Shipwrecks and Sand Shoals

Wreck of The MazaruniSome snapshots of the M/V Mazaruni wreck along the banks of the Essequibo…
Wreck of The Mazaruni

And the creek behind the shipwreck, a quiet, shady winding waterway where we spotted boa constrictors in the water, and powder blue morpho butterflies.
Gabriel's Creek
Gabriel's Creek
Gabriel's Creek
Gabriel's Creek

We nearly became a shipwreck, ourselves, entering the Essequibo…we hit a sandy shoal as the tide was going out, and had to sit leaning onto our side for 7 hours, waiting for the tide to come back in and float us free.
Guyana April12 In just two feet of fresh river water, we had the brilliant idea of jumping into the river and making use of the time having a wash, rinsing the accumulated salt from our deck, our dishes…I very nearly did the laundry, but the tide was coming back in by then.

It was a bizarre sight, this sailboat in the middle of that wide river, surrounded by water, walking around their boat, heads crowned with shampoo bubbles…


Sextant navigation made simple(r)

manual titleJust before we left South Africa I asked Kris to teach me how to navigate using a sextant. We have a distrust of electronics on the boat (salt water and electronics do not love each other) because we have seen too many people rely on these gadgets, and then flounder when the gadgets malfunctioned.

Besides, there is romance in navigating using an old-fashioned sextant that modern-day GPS’s don’t seem to possess. As one sailor we met put it, what is these days referred to as “the science of astronavigation” was, once upon a time, called “the art of atronavigation”. We’ll take the art over the technology, anytime.

Kris has only ever navigated using a sextant and an accurate timepiece, and when we are sailing he uses it every day, so he’s got the operation of this beautiful piece of equipment down to a simple and functional process. When he was trying to teach me how to use it he wrote a short manual, because lots of other people have expressed the desire to learn from him, and he hasn’t got the time to sit with them all. So we’ve fixed this file up, added a few diagrams and some (admittedly poor photographs of) pages of a nautical almanac to assist with the equations, and it’s up for sale as a PDF file in my ETSY shop.

fig 1 sextant schem

A lot of people ask me to teach them sextant navigation. While the actual process is simple and easy, to become a confident navigator requires time and practice. I’ve seen so many people discouraged by the technical jargon used to explain celestial mechanics, that I have decided to write a simple how-to manual, leaving out anything that is not essential. You do not really need to understand the underlying spherical geometry to become a proficient navigator. If it takes your fancy, you can fill in the gaps later, but in the 1970ies when I learned the sextant myself, most skippers just did the trick without bothering about the theory, and it still worked.

The only mathematics involved in this manual are addition and subtraction of angles…6th grade algebra. The first man to circumnavigate the globe using a sextant and reliable clock, Captain James Cook, only had two years of formal education. When he joined the Navy at the age of 12 he could barely read and write…roughly the equivalent of a High School Certificate, these days.

I will assume that you are familiar with the concepts of latitude and longitude; namely that the Equator is designated as zero degrees of latitude, the North Pole lies on latitude 90° north and the South Pole is on 90° south.

Sections included in this manual:

  • Introducing the Sextant
  • The Nautical Almanac
  • Latitude
  • Longitude
  • Position Line
  • Finding Your Position and Some Dirty Tricks

19 pages, with 15 illustrations/figures.


i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

I came home last Wednesday night to the best thing possible: four long letters from Kris in my Inbox! Forty-five days after leaving Darwin, he was in Pemba, Mozambique.

My heart is singing, morning and night.

 Screen shot 2014-07-25 at 6.29.56 PM

Don’t let go of that thread…

what ships are built for

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

By William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

Besides my creative life (which keeps me sane and relevant to myself) there is only Kris, really. Everything and everyone else can fall away and I might suffer a period of regret or pain or loss, but I would get over it quicker and with less trauma than you’d expect, because he stands opposite the sorrow, and balances me out. He is my ball of thread: that wonderful fairytale device that the heroine lets unwind before her, and that leads her through the world. I was an insufferable goose when he met me…I owe him for who I am today. He gave me both the space I needed to open fully, and a scrupulously honest mirror with which to see myself. And because I wanted so much to be worthy of him, I pushed to go beyond the garden-variety mediocrity of my early self.

Today he set sail for South Africa…a dream that’s been in the works for two years. When he gets there, and as soon as I’ve tied up a few of my loose ends here (two exhibitions, and my citizenship, basically), I will fly to catch up with him in either Durban or Brazil (depends on how long my loose ends take).

So my lover, my greatest teacher and my best friend all left together on one sailboat. The ball of thread is out of sight, and stretching ominously. The pull to be with him is tremendous. Things that I thought were important, last month, or felt I couldn’t possibly leave undone, suddenly seem like so much insignificant mucking around. Over the next few months I will slowly cut myself free of the ties here, and let him reel me in.

I didn’t get any pictures of Kris leaving, this time, so have re-used some shots from two years ago, taken the morning he left for S.E.Asia (he was gone four months).

swallowed by the fog

He was intentionally vague about his departure…didn’t want any parties, last minute well-wishers, or the generally curious trying to catch up for one last handshake, lame joke, or to ask the same dozen questions he has answered, over and over again, since he first built his steel Chinese-junk-rigged sailboat and started sailing around without the usual engine, GPS, EPIRB, digital charts, radio, solar panels, water-maker, or toilet. As you can imagine, some people find it hard to grapple with that, or with the idea of man at the mercy of the sea and no thing to rely upon but himself. But getting away from mankind is what attracted Kris to sailing, in the first place, and he goes out there to be alone with the great ineffable force that some call The Universe, Being, or God.

On his Monsoon Dervish website, Kris bids you all farewell:

“I’ll be turning 60 later this year. I’ve been working for a living for the past 40 years and I am tired of working. Humans are the only animals who work for a living. All other creatures live for a living. And I still have five years to go till my old age pension. I have decided I am going sailing for those five years. I will live for a living, like all other creatures in the world.”

Bon voyage, my love, and I’ll see you in Durban…or Paraiba!

Sea pangs

An old friend dropped in on the Sonofagun yesterday. We haven’t seen Warwick Hill for years…and learned that he’s been very busy, living a very adventurous, high-energy life, and that he and his partner, TJ, have been filming all their experiences at sea. I’ve just watched the DVD of their latest documentary, No Fixed Address, this morning. Twice in a row. I loved it. Going to get a few copies, now, for other friends who live on boats and dream of sailing after a life of adventure and freedom and beautiful coastlines.

The following two videos are just short teasers, covering two separate adventures that Warwick, TJ, and their Indonesian-built perahu, Oelin, had…but they’ll give you an idea of what the full-length documentary is like:

No Fixed Address is available from Warwick and TJ’s website,, either as a DVD or an mp4 download.

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Ex-tra! Ex-tra! Sailor stuck in seas off Darwin!

the great hero to the rescue ;)

I got 8 phone calls at work last Thursday, everyone telling me “There’s an article about Kris in today’s paper!” Claire de Lune left Darwin Wednesday late afternoon, nearly four days after Kris sent word via Coastwatch that he needed help.

I am so relieved that the boat’s owner is under way. I wish them well, and hope the trip back is smooth and trouble-free. I also think the week at sea will do John a lot of good…he’s just bought a sailboat, and this will give him a good taste of what it can be like at sea, so he knows what he’s gotten himself into. ;) I am deeply grateful to Paul, the unnamed skipper of Claire de Lune, who was ready to leave the very same night that Kris sent the message.

No more worries. I was given the number of Kris’ satellite phone, and spoke to him on Wednesday morning. He’s running a bit low on food, but has plenty of water and is fine…just sick of being out there, going nowhere, and wanting to get it all over with now. I hope to see him some time next week. Meanwhile, I have four days off starting tomorrow, and hope to use it interestingly.

Red sky at morning

6 a.m.

 “Like a red morn that ever yet betokened,
Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field,
Sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds,
Gusts and foul flaws to herdsmen and to herds.”
—W. Shakespeare, from
Venus and Adonis

 Customs planes flying over the Kimberley area thought Kris was having some trouble because he wasn’t using his two main sails, just the mizzen, and there’s a low pressure in the area. The message he gave them was to “contact the sailboat’s owner and arrange to tow the sailboat back to Darwin.” I was a bit of a basket case, of course…my imagination took over and worried the hell out of me! Yesterday a plane managed to deliver a satellite phone to Kris, and they spoke to him.

He’s fine, plenty of food and water still, but with the strong winds (blowing in the wrong direction) he’s reluctant to use the boat’s sails. These have been rotting inside the boat for several years, and might blow apart.  Also, the boat is taking on a little bit of water that, so far, the bilge pumps have been taking care of. Now that the monsoons are starting up and it will be raining more often, Kris is worried that the solar panels that charge the bilge pumps will stop charging, and then the boat will start to fill up with water. On top of this, the monsoon winds, once they are established, will be against him, anyway. It’s taken him a whole week to make 100 nautical miles…a distance that, with good winds and a good boat, you’d normally do in just over a day.

My guess is that, on the whole, Kris figures the best way to avoid this whole thing ending in tragedy (i.e. loss of White Bird) is to just tow the boat home. The sailboat, White Bird, had been sitting in Bali for years—unmaintained—after its owner died there. Our local bar manager, John, purchased the boat, and Kris was asked to sail it back to Darwin because it hasn’t got an engine.

John and some other guys will be heading out there with another sailboat tomorrow (or that was the plan last I spoke to him, though he also said he’d call me this morning and hasn’t). If they do go, it will probably take three days to get there, then they have to actually find him, and another 4 days coming back.

thunderstorm at sunset

Was up at 6, and there was a vivid red sunrise quietly bleeding its way across the sky. It was so gorgeous that I fumbled for my camera just seconds after waking up, and photographed it while still half asleep. I thought of the old weather forecasting rhymes about red skies: “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning; Red sky at night, sailors delight.”  *groan* I just want him home, safe and well. But I have no say in these matters, so I try to keep my mind on other things.

working on...

I started a painting, based on a magazine pic that I have always wanted to use. Basic lines are in, but if I keep going in this way, I will end up with just a pretty picture of two pretty girls, like the magazine photo. So today’s job is to fearlessly change what I’ve done…to kill my attachment to this pretty and conventional image, and do something brave and fun to the drawing. To make this canvas my own.

Swallowed by the fog

setting out

After a coffee and a bit of last-minute cuddling, Kris took leave of our houseboat, SonOfAGun. He rowed over to his sailboat, Kehaar, pulled her rag (sail) up, dropped the mooring lines, and was off. He sailed past me on the way out, and I busied myself with taking pictures so that I wouldn’t burst out bawling. He’ll be gone for about four months, this time, and although we are often apart—he goes on adventures and chases down dreams, while I take more ordinary trips to visit parents and friends—I still snuffle, snort, and weep at departures.

sailing past

Going to Asia in THAT?!

You bet. Kehaar has done 47,000 miles of sailing. She’s been up to Vladivostok, to Busan (Korea), spent years in the fishing harbors of Japan, hopped the islands of Southeast Asia, traversed the Indian Ocean, wiggled up rivers in Madagascar, done some trading in Zanzibar, and lolled in Jo’burg…in fact, we came to Darwin together in this small boat, 6 years ago. These 14 years of unconventional sailing came together in the book Monsoon Dervish, which we finally published (ourselves…the first and second printings were even bound by hand!) in 2009.

The boat has a quarter-inch steel hull with bilge keel, a Chinese junk rig (unstayed). She has no engine or propeller, nor any sort of electronics on board. Hardcore sailing, the old-fashioned way: a concentrated elixir of wits, skill, nerves, patience, fear, and self-reliance.

A heavy fog rolled into the harbor as Kris was sailing out, and my photos went from ‘clear morning sunlight on the water’ shots , to grey and hazy milk-soused scenes, in a matter of minutes. Before I knew it, Kris and his boat had disappeared into the sea smoke.
swallowed by the fog

Bon voyage, my love.

Postcards from The Archipelago

Deep sea was the wandering,
deep brass the dripping loot,
deep crimson the bloodspill,
lyrics begotten on lush lips
and many a hawser they saw—
rotting rope and rusting chain
and anchors…many lost anchors.

—Carl Sandburg

Finished painting the first of that small batch of journal cases (covers) I made recently. It’s called Postcards from The Archipelago, and this is the second time I’ve painted these designs on a cover; the first time was for a little journal that I gave to my Belovéd.

It’s a very special little pair of paintings I’ve put on here, full of significance, wonderful memories, and love, love, love…so now I don’t want to sell it! I won’t be in a  hurry to sell it, anyway…it must go to someone who really resonates with it…someone who has lived close to the sea, or has lain in the dark at night listening to the ‘bulge and nuzzle’ of the waves, has loved a pirate, has “sailed away for a year and a day”…or someone who has pulled up his/her anchors (or is about to) and is open to the adventure that life can become when you don’t know where you’re going, only that you’ve got to go…

*Is she serious?* Okay, I can hardly insist on these conditions…(can’t you just see me, though, interviewing prospective buyers? *crazy laugh*) I guess all I am trying to say is:     I love this one so much and I hope someone out there will love it, too. You’ll find it in my Etsy and Madeit shops very soon.

The story behind the covers…

There’s a golden compass on the spine, surrounded by curling tendrils of seaweed. The cover paintings both have landscape formats (to look like postcards), so that either side can be the ‘front’ of this journal (and I’ve put ‘headbands’ on both ends of the book, so you can decide which is front for you).

On one cover is my version of an old woodblock print showing a sea monster attacking a ship. I love the old accounts of monsters and terrors of the deep, love the fact that they were made in all seriousness, to illustrate real accounts made by sailors and travelers. When I met Kris he was in the process of compiling an old-fashioned bestiary of fantastic creatures from all over the world. He had stacks of research, and had painstakingly done a painting for every creature on his list. I loved that he would devote so much of his time and energy doing something purely personal, entirely for his own pleasure and of no immediate use to anyone else at all.

Beside the sea monster vignette is a tiny map of the Bacuit Archipelago, which is where Kris and I met, and where we lived in a fisherman’s hut on the beach for many years. That little boat with the Chinese junk rig is Kehaar, Kris’ sailboat. On the bit of land to the right, just under the name El Nido, hic sunt leonis (here there be lions) marks the spot where we lived, with our two fat cats (lions!) ruling that part of the jungle.

On the other cover are fragments of Carl Sandburg’s poem, and a painting of Kehaar on the sea at night. The little portholes glow with the light of candles inside, a fingerail-paring of moon hangs overhead, and the sky is salted with stars.

When Kris decided that he wanted to return to Australia after 13 years being away, we made the trip by sailboat. It took us five weeks to reach East Timor, and another 10 days from Timor to Darwin, Australia. Kris has a lot of respect for the men who crossed the world’s oceans in the days before the engine was invented, and he likes that kind of old-fashioned self-reliance. Hence, Kehaar is just a sailboat. There is no engine on board. There is no GPS, radio, EPIRB, toilet, lights or electricity on board, either, for that matter.

It was Real Sailing: perfectly silent, isolated, and oftentimes, slow. Time opened like origami…we had time…plenty of time. There was no need to hurry…what for? Three days without wind meant we sat on deck in patches of shade, talking or doing some small, intricate chore, just trying to stay busy until the wind picked up again. Kris wrote for his book or drew monsters and patterns in the borders of his sailing charts; I sat embroidering, or reading. We spent hours staring at the horizon, sometimes. At night, when it was my turn to steer, I had conversations with myself, sang every song I knew—a lot of Basia, isn’t that daggy?—wished on shooting stars (there were hundreds) and tried to learn the major constellations. Herds of whales would surface around us and blast smelly water into the air; pods of dolphins raced with us when we were going fast; sea birds—boobies, mainly—hung around for days, resting en route to god-knows-where. We saw turtles the size of picnic tables (before they saw us…another advantage to sailing without an engine!) and lots of sea snakes. Sharks trailed behind us in some seas. One night while I was steering in a strong wind, something big (the size of our boat) swam beside us for half an hour (the sea is pitch dark, but when the tiny bits of plankton are disturbed, they emit a bright glow or phosphoresence that will reveal the outline of larger fish, dolphins, anything moving fast enough to alarm the little guys) and it scared me a bit!

It was a big adventure, and a big move for me, but Kris had given (a somewhat trying) life in the Third World a go, for my sake, so I thought it was only fair that I spend some time in his country. It was difficult at first, took me a year to find my own place in the scheme of things. But I’ve fallen in love with Oz, and Darwin in particular, and there are no plans of sailing away again for a long while!