't there till you get there. "Almost "doesn't count except for hand grenades and horse shoes. Antarctica is awesome. Too bad it takes so long to get there and back."

Yva: John and I woke up this morning to very loud banging noises on our main deck, sounding as if someone was throwing heavy furniture around. The engine had stopped (defunct again?) and the boat was leaning heavily to and fro, like a drunken bee walking in heavy syrup. I threw on some clothes and scrambled up the steps to investigate the new turn of events. We were drifting with our sails up, pushed around by a strong NE wind and trying not to lose too much ground, as Jerome put it. Later we got a new weather report, and learned that the wind will eventually slacken and turn around to help us, but until then we will rock and sway, which is perfectly fine. Swaying, bobbing and tossing must be good for brains and other organs.

My brain says that Antarctica is about light, and whiteness, and blueness, and remoteness so crystalline that all else seems smudged and grey and crowded in comparison. My heart says I want to come back here and spend more time floating in the shimmering glow of the sea, the ice and the sky. My stomach says: where is some food?

Diana: When sights are more stunning than anything you've ever seen; when the vastness of silver blue ice water and towering peaks is too much to absorb…then consciousness becomes a breathing out and breathing in ….and nothing more. I don't see how my life cannot be different than before this experience of visiting another world where previous points of reference are useless. To have been able to be here and share this adventure with eight other souls is surely a great blessing!

Jerome (our famous, fabulous captain):
« Write for the Blog ! » asks Shelley. Well, a few weeks ago I did not know what a Blog was; now I still don't know very much about it, does it look like a Frog, does it bite, does it smell like a Bog? But I know we can send words in it and say pretty much what we want.

So I will talk about our Six North Americans coming from Alaska to Florida who stay aboard the fierce vessel "Golden Fleece" for five weeks. I have to report that they behave very well, not asking for Coca Cola or Big Mac and quite ready to eat good French food like frog legs and snails.

I also have to say that they were busy taking photographs, kayaking, landing, watching, laughing, sleeping and puking; something we call a good company! And being outdoors people they were very much aware about wildlife; discovering Penguins and Albatross and not looking for Polar bears or walrus in the Antarctic. I will be sad to see them go. - Captain Frog Blog

Russ G: Wow – what a journey ! When you see so much ice you figure the world will never run out of water – but not so ! We waste so much of it in our everyday lives – those of us in the developed world I mean.
So stop it – and start to conserve/recycle it now.

Humbled by the size and vastness of the area – and I only saw maybe 1/20th of it. The wildlife was fascinating and unique and can be found no where else on earth. The world needs to take care of this place and not screw it up like we as people of this planet do to so many other places.

Only nine people on this small boat – and cramped as it was – we are still talking to each other and interacting – because we have to. People have to bend, sway, and adapt to conditions that are presented to them.

My hat's off to Jerome, Leiv, and Kathee for taking care of us and delivering us safely back to Pt Stanley. What with all the engine problems and all – a trip never to be forgotten !!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Antarctica Journal day32 - February 14, 2007

The 6th day of the crossing, no wind, light swells, temp outside 38º f inside 75º f 160 miles to Stanley.

Keep your fingers crossed so the engine doesn't quit again. We are on our third oil pump, all three jerry rigged by Jerome and Leiv. The crossing from the Falklands to the Antarctic Peninsula took 3 and a half days. We are already double that.

Yva here: yet such long crossings, however brain-depleting since all our seasickness meds make our grey cells sluggish and numb, have advantages. You can meditate till you turn blue. You can raid cookies' grottos secreted under our salon seats and munch of them while pretending they do not make you fat, just strong and wise. You can read three books about Antarctic or Arctic exploration, easy to identify because of their frosty covers. You can hang out with friends and share your life's snippets, which may have seemed special until somebody says: it happened to me, too, years ago, and then you know these episodes are not just special but shared. You may sleep, 10, 12, 14 hours in one clip, and some of us do: it is nice to think that once we land we may not have to sleep at all for a week or so. You can watch a movie, or read each other's email messages, or try to advise some young lovers we care about how to mature without being smashed by life.

Or you can photograph albatrosses gliding around our Golden Fleece. Yeah, the big ocean birds with wings like huge gliders, glistening white chests, and large pinkish bills with prominent nostrils which ooze salt sludge extracted from the seawater they drink.

And soon you learn how difficult it is, and either give up, or try and try again to line up four constantly moving objects: that big bird flying fast above the top of a wave and not waiting for you to get him or her in focus, your long heavy lens bobbing like mad in your hands and killing your wrists, your body swaying and trying to find a fleeting balance on the deck, and the deck itself: moving, bucking, tilting and keeping to its own unexpected rhythm which catches you unaware every time.

And as you lose your balance and your focus and try to align everything all over again, your albatross is already gone and another is gliding nearby, so you quickly regroup and try like heck to get your four part alignment in place. And you almost do, when your foot catches on yet another rope hanging just above the deck, and plop: you stumble, and all your efforts are going to pieces in the hurry. And then the albatrosses laugh: you swear you can hear their throaty hahahaha all over Antarctica, or at least the tiny bit of it which you make your home at this very moment.

Expected landfall Feb 16 evening...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Antarctica Journal day31 - February 13, 2007

In the old days of whaling and sailing many a ballad or sea shanty was composed on the high seas. Some of America's great writers wrote shanty lyrics in their travels. Mark Twain, Jack London, John Steinbeck are only a few. Here is the ballad of our little adventure.

Toison d'Or

We have a broken captain
who keeps our broken boat
His oil pump's made of duct tape
it's keeping us a float

We're adrift in rough Drake Passage
not a tourist ship in sight
So let's write a ballad
to get us through the night

For the pride of the French
is a piece of their soul
No matter how the sea screams
no matter how cold

No wind no motor
no relief from our plight
No land no rescue
no ice cream in sight

We are doomed! Let's admit it
We all are going to die!
Says our sober grumpy captain,
with a wink of his eye.

But Katee has seen it all
She's cooking and frying
Stuffing, poking, steaming.
Only the engine is dying.

Leiv and Stevie Wonder
Trim all the sails
Tie off the lines
Puke over the rails

Today's main course is Buffalo
It smells a lot like sheep
Each time her pot takes a dive
Poor Katee starts to weep

And weep she should;
Cry bitter tears
Fattening the doomed
and serving them beers.

So here's to the chef
And here's to the crew
Here's to Drake Passage
and a compass so true

We'll find our way home
If it takes us a year
We may run out of water
But never the beer.

Antarctica Journal day30 - February 12, 2007

Calm - 10 knots variable North wind /no engine/ seas 6 feet

The bad news is we aren't going that fast. But since we are going the wrong way the good news is we are not going that fast.

Steve says the first thing he'll tell Sunny about this place is "Did you read Shelley's blog? He could wax poetic about the incredible light, majestic vistas and lots of animals but, alas, "Lots of pictures means there's lots to see,'' says succinct Steve.

Russ says the things that impressed him most about this trip are the variety and numbers of animals he had never seen before and the fact that there were no people. And that not all mutton is bad.

I guess I agree. I might add: I will remember the ice: all blue and sparkly and dangerous, the skies on a clear day look like they are created with a thousand unique brush strokes, the different colors of water, from indigo to palest azure. And what about those little dudes and how just before the chicks fledge they are bigger than their parents and they chase them around, pecking at their throats until mom gives up her breakfast. In a week the parents will leave their pebble nests in the rookery for the last time this season and head out to sea to fish. The leopard seals will come to camp at the mouth of the rookery. They are ferocious hunters and they wait for the chicks. The chicks have no choice. To stay on land is to starve so they will go.

Did you ever wonder why they called them Blue Whales? Because if you have seen one surface you know they are grayish black. (You all know I love blue whales so just bear with me) I was hoping I would get to see one down here. They feed on krill at the edge of the ice. One mouthful of water and krill might weigh 45 tons but they contract their throat pleats then raise their tongue. This pushes the water out through the baleen while keeping the food in. Blue whales swim really fast: up to 30 mph but only if they have enough to eat. And they need almost 4 tons of krill a day. And when they slip below the surface there is an instant transformation from dark mottled gray to pale luminous turquoise blue...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Antarctica Journal day29 - February 11, 2007

So there's not a lot of excitement when you are rockin' and rollin' at sea. The sky is gray, the water is gray. You try to go to the bathroom, kitchen, deck or salon it is a matter of crabbing along. One hand for the ship grab the table, slide, whack your elbow on the console, slip, start to slide, Bam! hit the bookcase.
Basically you sleep a lot.

Everyone, including Russ who is wolfing down chicken and rice, is doing better than the last crossing. We are under sail-no engine. We are averaging 8 knots in a 20 knot wind so the prospect is, at this rate, we will reach Stanley in 5 days. The wind is expected to change on the 14th to North NE and that is smack on our nose.

So I heard from my daughter Kye, and her partner Ben and they have a new puppy. I hope they really like him because if they bring him home from college we will have puppy soup.

Dee picked up a book called Berserk in the Antarctic. She's reading along and suddenly comes to this part where the author claims his party was the first to sail around the continent in 1999. Shoot! Jerome did that in the 70's.

There are a zillion awesome Antarctic books on board. I am a writer. This is research heaven. Expect something fun from here. Click on "Rough Passage" below to see what what we're up to...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Antarctica Journal day28 - February 10, 2007

Midnight: I see blue water in all the starboard portals. We are making 10 knots flying the genoa, main and jib. Winds are SW at 27 knots and building. Seas 15 feet. I think we are going to take the short crossing and head for Cape Horn. The Screaming 50's are coming up. I 'm handling sails for Jerome. Steve will handle them for Leiv on his watch. Katee and Dee cooked enough food for the next 3 days. Haven't seen Russ since we cleared land yesterday.

10a.m.: Our window of opportunity faded when we lost the oil pump. We have been heeled to the last three hours while Jerome and Leiv (who has been on watch all night) build a new one. The seas are calm, wind 15 knots but that monster low is moving this way and the winds have shifted to the north. So I guess we go north.

I'm really looking forward to the shower I will take when we get to Stanley. It has been two weeks and I am starting to smell like Steve (who stole my blanket last night). He can't move from the couch in the salon or he will be down for the count. He shaved yesterday for his girlfriend Sunny and I think to celebrate the end of his rabid, foam at the mouth, swing from trees, penguin love affair, photo shoot. Now he is like a little ADD kid. He listens to the ipod, watches a movie, jumps up and sits down, looks at a picture book, fiddles with the ipod again. If he wasn't seasick now I'd be tempted to break out the scissors, glue sticks and construction paper.

I dreamed I got fleas from the penguins last night...

Friday, February 9, 2007

Antarctica Journal day27 - February 9, 2007

bad weather photoBad weather brewing...

Antarctica Test
1.There are no polar bears here True or False
2.The South Pole is:
a big stick b. a tan Polish dude c. the south end of an axis earth revolves around
3.The Antarctic is: 1. a frozen ocean surrounded by continents 2.a continent surrounded by oceans
4.Longitude is: a. underwear with a drop bottom b.a snake with attitude c. the lines humans use to divide and map the earth vertically and establish time zones
5. It is possible to go around the world in a few seconds if you are standing at the
pole because all longitude lines and all time zones end there True or False
6. Gondwana is a.banana soup b.Tarzan's elephant c. a southern super continent that existed 180 million years ago
7.Katabatic winds are a. when it blows cats b. when it blows bats c.winds caused by glaciers
8. There are 38 different kinds of penguins. None of them can fly. Or dance.
True or False

Weather Update
Hi Kye and Ben and Momma duck, Patrick and Ethel and Becky, Oggy, Betho, Sandy, Anna banana, Jojobean- aw heck Hi everyone!

You keep asking when I will be home. There may be a delay of up to a week due to weather. This should not affect my next school visits at all but may have me flying directly to Nevada from Santiago via L.A. So the answer is
a.I don't know
b.I'll let you know
c.It will all work out

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Antarctica Journal day26 - February 8, 2007

iceberg imageOn a sunny calm day - deck weather - each iceberg you pass is a delicious surprise. We are sliding slowly up the coast circling among these mountains of ice. It is startling when you realize they are not connected to the shore they hug. They are dancing on the wind and in the current, softly swaying except when an explosive crash echoes the birth of a new one.

To port the delicate curve of a castle tower provides the palest blue background for a foot wide, hundred-foot long cobalt streak. The streak was once a crevasse in a glacier that filled with clear water and froze. Sandwiched between air filled snow and compressed by the ferocious movement of ice, it became the vivid decoration for the castle only when the glacier calved.

Somehow Jerome makes each day better. We are sailing into a glacial graveyard where near melted bergy bits, pockmarked and green, float interspersed with impossible slender spires newly shattered. Immense tabular bergs, dotted with penguins, slowly spin in their translucent skirts of turquoise. A symphony of shadows and shapes: chiseled arches, wind and wave cut vertical slabs, erode into even more fantastic designs.

An azure color found nowhere else in nature suggests the size of the ice structure submerged. Generally about four-fifths of the berg is hidden. But the salt water chews at the bottom and when a piece breaks off, the delicate balance changes, and the berg sways, heaves and overturns, seeking a new bargain with gravity. Icebergs the size of small cities can flip with deadly speed and beauty.

Reinvented after each storm, this slow, exquisite destruction is best displayed in the sun, backlit, pulsing blue from the inside. In Alaska we call it Christ Ice. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Antarctica Journal day25 - February 7, 2007

National Geographic sent two engineers over-no luck. The Aussie yacht sent a mechanic over-no luck. Jim "the wrench" Norcross had suggestions we are currently working on (the last was: develop your upper body so you can do a lot of rowing). But the engine is sick and it looks like we will sail home. I only ask for SW winds @ 25 and no more than a 10 foot swell.

I don't know if this means I'll make my February 17 flight or not because it all depends on the wind. And that, my friends, is why they call it adventure.

So we met the guy with all the stickers on his boat. He made a lot of "you have probably heard of me and the time I…" statements. We all listened politely. He told more stories where he was the hero. Then he said his buddy's boat was following a group of killer whales for a week or so and Jerome, in his hilarious understated way asked, "And what does he do at night?" The guy exited into the engine room to offer advice. Jerome meanwhile launched into a story that blew our minds.

He was in the Hobart Race in the 70's when the yacht, Ginkgo, was rammed by a killer whale. As captain, Jerome rushed below to find water gushing in through a three-foot hole. Stuffing sails in the gap, Jerome and crew quickly inflated the life raft and as the bow sunk clambered aboard. He vividly remembers the bull whale stationed between the Ginkgo's hull and the life raft but as the Ginkgo sank the whales followed it and were not seen again. The six men in the small raft were 900 miles from anywhere and far from any shipping lanes. They had 10 liters of water and some canned goods.

After a couple hours one of the crew became distraught, saying he was seeing things. It was the quickest rescue in history Jerome said. He looked out, a boat was sailing past, he shot off two flares and Viola! They were on their way to New York.

This story bothers me on a few levels. One, I didn't realize killer whales did that. But Jerome assures me he knows of several instances where boats were rammed. I may have to rethink my actions around them in the Southern Ocean. They are all transients. No happy little resident pods chatting it up here, like in Prince William Sound. They act quite differently and from our first sighting of them I have felt a bit uneasy. Predators are smart and killer whales the smartest of all. I will bear this in mind next time I jump in my kayak to cavort with orcas.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Antarctica Journal day24 - February 6, 2007

Leiv and Jerome have a handle on the engine. It is the screen in the turbo, which appears to be fouled and is blocking air and thus power. Maybe.

We limped in and are moored at the Ukrainian Base, Vernadsky, for repairs. It was a grand entrance in spitting snow. We turned into the protected cove to find a pair of very fancy sailing yachts taking up the entire space. They have sponsor names painted on the sides like race cars and the people who came out on deck when we drove on to the rocks had matching red and black outfits. So we are high centered and Jerome is limping around with two crutches, grease from the engine room on his hands and face, eyes red rimmed with fatigue gesturing wildly with his hands trying to give orders to a hapless crew. Luckily Leiv makes up for the other five of us. He and Steve are already in the zodiac and moving with a line to the cliffs so we can be winched off the rocks and moored properly. He literally runs up and down the rock face with the cable and lines, two outraged skua attacking his head, and now we have a crowd watching as our poor engine belches noxious black fumes and pollutes the Ukraine.

Usually you need an invitation to visit but I bet I can get in based on the power of gossip alone. They have a bar here from when it was the British base. I haven't seen it yet but I may kayak over later and check it out. Apparently these guys are friendly to stranded sailors and tourists. They even sell Ukraine knick-knacks.

There always has to be some guy who gets his rocks off by telling a woman what to do even tho she does it better and faster than he. These are the guys who use words like babe and lady and woman instead of your name. And because they are NOT teasing it's demeaning, it makes you feel invisible, and angry because you are hurt but if you call them on it you can't take a joke, you're too sensitive blah blah blah. But 23 days is a long time. Norman said it best. Manners are important.

So here's the scene: Leiv is driving, Katee is massaging his neck, Dee is working on Katee's back,Yva is rubbing Dee's shoulders, Steve is plummeling Yva and Jerome walks in. His eyes wide he grabs a pillow and begins to knead it laughing madly.

We saw a skeleton graveyard of icebergs all blue and shiny in the sun today. The wind had pushed them to shore in a jumble. It was exquisite.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Antarctica Journal day23 - February 5, 2007

Warm North WIND!

Woke up to a commotion at 4 am. We were dragging the anchor –70 meters of chain hanging straight down in deep water. We are now firmly moored at Baie de la Salpetriere at Booth Island. I woke up at 9. The wind was screaming. I made coffee, climbed up to the wheelhouse and talk about visual shock. There was the National Geoship Endeavor parked 100 feet away and 5 floors up.

The rocks were covered with folks in red coats with ski poles tramping around. I was ready to tramp too so Dee and I went to shore and in the first 5 minutes I met 4 Alaskans working for NG as tour naturalists/experts. Kim and Melanie Heacox were herding folks out of black zodiacs and talking about Norman. I couldn't believe it. Alaskans get around.

In Dr. Jean Baptiste Charcot, a famous French explorer, spent two winters here and mapped most of the peninsula. Port Charcot at Charcot Bay is on the other side and at the top of the highest point the men built a cairn of stones. At the southern end of the Antarctic Peninsula Charcot Island and famous Marguerite Bay were named for Charcot and his wife. Born in 1867, Charcot cruised all over the world and commanded scientific expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic. He was an expert in polar regions who began his sailing career in 1892. He died at 69, when his boat sank in a storm in 1936 on an Arctic expedition out of Iceland.
All but one of his boats had the same name: "Pourquoi pas? "Which asks, "Why not?"

French writer Jules Verne inspired Charcot. Charcot inspired Jerome. Jerome must have inspired Leiv because last night he cut Jerome's cast off with a grinder. He did a great job but I think it was too soon. Jerome says he can feel the pins when he puts weight on the leg and judging from the way he climbs the stairs with his crutches he will soon break the other leg. Katee cut the end of her finger off so she now looks like the gal in Even Cowgirls Sing the Blues. We are going down hill...

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Antarctica Journal day22 - February 4, 2007

7am Warm north wind/sunny sky

We stayed up late shooting two humpbacks feeding in the ice. They used the boat and each other to herd the krill, taking turns, One herds by angling his body close by the other but a bit in front then quickly turns toward his emerging partner whose gaping mouth is suddenly filled with frightened red shrimp. We were 20 minutes from the night mooring but we spent five hours on the whales, fascinated with their huge pink accordion like throats, the changes in light, the water cascading off their flukes.

So we had dinner at 10 pm. Steve and John were still up editing pictures at 4:30 am.

Jerome and Leiv spent last night in the engine room. They would come out for coffee, greasy streaks on face and hands. Not much progress on the engine. Not enough power and it is still puking black smoke with chunks in it. We also appear to have sprung an oil leak which affects the autopilot. They are eager to fix this as they have to stand watch 24/7 on the wheel without it.

And we are low on water.
Bummer since nobody has taken a shower in a week and we have a week to go. My hair is stuck in big chunks from pulling my hat off and on. I tried to braid it like I did when I was running dogs but it is too short. Oh yeah. And I am getting fat. I usually run 2 or 3 miles 5 days a week, lift weights, eat reasonably etc. Now I am eating 3 meals, sitting around and writing and reading and taking pictures. Kayaking when I can, doing some push-ups, crunches. But…I'm getting fat.

Don't you just hate whiners?

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Antarctica Journal day21 - February 3, 2007

Heading slowly north.

Just another day in paradise. We are mooring in tiny coves probably only Jerome knows. Giant icebergs pile up in the outside swell while we are ice free and calm in a cove filled with other insiders-Crabeater, Weddell and fur seals, Adelie penguins, cormorants and skuas. Leiv dropped John, Russ and Steve on the near island then turned the zodiac over to me so he and Jerome could work on our suddenly laboring black carbon belching AMERICAN Caterpillar diesel engine. They have just about exhausted (it's a pun folks) their manuals and ideas so Dion 's relaying info from a mechanic back in Stanley. I am emailing my ace diesel dude, Jimmy "the wrench" Norcross, so he can stand by with some brilliant solution that will dazzle and further rile the French.

At any rate I took Yva, who has been boat bound the whole trip with a bum knee, up to photograph skuas. If you don't know skuas think pit-bull with wings. They are scavengers and have these giant gnarly beaks they use to open up a dead seal then they stick their whole head inside to feed. Yew.

I tied up and Yva and I began exploring and walked right into skua-ville. These are not passive birds. They dived bombed us with a vengeance. So I used my climbing stick and attached my hat to it and held it up. It worked for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid and it worked for me. Yva started shooting at this little lake and I walked up into a slough and there, thawing out of old ice, was a whale. A big whale. Vertebra like platters, ribs a foot wide and 16 feet long up in a rocky slough 20 feet above the sea. A mystery. And the bones. Old: orange and green crusted, some just emerging from the ice. When we went back to the boat I cornered Jerome. I knew he had sent me to the little lake hoping I would find the whale. These French are so cryptic. So what happened, I asked. How old was he and how did he get there? Answer: Glacial rebound. Dang. I should've thought of that.

The ice melts, the weight and pressure are released and the land once submerged now expands-in this case-out of the sea taking the dead whale along for the ride.

I took Katee to see it later. She told me about South Georgia. The whaling station and the bone piles from thousands of slaughtered whales. The skeletons changed the landscape around the bay-from a flat place to one with hills-hills made of bones, now covered with dirt and grass.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Antarctica Journal day20 - February 2, 2007

Gray and cloudy expecting a swell

Let's do a few corrections. One of my main sources on this love boat is Jerome. Since I only understand about 3/4 of what he says, occasionally I get it wrong. And if for no other reason than my memory short circuits I have trusty friends who are wicked quick to inform me of my inaccuracies.

Leiv did not paddle around Cape Horn. His kayak did. On further investigation of the matter I ascertained that his dad bought it from some paddlers who had just rounded the Horn. (Which Jerome says is nothing-any feeble American could do it.) Kachemack Bay does not have Bore tides-they are in Turnagain Arm, the Amazon, the Bay of Fundy and I am sure if my source is not complete Richard will inform him post haste.

We had squid for dinner last night. The Falkland Islands have the best in the world and Katee knows how to cook it. We had dinner on the deck and watched an amazing sunset that lasts until 11 and drank a toast of champagne to Norman. Every speck of snow was gold and tiny black birds with white wing tips danced on the mirror surface of the water. They are Wilson Storm Petrels. But you would be correct if you just called them Petrels-capital P. They were the first identified and named: Petrel for St. Peter because they walk on water.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Antarctica Journal day19 - February 1, 2007

The sun came out and it started snowing first thing this morning. We were all up at 5 waiting for the light - I think to support Steve in his rabid quest for more, more, more.

I was gonna wax poetic about whales but my computer's going bonkers! It won't delete pictures, it turns them upside down while I'm sleeping and photoshop's little rainbow goes whirling around then the program crashes. I think it is tired. So Dr. John and I have spent hours trying to help it heal itself but I don't think Mac is visualizing a healthy hard drive.

Today the Adelie penguins were sliding down the slopes of their rookery on their round little bellies and crashing into the sea. Yippee.

Jerome said they are monogamous. Sort of. They show up here at their home rocks in October, mate, have two fuzzy grey blob chicks, feed them regurgitated fish all summer, then everybody takes off for the open sea. They may or may not hang out together. Imagine this conversation: "Hey honey. Thanks for the hot date and the kids. If I don't get eaten I'll see ya next year at that little pile of poopy rocks we call home." So they swim around all winter and head for that little circle of stones come spring. Sounds like commercial fishing.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Antarctica Journal day18 - January 31, 2007

A few years back a group of rich guys-oil barons, miners-your basic exploiter- "visionary types"-decided the time was probably ripe to rape Antarctica -they were all lined up and ready to drill when suddenly this French dude named Cousteau and his buddies in Australia and New Zealand started a ruckus. Now there is a 50 year moratorium on Antarctic exploration (the Wellington Convention) but planes south are full of oil guys headed to the Falklands (For examples of pillage-for-profit read about the group of rich Americans who took over Hawaii for sugar and pineapple and ultimately, real estate) (for more recent examples see Iraq/oil) So for the moment the Big Guys are barred and, interestingly enough, the most negative impact the area faces is from the scientists studying it and the immense support teams they require.

Put the kayaks in the water yesterday. Steve and I took a trip around the bay. Getting low on the water is always better I think. You can hear crashing bergs and every splash a penguin or seal makes. Paddling in all this ice is a trip. I became so disoriented with all the movement at one point I almost got squished by pack ice. The bergs move in currents, the pack moves, the rocks don't and it can all get confusing when you are at water level. I became more aware quickly. Turns out Leiv is quite the kayaker and humble about it. He did a trip around the Falkland Islands-I mentioned that earlier. He also kayaked around South Georgia AND around Tasmania. Wow.

This morning we spotted our first killer whales. Leiv, Steve, John and I boogied after them and what a show! First three, then eight, then twelve-all transients and looking like gangbangers. Up on floes to check for seals, circling penguins, spy hopping, splitting up then reuniting in a rush. We stuck with them-it is such a thrill when they check you out. They are an odd greenish yellow color unlike the pristine white orcas in Alaska and they have a lot of wear and tear: scarring and mangled dorsals and tails. There is plenty of chow here. One technique that works well for them is to throw themselves up on a floe and tip it. Either the seal falls off or is washed off by the resulting wave. Two dominant females approached us several times for an up close look-maybe two feet then dove under the zodiac. Whales rock.