October 12, 2012

It begins! This morning we received our visas for Australia. At least Annette did. My visa had already arrived some three days earlier, even though I made the applications almost simultaneously. I had begun to wonder about Annette's secret life and it was with some relief that Australian immigration found her acceptable. I had been so concerned with the delay, I even reviewed her application to view the question, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime against humanity?" in order to make sure that I had in fact checked "No". (I'm not making this up - they really ask that)

Now I could begin the process of making travel reservations. This is both a challenge and fun. I had held off buying tickets until we had the electronic visas "in hand" so to speak, and when I returned to the same web-site as I had viewed four days ago, the air ticket prices per person had mysteriously near doubled for the exact same route. Back to the electronic drawing board! Two hours later it is done! We have round-trip tickets booked for the entire trip and at the originally researched price.

November 15, 2012

We are just four weeks from departing on our trip! We have to make arrangements to put our affairs on auto-pilot in the USA, whilst getting set up for life on another continent. I had to tidy the garage and get rid of the crap I had been procrastinating about, so that our car would actually fit through the door. Daughter Marian had ripped off my battery trickle charger for her motorcycle, so I needed to buy another. Kids! Now all I have to do is to remember to actually hook it up before we leave. Similarly it is worthwhile having the auto insurance company put our USA liability coverage into deep-freeze until we return. Meanwhile, I have contacted an Australian insurer and have confirmed that I can drive in OZ on a Texas license, provided I promise to drive on the left. I do need a "permanent" address in Australia for the insurance policy and I assume that a vehicle title will require the same. Some visitors have used a cooperative backpacker's hotel's address but I called upon the old standby of "family connection" and my cousin in Melbourne generously allowed me to use his address.

We joined the Campervan Motorhome Club of Australia (www.cmca.net.au) and because we still own the motor home in Texas - as in "we haven't sold it yet" - we determined that we qualified for "full" membership rather than the ignominious "Associate" status. They mailed us an awesome magazine titled "The Wanderer" - chockers full of great articles and pictures of the sort of remote places we want to go.

The problems of handling our affairs over the internet we long ago solved before we took off sailing. Our method was to "simulate" being gone for the year before we left. Thus everything that came in the mailbox had to be converted to electronic format that could be handled entirely by e-mail and internet. We had previously discovered that the easiest way to handle cash in other countries is to use an ATM card. Your bank will recommend that you contact their security department before you leave and let them know when and where you are going. We have found that this is usually a waste of time, depending upon the country, they will probably freeze your account access anyway. The bank recommends that you contact the "International operator" and call "collect". Of course, there hasn't been an international operator since the 1950's and as far as some Croatian or Bulgarian "operator", calmly digging their way through 20 layers of computer prompts, "Press 1 for English or 2 for Spanish", it's not going to happen. Strongly suggested that you borrow someone's landline. If you are buying $30,000 worth of opals, oil-paintings or whatever, believe me, the vendor will let you use their cell-phone if the charge is rejected. OK, maybe not $30K but you get the idea. No worries mate!

It is a good idea to take multiple credit-cards to avoid the inevitable distress of having your card rejected. You also need to be aware that credit-card companies charge a fee to make a currency conversion. Most cards charge 3% but some are 1% or even 0% ! Of course our 0% card (Chase) was rejected every time that we tried to use it - because the security software noticed that we were trying to make a charge that was outside of the USA and in a currency other than dollars. Imagine that!

November 16, 2012

I have spent the past week updating and "tidying up" all of the electronic gadgets we will take with us. Our cell-phones won't work in Australia, at least not in any manner that we might be willing to pay for, thus we plan to purchase a pre-paid phone upon arrival. The best option so far seems to be a cheap "Telstra" phone, circa $80 with a $100 "Simplicity" pre-pay package. This provides local calls for 15 cents / min. The USA may be the only country on the planet that charges you for calls on your cell-phone that you did not initiate. Typically we e-mail our local (in this case Australian) phone number to whomever and they call us back at discounted US landline rates, with no cost to the recipient of the call i.e. us.

The other facility we can use when we have decent internet connections is "Skype". Free calls with video and you get to see if the other party is still wearing their jammies! We anticipate being out of both cell-phone and internet range for extended periods, so we are experimenting with a low cost satellite communication device made by DeLorme Corporation and called "InReach" ($250). It is about the size of a pack of cigarettes and connects to the Iridium satellite network. It can be used standalone to send an emergency signal, to send a pre-programmed message or to just send position information. When it is wirelessly linked by "bluetooth" to a "smart" device, it can use the display and the keyboard of the latter to send and receive texts or e-mails of up to 160 characters. We plan to use it with an iPad3 and I have spent the past week getting the account set up, software installed and tested. We plan to use this gadget both for emergencies and for routine position status e-mails when in the "outback".

The other major task accomplished was to update Annette's iPod with her recent music purchases. We are likely to be (gratefully, I might add) television free for the next 8 months and now have 280 hours of music playtime, loaded and ready to go. I also updated a "netbook" computer from Vista operating system to "Windows 8". This was both time consuming and educational. The good news is that the aging netbook is now much faster with the upgrade. The bad news is that the upgrade wiped just about every existing program and all had to be re-installed. What a pain! It also meant that all of my stored e-mails were similarly wiped from existence. I usually back up e-mails but had gotten lazy in this and now have a 6 month gap in my correspondence. If you don't hear from me, this will be the excuse I plan to spout for the next five years or so.

November 17, 2012

As we get closer to our trip, our thoughts and research trend more and more towards the vehicle we want to purchase. In Australia, our USA auto licenses will allow us to drive vehicles of up to 4,500 Kg (just under 5 tons). We believe that we are allowed to pull a single trailer (no road trains!) provided that the tow vehicle is under the 4,500 kilo limit and is rated to tow the trailer. In the USA the choices would include trailers, goose-neck trailers and a spectrum of motorhomes. Since we plan on travelling from place to place, we lean towards a self contained "motorhome" type of vehicle. An SUV with pop-up camper is fine for a week or so but at our time of life and for extended living, we want air-conditioning, shower, potty etc. A motorhome also provides the security that you can lock everything up at night and if you should have problems, you can fire up the motor and split that pop-stand without getting out of the vehicle. The vehicle we believe we have settled upon is a Toyota Coaster bus conversion. The "Coaster" is ubiquitous throughout Australia Toyota Coaster Busand throughout the rest of the world too. It is usually a diesel engined, anywhere from 17 to 30 passenger mini-bus, that is popular throughout rural Australia as a school bus and throughout Asia, Africa, Middle-East, South America etc. for public transportation. They are also extensively used for airport and hotel shuttles, thus many are imported from Japan as "used" vehicles. They are a popular choice for a motor-home conversion because they boast a "flat" floor to the rear doors and they weigh in just under the 4500 kilo car license limit. Wikipedia notes that the Coaster hybrid was the first commercially produced hybrid that Toyota manufactured and pre-dates the Prius hybrid. The Coaster is available with all sorts of options such as dual rear wheels, air suspension and the like but we will have to be careful with our prospective purchase to ensure that it weighs in below the magic 4,500 kilo limit. For example, a "built-in" generator would likely push us over this limit. We have scoured the "for sale" internet listings and have found there are generally around a score of these motorhomes available, scattered around a continent, four fifths of the size of the USA. We will likely travel to where there is a concentration of candidates that might meet our needs - probably in the Sidney / Brisbane region.

November 27, 2012

Today I received confirmation that a sailing magazine article I wrote entitled, "A Stormy Night Entry into Cooktown", is to be published in the December quarterly edition of the new magazine, "Cruising Outpost". I don't know if this is available by subscription only, or if it will be distributed at bookstores such as Barnes and Noble. I noticed however that the free "online" version of this article is still available at http://cruisingoutpost.com/2012/08/stormy-night-entry-cooktown/ (for those of you too cheap to ante up for the paper version). This is my third magazine article to have been published in only five years and I have calculated that at this rate of income from my writing efforts, I could have paid for the purchase price of S/V DoodleBug in only 4,363 years.

December 20, 2012

We arrived last night at 2200 hours in Saipan after 6 days of travel.

Our first destination had been for a brief stop in San Diego, in order to return the ashes of Annette’s dad, Jimmie, to the place where he was born and where he lived his life. A tough emotional visit.

We are schlepping 3 of 50 pound bags, plus back packs and a large carry-on roller bag. The logistics of rental cars, taxis, shuttles, aircraft overhead lockers and baggage retrieval, is always daunting. Just like when we were sailing, our clothing and toilet items would fill but a single suitcase, perhaps one quarter of the total load. The balance contains the items my personal gourmet chef requires to make her future RV kitchen useable. For example, a salad spinner, latte whip (for making mayonnaise – she despises Australian mayonnaise), microwave potato chip maker, meat thermometers, snorkel gear and fishing spear, Australian bird books, binoculars – you get the idea. United Airlines cooperated by taking off four hours late from Los Angeles, thereby forcing an overnight in Honolulu. Our next flight to Guam was not scheduled until the late afternoon, so we stretched our legs by walking from the hotel to Fort DeRussy. In 1966 the US Military had a Vietnam War era R & R facility on the beach. Annette stayed here with her family, a mere 50 years ago and remembers a beach cottage, empty beaches and an exquisite view of nearby Diamond Head. The facility was dismantled just after the US withdrawal from Vietnam and large hotels now occupy the sacred spot, where the little Annette gamboled carefree in sand and surf. Time marches on. Fort DeRussy was also the site of the former coastal defense battery, Battery Randolph with its two 14 inch guns. The bunker is now a museum and although we really enjoyed the museum, I was disappointed that the guns had been removed just after WWII. They had some 14 inch armor piercing ammunition in the bunker but all of the fun stuff was missing. We have been thoroughly spoiled by our visit to an intact 15 inch Vickers gun, when we toured the Island of Menorca. The latter had starting batteries for diesel generators, hydraulic accumulators for the gun carriage mechanism, ammunition hoists, loading rams and the like. Battery Randolph had some interesting old photos, including pictures of the unique “disappearing” gun carriage but the rest was empty concrete bunker.

Honolulu View Honolulu View Fort DeRussy museum Where Annette stayed
The flight to Guam was an hour late but we made the connection to Saipan as did our bags. The rest was the adventure of locating daughter Marian’s car in the darkened airport parking lot (we packed flashlights) and then locating her island apartment. Then I had to carry the three 50 pounders up six flights of stairs. Marian had stocked the fridge with beer. What an angel! We are here!

December 20, 2012...later

This morning we were awake at 0400 hours local time, well before the tropical dawn. The wind was blowing gently and we could hear the rustle of palm fronds in the darkness. The Saipan day was announced by multiple roosters crowing at 0430 hours and minutes later, they were joined by some passel of dogs in the distance, who began a frantic barking which they continued without let-up for the next several hours. Before the sun rose, a couple of Asian ladies began jogging around the inner courtyard of the apartment block, where we are staying, a sight that would have been incredible a decade or so ago. A little later, we noticed the smell of burnt kerosene, reminding us that with high electricity prices, the local folks prefer to cook outside on their apartment balconies with portable burners.

The morning sky was moody with dark clouds tinged with the promised sunrise and driven by the trade winds. At 15 degrees above the equator, Saipan sits on the boundary of the northern trade winds and the belt of doldrums. Venus shone brightly between the scurrying clouds and the departing silence of the night was further shattered by a raucous bird call. It was not as loud as the Australian Kookaburra but the culprit was seen perched on the roof of the apartments. Likely a Collared Kingfisher, although the pre-sunrise light showed him in shades of grey.

At 0800 hours we met daughter Marian’s friend Gary Liddle (www.marianasliving.com) who graciously guided us on an overview tour of the island. It would take months to explore everything here and we spent the morning on a blur of turtle nesting beaches, Japanese and American war artifacts, government buildings, cool tee-shirt shops and the like. Gary is a local entrepreneur, who was bubbling with innovative commercial ideas, that might improve the local economy and give some relief to the double digit unemployment here, with perhaps three quarters of the non-government employees earning minimum wage.
Saipan view Palm tree Bird Island Japanese lighthouse Japanese war memorial Japanese war memorial WWII storage bunker

Saipan was held by Germany from 1899 until the First World War, at which time the Japanese Empire settled the the islands as part of a deal with Great Britain; thereby ensuring that Japan would enter the war on the side of the Triple Entente (consisting of Britain, France and Russia). A League of Nations mandate formalized this arrangement, thus Saipan was part of Japanese Empire from 1922 until the WW II allied invasion of 1944. During the 30 years of settlement, the Japanese had made extensive infrastructure improvements and many of these structures and artifacts still exist. From the mountain heights we could see the evidence of past extensive farming and the lower jungles held the rusting remains of a Japanese cane railway.

Ed and GaryOur tour took us on both paved and unpaved roads and Marian’s car which I was driving, provided the added adventure of occasionally being hard to start. I have decided that there is a possible grounding problem between the instrument panel and chassis and will endeavor to test my theory, if and when I can find the electronic meter amongst Marian’s possessions.


December 21, 2012

This morning Annette was definitely sick, with all of the symptoms of a major cold. I dosed her with Tylenol and by mid-morning, she was well enough to accompany me on a pilgrimage to the Marian recommended grocery store. Later, while Annette lay semi-comatose watching CSI reruns on the TV, I worked on Marian’s car. I repaired loose battery terminal connections, checked all of the grounds and tracked the ignition starting problem to the ignition switch itself. Here I was temporarily stalled since I lacked a suitable Phillips screwdriver. I called Marian’s friend Zach using the miracle of Skype, as our T-Mobile cell phones have no coverage here. Later that evening, Zach and another of Marian’s friends, Mei Tang, showed up at the apartment bearing the needed screwdriver and chocolate chip cookies. A wonderful and much appreciated gift of comfort food.

December 22, 2012

An evaluation of the mornings internet news indicated that we had somehow survived the Mayan apocalypse during the night. Might as well pay those utility bills now! The borrowed screwdriver enabled me to disassemble the plastic cowling surrounding the ignition switch and expose the visually corroded terminals. The electronic multi-meter confirmed the obvious problem and since the ignition terminals were now exposed, I was able to easily start the engine by jamming a penny across the contacts to complete the faulty circuit.

Leaving my sick bride to nurse her cold, I headed for Kilili Beach, where the outrigger canoe club was possibly to meet at 0800 hours. The beach is just off the main coast road and is fronted by a narrow park with picnic shelters. One of the shelters was crammed with local Chamorro people and after checking out the canoes and beach, I wandered over to see what was going on. It seemed as though the group was there for a free diabetes screening, so I quickly lost interest and headed back to the beach where I met fellow paddlers Dan and Sherry. Next to show was Zach, who is the organizer of this event and although he admitted to being slightly hung over from our visit last night, the four of us soon had a canoe in the water. There was some wind producing a 12 inch chop and with only 4 people paddling a 6 paddler canoe, our progress was probably not Olympic standard. Nevertheless we paddled the canoe on a course that rounded a couple of WWII light tanks, that had been abandoned in the lagoon and were gently rusting away, with their upper decks, turrets and guns exposed. The water was clear and warm, although the wind driven chop limited the submarine visibility. This was a fun endeavor and will probably complete my upper body workout for the balance of the decade.

Outrigger Dan and Zach WWII tank in lagoon

The “penny” car starting method again worked effortlessly and after driving back to the apartment, I discovered that Annette is still sick but keeping alive with a diet of Tylenol, decongestant, chocolate chip cookies and Miller Light beer. She is not getting worse, so we hope for a full recovery in the next couple of days.

I checked the internet for a new ignition switch and found a replacement for fifty bucks. Problem is, it would not get here until after we have departed. Fortunately, I managed to get the original switch apart and cleaned all of the contacts before reassembling. Bingo! We are back in business. It works. I sorta miss the penny approach though.

December 23, 2012

Annette was feeling a little better today and we left the apartment before dawn to drive to the beach off the Garapan Lagoon. This was the loWWII tank on bunkercation of the main Allied assault during the WWII landings of June 15, 1944 - close by where I had paddled yesterday. Dawn was breaking behind the mountain to the east of us and we got a few light rain sprinkles as we walked in darkness. We were not alone on our walk and would occasionally see the flashlight of a jogger, approaching on their morning run. On our return trip it was light enough to see a WWII bunker, with the rusting remains of a Japanese tank on its roof. We had passed both within a couple of yards on our outbound track, without noticing them. All this fresh air and exercise had now exhausted my bride thus we headed back to the homestead for breakfast and more NCIS reruns.

December 24, 2012

Annette is so much recovered that we had lunch at the Hyatt with Marian’s friends, Cheryl and Randy. Annette credits her recovery to some zinc based stuff that she swears by but I credit her recovery to the chocolate chip cookies that Zach provided, plus the Miller Lite fluid therapy. We attempted to find a travel agent after lunch but many local businesses have closed early on Christmas Eve. In the evening we had been invited to a Christmas party at the home of another of Marian’s friends and a member of her jungle running club, fellow “hasher” Brian. We were sitting under the portal at Brian’s house, counting the number of geckos on the ceiling, when Annette impressed the other guests with her amazingly authentic imitation of a gecko call. Annette explained that when she lived on Guam, her mother was terrified of geckos and would pay a bounty of 50 cents to have them removed from inside the home. At 15 years old, Annette found that she could easily raise movie cash by simply importing an exterior gecko upon demand, hence her honed gecko calling skills (this Zach referred to as “gecko-location”). Brian’s home also sported a tree-house and a trampoline. Since the younger crowd had already migrated to jello-shots, we marginally more mature folks headed for home and skipped the acrobatics.

December 25, 2012

Christmas Day in Saipan! We decide to check out Obyan beach, a secluded beach on the southeast coast, in the lee of the most southerly point of the island, Naftan point. The map we were using was more of a cartoon than a map and was also labeled in Chinese or Japanese characters – I can’t tell the difference. The result was that we turned too early and headed steeply downhill on a narrow track that was overgrown by the jungle trees and was more like a lush and verdant tunnel. This track did not look like one that was frequently used but there was no opportunity to reverse course, so we plunged onwards towards the mysterious destination. This turned out to be a small field where a couple of laborers were tending vegetables. Our request for directions were met with blank looks and a wave with the back of the hand, which meant either, “please return to the main drag” or “simply piss off!” Our second attempt was more successful and we arrived at the beach parking lot to be greeted by a large sign warning us that there was no security guard and a security guard. The latter was very pleasant and wished us a Happy Christmas and to enjoy the beach. This was not hard to do. The beach was pristine, about a mile in length and occupied by a single family. The water crystal clear, warm and inviting, lapped up to strip of white coral sand perhaps thirty feet wide that backed up to the jungle. The corals were visible on the sea bed and we watched the waves breaking on the reef some seventy yards or so offshore. To the east we could see the hook of Naftan point and it seemed to be that there was a matching hook of land to west. This is an illusion and what is seen is actually the nearby island of Tinian. The channel separating Tinian from Saipan is masked by the projecting Obyan point. Although the pattern of breaking waves indicated a deeper channel, perhaps providing passage over the reef to deeper water, we had been warned that there was a rip current at the edge of the reef and the local scuba divers use a fixed line moored to the sea bed to make progress, hand over hand against the current. Annette enjoyed one of her favorite occupations of searching the rock pools, gathering shells and brightly colored pieces of coral. A wonderful Christmas experience.
road thru jungle jungle flowers remnants of a party trail to the beach Obyan beach Annette shelling

Later that afternoon we had been loosely invited to party hosted by Marian’s friend Bobbi Grizzard. Our directions were that Bobbi’s home lay on the “road to Mount Tapochao”. How hard could that be? We examined our cartoon map and determined that a turn up “Navy Hill Road” would lead us to the defined road. Exactly what happened in the middle of the map was obscured by an advertisement in Chinese characters but nonetheless we set out. The road began as four lane blacktop but soon reduced to two lane blacktop, then gravel, then dirt. The homes were further and further apart as we ground our way steeply upwards. There were several unsigned turnoffs but we made snap decisions and continued upwards. Where the hades were we going? The quality of the road was becoming desperate, with washed out gullies and deep ruts. Just as we might have been panicking, we saw intersecting power-lines on the skyline, indicating a possible road and civilization. The last fifty yards were really challenging but Marian’s two wheel drive Isuzu Rodeo somehow made it and we arrived at a tee intersection with parked cards and actual people wandering about. Our first query indicated that by some miracle we had arrived at Bobbi’s home and we parked immediately. It was now obvious that all other vehicles had arrived by the intersecting road.
the right house view from the house Santa came fireworks

There were perhaps eighty other guests at Bobbi’s party and several people that we immediately recognized from the previous night’s party plus my paddling venture in the lagoon. The view from the home was truly awesome and would have at least partly compensated for the difficulty of access on unpaved roads, that promised to be almost lethal in heavy rain. The crowd at the party were a lot of fun and many belonged to the local jungle running club, “Hashers”, as does daughter Marian. Shortly after dusk, we were startled by the cannonade of a firework display. It was with reluctance that we bade this merry group farewell and headed off into the darkness - on an entirely different unpaved road - to seek our Christmas dinner reservations in a downtown hotel.

December 26, 2012

What a fun day! We began with a visit to travel agent “Wings” in order to organize some inter-island travel from when we are in Guam. (I had tried to do this on-line but the various web-sites kicked me out as soon as I indicated that my billing address was not in the Marianas). When we had concluded our business, Annette explained to the travel-agency girl that she had a mission to locate a former high-school friend, “Johnny Lizama”. Annette had attended JFK High School on Guam in the years 1965 through 1967 and she was sweet sixteen when she knew “Johnny”. Johnny was on a scholarship to attend the school in Guam and Annette had once visited him and his family on his home island of Saipan. When we had made the decision to visit the Marianas Islands, I had conducted an internet search of the Lizama clan, looking for someone of the right age, as well as someone perhaps 20 years or so younger, who might be a son. (girls are harder to track with their various aliases). Annette had also snail mailed some 25 post cards to the various Lizama addresses, in both Guam and Saipan, detailing her search and I had placed a personal advertisement on a Guam based internet site. In addition, daughter Marian had called all the Lizama’s in the Saipan phone book and had attempted to interview them. On an island with a population of 45,000 folks are often inter-related and even if you hit the wrong Lizama, you might make a connection. As it happened, we had struck out and Annette delivered the short version of this story to the travel-agent. She said, “Yes, John Lizama owns this building and his wife owns the travel-agency”. She reached for the phone and dialed. She then said that John was in the building and he instructed her to send us up to his office. As we stepped outside, John (actually “Juan”) was leaning over the upstairs balcony and he and Annette recognized each other instantly.

Judge John and Annette We visited with John and discovered that he had switched from pre-med to law school in California (he was an “A” student), had worked in Saipan as an attorney in private practice for over a decade and had also served another decade as a Judge. He ran unsuccessfully to represent Saipan in the US Congress. We enjoyed our visit with John and left him to get back to his law-practice, as we made plans to get together later for dinner.

That evening was the Hash Full Moon run and we had been cajoled by Marian’s friend "Buttdart" to attend. “Hashing” is defined as a mixture of running, orienteering and partying. The activity traces its roots to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1938. The game is essentially a version of “Hare and Hounds”. For our “Hash”, the “Hare” was given a ten minute start and the multiple Hare’s took off running, while simultaneously marking their trail with handfuls of flour. The “Hounds” attempt to follow and to catch the “Hare” and there are many variants of this with the Hare able to lay false trails and the like. The Saipan version runs through dense jungle and may use existing jungle trails, or may simply use trails cut earlier by machete. At the conclusion of the run, there is typically a loose and irreverent ceremony involving large quantities of beer.

We met the group just after sunset in a downtown bank parking lot and then drove out to “Bird Island” at the northeast end of the island. The drive seemed to last forever, along unlit roads that lacked center or edge striping. When we arrived at Bird Island, we assembled at an overview cliff-top with a near full moon, like a “ghostly galleon, tossed on a cloudy sea”, glistening off the water below. Bird Island was fully illuminated, with the surrounding rocks crowned in silver foam. The larger ocean waves were being reflected from the base of the cliff below us and their angle formed complex interference patterns with the incoming waves, forming a ever changing light pattern in the moonlight.

The “Hares” left and after ten minutes, in company of another 40 “Hashers”, plus an amorphous quantity of dogs, we began our pursuit of them. The route began with mile or so on gravel road, the jungle and sound of the sea on our left and the deeper jungle on our right. I mentioned to experienced Hasher "Buttdart" that we were following the flashing red light some hundred yards ahead of us. It was perhaps another 10 minutes or so before she realized this was simply one of the dogs, sporting a collar with a red strobe. The various dogs were having so much fun and would wander off together but in the main orbited their masters who were unlit and invisible to us. The “Hares” trail abruptly plunged into the jungle and under the canopy of the trees, we needed to use flashlights towall of bunker locate the flour markers on the jungle floor, or on tree limbs when the undergrowth at our feet was too thick to mark. Our route took us past a large sandbagged WWII bunker and the quiet of the night was punctuated by the whistle signals of the “Hounds”and the call “On! On!” to indicate that a flour trail marker had been found. This was so much fun and by trailing the main group, we were assured that the biggest face level spider webs had already been knocked down. After an hour or so, we arrived back at our parking lot where barbeque and bonfire were already in action.

When all the Hounds had been collected, the Hashers began their ceremony, frequently interrupted by obscenities and catcalls. Since Annette and I were “newbies” (can’t remember the official “Hash” word), we were required to introduce ourselves and drink from the sacred vessel. The drink bore a remarkable resemblance to a Bud Light beer and the sacred vessel, a stainless steel bedpan. Annette introduced herself as “Mothering Unit” and I introduced myself as “Popeye” (we were instructed that “mortal names” may not be used). A really great experience with a fine group of people.

December 27, 2012

The day began with adrenaline coursing e-mail messages sent by high frequency radio from a vessel at sea. This was “SV Freewind”, a 55 foot ketch owned by our friends Frank and Jan Balmer. The first message was cryptic, titled “EMERGENCY AT SEA” and requested us to telephone their daughters and have them check their e-mail for a message. Because these messages had been sent earlier, there were already two responses and the second e-mail indicated that the daughters had received Freewind’s messages but that the latter seemed unable to receive the responses. Nevertheless, the second e-mail indicated that the Coast guard had been contacted for rescue. The third e-mail indicated that it was unnecessary for us to call and that Freewind had a steering problem. The fourth e-mail arrived minutes later and provided the intelligence that Frank and Jan had been forced to abandon ship, they were unhurt and had been taken aboard a freighter bound for Brazil. In consultation with the Coast Guard and their insurance company, the decision had been made to seal up Freewind against the elements and let her drift. She is now somewhere in the Atlantic, presumably drifting towards the Caribbean. Meanwhile, Frank and Jan are scheduled to arrive in Brazil at Trombetas, a port up the Amazon River, on January 4th.

We have known Frank and Jan for eight years and had sailed in company with Freewind in 2005 in the Vanuatu chain of islands. What a disappointing end to a cruise, that has extended well over a dozen or so years. This was to be their final ocean crossing and they intended to terminate their cruise in Galveston / Kemah, Texas and sell Freewind. We send them our heartfelt condolences and are so grateful that they were not injured.

Our day continued with a morning snorkeling from the beach we had scoped out on Christmas day. The corals were in good condition, even close by the beach and beautiful tropical fish flitted between the waving fronds of the soft corals. Annette found that she could not submerge even a foot or so, due to the aftermath of her cold, which has left her sinuses still bunged up.

That evening we visited the magnificent home of Annette’s high school friend, “Judge John”. His home sits high on the southeast coast of the island with fabulous views, both to the south and the east. We met two of John’s sons, a daughter-in-law and two granddaughters – a beautiful family. We had a merry evening and Annette got to discuss with John’s son Ken, their mutual experiences of eating fruit bat and their preferred bat recipes.

December 28, 2012

Today we decided to visit the east, or windward side of the island. Marian had left us a creased map of a jungle hike, that led to a formation called, “The Old Man by The Sea”. We cruised slowly along a winding road looking for the trailhead, when we spotted a wooden sign tacked to a tree. The trailhead itself was the narrowest opening in the jungle and marked by a single tennis shoe on the end of a branch. We carried Marian’s machete, found in the back seat of her car but this was not really necessary, other than as a good photo prop. The jungle was cloyingly dense in places, few bugs and creepers so thick, we had to crouch almost on our knees to get through tunnels in the undergrowth. At first, the trail roughly followed a drainage channel downhill but abruptly cut back uphill to a small ridge, presumably to avoid fenced property. Why anyone bothers to construct a fence in the jungle was a puzzlement, since both sides of the fence looked pretty much the same.

As we moved further downtrail, we began to hear the sound of waves and soon emerged from the vegetation into a windswept cove. The Old Man rock was on the left of the cove and the huge waves were crashing spectacularly on the rocks surrounding its base, throwing spume high into the air and a fog of wind driven water droplets from the spray. The windward side of the island is a “lee shore” for sailors and sure enough, the strand was thick with debris, flotsam, shells and all of the wonderful stuff that Annette loves to gather. Most of the best shells were “walking”, as they had already been claimed by hermit crabs. The cliffs on both sides of the cove were honeycombed with caves and large fallen rocks provided additional caves and a further accumulation of treasures cast ashore by the tide.
The trail head Annette toiling uphill dense undergrowth following the trail the Old Man by the Sea rock flotsam spray

By the time we left this magical place, Annette was carrying a heavy bag of goodies and I was concerned as to how she would handle the steep trail with this impediment. Stalwartly she toiled upwards, pausing only long enough to chase a feral chicken protecting a brood of chicks. The chicks were scurrying helter skelter through the undergrowth, pursued by the photographer, while momma chicken clucked angrily at the interloper.

new growth In the depth of the jungle, the air was still and provided a heavy, almost perfumed scent of moist vegetation. The creepers hung from trees, intertwining with branches and each other like like rustic barber poles. At our feet the jungle floor was springy between the sprouting coconuts and fallen tree stumps. A meld of decay and new growth. Occasionally we could catch a glimpse of steep rocky hillsides with boulders and cliffs. I asked my bride, “Do suppose the Garden of Eden was like this?” “No apple trees”, she replied. “Oh, right”.

Great hike.

December 29, 2012

This morning we showed up at 0800 hours for canoe-paddling at the Kilili beach but it was raining heavily and there were insufficient sober regulars to make up a crew. The numerous Christmas parties might be taking their toll of the more athletically inclined of the Saipan community but since we lack working cell-phones and their associated text messaging services, we remain at the fringe of the connected group. A good day to regroup and catch up on laundry. That afternoon we attended a retirement party for Marian’s friend Randy, who was retiring after 28 years with the US Marshall Service. His friends and co-workers had assembled a magnificent feast of local foods. The long picnic table strained to hold all of the goodies. There were lots of speeches and presentations and it was obvious that Randy was well liked in his job. We wish him a long, happy and successful retirement.
the feast exotic fares the roast pig

December 30, 2012

We had been invited to brunch this morning at the Hyatt hotel. After four hours of eating and swilling champagne, we rushed home to change our clothes and head back to Kilili beach to go paddling. Finally Annette got to paddle in an outrigger canoe as part of a crew of five.
beach flower Kilili beach paddles resting launching the canoe the first marker tank turret

December 31, 2012

We still needed to work off the effects of yesterday’s champagne marathon, thus we headed back to go snorkeling off the local beach where we had paddled the day before. In the lagoon, the water was 8 to 10 feet deep with a bed of sea grass. We swam over to the nearest of the WWII Sherman tanks we had used as paddling markers and were pleased when an Eagle ray, with perhaps a four foot wingspan swam up to us. It swam lazily by but when we turned to follow, it cranked up its motor and sped away with ease. Exciting. The tank we were examining had all its various hatches open and had obviously been in its present location for many years. The front armor showed battle damage in two places but below the main gun, it looked like the armor had been penetrated by an anti-tank round. The rusting hulk of the Sherman was home to all kinds of brightly colored reef fish but the most exciting find was on our return journey to the beach. It looked like a variety of sea-horse, although it was about eight inches long, snake-like but with the distinctive head of the sea-horse and well camouflaged in the sea grass. A Google search indicated that this is a pipefish and indeed related to the sea-horse.

That evening we had been invited to a New Year’s Eve party at Marian’s friend Kate’s home. Kate’s beautiful home is on a mountaintop site with spectacular views. It was a wonderful party with an eclectic mix of guests and we managed to stay awake beyond midnight to welcome in the New Year. Happy New Year!!

 January 1, 2013

We blearily drank coffee and tea before summoning the post-party energy to make a pilgrimage to the island of Managaha. Managaha is a small island tucked inside the protective reef at the northwest of Saipan, about two miles from the mainland. It is a very popular tourist destination and has white sand beaches, sparkling clear water, with an amazing profusion of reef fish, plus easy snorkeling off the beach. We had been told by last night’s revelers, that small boats provided a shuttle to the island, from the beach behind the hotel. Sure enough we wandered to the beach clutching our bag full of snorkel gear and were approached by a local lad asking where we were going. He guided us to a tent set up on the beach and after an exchange of cash, we were invited to board a small power boat that was bobbing nearby in the waves. After a wet ten minutes or so, we were discharged at a small pier on the island and separated from another $10 for “tax” but the fee was well worth it. We spent an hour or so drifting lazily over the coral reef, trying to take in all of the sights, colors and action of a busy live reef. It was like being inside an aquarium. The fish ignored us and seemed quite comfortable with the harmless tourists drifting through their midst, probably because for them this is a daily phenomenon. We had arranged our return passage for 12:40 p.m. and enjoyed a couple of beers and a plate of Limpia (Philippine style egg-rolls) before wandering back to the dock where we had earlier landed. We were amazed that there was a boat waiting for us at the prescribed time, admittedly a different boat and crew but they hailed us as “Admund”, which I felt was close enough.

Managaha IslandEd with snorkel gearCrew for "Admund"

That evening we found the “Thai House” for supper, where Annette devoured a whole reef fish, whose brethren we had left unscathed this morning, while Ed scoured the entire menu to find something cooked without garlic. We enjoyed visiting with the proprietor Jack Hudak, who came to the island with his Thai wife (our chef) during Saipan’s boom years. A great day topped with an excellent meal.

January 2, 2013

Today we toured the Saipan Museum of History and Culture, located in the former Japanese hospital. Since Saipan was a former colony, there still remain many buildings and artifacts of this period, as the colonial construction of the administration was generally steel reinforced concrete. We were joined by our guide and Marian’s friend, Gary Liddle. The museum was particularly enjoyable, as there were a wide range of artifacts on display covering pre-history and pre-colonization periods, as well as the various occupations. We chatted at length to the museum director, Robert Hunter, who was a fount of knowledge on the history, politics and culture of the island. Robert indicated that the artifacts on display were only a fraction of those available and we would love to have seen the balance.

Traditional Hut No Smoking or Betel Chewing Betel Nuts

Our next stop was the White Coconut Computer Services business, where proprietors Bud and Donna White graciously invited us into their home to view their collection of “found” objects. Bud built their home on the beach fifty years ago and their collection has been delivered to their back door by the ocean. Annette is a big collector of flotsam and was impressed with Bud’s collection of blown glass fishing floats.

January 3, 2013

We attempted to make flight reservations from Saipan to Tinian by internet and Skype telephone but the responses we received seemed a little too casual. We determined to make a pilgrimage to the airport to look up Freedom Air (the preferred carrier since their main competition crashed on take-off last week). We found the domestic flight terminal and parked at a meter. A large sign warned us of dire consequences if we failed to coin the meter but an examination of the entire row of meters found them all inoperative. We enquired at the ticket counter regarding a Monday flight but the agent assured us that reservations were not necessary. When they had two or three passengers, they would telephone Tinian and have them send a plane over.

Traditional dancersOur other task was to make restaurant reservations for Sunday at the hotel. Again, we thought that a personal visit was in order and after 20 minutes of scribbling notes, correcting dates and the like, we made the booking. Then we discovered that the clerk had been making reservations for the wrong restaurant, thus we began the process again. Every day an adventure!

January 4, 2013

This morning was spent packing the balance of daughter Marian’s “stuff”, followed by an expedition to the post office. We mailed forty pounds of items at US domestic postal rates, that did not fit into United Airlines checked luggage requirements. The post office receipt insists that delivery is within a couple of days but mail from Saipan is typically a couple of weeks. On the way to the P.O. we had spotted a large ACE hardware store down a side-street and visited this hallowed site on the return trip. Annette loves hardware stores almost as much as she loves beach-combing and we gazed in rapture at the water storage tanks, generators, power washers and the like. I noticed that the prices of tools were comparable to mainland prices but there were no discounts on the appliances. What we particularly noted was that just about everything is available in Saipan.

In the evening we had been invited to a wedding reception for Marian’s friend Jim’s son and new daughter-in-law. The couple hadDancing at party been married earlier on Managaha islet and following a wet boat ride, the damp couple had returned to the main island for the party. We had scouted the party location in the waning hours of daylight, a judicious precaution as it turned out. The party was a lot of fun with a small rock group singing 60’s and 70’s songs. The male singer did a such a creditable Johnny Cash impression that I found myself looking around for June Carter.

January 5, 2013

We decided to go snorkeling and noted that “Ladder beach” on the south of the island was allegedly a good location for fish spotting. When we arrived at the beach the waves were pounding well up the sand and we decided that it was too rough for casual swimmers. In fact the island has been under a “surf warning” for the past couple of days. We contented ourselves with beach combing and exploring the numerous caves on this beautiful and lonely coast. In the afternoon was a “Hash” – that is a jungle run, organized by the Saipan Hash and Harriers Club. The “run” included a lot of uphill and whilst we jogged the downhills, we definitely walked the uphill Explaining Hash symbols Hash trail Beer stop sections, albeit at a “good” pace. A brief beer stop at an apartment swimming pool, before climbing to the “finish” at an abandoned building site with wonderful views of the coast. By the time the gathering broke up, it was quite dark and we regretted not having remembered flashlights for the walk back to our car. The hardest part was the 50 yards or so through the jungle before we reached black-top. Our guiding light was red and attached to the collar of the same dog we had followed on last weeks’ Hash. This doggie was now resting peacefully in the back of its owners car and watched in puzzlement as we groped our way towards it in the blackness.

We finished the evening with a trip to daughter Marian’s favorite restaurant, “the Dumpling House”. We had fried peanuts as an appetizer and then ate the pork, shrimp. leek combo dumplings, as recommended by our dumpling gourmet offspring. Tasty but nothing like my mother’s creations.

January 6, 2013

We met Shelly for breakfast and then headed to Obyan Beach to search out a WWII Japanese bunker that we had missed on previous visits. The trail was festooned with giant, face-level spiders, thus I took the precaution of finding a large spider web swatting stick and letting Annette go first. The bunker was a substantial concrete affair and had perhaps been used as a command post. Shelly also mentioned a pre-colonial Chamorran artifact in the form of a grinding stone with multiple bowls in it for pestling. It was supposed to be some 500 meters further along the beach and although we penetrated the jungle and found lots of large rocks, none looked like the sought for mortar. The spiders growled threateningly at us and we backed out of the jungle to take refuge on the strand.

Bunker in JungleSpider hazardInside the bunker

Shelly had made afternoon reservations for a Thai massage for each of us and a high speed run across Saipan had us arriving on time. This was the first time I have ever received a Thai style massage and it rated well up amongst the better massages I have experienced. The next exciting stop was to a two story Ace hardware store! Very similar to the other Ace store we visited but more furniture.

For supper we entertained Annette’s high school friend Juan and he introduced us to a new after dinner drink / cocktail. It consisted of iced Oolong tea plus “Shocho” – a Japanese liqueur, garnished with slice of lime. Subtle flavors and the “Shocho” might be hard to find in red-neck Texas where we are living. They only began importing “Coors” recently. 


January 7, 2013

This morning we amazed even ourselves by getting out of bed early enough for an 0630 hours drive to airport. We purchased tickets for the plane from Saipan to Tinian and were told “40 minutes”. Five minutes later were were called to board a minuscule plane with room for 3 passengers plus the pilot. The flight was brief and exciting, lasting perhaps fifteen minutes. We crossed the Tinian coast and looked down on four deserted airstrips, the site of “North Field”, in 1945, the busiest airport in the world. The terminal arrival procedure was as casual as the departure procedure, we simply stepped out of the aircraft and walked through the terminal to the road beyond. A van with the logo for Dynasty Hotel and Casino was pulling up at the curb and discharged a dozen passengers. We stepped inside and the driver roared off at double the posted speed limit, to deposit us a few minutes later at the imposing hotel. Our destination was breakfast and we entered the casino to use the café there. The casino was elegantly decorated with soaring ceilings and lots of black suited employees, standing around the various roulette and blackjack tables. Similarly the café had multiple waiters and a maitre d’hotel to direct operations. What was missing was any other customer besides Annette and I. We had a great breakfast, albeit a little pricey, but the service was incredible. Michael Corleone couldn’t have asked for better. My coffee cup was instantly refilled after every sip.

The front reception at the hotel suggested that a Korean gentleman, Mr. Jang Moo Soo, would rent us a motor-scooter. They placed a call for us but he sounded really hung over and indicated that he couldn’t help us. A scooter would have been the most fun but we compromised by renting a car from Avis. A lot safer on the few roads that were unpaved and the air-conditioner worked well.

We drove the main paved road towards the north end of the island. This was called “Broadway” and was originally a divided highway. The southbound roadway was almost completely covered in jungle growth over long sections, forcing all traffic to use the northbound pavement but this did not incommode us since there were no other vehicles. Our first stop was at a “blowhole” on the northeast coast. Clouds of spray were drifting towards us as we picked our way carefully over the jagged coral rocks and the heavy surf looked intimidating. This would be an awful coast to find under your lee in a storm. The blow hole huffed and puffed as the waves came in, shooting its own pillar of spray into the air. There was a chainlink fence beside our trail with multiple signs warning us that the land on the other side had been used as a mortar range and there remained the hazard of unexploded ordinance.

Saipan from TinianBeach warningEnola Gay runwayWood roses near runwayJapanese bomb storage bunkeragressive hermit crabJapanese bomb storage bunkeratomic bomb loading pit

Our next stop was to visit the shattered remains of a Japanese bomb storage bunker that had been attacked and blown up during the Allied invasion of Tinian. The jungle was taking back the ruins and on the trail, we were chased by the most aggressive hermit crab we have ever encountered.

By now we were at the abandoned WWII airfield and we turned to drive down runway “Able”, the runway used by the B29 superfortress bomber “Enola Gay”, when it took off on August 6, 1945 bearing the world’s first and only uranium based atomic bomb and bound for Hiroshima, Japan. The crew of course did not know what device they were carrying and they believed that they were dropping a new kind of blockbuster, conventional bomb. The world’s first nuclear devices were assembled and then loaded onto a conventional hydraulic lift before being lowered into a pit prepared specifically for this purpose. The B29 was towed over the pit and the hydraulic lift then raised the bomb into the B29’s bomb bay, until it could be winched into place. The reason for this procedure was simply that the bombs were too large for the conventional bomb loading technique. A second pit and hydraulic lift had also been prepared for the second weapon, a plutonium based device that was loaded aboard the B29 “Bock’s Car”, which took off on August 9, 1945 for the attack on Nagasaki. The two bomb loading pits still exist and have been protected from the elements with a transparent cover. It was strange to consider that the weapons developed in Los Alamos, the small town that we can see from the windows of our Santa Fe, New Mexico property, had travelled all the way to this remote spot in Tinian. They had been shipped on the heavy cruiser Indianapolis. The ship unloaded its cargo on July 26, 1945 and was sent to the bottom by Japanese torpedoes, four days later.

Japanese power stationJapanese power stationA few hundred yards from this spot was the remains of the Japanese power station. The building had received heavy damage from marine artillery fire and I was amazed to read that US construction crews salvaged the two generators following the invasion. It seemed impossible that any machinery would have survived the shelling in usable condition.

We continued our tour of the west side of the island and next visited “White Beach 2”, the invasion beach used during the marine assault. The beach was enfiladed by aWhite Beach 2 bunker large bunker which bore evidence of battle damage. A few hundred yards south of the assault beach was the remains of a landing craft mounted on a concrete platform at a road intersection. Supposedly the combat construction engineers brought makeshift ramps, built from lumber salvaged form the sugar mill on Saipan. These ramps allowed the tracked vehicles and tanks to mount the protective reef and drive up the assault beaches. This was a beautiful, deserted little beach and it was difficult to relate what we were seeing, with the image of a desperate battle involving the mass slaughter of human beings. This WWII assault was the first time that aircraft delivered napalm had been used in warfare.

Tinian is noticeable flatter than Saipan and the Seabees had built straight and flat roads. The exception to this was at the new airport in the south, where we were forced to divert over unpaved dirt and rocks and I was reminded again that having a rental car is almost the same as having four wheel drive.

Smoke ahead of us announced the location of the Tinian trash dump. Annette likes trash dumps almost as much as she likes hardware stores, so we stopped to take photographs.

By now were getting hungry and stopped at a café bar to share a plate of “lumpia”, the Philippine version of Chinese spring rolls. Annette admitted that when she lived in these islands as a teenager, the treat of eating “lumpia” was equivalent in today’s terms to hitting McDonald’s for a burger.

Lumpia and beer sated, we next sought the renowned “Taga House” and “Taga Well”. This was amazing. Some 800 years ago, a Chamorran chief “Taga”, had built a huge house mounted upon a dozen huge pillars, fifteen feet high, called “latte” stones. A drawing of the scene made in 1742 by a British Commodore shows all twelve Taga HouseTaga Housestones standing, in two rows of six but today only a single stone remains standing. What is remarkable is that these stones weigh perhaps 18 tons apiece and were carved by a society that lacked metal tools. The pillars are roughly rectangular and are tapered towards the top, an architectural technique used by the ancient Greeks to give the impression of height. The pillars were topped with a huge capstone, that I estimated at 6 feet diameter and 4 foot thick giving an EE (Ed estimated) weight of around 10 tons. I have seen two artist’s impressions of what the house itself looked like and they were quite different in their treatment of roof support beams but both designs had the construction based upon heavy lumber posts and beams atop the capstones. The Taga house is located at the best natural harbor of the island and was the site of a large pre-colonization village. I speculated as to whether the design was intended to give the inhabitants (or at least the chief’s family) some protection against tsunami’s. Whereas the cities along the US mainland’s third coast have highway signs indicating hurricane evacuation routes, the islands we have visited have similar signs indicating tsunami evacuation routes.

On our return to Saipan we waited for perhaps 90 minutes, until we were motioned to board the plane as the only two passengers. It was the same pilot and aircraft as theour shuttleSaipan approachwindshield repair morning flight, only this time I got to sit in the co-pilot seat. I noted that oil pressure, temperature and fuel levels were all in the normal range but also noticed a crack in the windshield that looked as if it had been sewn back together before being “Scotch” taped. This minor mechanical imperfection did not impede another short but exciting flight between the two islands and as we crossed the coast of Saipan, we were able to look down upon the beaches we had visited over the past few days from an altitude of 800 feet or so.

January 8, 2013

Chores day. Annette used the apartment laundry while I began repacking our three large suitcases, again holding their weight below the airline mandated 50 pound figure. We also sorted out the household items that were to be donated to Marian’s friends and arranged for a morrow walk-through with the apartment leasing management. The process took most of the day, as we waited for clothing to complete the drying process so that it could be packed. In the evening we made a run to meet Shelly, as she had made an appointment for Annette to visit Martin, a local jewelry craftsman. We drove to Martin’s workshop to view his wares and in the darkness, walked between cages of fighting roosters that Martin tends for his father. Martin indicated that there were over a hundred cocks on the property and I was curious as the wastage in competition. I asked Martin how often his father fought the cocks, such as weekly? Martin explained that to be impossible, since it is necessary to put up a betting stake of two to three hundred dollars for each fight. His father is a retired government employee and needed to wait for his monthly retirement check in order to have the necessary funds. I observed that the additional expense of the care and feeding of over a hundred birds wasn’t exactly chickenfeed.

That evening we finally made it to Godfather’s Pizza for their Tuesday night one dollar taco special. It seemed that the whole island was there and this is obviously a favorite hang-out of the younger crowd (i.e. younger than Annette and me). Godfathers also had the best beer menu that I have seen on Saipan.

January 9, 2013

Today, the day we leave Saipan. We had to finish packing and the few remaining items were crammed into two “if it packs, it ships”, boxes before making a final pilgrimage to the US Post office. After lunch we tried the movie theatre but discovered that the matinees begins at 4:00 p.m. – too late for us. We met the canoe paddling crew at Kilili beach for a final farewell as well as the transfer of the last batch of “giveaways” of unneeded household items. Next met Shelly at the Pacific Island Club beach bar for happy hour, sunset and the famed “free” potato skins. Finally, it was time to make the dash in the darkness to the airport, where we abandoned Marian’s car for later pick-up by a friend and anxiously watched as the check-in agents weighed our bags. Saipan farewell! At 10:30 p.m. we landed on the island of Guam.

Several people have e-mailed me expressing concern for the crew of Freewind and for an update on their condition. I received the following letter from Frank this morning.

We are safe and sound back in Tacoma. We arrived Saturday night after a long long trip from Macapa, Brazil on the Amazon River. Following is the letter I sent to our insurance agent that explains what happened to Freewind.

Hopefully Brandi got a hold of you right away and told you we had been rescued. That was an experience in its own right. Watching a 225 meter bulk carrier bearing down on you, getting tied on and then climbing a 65 foot ladder in 15 foot seas and 20 plus knots of wind to the deck.

I want to reassure you that we are very cautious and conservative cruisers. As we do before any major trip we check out all systems and then go for a few days of short hops to make sure all is working and in order. Oil and filters on the main and gen set engines are changed. Fluid levels in the heat exchangers, transmission, and steering are checked. Electronics including radar, radios, GPS, AIS, auto pilot, and charging system are checked. Packing gland on the rudder post, the drippless seal on the main shaft, pumps, float switches, quadrant cables are all inspected and serviced if needed. Sails, rigging and standing rigging are serviced. Prior to this trip some running rig was replaced, sails were serviced with new sail covers and leach and foot tapes replaced and the main recut. A backup auto pilot was installed. The boat was pulled to service the Max Prop as well as clean the bottom. As you know the list is endless. All was in order and in top shape when we left the Canary Islands on Dec 21.

We chose the usual route to the Caribbean, "sail south until the butter melts and turn right". Our destination was Granada. On the morning of the 26th and about 650 miles down route we lost the hydraulic steering. We recharged the system and bled the air. After about 1/2 hour it failed again. I checked the system for obvious leaks but could find none. I used nearly all my supply of hydraulic fluid to again recharge the system. It failed again. This time I noticed fluid leaking through the headliner in the rear cabin and head. The only thing I can think of is that there had been a failure in the helm pump that caused fluid to pump out through the vent cap of the pump. I don't know for sure but it is the only place the fluid could have been coming from. This pump is only 6 years old and was installed in Australia after the original pump began to fail after 25 years. It had never given us any problems. We installed the emergency tiller and I tried to steer by hand but was simply not strong enough; within 1/2 hour I was so tired I could hardly move! I did not have the strength to keep the boat on course, more or less turn it. I tried to lash the rudder in place, but that did not work either and it kept heading up into the wind.

Weather was really bad with winds 20-25 knots gusting to 35 knots regularly. Waves were running 15 feet. Weather forecast for the next several days was for 20 knots and 11 foot seas, and after that 15 knot winds and 9 foot seas. My experience has always been that it blows more than they say it will and seas are rougher than advertised. I considered lashing the rudder hard over and sailing that way. As the boat would only hold course into the wind that meant a land fall on the coast of Sub-Saharan Africa, sailing into forecast 20 knots, and a 5-7 day trip minimum. None of this coast is particularly hospitable and is one of the worlds hotbeds of piracy. At this point we decided to call for help. We knew that physically and health wise we were not up to the challenge. We are both 70 (me not until Feb); I suffer from high blood pressure and have a history of heart problems as well as a pulmonary embolism. I knew I would probably not be able to take the strain and sure enough did not have the strength. If something happened to me Janice would be out of luck and lost. By this time Janice was black and blue from numerous bruises from head to foot due to being tossed about in an uncontrollable boat.

Another worry was that we had not seen or heard another ship since we left the Canaries, not even on the AIS. We had commented that this is the first time we had gone so long without seeing another boat. Who would rescue us? We called on VHF and sent out an emergency call via automated channel 70, no answer. We called all the SSB emergency frequencies several times, no answer. It was then that we emailed our daughters asking them to call the USCG for directions and suggestions and to call you so we could get some feeling as what we should do with the boat. The USCG sent us an email telling us to turn on the EPRIB and that they had contacted Madrid and Dakar, Madrid handed off to Rabat. You also responded. About the same time I saw an AIS indicator on the chart. A bulk carrier Jade had intercepted the channel 70 burst and had altered course to offer assistance. They were about one hour away. We made visual contact with Jade at 22 17.7 N 026 49.8 W and the rescue took place.

I suppose that I was looking to you and the USCG for some reinforcement that we were doing the right thing, in my mind there was not a question. The advice in so many words was to save ourselves and make the boat as secure as possible.

The rescue took a terrible toll on Freewind. It took 5 attempts for the huge ship to latch on to us. There was a lot of crashing around and damage on the second try. Due to the strong wind and seas all of the lines parted. How I was even to move around on deck and catch the lines was a frightening experience, how I stayed on the boat and out of the sea is truly a miracle. Seas were still at at least 10 feet and the wind was still in the 20 plus range. On the last try we made fast to Jade. I made a line fast to the base of the main mast and others to two deck cleats. They also lashed the main up higher to their rail to help stabilize Freewind. Freewind was further severely damaged. Standing rigging was broken, bent and stretched, basically ruined. Mizzen mast was broken loose on one side and the boom was ruined along with the furling. The sail was in shreds. A falling spreader missed my head by inches. Port side rail, toe rail and life lines ruined. Anchor ripped free. Main mast most likely damaged when used to anchor Freewind to Jade. It appeared that the joint in the mast had cracked, maybe not but the filler was missing at the joint. The davits were bent causing a crack on the stern of the boat where they were attached. Dink was damaged and outboard lost. Somehow one of my or Jades lines wrapped around the prop shaft; the smoke would indicate that the transmission is no more and most likely the shaft is bent and the prop damaged. The engine??? Running rigging was cut, crushed and lost when caught between the two vessels. Most troubling was banging of the Jade against Freewind. On several occasions you could hear the cracking and snapping of wood and fiberglass. There is no doubt the hull deck joint is broken, the hull cracked and most likely bulkheads broken. The captain of Jade told me that she was most likely taking on water and would eventually sink when I asked his thoughts on what would happen to Freewind. He also added that he feels he saved our lives and that we would not have been able to continue in the bad weather.

I really doubt that if recovered the boat could ever be restored to her previous condition, the cost would be prohibitive. Even if attempted would she ever be right again?

That pretty well tells the story; we lost our boat, our dreams. Tens of thousands of dollars of private property were lost; watches, wedding rings, jewelry, electronics, camera, art, and clothing. But as the Captain said our lives were safe all the rest can be replaced. We thank God for our rescuers and their professional ability. All the crew has been friendly and supportive. In thirty years this is his first rescue and he is rightly proud. We are bound for Brazil and will arrive on Jan 4. At that time we will make arrangements to return home to Tacoma and start anew.

Since this letter was sent the insurance company has declared Freewind a total loss and is not even going to make an attempt to find her. They have indicated that there is no question as to our coverage, and we will be fully compensated for our loss up to the limits of the policy. This will in no way cover the personal property that we lost but the boat is fully covered for its value, this is of course a very heavy load off our minds.

The Chinese freighter that picked us up was in its own right an experience. Although a ladder was lowered to climb up on, it was 65-70 feet from Freewind to the deck of the frieghter, we were too tired and the weather was too rough to make the climb. I tied a safty line to Jan that was lowered by the crew above and she was hoisted to the deck. She says it was the scariest thing that she has ever done. Next they lowered the line for me and I was hauled up the steel wall of the ships side to the deck above. We had a bag of clothes packed to take with us, but since we had to be hoisted up there was no opportunity to take it with us. We had only the clothes on our backs and they did the best they could to make us comfortable and welcome. Since we had no clothes we had to wash every other day. We would shower, Frank would wrap himself in a towel and take our clothes to the laundry and then we would sit around in our cabin for an hour in the nude waiting for the clothes to wash and dry. Members of the crew gave us a case of beer for our cabin as well as tins of cookies and soft drinks. Everyone on the boat was so nice and the job they did in picking us up was absolutely fantastic. We found out during the trip that we were quite the celebrities in Taiwan. The captain had taken our pictures with him on the bridge and sent them to his son who in turn put them on face book. From there they were picked up by the news and tv people. The captain has relatives in Seattle one of whom has a restaurant in Chinatown whom we plan to look up. He will be visiting Seattle in the near future with his wife and we plan to get together with him at that time.

Our experience with the Brazilian authorities was far from as pleasant as with the Chinese. Since we did not have visas to visit Brazil they were not going to let us get off the bulk carrier to fly home. It was not until major intervention by the US Embassy that they finally gave in and granted us emergency clearance. Even at that we had to pay a bribe to the local authorities just to get off the boat.

We are still suffering from a bit of adrenalin shock and let down. It is really surprising just how much something like this can take out of you. Just yesterday Jan said out of the blue "I just realized that we won't be going back to the boat". In spite of the fact that we were planning on selling the boat after this season she also expressed a feeling of sadness that the boat was without someone to take care of her, and that if sold, she would have at least had a new owner, I totally agree with her in that evaluation. We are also beginning to cope with the overwhelming job of replacing everything we need. We have a much greater feeling of respect for those who lose everything in a flood, tornado, fire, etc. I'm sure it will be many months before we get this all done as there will be things that come up missing that don't realize are missing until you need them. Over the next couple weeks we will also be shopping for a car as well as looking at houses.

We have decided to live here in Washington close to the kids and grandkids. We have been gone for 10 years and have missed a lot and really want to make up for lost time. Hopefully we will adjust to the colder wetter, climate; this always has been our greatest concern about North West living. We most likely will get away a couple months in the winters to warmer climes.

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers during this trying time. They softened the blow and helped us get through it all.

Frank and Janice