Saturday, May 31, 2008

Journal Entry - May 31 - June 1, 2008 - Freak Wave on the Coral Sea

Author: Scott

By the morning of May 31 and after three days of bad weather and attempting to make way towards New Caledonia, we were getting exhausted. Heaving to helped us catch our breath and have a bit to eat, but the continual pounding and bashing was taking its toll on us both. We had been motor sailing with a double reefed main, but needed to return to sailing to better manage our fuel consumption. We were adding a staysail to our sail plan and had just fallen off the wind to a deep broad reach to make some adjustments to the sail. I was sitting in the companionway driving the boat with the auto pilot and as the boat settled down I stood up into the cockpit to don my PFD.

At this point it is important to know that Starship has a very ruggedly designed offshore dodger/bimini (or awning enclosure). When all of the windows are closed, the dodger is generally very dry (except for when being pounded by the sea) and protected completely from the wind. However, as this story will tell, this sense of security was only a perception.

Pam and I are fanatical about wearing PFDs and tethers in any rough conditions or when we are out on deck. I was just reaching for my PFD and planning to tell Pam that we needed to be clipped in for the sail change. The next second I felt the boat drop beneath my feet and start to roll. In the tick of the clock I also knew that I needed to hit the deck literally, and I dove for the floor and grabbed onto a support pole. On my way down I glimpsed a huge wave coming over the boat with a size towering above the boom. The wave came from the opposite direction of the prevailing wave pattern and crashed straight down on Starship. I felt the full force of the wave come down on me with a huge crash and continued to roll the boat to nearly 90 degrees. Everything that was in the cockpit was now flying past me and a cushion had just landed on me. The sensation was like being in a breaking wave when you are body surfing. In the next second it was over and as the boat righted herself, the cockpit was half full of water. As I came to my knees I remember thinking that 'that wave caused some damage'. Just then I could see that where there had once been windows and canvas on the port side of the boat was now completely open. Actually, only about one third of the canvas material remained intact, I also looked around to see that everything except for me, four rags, and the cushions were still in the cockpit. Glasses, monoculars, shoes, clothes, a winch handle and other important gear were all fed to Neptune. The next thing I became aware of was Pam yelling to me from down below. As it turns out, Pam was standing by the forward head door and was in the safest place on the boat, because you can wedge yourself between the head and food pantry. To her relief I answered back and told her "that wave was huge and did some damage".

Our first order of business was to stop the boat from sailing. We both clipped in and hove the boat to, and it would be in this position with the boat stopped that we would remain for the next thirty hours. I can now only remember snippets of our conversation immediately following the wave, and I am sure that I was in shock. Realizing that we had taken on a lot of water we headed straight to the bilge to find it completely full. We also realized that something black and fuzzy had got in the bilge and kept clogging the primary pump. Pam grabbed a screwdriver for me and I immediately tore it apart and cleared the hoses and filters. After about ten cleanings we finally cleared away all of the black fuzzy debris and the bilges were completely empty. I then went on deck to assess the damage. The dinghy on the bow was shifted with the cover hanging on under a single strap. On Starship our dingy rides on the bow in chalks with a turn buckle and two ratcheting straps to lash it to the deck. The only thing missing was the outboard engine canvas cover. Walking past the disaster that was now our cockpit enclosure, I headed for the stern where I found that the wind generator pole was bent and both supporting poles were dangling. I managed to reinsert one of the support poles into its fitting. The newly sponsored barbecue was unbelievably still on the rail but had rotated 90 degrees and the only thing keeping the lid closed and the grills inside was the barbecue cover. We would later learn that there are issues with our inverter and some of our electrical systems due to the water. In general however, we feel very lucky considering the magnitude of the hit we sustained.

The next order of business was to report our situation. We determined that our status was not life threatening, despite the raging weather around us. We decided the best plan would be to report our situation and position to our friend Tony in Newcastle. We called Tony on the satellite phone and his first response was "Mate, I know that voice you must be in Koumac!" If anything could give me a giggle at that second it was that response. "Well Tony we aren't quite in Koumac yet
" as we proceeded to fill in the details of our encounter with the wave.

We made as many repairs as possible, but we were hampered by the rough seas. As daylight began to dwindle and our exhaustion was almost paralyzing, we enclosed ourselves in the forward cabin and set to the task of making a warm meal. We had some pre-made crusts and all the fixings for pizza so we sat at the table building our pizzas in silence. With everything in mid preparation I went to light the oven just to have the propane solenoid switch scream out a warning alert and cut the LPG off. I tried again with the same result. It was at this instant that Pam and I probably hit our low. Here sat our future warm comfort food, to bring us from the edge of exhaustion and the damn oven wouldn't light. I was back in my PFD and tether on a mission to face the LPG locker on the stern. I tightened all the fittings and switched gas tanks and to our resounding relief, the oven stayed lit. The solenoid switch did continue to act up and we fear it was electrically compromised by the salt water, but we were able to eat.

I don't think pizza has ever tasted so good in all of my life. We just sat at the table, no music playing on the stereo (this almost never happens aboard Starship) and we ate in silence. Occasionally one of us would throw out a partially completed sentence like - "Do you think?" or "Maybe we should
", but we were really too numb to do much but chew. We had also planned to take showers but soon realized that despite how awful and salty we felt, there was just no more energy left for showers.

I was asleep in seconds and while Pam sent email she said I lay on the bed snoring and talking in my sleep nonstop. When the alarm went off to check the radar I somehow managed to climb out of the lee cloth and check our surroundings, a process that continued throughout the night. Just like the pizza though, and despite the continual need to check the radar, I experienced some of the best sleep of my life due to pure exhaustion.

The next morning we made coffee and cocoa and were at last able to really consider our options. We were roughly 280 miles from Koumac with settling wind on the nose, and about 400 miles from the Australian, Queensland coast. Assessing that we probably have a months of repair work needed, our first plan was to sail to Queensland and make repairs. However, this would turn out to be impossible. We relayed this plan over the satellite phone to Tony in Newcastle just to learn that another serious weather pattern was developing over the Queensland coast, and the low that had developed over us was quickly dissolving. It would be far safer and easier to continue to Koumac. Tony also informed us that he and Bruce had had very positive experience working with trade's people in New Caledonia. Koumac here we come!

The remainder of the day was spent on repairs. The seas had flattened some and we were able to tidy up starship as much as our tools and resources on board would allow. Finally at 17:00 our ragtag vessel was ready to sail again. We tacked across the wind, releasing starship from being hove to and started making way towards New Caledonia.

During our voyage we have learned that in the midst of a crisis there will always be success and regrets. We certainly learned the lesson that ANYTIME we are in the cockpit on Starship we must be clipped in before leaving the cabin below, despite the perception of safety the enclosure provides. We feel that our training carried us through the aftermath. Our decisions to stop the boat by heaving to and taking the time to take care of the boat and ourselves was a good one. Recognizing our boundaries and fixing a warm meal and getting rest were also key to coping with the situation.

One of the most frequently asked questions by the media prior to departing on the voyage was: "How will two legally blind people deal with an emergency at sea, surely you will have problems and then need to be rescued?" In hindsight we think many people in our situation would have considered firing off their EPIRB and requesting to be rescued, especially because it took another twelve hours for the seas to calm after the wave strike. As mentioned nobody responds perfectly to an emergency, but on a whole we drew on our training, used our minds, kept our cool, and worked our way though the situation and never once did we let our vision limitations become a negative factor. We were simply people determined to overcome adversity despite our limitations, and ultimately this is what our voyage is all about.

On our departure day I was asked by a reporter if I thought this voyage was dangerous. I replied that yes it is, it can be dangerous for anyone, but if it was easy then it would have already have been done. People have a remarkable ability to achieve great things beyond their perceived limitations, and Pam and I are continually amazed and rewarded by what we are capable of achieving through determination. Are we disappointed that our boat was damaged by the freak wave? Yes. Does it make you stop and wonder why we are doing this? Yes. Will the repairs be expensive? Yes. Will we continue to carry on? Yes. At the end of the day we have a broken boat, and it can be fixed. Far more important however is the knowledge that we are capable of so much in the face of adversity. Disability is about overcoming adversity and we are stronger and even more determined to spread this important message.

So, New Caledonia here we come. Look out Starship is on the move again!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Journal Entry - May 30, 2008 - Two Zone Bar Day

Author: Pam

It is a two zone bar day when the wind is over 30 knots and the waves have been kicking our butt. It's a two zone bar day when the entire boat is wet due to waves that keep smacking Starship from all directions sending gallons of water into the cockpit and subsequently down below. It's a two zone bar day when the pots on the stove would be looking at you and washing the dishes would require the hands of Scott, myself and an octopus to keep the clean and dirty dishes from flying all over the cabin. So, what have we had to eat today? Zone Perfect is one of our sponsors and upon his return to Australia Scott brought 900 zone bars through customs (it's a good thing he had a nice customs agent or I might have had to bail him out for smuggling nutrition bars). Zone bars are a nutrition bar that boasts a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat. I'll leave it to your imagination where and how you stow 900 nutrition bars on a 39' boat. Today we were grateful for them and I am sure it won't be the last time.

Last night was a long night. The wind steadily increased to over 30 knots and the seas got bigger and more confused. The boat was already wet every where you walk, sit, put something down and by morning water was even dripping on me in bed. During my watches I sat on the small bench in the back cabin so I didn't have far to go when it was time to check the radar. Unfortunately, we discovered soon after corralling the fenders that they were not the cause of whatever was cracking sharply on the boat right over the bed. It was too dark and there was way too much white water rushing past the boat to investigate further, all we could do was pray it wasn't something that would cause us a big problem and endure the smack smack of it, all night.

This morning, the first chore was to find out what had tortured us throughout the night. After a brief investigation Scott exclaimed, "I know what the problem is (funny everything is always a problem) and life just keeps getting more interesting aboard Starship." Starship has a rubber rub rail and the Tasman Sea had managed to rip the port side portion off, now only still being held on at the bow and the stern. We heaved to and pulled it on board like a big blue snake. It is now tied to the life lines and on the project list when we reach New Caledonia. We got sailing again and I looked out the window and noticed one of the lines from the mast was lying on the deck. My fear of another fouled prop on the Tasman (that was one of our adventures from NZ to Oz) had us heaving to again and Scott on deck for the seventh time in two days.

Today has been one of those days at sea where you just couldn't do much of anything. We basically just sat in our own respective wet worlds, checked the weather every few hours and waited for the wind to ease as the weather map keeps promising. We are sailing close hauled and working really hard to make progress towards Koumac, the wind and the waves are not our friend.

I am writing this journal entry while I am on watch tonight. At the moment I am sitting at the nav station trying not to fall off the seat on to the floor as Starship either jumps over, crashes into or is crashed into by this powerful sea. Every few seconds I have to stop typing and just hang on. The wind is still over 30 knots consistently and I have seen gusts as high as 44 knots. We have been going through squalls for the past few hours, it has been pouring, we continue to get hit by waves that send a torrent of water throughout the boat and I just went up to check the radar and saw a flash of lightening. The floors and flat surfaces now have puddles and I am getting dripped on sitting here. It has been two very challenging and exhausting days. It hasn't been scary, well a couple of waves made my hair stand up and I don't like lightening, but mostly it has been uncomfortable. Starship was designed as an off-shore charter boat, primarily used for island charters. Some of her charter features while good for entertaining two families aboard present some challenges that are new to us at sea. For instance, two companionways, a galley that goes straight across the starboard side and a really big cockpit. We are finding we still have so much to learn about Starship, for one how to stay dryer in big seas. I have two more hours before I go off watch, I hope if I can go to sleep when I wake up the sun will come out and start to dry out this very soggy boat.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Journal Entry - May 28 & 29, 2008 - Heave To, One, Two, Three Times

Author: Pam

I am feeling much better today, thank goodness. I was able to function for most of the day, however it took a fair amount of energy as the wind and the seas have picked up and it was a bit wild today. We spent the afternoon making chili in the pressure cooker, it came close to qualifying for an Olympic event, but with a lot of precise management and four hands it was a very successful endeavor. The even better news was I felt like eating it for dinner. The conditions for using the BBQ were definitely short lived, it is amazing how quickly the sea state changes. It has also been cloudy with squalls all day.

The wind and waves continued to increase, making it a rough and long night. At 0500 while I was on watch we had a very unnerving encounter with the first ship we have seen since early Sunday. It drove directly at us, came within a half mile and then crossed our path. It felt very deliberate, as though they came to have a look at what probably showed up as a very small target on their radar out here in the middle of nowhere. We could see the starboard running light, which is a good thing because it means we were looking at the side of the beast, but Scott tacked away just to be safe. Definitely far too close for comfort.

It has been a very difficult two days. We have been in big, confused seas since early yesterday. We have had to heave to several times to deal with issues on deck. Scott has been on deck five times and for more than two and a half hours. That is five more times than either of us are comfortable with in these conditions, but it is often these conditions that cause the issues on deck that can not be ignored. One of the tasks was to rig the staysail, which we are now using because it is smaller and heavier than our head sail and it provides more stability in rough conditions. Scott is incredibly brave and without his bravery to that degree we could not do what we are doing.

We have been hammered by one huge wave after another on all sides of the boat. Each wave dumps gallons of water into the cockpit, some of which finds its way down into the forward or aft cabin. Water is dripping from everywhere and running down the mast onto the cabin floor. The entire boat is wet and so are we. While we were hove to I tried to clean up the interior of the boat and make it somewhat livable, it appears this is going to be an on-going challenge as long as we are being smacked by waves. I am also finding it takes a lot of energy to move from point A to B on the boat, I have a multitude of new bruises to show for this little torrent of 30 to 40 knots of wind and the waves that are coming with it.

We hove to again for three hours to just sit, try to recover from the day and to make dinner. In these conditions sometimes the best thing you can do is take a little time for you, especially when you are already making very slow progress. After dinner we had to get sailing again in order to wash the dishes, because if the boat is healed to port, sea water rushes up through the galley sink drain. Washing up turned into an Olympic event with clean and dirty dishes flying around the cabin, one plastic bowl committed suicide. Before I was finished we got hit by a wave and half the dirty dish water slopped out of the sink and down the front of me. However, when we were finished we agreed the effort was worth it for a hot meal, we hadn't eaten all day.

We finally got sailing again at 2200, already an hour late for our watch schedule to begin only to discover a new loud cracking noise somewhere on deck every time the boat was picked up by a wave and dropped again. We had to heave to AGAIN so Scott could go out on deck, this time in the dark and with white water raging past the boat to manage the fenders tied to the rail. They were the only possible thing we could see in the dark in the location of where the noise seemed to be coming from and they were being dragged by the sea to their possible peril. We got sailing again only to discover whatever the noise was, it wasn't the fenders. Bugger, there was nothing else we could do under the circumstances, we will have to deal with it in the morning. Needless to say it was a very rough night on top of an incredible day. According to the weather map it looks like the wind will begin to ease a bit tomorrow, I'll sign up for that.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Journal Entry - May 27, 2008 - What's the Tasman Cooking Up Today?

Author: Pam

Scott used to say to me "wind is our friend" when we would be walking into a strong head wind making our way down Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. My concern then was the mess it was making of my hair. Today, the wind was our friend when it started to clock around at 0500 and gradually turned from SSW to SE putting us on a beam reach. Woo Hoo as Scott would also say! After two and half days of rocking, rolling, bouncing and listening to the cacophony of every creek, squeak, rattle, bump and bang (at times the noise came close to being in a Chinese torture chamber) on Starship the change from the wind being on our tale was enormously welcome. We have been on a beam reach since mid morning and it has felt like being back in the trade winds again, which was the best sailing we have experienced so far. We are also headed directly at Koumac, which means all most all miles we make are now in our favor, in sailors terminology this is Velocity Made Good (VMG).

I am probably especially relieved, because I have apparently been seasick for the first time ever in my life or possessed by an alien species and as Scott mentioned I have been a lumpasaurus since leaving. It certainly has been a bit of a rough start for me back on the high seas. Today I am feeling better and managed to get through the day with only one short nap, I basically can barely remember much about the last couple of days (hence why Scott had to write about them). However, I did make a gallant effort to keep my watch schedule, which seems a bit remarkable to me now.

The day was pretty mundane until after lunch we seemed to have a list that kept us busy right up until time to make dinner. After cutting short our time reading together more of Gipsy Moth Circles the World by Francis Chichester (a special gift to me before leaving Australia) to make the best of the remaining daylight we decided to heave to. As a reminder, "heaving to" is a sailing technique where you oppose the sails, which stops forward momentum of the boat. During the two hours we were hove to, Scott BBQ steaks for dinner. This marks the third time ever we have used the BBQ at sea and twice has been on the Tasman.

As Scott was preparing to BBQ I noticed a strange hissing sound coming from the galley. It is amazing how tuned in your ears are on a boat (I often wish I could tune out). We both went below and stood with our ear near the galley sink, which was throwing off some incredible heat (Scott had just been using very hot water). We turned the water pressure off and the incessant hissing stopped. I opened the cabinet door under the sink and steam poured out. It only took moving four bottles of cleaning products to discover a hose clamp had come loose and precious water was leaking out under the sink. Wow, it may be our first five minute problem. It took more time to take everything out to dry it off then it did for Scott to tighten the hose clamp. However it is worth noting, we were lucky it was only a five minute problem, these kinds of leaks undetected could empty your water tank and destroy your water pump. Phew!

Speaking of our precious commodity, today it was finally time to take a shower. Four days might have to be the limit and it was pushing it. It is always interesting to get back into a routine of how to get the maximum benefit from a little bit of water. For those of you who have been following the trip from the beginning, you may recall our beloved "bug shower", a three gallon insect sprayer that we added a kitchen sprayer hose to and used as our shower in the cockpit on Tournesol. Well, we left the bug shower in NZ and use the shower in the head on Starship. I'm considering adding showering to the list of Olympic events on the boat, washing dishes using the foot pump in big seas is definitely one. Today while I was standing on one leg attempting to shave my legs in the very small sink I was thinking three things. One, now would not be a good time to be hit by a wave. Two, I wonder if this is how a flamingo feels and three, I'm sure there is an easier way to do this (next time).

Tonight while eating our steak and roasted veggies for dinner we passed within one and a half miles of one of the waypoints on our trip from NZ to
Australia. It is a strange feeling to have been here before, but there is absolutely nothing to recognize and theoretically you could be on any ocean in the world with no land in sight and I think it could look exactly the same.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Journal Entry - May 25 & 26, 2008 - Every Sea Dog Has Her Day

Author: Scott

It is said that even the most salty old sea dog can wake up one day and become seasick. Well yesterday one of Starship's salty dogs had their day. Immediately after our departure festivities had melted into the routine of our first blue water passage since arriving in
Australia, I learned Pam's tummy had been hurting her all day. She began to feel nauseous and to develop a headache. I also noticed that she was taking on a nicely matching hue to her chartreuse fleece jacket. But probably the biggest telltale sign was her burping out loud later that evening. Pam just isn't the belching contest kind of gal, and she was letting them fly freely. We had both worn ourselves down with all the preparations for departure, and I think this mixed with lack of sleep due to voyage anxiety was the recipe for Pam's sudden onset of seasickness.

With Pam crook (as they say in Oz) I took on the first watch and covered a majority of the first night's watches. There was not much to report on for the first night, other than the freaky orange moon covered in my prior log-blog entry. The stars did come out for me. Sailing is almost the only time I can see starlight, and this mixed with the sound of the water rushing by is one of the most peaceful experiences I have had in my life. However, it's not all starlight and roses aboard a sailing vessel. With Pam down and months for every item aboard Starship to find a home to settle in, the boat became a sound scavenger hunt. Despite our best efforts to make the boat "sail-proof" we always find the forgotten battery rolling around in the nav station, or one of the few glass items on board manages to sneak off and find a solid metal item to pound itself upon, usually in the deepest darkest cupboard. Then there is the overall seaworthiness of the boat to assess. Much of my first night was spent crawling in the bilges, examining the engine room, trimming the sails, and with every new noise a new chore arose. I have often thought that sailing is truly a blind person's sport. Most issues aboard a boat present themselves to senses other than sight. For instance, if we have taken on water in the bilge, I can usually tell because the boat feels sluggish. If the wind has changed and the sails are out of trim, it is the sound of the flogging sail that sets me into action. Then of course if the dreaded engine makes even the slightest variance from its standard drone, every muscle tightens and I am on my way to the engine room. Pam and I are actually getting to the familiarity level where we can guess our current boat speed within .5 of a knot by just feeling the boats movement through the water. We are not always right, but we are usually very close.

Other than Pam's sudden attack of the sucky-yucky, the first night passed uneventfully. Most of the first two days maintained this pattern. On Sunday we were following a course of 085 True on a broad reach. This was not our ideal course but we were still entertaining the idea of making a "necessary maintenance stop" to
Lord Howe Island. We have heard so much about the island from our friend Tony that we very much wanted to give it a "sticky". However, when we asked the folks at Immigration about reentering an Australian territory with an expired visa, the answer that it would be "unlawful" was quite clear. Had we come up with a reason to conduct maintenance, we could have visited the island but with Pam under the weather, and the fear of incarceration, we eventually decided to sail on.

Thank god for Simon's pizza gift upon departure. We fed off the pizza for our first dinner, Sunday's lunch and a snack. Sunday dinner was also a windfall because Joyce had given Pam some pumpkin soup and we had squirreled it away for a convenient meal. By Sunday night pumpkin soup was even a stretch to consume for the patient. Pam was a trooper on Sunday night and kept up with the watch schedule. We had good wind on the starboard quarter and our second night passed peacefully.

Monday was more of the same. Pam slept and felt sick, while I kept up the boat maintenance, looked for new treats to eat, and tried to keep up with various voyage related projects. The Tasman was friendly to us and the sun was shining. I did manage to spend some time jamming to some tunes and catching some rays on the aft doghouse. I only mention this because people often think we lay around basking in the sun while at sea and this actually is a rarity. Today I basked! The highlight for the day was the wind shifting directions to the South allowing us to make a more northerly arc towards
New Caledonia. It almost felt like we were in the trade winds again, and today the wind was our friend. Our course for the day was 060 True and we sailed a deep broad reach.

Dinner was a yum-o-la stir-fry! It was gentle on Pam's tummy but still plenty tasty. Precooked
Singapore noodles are a must on any cruising boat. I topped off dinner with some "Forbidden Fruits", a lolly of the genus "Gummoolia Bearis" that we discovered in New Zealand.

The only other item of note; on Monday night upon waking during a sleeping period I was completely unaware of my surroundings. 'Where am I?' Then it hit me! You are on Starship, in the middle of the "Terrible Tasman Sea", sailing around the world - WOW - WEIRD - AWESOME!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Journal Entry - May 25, 2008 - 364 Days in Australia

Author: Pam

We rocked up in Australia on May 25, 2007 for a three week stop in Sydney, 364 days later we left to continue this amazing adventure. I have said over the past few months, I could live in Australia and then in the next moment I added a correction, well actually I guess I do live in Australia. If you had said to me in October of 2004 that I would spend a year living on our boat and working in Oz, a country I had only dreamt about visiting I'm sure I wouldn't have said that would never happen, but it certainly was not part of the plan.

It turns out these kinds of not part of plan will probably be the most amazing part of the adventure in the end. There is no way I can begin to capture every aspect of my life over the past year and all of the wonderful people who are now in my heart and on my list of friends forever.

When Scott left to return to the US in October I was comfortably settled on the boat in the marina in Newcastle that was our/my home for ten months. We had already made some friends, so I knew I wouldn't be too lonely and I knew how to get to the grocery store, so I wouldn't go hungry. However, eating alone did become a bit of an issue. What I didn't have was a job. All I could say was I am determined and very motivated to find a job and experience working in another country.

It was actually very serendipitous how I found my job in the end. I was doing some research for a project I was working on and ended up on the Sailors With Disabilities in Sydney website. On the links page was a link to Northcott Disability Services, "an organization for people with disabilities." One of the job searching approaches I was taking was to look at job vacancies on non-profit websites, so I decided to have a look. First of all, there were about thirty job openings, but near the bottom of the list the Volunteer Coordinator position jumped out at me. There were only a few minor hurdles to consider. First of all the job was in Parramatta (a 2.5 hour train ride from Newcastle). It was also advertised until the end of June, I was sure that was due to funding, but I could only make a commitment until the beginning of May. But, it was for three days a week, which made it all seem doable, though I wasn't sure exactly how I would pull it off.

To make a long story short, they hired me as their very first Volunteer Coordinator to develop a more formal volunteer program for the organization. Everything fell into place perfectly. I took the train early Tuesday morning, a three hour commute door to door. Then stayed with our very good friends Tim and Georgia Tuesday and Wednesday night in Epping (a half hour bus ride to work) and took the train back to Newcastle on Thursday, a four and a half hour commute. Staying with Tim and Georgia was wonderful in so many ways. I got to develop a close friendship with them, it was two nights I didn't eat alone and it was even more of a bonus when Nick and Tom were home, their teenage sons. I got my animal fix from their two dogs, Sadie and Tash. And, there is nothing like learning about a culture then living with a family and working. Oh, and there was the pleasure of sleeping in a very comfy bed with three sides.

Northcott Disability Services is a 77 year old organization for people with disabilities providing services throughout New South Wales. They have utilized volunteers over the years, but in a very ad hoc manner. In four and half months I had the privilege of establishing a foundation for a more formal volunteer program and fostering a shift in the thinking and the culture amongst the staff on the value of volunteer resources. It was a fantastic experience and I will look forward to watching the program grow with the warm feeling in my heart that I left a little part of me at a non-profit that has an awesome staff, provides important services and has the beginning of a fantastic pool of volunteers.

I find the culture in Australia difficult to describe, there are many differences, but they are quite subtle. I'm sure that has something to do with the fact it is an English speaking county, albeit there are a lot of colloquialisms and vocabulary that often left me with the deer in the headlights quizzical look. There are some that have made it into my vocabulary and are probably here to stay. I can't say G'day, but I could ask you "how you going" or say "see how we go." I have often been "flat out" (busy) and consider saying "I reckon" instead of I think. Scott has commented on my pronunciation of the number six and I did start to get the hang of saying double anytime you spell a word, name or give a phone number with double letters or numbers. I did not get in the habit of adding an "o" or a "y" to any word possible. Australians reckon they are lazy, therefore shortening every other word saves time and energy. I will probably call a bell pepper a capsicum from now on and I may not be able to pronounce oregano, basil or aluminum. I never did quite wrap my brain comfortably around ordering in a restaurant. An entrée is an appetizer and what would be an entrée in the US is a Main, that made my head hurt.

When it comes to food, two staples are fresh pumpkin and beetroot (beets), they are on the weekly shopping list for most households. In the US we mostly see fresh pumpkins with faces carved in them and a candle burning for Halloween and in pie at Thanksgiving (and that is usually out of a can). We eat beets mostly in salads and as side dishes, in Australia beetroot will be included in the list of "salad" on almost every sandwich and burger. It was always a dead give-away that I was American when I asked for no beetroot.

I did eat kangaroo once in spaghetti bolognaise, but my friend didn't think to mention it until about a week later. I never warmed up to the meat pie, they were big in New Zealand as well, possibly more popular. I did of course warm up to the prawns, which seem to show up at all holiday and special events. I learned that Americans are not as efficient at eating with a knife and fork. I was asked one night at dinner "why I put my knife down after cutting my meat?" I had no idea what I had just done. Australians hold their fork in their left hand and therefore don't have to put it down after they have cut something on their plate. I was not able to adopt this technique, but perhaps it would be something to consider on the boat to avoid flying silverware. I observed that you are often are not given a serviette (napkin), even if you are eating something with your fingers. This was something I never figured out and though I shared my observation no one seemed surprised, but also didn't offer much of an explanation. Also, to my horror I observed on more than one occasion that many people don't rinse the soap off of the dishes when they are "washing up." I guess my Mom did a good job instilling in me that soap could make you sick, this does not seem to be a "worry" that made it to Oz.

I had an unfortunate accident in February while I was participating in a little running race with two young girls at the marina, which ended up being a rude way to be reminded I am not as young as I used to be. My left hamstring seized while I was running and my leg stopped participating causing me to fall with momentum flat on my face. The concrete won hands down, leaving me looking like I had been in the ring with Mohamed Ali and with three broken front teeth. After fourteen visits to the dentist and three visits to the lab that made my crowns I have a new Australian smile. I believe fourteen dental appointments in two and a half months may break a record. I am eternally grateful to my dentist Peter Wong and his staff at Newcastle Dental Laser Centre and Derek Tracey, owner of Aesthetic Prosthetics in Wallsend for their dedication and persistence in transforming me from snaggle tooth back to a smile that does not look like I am married to Bugs Bunny (that was the first set of permanent crowns). I am happy with the end result, now if my travel insurance truly does cover the expenses all will be fine. Fingers hugely crossed on that one, because though it may not be quite a million dollar smile it is close.

The night I fell was probably the longest loneliest night of my life, but the next day brought a blessing beyond imaginable. I called our friend Bev and told her what had happened and asked if I could come stay the night. She picked me up that afternoon when she finished work and I ended up staying a week. It was an unbelievable experience in the face of adversity. They welcomed me with open arms, Bev drove me to the dentist and several Dr. visits and they kept the humor ever present, which helped immensely. Scott offered to come back, which I really appreciated, but there really wasn't anything he could do. I just needed to heal and find a really good dentist, both of which I did. The blessings in my life seem to continue to over shadow the hard stuff and for that I will be forever grateful.

During some of my free time I volunteered for the Cancer Council in Newcastle where I helped them streamline their volunteer program on the regional level. It was another amazing experience, again because of the people. I instantly felt part of the team and besides being a very rewarding experience, the staff always provided wonderful comic relief. Actually, now is a good time to mention the concept of morning tea. That would be the morning break and at the Cancer Council it is a group activity where they read the astrological sign for each person present and attempt the trivia in the paper. It is hugely entertaining, usually hilarious and educational, because I almost never knew any of the answers. "Tea" is used as the description for a break and for dinner. If you are invited for "tea" at dinnertime, it is for a meal, not a "cuppa".

Leaving my job, my friends and the very special connections I made in Australia was very bittersweet, but it was time to go and continue our quest. I know I will go back and honestly you couldn't leave somewhere with a better feeling than that.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Journal Entry - May 24, 2008 - Bad Moon on the Rise

Author: Scott

'Don't go out tonight. It's bound to take your life. There's a bad moon on the rise...' This is what played in my head when I realized that the big orange light shining low on the water was not actually a huge freighter bearing down on us. Pam and I were both in the cockpit and almost simultaneously asked, "What is that?" It was the moon rising of course, but this was no ordinary moon. This was a perfect black cat convention, Michael Meyer Halloween knife sharpening, sacrifice the virgins kind of moon. It was huge (even for our eyes), with creepy gray clouds silently slinking across the face, and orangey gold flecks of light caught in the inky black surface of the oily water. This was a spooky, with a capital S, kind of moon. It was sort of appropriate that I first thought the moon was a demon ship coming to take us down to Davy Jones' locker with CCR swimming around in my head.

Now despite the fact that you don't want 70's songs telling you to stay home tonight playing in your head on the first night you return to sea, after nearly a year, it was a glorious night at sea. We left the dock at almost exactly 1500, our planned departure time. Our minds were in meltdown mode after having just said goodbye to an unbelievable group of people, which over the past year have become our community and will remain our friends for life. It is all a blur for me now, those final minutes before throwing off the lines to our next destination. Just to mention a few, early in the day there was Grahme, Loretta and Harry the dog wishing us well. Rich and Paul from the Tiger Ragtime Jazz Band came out to serenade us on the dock with songs like "Anchors Away". There was big Tony telling me he wasn't good at goodbyes while this tough sailor had tears flowing down my cheeks. There was Simon handing us a load of pizza from his awesome Newcastle restaurant "Eight Ounce", and Bruce our neighbor on F Dock had his hand out with far too little time to thank him for the many ways he helped us. Belinda, Nathan and Mary-Ann just made me gush more with each hug. Joyce was hugging Pam like a daughter leaving home, and somewhere off in the distance Jimmy Buffet was finishing "Changes in Latitudes" our theme song for the voyage. It was time to go.

The one thing about leaving on a boat is that there are plenty of details to redirect your thinking. With the wheel in my hands, barking out requests to helpers on the dock, I was able to pull myself together and clearly see the crowd of people, a crowd of faces I could not recognize at this distance, but I knew them to be the wonderful collection of special mates that so greatly encompassed our experience in Australia. "Farwell our friends, we will see you again" was whispering from my lips as I thrust the throttle forward and spun Starship's bow into the channel. I blew a loud honk on the airhorn, almost killing Pam with fright on the spot, and our friends on the dock glided away from us.

This would not be the end of our departure, not by a long shot. All my concentration was now focused on avoiding a spectacular departure crash with the floating dock, and when I looked around us with that particular hazard in our wake, we were joined by one - two - three boats forming a protective escort around us. Each boat was loaded to the gunnels with friends calling to us, and the first thought that came to me was, 'How on earth did they get in the boats so quickly?' Our little flotilla headed down the channel with Bruce yelling over navigational directions. My driving must have been a little scattered because Bruce finally said "Hey mate why don't you put on the auto pilot?" This reminded me of a conversation I had just had with Bruce where we both admitted steering superiority to the mechanical beast that can put a perfectly straight, inhuman track on the chart plotter. With little chance for collision with the auto pilot engaged and our shield of surrounding vessels, Pam and I were free to be on deck, taking pictures, waving, and screaming thank you and goodbyes. As we approached the heads I thought that surely they would turn back once we passed the final buoy, but this was not to be. The two sailboats (Etosha & Taritabu) unfurled their headsails and taunted us to do the same, while the big sport fisher powerboat (Fortune of War) drove in circles around us all. Our friends would continue to sail us out well into the open ocean, yelling to us, laughing and crying the entire time. I will forever have a picture of our mate Tony standing on the bow of his boat, with the most serene look of pleasure about him. Now I love to sail, but Tony is probably the most natural and passionate sailor we will ever meet and he was completely in his element.

Miles out to sea, Tony finally yelled over that they would "let us have all the fun and get settled in". With that said they tacked away and disappeared in the distance, leaving Pam and I to continue the Blind Circumnavigation. There we stood watching Etosha slip away, both of us crying and numb from our incredible Australian experience.

Now here I sit alone on watch, the time when I get my best opportunity to blog. A good percentage of the gourmet pizza has been eaten, and Pam is down below for her first sleep period. If I stop and think for just a second, the past few days wash over me and there is a new shiny memory that materializes in my mind to add to the collage of what is sure to be one of the most touching and emotional experiences of our life.

There may be a "bad moon on the rise", but we are at it again, dancing on the wire, living every second, waiting to see what adventure will come our way.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Journal Entry - May 23, 2008 - Our departure from Australia

*** Reminder: We love to get email at sea, so if you get a chance, send us a HELLO to: (no attachments on Sail Mail please) ***

Ahoy Blind Circumnavigation Friends and Supporters,

It is with great enthusiasm that we announce our departure from Australia. Don’t get us wrong, our departure is somewhat bittersweet because of the many friends that we have made in Australia, but we are so very excited to be continuing our voyage!

As you will probably recall, upon our arrival to Australia our diesel engine “stuffed up” as they would say in Oz. This led to the drama of replacing the engine with a rebuilt engine that also gave us much grief, and as a result we installed a brand spanking new Volvo-Penta engine on Starship. The installation of the NEW engine cost us a year and kept the boat in Australia during the South Pacific Cyclone Season. Oh well, “no worries mate” (they say that here as well) it is all part of the adventure.

During cyclone season Pam worked in Sydney and stayed each week with our dear friends Tim and Georgia allowing her to work three days a week away from Newcastle. Meanwhile, Scott worked for six months in Northern Virginia. For the most part our lives were routine during this time, with the exception of Pam’s accidental face-plant on the cement on the Newcastle Yacht Club’s waterfront, where she left most of three teeth and a good portion of her facial skin behind. After 14 trips to the dentist, Pam is thriving and is as feisty as ever. Ouch!!!

So here we are, three and a half years into a voyage that was going to take two and a half to three years to complete, and though we won’t win any speed records, we are accomplishing and experiencing so much! We have met and reached out to thousands of blind people around the world with our message of independence. We have had our hearts broken by a blind girl in Mexico. We have exchanged ideas and experiences with our good blind friend Rolland in Tahiti. We have felt our hearts soar in Australia while sailing with a group of blind children and young adults, just to name a few of our wonderful experiences. We are more determined than ever to complete this epic quest, but at the same time we are clear that the true adventure is in the voyage and not the final destination.

This year’s itinerary is very much like last year’s intended route. We will be sailing from Australia to New Caledonia, then to Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Darwin (Australia again), Indonesia, Malaysia, and finally Thailand for the Indian Ocean cyclone season. We will continue to reach out and meet blind people at every destination. This year promises to bring Starship to some of the most remote destinations that we will experience on the entire journey. Please stay tuned and we promise to keep it interesting!

Thank you all for your unwavering support and interest!

Scott and Pam