Photo of the Week
On September 18, 2012 (my 45th birthday) Annette spots the equator from the Palau Siren.
I'm not sure why they chose yellow as the color.
©Mike Gerken; www.evolutionunderwater.com
The human desire to be rooted and to feel the security that comes with surrounding yourself with familiar people, places and things is a powerful one. To ignore this potent human instinct and sell your possessions, quit your job, leave family and friends and travel half way around the world does not come easy for most; and that is understandable. Often it is adversity that causes people to do this more readily, such as failed relationships, to seek out a better job or simply to survive. However, adversity is not the only reason to behave so irrationally.
There is an expression I picked up while living in Vanuatu in 2006 that explains this. It says there are four types of people otherwise known as the four M’s who pack up and move away from all they know to third world locales. They are: Mercenaries; those seeking riches and desire to pillage and plunder; Missionaries; those who desire to spread the word as they see it; Misinformed; those who are seeking the idyllic paradise on earth only to discover no matter where they go they will find problems in society regardless of how tall the coconut trees are or how brilliant the sunset is. And lastly, Misanthropes or Misfits; those who want to escape the rat race and get away from people in general. Of course, these four M’s are only humorous generalizations and don’t cover the last reason. Many, such as myself, can’t resist the human desire to explore and seek adventure. After a four-year hiatus from travelling, I found myself once again packing my board shorts, dive gear and cameras to satisfy this latter instinct.
This last move however was the hardest one for me to make yet. I returned to the USA in 2008 after living and working in Truk Lagoon, Micronesia for six years where I resigned as captain of the liveaboard, Truk Odyssey and took up a position as captain of the dive vessel, Midnight Express with Olympus Dive Center in North Carolina. I quickly found myself in a very desirable place, closer to friends and family and enjoying the world class diving the Outer Banks has to offer. It was here, at Olympus where I met my partner, Annette Papa who, like me, has a zest for diving and a yen to see the world.
The Palau Siren awaiting departure for Palau from Bira, Indonesia.
In 2011, I took notice of the growing liveaboard company, Worldwide Dive & Sail (WWDS) based out of Phuket, Thailand. Worldwide has luxury liveaboards throughout Southeast Asia and the Maldives. I saw they were planning on launching a new vessel in Palau in late 2012. I approached the owner; Frank Van der Wilde at one of the dive trade shows and pitched to him the idea of me captaining the Palau Siren. I suppose with my strong background working on liveaboards in Micronesia he thought it too was a good idea. Pretty soon I was offered the job with a start date of early September 2012. Annette was also offered a job a dive instructor with the prominent land based operator and local partner of WWDS in Palau, Sam’s Tours.
The GPS as we approached the equator heading northeast to Palau.
It was all set. I was to return to Micronesia yet again for the third time, but this time with Annette to share the ride. However, leaving Olympus Dive Center, our home in the town of Beaufort and the great friends that we had made was no easy task. The two of us had became very attached to our surroundings including my beloved sand tiger sharks that I had photographed extensively for the past four years. Leaving was downright difficult, but the call to try a new job in a new place was stronger and the opportunity to photograph on a brand new canvas only added to the excitement.
During the day we went diving while in the evening I packed, shipped and threw out stuff left and right. Annette departed a day before I did to say goodbye to her family while I stayed on to the very end.
Lovely Annette Papa posing for a shot on the bow of the Palau Siren.
After my last charter at Olympus, the owner and friend of mine, Robert Purifoy invited all on the dock for a champagne toast in my honor. I could not have been more flattered. As I began to pop the bottle of bubbly open I saw in the corner of my eye a large bucket that I assumed had water in it about to be dumped on my head by Robert himself. I had about 1 second to think about the contents of the bucket and how I hoped it did not have ice and Gatorade in it. As luck would have it was only lukewarm tap water. All at the dock sipped champagne and had a great laugh. This helped alleviate the sad task of having to say goodbye to my friends and co-workers. Once the last hugs and handshakes were offered I quickly made my way to the door and didn’t look back since I hate goodbyes and have had to do it this many times in my life.
On the morning of my last day in Beaufort, NC I awoke at the crack of dawn, dragged my mattress down the stairs to the curb and left a sign that read, “Free Stuff” and placed it along side a bunch of other items not worthy for the trash. I mopped the floor and removed my keys from my key chain, placed them on the counter and with a tear in my eye sadly said good-bye to my home once again.
One of the many beautiful scenes while cruising through the Indonesian archipelago on board
the Palau Siren before entering the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
Four days later, four flights, two hotels and eight trays of crummy airline food later, we arrived in Indonesia and met up the crew and owner of the Palau Siren to begin our 9 day, 1400 mile trip to Palau across the Pacific Ocean. The crossing was luckily uneventful with decent weather the entire trip. I suppose the highlight was crossing the equator for the first time in my life. Once the latitude on the GPS clicked to 00 degrees 00.001 minutes North the excitement was over and the ocean looked much the same once again; big, beautiful and blue.
Our first sight of Palau after 10 days of travel. The south side of Anguar Island.
It was windy, rainy and overcast; a perfect Micronesian welcome.
Upon arrival in Palau on Sept 22, we motored into Malaakal Harbor and dropped anchor. Once the hook was set the crew all took a deep breath and high fived one another for a job well done. Now it was time for the hard work to begin. In the coming weeks we will be preparing the Siren to start her first trip on October 30. Moorings must be set, routes planned and the boat readied. As the day fast approaches I will keep you all up to speed on the latest developments and start posting dive stories as soon as I get back in the water. In the meanwhile, the process of making Palau feel like my new home is a work in progress.
The images below of the vessels under construction are of two new Siren Fleet vessels scheduled to launch in the near future. This boat yard was located in Bira, Indonesia. The builders used many traditional techniques with mostly hand tools to complete the work. I will have a more detailed report on this in the future.
Annette in front of the construction site of two new Siren vessels.
The scaffolding may look precarious and that is because it was.
Glad you folks had a safe crossing. I can almost smell the east wind blowing over Ulong beach, and taste the banana leaf wrapped grouper at Kramer's. Our best to all, have a blast buddy!
Ryan, Shannon & Perry
Nice Blog. Brought back many memories. Look forward to hearing more. Glad you are there Safe & Sound. Be well.
Can't wait for the next installment :) happiness to you both in your new surroundings and may you always have "Fair Winds and Following Seas"
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