“What you see is what you get.” Not necessarily. Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” As a philosopher, I think he was describing what we see internally.

It boils down to this: We only find the world we’re looking for. As photographers, we often search for that perfect landscape, the ones we’ve seen in the photography and travel magazines, only to miss what’s right before us. Instead, we should give up our preconceived ideas of what an image should be and open our minds to the unexpected.

I’ll give you a few examples from photos published in my new coffee table book called In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: The Long Way Back.  

Visitors and residents flock to Darwin’s public beaches to view the glorious sunsets. While visiting there, of course, I planned to go there at sunset as well. Imagine my surprise and dismay when I arrived to find hundreds of people with the same idea as mine! Many of them had walked right into the surf to take their photos. Being short, I could never walk though that surf to get in front of them; nor I could I shoot over their heads! I decided to take a photo of everyone else taking a photo, and to describe what the people of Darwin came there to do.

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I used another example of this approach when I photographed a crew, Kate, on our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, looking back at the sunset behind her. We readers can then share in her moment of bliss.

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When entering the bleachers to see the dancers perform in the Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau, I caught sight of this dancer beneath the stands, putting on his make-up. That photo became one of my favorite pictures of that event.

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There was no way I was going to make it up all the way to the top of the pilgrimage to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) without beginning that climb at 3:30 a.m. so I could photograph the view from the top. I could, however, photograph those who were coming back down. This 82-year-old Sri Lankan guide has been leading pilgrimages there for the past twenty years.

IMG_8265 Indian Guide in her _80s_ Adams Peak_ Sri Lanka

Sometimes, I see someone walking into the scene and I wait patiently until he or she is just in the right spot:

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Other times, I want to portray how small people seem in relation to the immensity of the structure.

IMG_9465 Palace complex built into rock

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Truly “seeing” requires that we slow down, wait, and get into a different space in our heads. Try that the next time you take a photograph.

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Those who know me understand why I thought of our 43-foot catamaran as a person. And yes, she has a “voice.” Here is one of her sailors’ tales, written on the 6th day of a passage from the Maldives to Salalah, Oman. Position: 14º17´N, 59º23´E

Pacific Bliss

I’m Pacific Bliss, and I have my own story to tell. I wasn’t too happy last night. I droned along—as blissful as can be on a glassy sea—giving my wings a rest. My navigator was busy at the nav station entering comments into the logbook about the three fishing boats at the horizon to my port. “3-4 miles off,” she wrote. She could see that horizon under the light of a half-moon, beaming a silvery path right to the port helm seat. My able-bodied seaman Chris had just gone off watch. And my Captain was sawing logs, storing up energy for the dogleg watch.

All of a sudden, I was trapped like a hunted prey, my engine gasping for breath. And I’m a huge whale of prey, at 12 tons. My daggerboards were trapped at one side of a huge black net, and both my hulls were wrapped at the stern. I was helpless! I must say; my crew rose to the occasion. Lois ran to the helm. Chris was out of his bunk like a flash and shut off the engine. Gunter heard the commotion breaking through his dreams and arrived topsides, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. My crew does take care of me. I’m important—and they know it.

Even so, it took them awhile to get me out of this predicament. First, they took down my sails so I couldn’t press forward. Then they raised both daggerboards all the way up to free the forward side of the net. But it was still wrapped around my stern—on both sides. White floats held the net, and one big float, the bitter end I think, was bobbing at the port side, trying to sneak underneath.

My crew used every hook on board to try to get that net free, to no avail. They discussed going down below me, into that deep dark sea, but no-one wanted to do that at night. I don’t blame them; that net was heavy and still attached to a fishing boat over four miles away.

As Lois and Chris peered over the port side, they heard the blow of a whale coming for air— three times to be exact. I wonder what happens to one of those whales caught in a net like that. I know what happens to dolphins and sea turtles; they struggle and drown. Poor things!

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Well, Chris managed to push that big float underneath me with that big hook we have on board. The float slid underneath me, past the rudder and sail drive, and out into the sea. That left only a small section of the net at my starboard stern. He pushed that down with the same hook and finally we were free. My engines started again, and we continued motoring to our destination.

Later on Captain Gunter’s watch, another fisherman hailed us on the VHF. He didn’t speak English well, but he gave his position. “Is that your net or your boat position?” Lois asked him three times. (She was still up after her watch, keeping Gunter company, “teaming up,” they call it.) Finally, the man gave her two lats and longs, one for the boat and another for the net. Turns out his net was 10 kilometers long (that’s about 6 miles for you Americans who still do not understand the metric system). We had to deviate course for some time.

Frankly friends, I’m relieved to hear that we have only 350 miles to go to Salalah. I’m tired of these Indian Ocean fishing nets, tired of sailing, and quite ready for a rest!

When Gunter and I embarked on our circumnavigation in 2000, I expected that we, of that small group crammed in between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, would merely be forerunners for the great migration to the world’s oceans to be created when the Baby Boomers retired.  Certainly nothing, especially the dangers of the Seven Seas, would hold back that bold generation!

That expectation has not come to pass. Advancements in navigation and technology and have certainly made long distance sailing safer than ever. But piracy throughout the world has made the oceans more dangerous. Our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, sailed the Strait of Malacca, with no problems, in 2006. During January the following year, we crossed the Indian Ocean from Thailand to Sri Lanka to the Maldives and on to the port of Salalah, Oman on the Arabian Sea.

In Oman, we formed a flotilla of 5 yachts to transit the 660-mile stretch called Pirate Alley. Although the entire area seemed on Red Alert, with British and American coalition warships communicating over the airwaves and drones flying overhead to check us out, our biggest scare was being approached by local fishermen.  (See my story, Passage Through Pirate Alley, on SCRIBD). We were relieved to reach Aden, Yemen and during our one week in that port, toured inland to Sanaa, the capital, now off-limits to tourists.

Oman and Yemen had been used to having about 200 yachts pass through their waters each year on their way to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. What a difference now!  Fear of piracy has spread across the entire Arabian Sea, forcing circumnavigators all the way around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, to enter the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar. According to the February 2012 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes, there was a 75% reduction in 2010, and the numbers decreased even more in 2011. “Only a handful of cruisers are willing to pass through the area.  There’s no improvement in sight as planned rallies and cruises for 2012 are being cancelled.”

On the back cover of my book, “Maiden Voyage,” I point out that “Every year, four times more adventurers climb Mt. Everest than complete a circumnavigation of the globe.”  Imagine how this statistic has changed!

With the killing of four American yachties by the Somali pirates, and most recently, the capturing of a Danish family with children on board, many of my friends and readers have been asking me what it felt like to go through the 660-mile stretch of sea called Pirate Alley.

These short excerpts will show you what it was like for me. They are from my third book in the nautical trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss.”  The first book in the series, MAIDEN VOYAGE, was recently published.

March 7, 2007: When you’re getting ready to brave Pirate Alley, you want to do it with sailors that you can trust with your life. That’s why my husband, Gunter, and I formed the Camel Convoy along with four other sailing yachts—all on the same mission: to travel safely from Salalah, Oman to Aden, Yemen.

…Haze envelops the rocky rugged coastline of Oman, but where we are—a stretch of sea in the Gulf of Aden heading southwest toward the Red Sea—the baby blue sky is strewn with fluffy clouds, soft as a baby’s pajamas.

Oh, how I wish life could be that simple right now!  I’d rather be cuddling one of my grandchildren than approaching the Danger Box of Pirate Alley, just four days away.

…We admire yet another crimson sunset from the cockpit. “I’m bored stiff,” Chris blurts. Then, as if to correct a mistake, he adds, “Well this convoy stuff is getting to me.”

It is getting to all of us. I too, am bored. Bored, yet tense. I am living that definition of sailing that I never understood until now:  90% boredom and 10% sheer terror. Like a volunteer fireman hanging around the station, I don’t want the fire to come, yet I’m fascinated by thought that it could.

…The entire world out here is on red alert. It pervades the airwaves. It invades our psyches. It is buried deep within our bones. Yet nothing is happening in our little world. And we don’t want something to happen. The guys on the commercial ships, the captains of our sailing yachts, and most certainly the troops on the coalition ship, are all poised for action. I sense all of this bottled-up energy floating around, bouncing back off some invisible shield with no place to go.

I have posted the entire Pirate Alley story at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/49963474/Passage-Through-Pirate-Alley

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Camel roams the street

Somali Pirates in the News

The airwaves have been quite full with the news of Somali Pirates these past few years. So it’s no wonder that whenever I give a talk about our world circumnavigation on a 43-foot catamaran, one of the first questions asked is about pirates. How did it feel sailing through Pirate Alley from Oman to Aden?  We formed a CONVOY of five sailboats, but even then, it was scary.  Some pirates shoot first, then take over the sailboat, especially if it is a nice one like Pacific Bliss that can be used as one of their “mother” ships.

This is from my website blog of March 10, 2007 @ 13º37 N, 48º21 E, with 200 miles to go to Aden, Yemen @ http://www.pacificbliss.com/journal164.htm

“Out here, I have the sense that the entire world out here is on red alert. It is in the air. Yet nothing is happening in our little world. And we don’t WANT something to happen. The guys on the commercial ships, the captains of our sailing convoys, and most certainly the troops on the coalition ship patrolling the area are all hyperactive; I sense all of this bottled-up energy floating around, with no place to go. There’s no way to release it. Laps around Pacific Bliss? Not such a good idea when we’re moving along. Push-ups or calisthenics? Too hot, and water for showers is limited. If there were a good wind, we’d be adjusting sails, automatically swaying to the motion—good isometric exercise. But under the hot sun on a flat sea? Nothing. There is no way to relieve the tension.”

November 14, 2010: The Chandlers are Finally Freed!

For the past 388 days, Paul and Rachel Chandler have been held captive when their sailboat was hijacked by Somali Pirates in the Indian Ocean. Relatives in Britain disclosed that one of the main hurdles they faced in their efforts to secure the Chandlers’ release was the refusal of some pirates to accept that they were not millionaires.  Ransom negotiations broke down several times during the Kent couple’s 388-day ordeal because pirate leaders refused to believe that more money could not be raised.

“Throughout the protracted discussions…it has been a difficult task for the family to get across the message that these were two retired people on a sailing trip on a small private yacht,” the couple’s relatives said in a statement. “[They are] not part of a major commercial enterprise involving tens of millions of pounds of assets. Thankfully, common sense finally prevailed and a solution was obtained for their release.”

Reportedly, Mr. and Mrs. Chandler had ploughed their lifesavings into their 38ft yacht, Lynn Rival, and had even sold their house in Tunbridge Wells, U.K. to fund their retirement on the ocean.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/nov/14/british-couple-freed-somali-pirates-after-1-year/

Yemini Fishermen Approach Pacific Bliss