Song of Tropicbird

I hear some crazy shit on this boat.

Swishing & gurgling of 12,000 foot deep ocean currents against the ship’s wooden hull (a mere 1.5 inches thick), my body laid only 6 inches on the dry side of it. water all around me whispering in strange tongues, long slippery multi-syllabic serpentine words, swelling up and under me in deep blue scales, melting away like ice cubes in a whirlpool.

I hear music, all kinds of music. if there’s no Jambox on, it’s not coming from a speaker.. (which it almost never is).

The auto-pilot motor is a perky tireless laughing gasping leprechaun, hee hee, hahahahaha.. heee, heee, ooh ah hahahahaha. aaaah! it’s creepy, and strangely comforting.

The wind rushes and wails, but sometimes it calms down, causing the giant 40-foot headsails to billow.. sounds like thunder, or a really big Thumper.

Is Sea Foam a color? yes. Does it make a sound? indeed: fizzy – like a really big carbonated drink.

Drawers slamming open and closed are straight-up poltergeists. BOOm!

General banging around inside the boat could probably be best imitated by Animal from the Muppets on his drum-kit.

The rigging and electrical wires run up the two aluminum masts, slapping down some flagpole percussion as they clatter inside like a runaway dog that’s still on-leash, racing along a resonant floor.

Voices, voices, voices. Voices of girls, of men, of tortured demons through a portal to hell. Evil voices, groaning and throat-singing throughout the night. why does the gate open only after dark?

There are three things out here: the water, the sky, and this boat. Who’d think there could be such a varied, imaginitive (its not me – it’s the musicians), multi-dimensional and thunderous soundtrack?

[ insert Lady-leprechaun GaGa-haha Remix here ]


Lights: above and below the horizon

22-May 2012, 02:17
Leg 2 to Marquesas, Day 20

Forgive me for writing incessantly about this same theme since my first night aboard the boat in Panama, but it’s always new to me!

For the last two and a half hours (on night watch of course) I’ve been having a most wonderful light-gazing. I first noticed the sky. This time I can confidently say with a superlative that I’ve never seen the stars more bright or clear in all my life. The milky way looks like a tremendous Lite-Brite, a million points of white beaming down with laser-like intensity. Moonlight has been absent from the nighttime sky for a week, but the nights are bright with star light. My hand against the sky, the boat before me, the water below the horizon – these things appear black. The sky itself is deep purple, lighting up the night without the moon or light pollution.

As usual on particularly starry nights, I’ve lounge on a bench in front of the cockpit, identifying stars and constellations using my Starwalk app ’till my head hurts. Usually I need to use some imagination to make out the forms completely, but not tonight… when everything is crystal clear! Interesting how much of this is only visible in the southern hemisphere… crazy, there are effectively 2 skies! I’ve noticed, traveling steadily west all this time and just below the equator, that I’m always star-gazing off the port beam (south) instead of north… I guess they’re just more brilliant from this location (makes sense). Now I can readily point out the constellations Scorpius, Virgo, Corbus, Centaurus and the Southern Cross, the Northern and Southern Crowns, Ursa Major, Leo, Gemini, and the Serpens (head & tail). Easiest to spot are Venus, Saturn, Mars, Sirius (brightest star) and Canopus (2nd), as they’re so close and bright. Limited only by the amount of time I feel like looking up and the Earth’s rotation, which spins the view so quickly, I feel like I can learn much in little time. We’ve got some Celestial Navigation books on board too, but that would be too practical! Playing Where’s Waldo in the sky, or more accurately “What’s that? and checking out on my live key map is way more fun.

I can now easily imagine the early astronomers naming these heavenly bodies, a majority of them 1500-2000 years ago. It’s hard to imagine that these clusters “stay together”, made up of stars and galaxies with such tremendously varying distances from us (from, could you believe, 125 to over 6000 light years away!) Considering that their distance is measured in time, (a “light year” being a distance unit that light travels in a year, or approx. 6 trillion miles), it makes sense that any relative movement would take thousands of years to perceive.

Then, while peeing off the beam, I noticed the bio-plankton are especially vivid here. The phenomenon varies significantly everywhere I’ve seen it; here, they’re really big and bright, flaring-up for only a moment but with great intensity. The deep blue sea is alive and illuminated with these sparkles, twinkling on and off like christmas lights. The boat itself makes neon waves and an accompanying soundtrack, droning faintly like the surf breaking on shore, by the force of 23 tons plowing through the undulating surface. As I gaze out I can see bright disturbances down below, like green traffic signals flashing, indicating fish scurrying and disappearing in their own clouds of light.

So similar actually, between the heavens above and the phosphorescent plankton below, the world is contiguously luminescent.

3,000 miles from land

16-May 2012, 23:33
Leg 2 to Marquesas, Day 14

.. from Panama actually, our origin; 2100 miles from the Galapagos Islands, last land we’ve seen; only 900 miles to the Marquesas Islands, our next landfall; and then another 900 miles to Tahiti (the first real airport and chance to jump ship, should that be the case.) For now, though, I’m right here and happily so.

But you may wonder, what the bejeezus have I been doing at sea all this time? I ask myself this question every day. I ask myself a lot of questions. Especially when I wake up in the morning and ponder what I’ll do… hmm well I can read, write some, eat, exercise, stare out at the sea, and continue my tanning regime. My schedule is roughly planned around the watch schedule, or alone time (especially in the dark hours.)

My schedule tonight: I’ll type on this a bit, take a sponge bath, finish my David Sedaris book (last story, and savoring it), and then I’ll sit in my new favorite spot, close my eyes, and feel the great black sea. Later I’ll open my eyes (looking out on the dark horizon, upside-down), and identify stars on my iPhone.

As I was coming into this I had some ideas of things I’d do. Top of my list was to learn all I can about the boat and this way of transport, and admittedly, at a certain point, I felt a frustration that I wasn’t learning enough. As I mentioned earlier, Julian can and basically does sail this boat himself, not that I’m not at least somewhat familiar with the rig and how to go about working it. Learning the philosophy and craft behind maximizing efficiency and practicing optimal safety is ongoing… and like many other sciences, especially given the multitude of variables, the science is bullshit, and I feel like intuition and my own common sense renders calculations of little use.. it’s the language of the world I’m thinking in, and it complements (if not completely undermines) Julian’s 57 years of experience. Makes me smile (in private). The steady weather conditions of riding the trail-winds along the equator make it fairly easy-going regarding the actual sailing.. although the sea is much “lumpier” than we expected (borrowing one of Julian’s many funny English phrases). Conditions range from being inside a washing machine to riding a camel, but the pitchi-ness doesn’t affect the sailing so much.. sails are set, wind is constant, and the waves make it interesting. By the way, no motion sickness!

Hmm, seems less interesting to read about than it is in person (and it’s not that interesting ;) What’s infinitely more fun is all this personal time to play with… letting my tightly-wound brain loosen. I enjoyed the hyper-activity in my head so much over the past months, being extremely switched-on since traveling with Natalia, as well as with the Poles, and now the surprise blessing is that Ican now process all of that. The conversation amongst us three is pretty minimal – not that we’re sick of each other, rather we’re all happily settling into ourselves and the sea. This is where the real trip is.

About half way through this leg (when I started writing this, 4 days ago) I was feeling rather lumpy myself, with the lack-of-sailing issue manifesting in restlessness. (Update: I raised the issue and more efforts are being made to employ my help :) The what am I doing [if not commanding this rig]? feeling would last a short while, usually in the morning, being unclear of my higher purpose here.. until I’d find myself happily occupied with many other things. Then I kicked-up the exercising, personal writing, reading, and meditation. All the other stuff: crew-politics, cooking, duties, have been demoted to bare essentials… it’s beautiful. (Ok, I still kick-ass in the kitchen – can’t help it!)

[ food.. sexy bread? ]

While before, the purgatory of endlessly being in the washing machine might hijack my mood (and sleep), now I’m feeling invincible, almost super-high on I-don’t-know-what.. I suppose the therapy of writing this plus voicing my concerns (and feeling quite resolved about them) has me back to 100% [attitude]. It’s all in the attitude… the attitude of gratitude! I’m sleeping much better too, with eye mask and earplugs-in, splayed-out in ‘spider monkey’ pose, I have to flip my pillow three times a night to stay out of my own drool. (This is a good thing.)

And my body is stronger. I haven’t been into exercising for a while… like years. Now it’s a regime that gives me discipline which helps everything else flow. Hard to explain, but it somehow makes everything else I do better. I look forward to it all day, saving it for the late afternoon. Using water jugs, or mostly just playing with the forces of our boat’s movement against the weight of my own limbs, I focus on parts, leveraging and creating tension, and work it till I’m tired. I end up with a fountain of energy that won’t quit until I’m in bed (like tonight… I got up again to type.) It’s not about upgrading my self-image.. it’s a vehicle to do more.

Yoga is hard, and I kind of gave up on everything beyond sun salutations, to keep my stretchiness. Meditation is actually really hard too, but I’m committed and making progress. I feel like a big buddha smile is my biggest breakthrough.. and cheating a little, by resting my back on the main mast, blind-folding myself, and getting naked.. somehow I can almost forget my balancing, gyrating body long enough to zoom around for a while away from it.

All my books are awesome (thanks Natalia, who brought me seven to Costa Rica when we last met-up), and I treat each one like a bar of fine chocolate, savoring just one chunk or short story at a time, then putting it down to enjoy in my head until the next occasion. The short stories by Herman Hess, David Sedaris and Kurt Vonnegut are my favorite. In contrast to Spencer, who’s reading a different book on his Kindle (voted on-board as the m.v.p. of travel companion-tech) each day, mainly of the How-to, Getting rich, Law-of-attraction, or Sailing variety, I’m nibbling on beautiful nuggets of literary genius. I read one long-head book about decipherment of Mayan hieroglyphics, awesome indeed, and started the Bhagavad-Gita, but after re-reading the Tao of Pooh I’m more inclined towards the simple, emotional, and light.

It’s a small thing, but I’m finding a universe in my music collection. Maybe because my time is not cut-up between where I’m going or what I’m doing, that I can listen to everything with a patience I never had before. My FF button has never felt so lonely. One night I listened to the Smashing Pumpkins for three hours, learned the lyrics to Gish (their first album) for the first time, and didn’t skip through any of the live or rare tracks that I haven’t listened to in years. 347 tracks and it felt all-new again. It’s like that with everything. Amazing.

I’ve made sketches, nearly filled my journal with dreams, scribbled a few sentimental notes, and cast out a million messages of love into the sky — I hope ya’ll got ’em. Good night!

Can we come out to play?

12-May 2012, 15:30
Leg 2 to Marquesas, Day 10

Ten days even, and an odd one at that. It’s a gorgeous sunny day, and yet as I sit here in the cockpit I’m marveling at how we just supposedly cleared a 600-mile area of “irregular weather patterns”, but only now has it gotten truly crazy! I only hope the subsequent order to stay inside until further notice isn’t regular too.

Whereas for the last 2800 miles we’ve had free reign of the boat and all its spaces, facilities, and activities, now the waves and wind are such that the boat rocks side to side with ferocious velocity (to borrow a phrase from my new favorite song Stockholm Sydrome by The Catskills, so fitting in this moment!) We’re King Neptune’s rag-dolls, no doubt providing him a fantastic bloopers reel as if being flung into walls suddenly and forcibly wasn’t the act of a specter!

[ pic: bruises ]

Our cautious captain will have no men overboard under his command, hence our house arrest. Can you imagine how the space was limited to begin with, and now that it’s halved without the deck above what that might do!

What, who’s there? Was it that old devil Cabin fever whispering in my ear?

Tired bodies without a place to exercise, fish-hungry men who cannot cast out their lines (not me), bum-tanners forced to gaze upon the gorgeous, equatorial sun-shiny afternoon upright? If I wasn’t on watch (only eight hours a day) I’d be slumbering more, pathetic woeful man that I am, my butt regressing into pasty white oblivion either way!

Of course with this weather comes a positive change: the waves. Now the swells are massive, much greater than previously – about 15 feet, which is what I came out here to see! The feeling of riding these huge swells is exhilarating. Approaching fast and with crests above our heads, the wave quickly scoops us up, pushing us high in the sky as the horizon drops suddenly, and down we sink on the other end, usually minus a few heartbeats (are they all necessary?) as on an amusement park ride. Sometimes we surge forward at an overground speed of 10 knots, sometimes we tip nearly on our side, and sometimes we spin around as if in a gyroscope, always miraculously keeping up up and down down, time and time again.

Someday soon we should expect forty foot waves at 200 feet apart, which would be lovely, more gentle in theory, and even more thrilling to contemplate. With nothing constant except changing weather out here I can only cross my fingers for more excitement and horizon-shifting to come.

(Update: Thank goodness, we only had to endure one day of cabin fever. It never felt so good to reclaim the deck & get back to normal!)

LEG 2.2

8-May 2012, 21:01
Leg 2 to Marquesas, Day 6

Here we are, six days and 700 miles out from Galapagos on our second leg, and things are quite switched-up from the first leg:

Crew is 1/2 of what it was, and 1/2 as potent. With the Poles gone and no reinforcements, we remain 2 Yankees and the British captain. Crew dynamic is peaceful and relaxed.. the fire of Jacek and Kuba is gone and it’s neither better or worse. Less people means it’s less engaging – we’re not in each other’s face, which is fine. More room to roam, more time alone, and everything simplified. I miss our lively debates, but in its place peace and quiet reign supreme.

Trade-winds are strong and consistent. So is our speed. Good-bye doldrums! Since our first day out, we’ve been flying… and while our previous average of 3 knots made 5 knots seem like warp-speed, now 6-7 knots is average, with 8 knots not uncommon! At twice the speed as leg 1, we ticked-off 160 miles yesterday. No running the motor, pure wind power, and putting us on course to arrive in only 25 days. Funny how that doesn’t even sound long to me. At this speed tremendous forces are upon us, and with the angle of the wind coming directly off the port beam (left side), the boat rocks heavily to the right, making it feel like we’re on drugs in a fun house. Leveraging the moving floor and unpredictable gravity, sometimes Spencer and I throw things and try to catch, ala that scene in Apollo 13, except it’s always a curveball.

Sleep schedule is new, [wacky and fun getting used-to.] With only three of us, we’re on watch twice as much, eight hours a day; on for three hours, off six, perpetually. This means, for the first time in my life, I’ve employed a radically new sleep schedule. I began by attempting to accumulate 8 hours of sleep per ‘day’ in three naps, but now I stay-up as much as I feel like, drink tea with no thought of whether it’s too late or not, and waking when it’s my turn to keep watch. Casting away the nighttime sleep schedule that I adopted as a toddler means I can now enjoy constant, eternal time. (Remember, time is an invention of man with no intrinsic value to those who are free, however so convenient an idea I will continue to employ in surplus!)

Reading, writing, music… all in unprecedented abundance. Weather, wind, sun, moon, all quite regular, which makes watch easy. No more constantly adjusting the sails with changing wind directions and erratic weather systems. The trade-winds are blissful. There much time to oneself, whether on watch or off, which is a pleasant novelty after much time crammed-in with only ten feet of boat to oneself (math: 50-foot boat). And with somebody asleep at any given moment, you have at least half the boat to yourself. Hooray for personal space!

Food regime re-invented. Food preparation is so much easier. I don’t even eat breakfast most days anymore, unless I’m still up mid-morning after my 3am watch. I usually mastermind a big lunch (with planned leftovers), which we eat the last of at dinner plus some fresh-baked bread from the afternoon and a small salad (while we’ve got it). Before, feeding five took a lot of thought and coordination… too much time in the galley! Now, more time to gaze at waves.

Wildlife limited to crazy (flying) fish, all of them (except the flying mammal). The further out from Galapagos we get, the less variety of crazy marine life we see. What’s cool, however, is that most everything we can see out here FLIES. A variety of flying fish are grazing the surface all around us constantly, or sometimes landing on deck (or smashing into the side of the boat, poor things!) A variety of porpoise are spotted with regularity. For the first few days, smaller, air-borne porpoise were everywhere, jumping by the hundreds along top of the water until out of sight. This morning, a new variety called of “bull-nosed” were keeping pace with the boat (8 knots!), and at twice the size of the usual bottle-nosed and with funny big heads, smooshed noses, and longer broad bodies (10 feet), they were freaky!

Time… doesn’t exist when the perceiver is fully present. I was a bit apprehensive about this 30-40 day leg, wondering how I’d occupy myself, thinking “that’s a long time!” Now I can see how much progress I’ve made in being present, because I have yet to dwell on this future “landing”, which means less and less to me as the land retreats far beyond the horizon. I think I taught myself while cycling never to focus on the end of a ride, for it would be at the expense of the ride itself. In fact, as Julian constantly recalculates our mileage to go with each tweak of the course and new average, I strive to find new ways to remind him that I’d rather not know. 2600 miles till the Marquesas, and then another 800 to Tahiti doesn’t mean anything to me! So much to do.. I’m constantly thankful for this limited and special time, whose dimensions are only as finite and measurable as you’re willing to project on it.

Are we sailing yet?

7-May 2012, 01:07
Leg 2 to Marquesas, Day 5

I realize I haven’t written much about my experience Sailing. On my first leg, between Panama and Galapagos, I honestly didn’t know what to write. Even though it requires 24-hours of attentive action to keep going, it’s more of an all-inclusive lifestyle than an activity, and what one would think of actual “sailing” — like rigging lines, trimming sails, mapping and ‘navigating’ our course, evaluating and averting weather, singing songs and tanning bums — is more an ongoing existence of subtle adjustments than an activity. One could say I don’t feel much like I’m sailing at all, except that we’re moving ourselves across a great and vast ocean at a speed, or rather a delicate meeting place where wind blowing tight fabric can propel 23-tons of mostly wood, fiberglass, and canvas through a tumultuous undulating salty abyss that mysteriously covers two-thirds of our green planet (which in light of recent information seems overwhelmingly blue).

I was actually kind of upset yesterday, when it occurred to me that I’m not really learning to sail here. Our captain can and basically does operate the propulsion apparatus on his own, and with unmistakeable gleaming coming off the teeth as he does so. We do lots of other things – everything except propelling us forward – and I think that’s what dawned on me and got me bothered. I’m learning about this science but not actually practicing it; its the one area of expertise that our overlord relishes (and dare I say lives for) above all else, and we’re not here to take that from him. One might ask “doesn’t your captain sleep, and require relief by your trained-efforts?” The answers are yes and no: he sleeps, in bits and pieces all day and night, until conditions change that warrant adjustment, whence he springs to life again, dashing around in his gyroscopic gravity field, tugging on this, letting that fly, peering on tippy toes through there, running back here, belaying these, watching, evaluating it all – long pause… and with the quip “let me know if anything changes” he disappears back under the eye-mask. It’s a process to behold.

Not to say I’m not involved. It’s my duty here to craft my own curriculum, inquire about that which interests me and record answers, read texts on theory and relevant experiences on the high seas, and make myself available to channel the process through my own hands as much as possible. There’s not a whole lot of expectation of me to do anything beyond an equal sharing of tasks which benefit us all (like keeping watch and cooking mostly). Beyond that its up to me. Spencer is especially precocious in his education, much more than me, eager in his 23 years to earn ranks of Captain, fish fish, and make the high seas his home and livelihood. I’m still taking it all in, quietly shape-shifting as usual, trying on the trousers.

My journey so far has been extremely productive however, in the realms of my mind and spirit especially. From daily meditations to unexampled awareness in my dream-space, I feel my internal world expanding like never before. This simplified environment clears-up the head nicely. And let’s not forget the body: the physics at play here are extraordinary, and my worldly vessel is adjusting constantly.. five days out to sea already this time and I’m still tired, but good tired :)

Think I’ll elaborate on these and many more things a bit later. For now I’ll make a list.. Yay list of things to blab-on about!

To end it all

4-May 2012, 23:00
Leg 2 to Marquesas, Day 2

First off, it’s weird to write something knowing I won’t be able to post it for a month. Will you even care to read this ‘old news’ when it’s hot off the press?

I had an idea and decided to do it: I’m making a book. More accurately, I’m going to compile my writings from this blog into book form. I never wanted to make a book before, even though I’ve been urged to by many. I don’t feel this stuff is important enough to be printed on paper. I don’t even like paper, it’s kills trees and is mostly disposable, or sits around on shelves, collecting dust and insulting the life it was processed from. At least some stuff gets read, and circulated, like books in libraries, some of them containing ideas, which is important. Ideas are amazing. But self-publishing to have a physical copy of digital work? Nonsense. Until a moment a humility came upon me.

Which reminds me of my days as a young Mac evangelist, when I got similarly tired of hearing that I should work for Apple, and then I eventually “had the idea” to go for it, and become a Mac Genius. I bit my tongue.

So this book idea came about by my Grandma Rose continually telling me I should write a book. She doesn’t read my blog, hence I always wondered: why would she read my book? She’s 92, so I don’t blame her… maybe it’s the format – nobody reads blogs anyway. So tonight I fired up the Mac to look at my options: InDesign, Pages, iBooks Author, even iPhoto are all capable. Then I started reading over my archives… suddenly I’m not as excited anymore.

My old writing is so… bad. I must decide whether I’ll simply compile a journal, or edit the time-capsule. It could be fun to break the chronology, organize articles by theme (exercise, culture, mush, anecdotes, the sights, nature, farming, philosophy, spiritual connection, east vs. west, animal kingdom, hedonism, home turf, and the rants..) This won’t be easy. More challenging still is that I decided on a deadline: Marquesas (by the time your read this.)

Who besides Grandma will read this book? Who cares. I can give it to my family, so they can pass it on to their friends. At this point I think it would embarrass them more than anything. I’ve been told it’s good.. mostly by my family of course. So it’s really for them. But they’ve already read it.. and I seriously doubt they’d even read it again. So why the heck would I edit it?

Maybe I need to make it for myself. Yes, that’s why I’ll do it. That way I’ll do it right. That’s the only way people actually do it right. It excites me to do this because I can put a cap on this blog, finish it, move-on. Don’t worry – I’m not going anywhere, or changing my traveling ways, at least I’m not planning on it anytime soon. I have the deep down notion that if I do this, I can start something else. It’s been almost four years already. It’s time for something new.

Even though I feel like a blog is a good excuse for me to write stuff, and I enjoy re-reading it, and think someday I’ll value it… it’s a dying art form (and many-times pronounced dead.) In my Reader, where I keep track of all my friends’ blogs, only 3 (of about 50) have been updated in the last 18 months. It’s sad. But they’re my favorite things to read! I’m so much happier to read the hearts and minds of people I actually know than the stars of the technosphere! Personal blogs are infinitely better than the now one-line standards of Twitter and Facebook news feeds, but hardly anyone writes or reads them anymore.

This blog has been a creative outlet, and a consistent part of my trip since the beginning. When I sounded like a kid. And wrote like shit. In some ways, I still do. It’s not really any better… just more interesting to me recently because it’s, well, recent… and I feel like I’m getting somewhere with it. Like I’m trying to make a point, or uncover a mystery, or figure out why I write at all… it’s to communicate. I want to share.

I’d like to write about WHY I write (whoa) in another entry. Because it’s changing. I used not to care about anyone else reading (because it was for me), and now I do care. It’s not enough for me. I want people to know there’s Magic out there. Everywhere Else. I want to Inspire people to Travel. And Reject that which makes them unhappy. I want people to Question Everything they know. And Who they Are. And the Company they keep. Because we’re Here, right Now, and we’ll Never have This Moment again. So make it Count.

I don’t think many except the curious passer-by reads this, and if you are reading this, thank you. And I love you for it. I love you anyway. But I want to turn things up a notch. It doesn’t mean I won’t write anything publicly anymore. It’s time to extend my reach. The book definitely won’t do it. But it’s a means to move-on. Thanks for sticking with me this far. It’s time to punch a hole in the sky.