Saturday, 1 November 2014

So long and thanks for all the fish



Yet again it’s been a while since my last post. Not really sure how to sum up the last few months here in Palau but the gist of it is that I’ve made the decision to leave and return home. There have been a number of factors that have contributed to this decision but essentially it comes down to having nothing to do. The diving dried up (pun intended) in May with the start of the low tourist season and I’ve only ‘worked’ two days since. 

After a few months of no diving I decided I needed to do something here and tried valiantly to either get a proper job or volunteer my time here. Rather typical for Palau lots of people/organisations were super keen to have me volunteer my time but no one could be bothered getting back to me to tee something up. This is something that a number of other expats have experienced as well.
So essentially the last 5 months for me have been much like the movie Groundhog Day (but with significantly less Bill Murray). The volunteer stipend we receive doesn’t stretch very far at all so I end up spending my days sitting at home wasting my time just waiting for the next social catch up. I couldn’t even do an online course due to the poor quality of the internet here. 

Jake Seaplane - many thanks to Emma for the photo
It all came to a head twice over recent months where I cracked it with living here. Once back in September where I started thinking about going home and once again a few weeks ago in early October. I know a lot of you would be thinking how great it would be to sit around with nothing to do on a beautiful island but the reality is quite different, especially after near 5 months with nothing to do. 

Amanda and I had quite a few discussions about what we should do and we ended up realising that the best option was for me to return home, look for work and restart my old life. Fittingly, the lease on our unit back home just expired so I could walk straight back in the door to my home.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing my family & friends, eating some good food, drinking some good beer, seeing some live bands, watching some Montreal Canadiens games, abusing some high speed internet and getting back into playing hockey & drums again (wish I didn’t sell my drums now).

Teshio wreck - Many thanks to Karen/Dave
Since making the decision a few weeks ago I’ve been enjoying living here a little more – knowing that my time here is almost over. As frustrating as this place can be I know I will miss it but I can’t stay here any longer either. No place is perfect and while a lot of people may hate the big city lifestyle, I need to head back there for a while. Palau is a great place to visit and if you have any interest in diving or it’s definitely worth it. Living here is a little tougher as the place starts to wear you down after a while. Regular trips ‘off-island’ are advisable if you can afford it. I don’t regret coming here, it’s been a fantastic experience and has definitely been one of the best decisions I/we’ve made. After some time back at home I’d definitely consider living abroad again but maybe in a fully paid position this time. 

After meeting so many great people and having so many awesome adventures here I will be sad to leave (especially as I have to leave my wife behind for a bit) but it’s time to go!


So long Palau and thanks for all the fish dives.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

An update on MHP#2 (karate kicking guy)

Today while sitting in the coffee shop again, MHP#2 (aka the karate kicking dude) put on a display right in front of my window. He tried in vain multiple times to fall into traffic. I have no idea how he didn't get cleaned up by a car in one particular instance, it must have been damn close. 

I've now worked out that he is not attempting to karate kick but to practice Baseball pitching! He stands sideways, brings his hands together then very suddenly kicks out his left leg and throws his right arm back. This leads to an instant and explosive loss of balance, I'm quite impressed that he never actually goes down and somehow regains his balance. 

taking a break from practice

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A couple of interesting characters



While sitting at the local coffee shop this morning I was reminded of a couple of the local 'interesting characters' aka Mental Health Patients. I thought it might make a humorous read so here you go:

MHP#1
One day after dropping Amanda at work I was headed for the coffee shop. While heading down the driveway from her work to the main road there was a guy walking right in middle of the small lane. He obviously had not heard my car come up behind him, so instead of beeping him I thought I’d be patient and wait for him to finish walking down. At some point he suddenly noticed me (a respectable distance) behind him, he jumped and ran to the edge of the lane. I waved and smiled at him as I passed him. As I turned onto the main road he yelled something and waved at me. I slowed as I thought he might have something important to say. This was a mistake! Turns out he was just looking for a lift into town. I was put on the spot so I said yes...

We introduced each other but I found it very hard to understand him. He asked me about why we were here and wanted to guess where we were from. After wrongly guessing numerous American states I told him he was guessing the wrong country entirely, after a few more wildly inaccurate guesses (he wouldn’t let me to tell him the answer) I started giving him some hints like Southern Hemisphere, Starts with the letter ‘A’ (he then immediately guessed a country not starting with ‘A’). After he guessed a few more American states I decided to tell him it was Australia. I’m not sure he’d ever heard of it as he still seemed convinced it should have been an American state. I tried to tell him where it was and mention Kangaroos and Koalas but this made him more confused. I changed the topic. 

He told me he worked for the local office supply store and was headed back to the office in town after a meeting at the hospital. I thought this was a little odd seeing he was bumming a lift off me, he wasn’t well dressed and he smelled a little. He went onto babble some shit I couldn’t understand and we had a fairly uncomfortable ride as we couldn’t converse particularly well. As we neared his workplace I had to slow the car down to allow someone to finish crossing the road (away from a zebra crossing). MHP#1 flips out at this and leans way across me to scream out my window at them. He yells some crap about how they shouldn’t be jay walking and how it was a crime in Palau. I don’t think the jay walker would have heard his rant but I sure did. After shrugging him off so I could hold the steering wheel without him leaning on me we finally neared his workplace moments later. I gladly let him out and continued on to the coffee shop. 

Wouldn’t you know it, not more than half an hour later I caught him (beer in hand) jay walking twice across the main road causing all sorts of traffic issues. 

Since this incident I’ve seen him a pile of times jay walking and wandering around town with a beer and smoke in hand. Obviously it’s been a while since he worked at the office supply store if he ever did at all.

MHP#2
There is this older guy maybe about 60 years old, tall-ish, thin who has clearly had a hard life. Often he is wandering around town, walking right on the edge of the road. This in itself is rather unremarkable but what what makes this guy unique are the massive karate kicks he'll attempt to pull off, these are completely random and without any warning. And I'm talking massive somewhat uncoordinated spin-o-rama heel kicks! 

I don’t think he’s necessarily aiming at cars but in his (probably) inebriated state and his preference for standing right on the edge of the road it becomes a rather significant issue for passing cars. Especially when he starts to lose his balance and almost falls into traffic after an attempted kick. 

At one point I hadn’t seen him for some time, I wondered if he had either successfully landed a kick or if he unsuccessfully kept his post-kick balance. But I’m glad to say he’s ok and back to his karate kicking best (with vengeance!)

Monday, 21 July 2014

Tales from the High Seas



Yes I am alive! Despite my lack of blogging I did in fact survive sailing some 600 nautical miles across the middle of the ocean. I have plenty of stories to tell about fighting monstrous sea beasts, trading with spice merchants and drinking with murderous pirates, but I’m sure you’ve all heard those stories many times before so I won’t bore you with those details. 

After our departure was delayed by a rather tardy Palauan customs officer we were finally underway around high noon. We headed out of the Malakal bay towards Palau’s west passage and were promptly hit with a pretty solid squall with up to 30 knot winds. While it didn’t last long it did give us a little taste of what we would experience later in the trip. 

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, I learnt the ropes of the boat (literally) and I reeled in a black fin tuna that we had for dinner that night. By nightfall, the seas had increased enough that the constant bouncing around started getting to me. After eating and dividing up the night shifts I thought I’d grab a shower and try and get a quick nap in before my first shift at 11pm. The shower cubicle is rather small and the seas were rough enough that I was physically bouncing off the walls. This didn’t help my stomach at all and I promptly had to locate the toilet, lucky it was right next to the shower.
Somehow I got a little bit of sleep before the first of my two shifts overnight. With the exception of one night we normally ran shifts of 2 hours on, 4 hours off. Tasks for the night shift are; regularly checking for any obstacles in our path, watching the AIS electronic tracking system (and radar), keeping the boat on course, watching the wind strength and direction and adjusting or putting up and down the jib as appropriate. 

Despite still feeling sea sick I enjoyed my two night shifts on the first night. In fact the night shifts were my favourite part of the whole trip. I truly enjoyed the peacefulness of sitting by myself up on the deck, listening to music, staring at the wide open ocean and regularly checking the controls.
What became a little tough over the next few days was the lack of a decent length sleep. You’d regularly sleep 4 or 5 separate times in each day. Add to that the difficultly in sleeping in a boat… Imagine your bed quickly rising and falling between your ceiling and the floor in your room. Then add the noise from waves hitting the hull and various typical boat noises; winches, pullies, motors, sails etc etc

But back to #2 two, after getting sea sick on the first night this lasted throughout the next day and only abated late on the second night. Thankfully I was now used to the constant rocking and bouncing around that I didn’t suffer any further from sea sickness. 

The next few days continued much the same, we only passed two other boats in the first 3 days, both very large container ships heading towards Palau. Otherwise there was nothing to see at all. Before the trip I wondered if I’d have some sort of epiphany with being in the middle of the ocean but you can only see so far and it’s rather difficult to comprehend the size of the ocean and just how small you are in comparison. The only way you could get any concept was to check the GPS system.

Outside of the shifts and sleeping there often wasn’t a huge amount of time left in the day. I did a little reading but not as much as I had expected to do. We also did a number of maintenance jobs around the boat. I’m now an expert in hatch repair and also am pretty good at scrubbing the decks and washing dishes ;)

We had a day or so with average weather which made it less enjoyable, more so because I couldn’t sit in my favourite chair on the top of the deck during my shifts. 

As we neared the Philippines things got a little more exciting, we had to keep an eye out for FAD’s (Fish Activation Device). These are anything from ropes, chains or more complex metal structures anchored or hanging down from a large metal float. These are supposed to help coral and fish grow, but the Philippines are so overfished that everyone just goes and fishes around these devices. So nothing gets a chance to grow or spawn. The biggest issue to us with these FADs is that they often don’t show on the radar and are sometimes painted black. Perfect for running into and smashing up your boat. 

As well as looking out for these we started encountering various sized Filipino fishing fleets and huge container ships heading North. 

The weirdest encounter we had was at 125 nautical miles off the coast of the Philippines we suddenly noticed this guy on a tiny motorised canoe come up alongside us. At first he wanted some petrol from us, after saying no we continued to see him around us for a while until he again came over asking for water. We filled up his container and also gave him some juice and a pair of sunglasses. He was so thankful he gave us his rather meagre catch for the day. Again he was visible around us for a while longer before coming back a third time, this time I was not sure whether he wanted some food off us or whether he wanted to give us more for the juice and sunglasses. Either way we said no and he thanked us again and headed off. Given how far we were away from the coast and how little he was provisioned with, we can only assume he had a mother ship around somewhere. 

After almost 5 days we finally saw land again at the bottom of Davao, down the southern end of the Philippines. We rounded the point late in the afternoon but still had near another 12 hours of sailing up to the marina on Samal Island. We would only run for another few hours before stopping for the night. The biggest concern was running into one of the hundreds of tiny unlit fishing boats crawling everywhere. 

The next day we headed up to the marina, the boat was due to be hauled out to have some significant repairs and maintenance completed. Once safely moored we did some more work around the boat before retiring for a hard earned beer. 

I stayed only the boat another couple of nights before heading up to Manila for a few days prior to flying home. If I can find the impetus I’ll write a post about my Davao City/Manila experiences.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and am very thankful for the opportunity and experience. I don’t think they’ll ever make a true sailor out of me but I’m open to doing another trip like this if the situation is right.




my bunk for the week


the open ocean
my favourite spot on the boat, bonus points if you spot the container ship!
old mate 125 nautical miles off the coast
a near miss with a 300m long container ship




the controls
One of the rainy days
not much to see on the open ocean
another 'close call'
Land Ho!
Morning mist around Davao
Heading into the marina