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“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for”-Grace Murray Cooper
“…but i would be content with nothing but going to sea…”-Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Dafoe)
Current Location: Manila, The Philippines
Km cycled: 12, 802
Km sailed: 1,100
Days spent at sea: 6
Number of being violently sick sessions on boat (!): 4
Plans change, intentions crumble, timings go out of the window. Having spent the best part of a year cycling down the east side of Asia, I approached Hong Kong in early July in the hope that I would soon be able to “hitch hike” a ride on a cargo ship across the South China Sea to the Philippines. And then, just before arriving in Hong Kong (as chance would have it) I did indeed receive a generous email from my parent’s friend’s son-in-law’s friend’s friend (!) Jon, inviting me to help crew his yacht on this very route. I was delighted and accepted the offer even though it would mean waiting in Hong Kong for two whole months whilst the boat was made ready. After a few spectacular delays due to renovation work and broody Typhoons, we decided to make a dash for it.
As we jolted and bounced our way through the dancing waves my body decided to celebrate this epic departure from mainland Asia by being repeatedly sick over the side of the boat! I confess that I now only recall this first day at sea as one in which I sat motionless by the open door of the wheel house, breathing carefully and unwilling to even move my eyes lest I set off a deeper bout of nausea. Sparing you further details details, I can say that after this first twenty four hours of misery, I thankfully found my sea legs enough to thoroughly enjoy the rest of the voyage.
Living, eating and sleeping out at sea is good adventure. The primary task is to take your turn at “keeping watch” behind the wheel. This basically involves trying to keep sailing in a straight line (not as easy as it sounds) and avoiding catastrophic collision with the oblivious super-tankers who slink across the horizon. Being on watch at night is especially dramatic – your 17 tonne, 36 foot, steel craft crashing poetically through the deep, dark seas – shifting skies watching down on you and empty seas stretching out to the horizons all around you. It is almost unbelievable to realise that all your movement is achieved just from the wind blowing on a big piece of outstretched sail.
One of the most melodramatic tasks on board a ship is cooking. One day I (foolishly) volunteered to fry up some chicken. Down below deck I find is this no simple task. The boat keeling over at forty five degrees and not at all steady, I wedge my legs out between the sink and the galley panels (doing the splits, in a manner of speaking) and try to keep the pan sizzling whilst simultaneously avoiding getting boiling fat thrown all over my embarrassingly sweaty bare chest. Reaching over for pepper pot, all of a sudden the boat lurches over a bit further and I find myself flung across the cabin to smash my back against a cupboard. A drawer of cutlery at the same time chooses to empty itself all over the floor. There is rarely a dull moment when the wind and waves are playing their violent games.
Then gradually, on our fifth morning, as the wind began to die and the skies to clear and the ocean to take on a more friendly turquoise blend of blue, we at last began to see signs of land. First of all it was the precarious little fishing skiff darting around in the distance. Then I noticed the occasional coconut floating past – on one of which perched an an unwittingly doomed crab, now a good hundred miles from shore. The next day, we sighted the grey shades of mountains rising from the edge of our world… and with a final puff of wind and a few dramatic thunder storms, we raised our sails and swooped joyfully into harbour.
Two days later, our boat anchored in the bay and all my stuff unloaded and repacked on shore, I knew I could no longer put off the inevitable – I had to get back on that bike! Behind me lay the happy memories of three months safe shelter in sparkling Hong Kong: the epic skyline, the hard working people, the good friends and even an amazing new-found girlfriend (now in London). Ahead of me lies a slightly daunting “out of my hands” relay of island hopping, visa blagging, rascal dodging, jungle crossing adventure. Realising I had better just quit worrying and enjoy it all (whether it be successful or not), I rise early from my bunk on the boat and decide to swim ashore. Pushing a little bin bag of essential possessions in front of me, I kick my way through tropical water, stopping briefly to allow a ferry load of bemused, smiling Filipino school kids to pass in front of me. Climbing ashore dripping, I wheel my well rested bike back onto the road and turn north for Manila…
I hope all is well, best wishes,
NEW ON WEBSITE: a short QUICKTIME FILM I have put together with video clips from the journey so far – takes about 5 minutes to download, with groovy music, please do have a look: www.cyclinghomefromsiberia.com
If you would like to help out the work of Viva Network and their work with street children and orphans (which I am currently observing in Manila), please go to www.justgiving.com/cyclinghomefromsiberia
and finally… a quote about going to sea (!):
‘ “No,” said Harris, “if you want rest and change, you can’t beat a sea trip.” I objected to the sea trip strongly.
A sea trip does you good when you are going to have a couple of months of it, but, for a week, it is wicked.
You start on Monday with the idea implanted in your bosom that you are going to enjoy yourself. You wave an airy adieu to the boys on shore, light your biggest pipe, and swagger about the deck as if you were Captain Cook, Sir Francis Drake, and Christopher Columbus all rolled into one. On Tuesday, you wish you hadn’t come. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, you wish you were dead. On Saturday, you are able to swallow a little beef tea, and to sit up on deck, and answer with a wan, sweet smile when kind-hearted people ask you how you feel now. On Sunday, you begin to walk about again, and take solid food. And on Monday morning, as, with your bag and umbrella in your hand, you stand by the gunwale, waiting to step ashore, you begin to thoroughly like it. ‘
-Three men in a boat, Jerome K Jerome