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flying dutchman has landed

Monsoon Dervish

On a 31-feet home-built steel Chinese junk that had no engine, electricity, radio, GPS, not even a compass, Kris Larsen, a middle-aged carpenter and navigator, criss-crossed the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific for seven years, from Australia to Madagascar and Japan, covering a total of 45 000 miles.
Forever broke, dodging officials and flying by the seat of his pants, Kris found himself trading spices in Zanzibar, collecting sea-cucumbers on a deserted island, and entertaining gangsters in a Japanese night-club. In Sri Lanka he was arrested as a suspected terrorist, in Comoros he was chased out of the harbour, he survived a 360º rollover in a typhoon off Taiwan, finally stopping on a beach in the Philippines to write this book.
For the next seven years he tried to find a publisher for his work, anywhere, anyone. Nobody was interested. Frustrated, he typed the text onto a CD and on the next trip to the Philippines he paid a printing press in Davao to run 200 copies of the book. Individually bound by hand and covered with old used charts, every copy was different. The first printing sold out in 4 months around the Darwin waterfront. A second printing of Monsoon Dervish was followed by another book, this time illustrated with drawings by the author.

Excerpt from Monsoon Dervish:

"I have read many sailing books, and I have always been intrigued by the things that were left out of them. Most of the voyagers were chronically short of cash, a condition I was familiar with. They had to use their cunning ingenuity to get their dreamboats afloat, but very few of them ever devoted more than a passing paragraph to describe their efforts. Some followed, in detail, the actual building process, but that you can find in any boat-building manual. Their books are full of repetitious weather facts, endless sail and wind changes, and other boring details. For a would-be adventurer, the most important thing is to get his boat to sail, on a minimum budget, and then stay solvent without returning home all the time, to a boring job, to refill the cruising kitty. Few authors mention this aspect of cruising. That was the original idea behind this book, but as I went along, I extended the scope of its contents and it grew into this rambling narrative about everything; a piece of honest writing without the usual censorship.

Monsoon Dervish is not about a sailing trip. It does not describe a journey from point A to point B. Its self-contained chapters can be read at random and in any order, the fragmented rambling trying to capture the spirit of the lifestyle chosen by the author."

airlie beach

"I made my first million in Tamatave, Madagascar. In the marketplace, selling old clothes. The fact that in real money it was equivalent to one weekly wage of an Australian carpenter didn't cloud the excitement of making a million. The thick wad of colourful bills was there, so was the smell of profit and success. It was the first time in my life that I made money by trading. And a million Malgash francs go a long way in a place with average wages around 50 000 FMg a month ($12)."

"Madagascar coast is utterly black at night, no lights. Arriving in the middle of night I sailed past the dark sentinels of the entrance and deep into the Baramahamy Bay, anchoring near the mangroves for a few hours of sleep. I had no time to rest after the crossing. Malgash are direct, inquisitive and not shy at all. Wherever you anchor, there will soon be a dugout coming to see what they can get out of you. The usual combination is an old man and a young boy, both in tattered clothes, paddling the most derelict canoe they could find in the village. They come a-begging, with the opening moves of what I call the Malgash Gambit. - "Cigarettes? Fishhooks? T-shirt as a gift for my boy?" - "Sorry mate. No cigarettes. No fish hooks. No gifts. I do have some clothes, but that's for sale. I want money." - "How much?" - I show him some choice pieces and tell him my price. Reaction is always same. Shock. - "Hay, man, that's cheap!" - Gambit accepted. - "Hang on, mate, I am going to fetch my missus with money, I'll be right back!"

They always come back, a crowd of them, in a bigger, better canoe. I make my first sale and I have free advertising. Mama is quick back in the village, showing off and bragging what a buy she made. I descend on the village an hour later. I need no introduction. They are all waiting for me, unrolling a reed mat on the ground to spread my wares. I have never met an ill will or animosity when bringing merchandise. Bypassing import duties, wholesalers and tax, I can undercut anyone. I sell only quality goods, no rubbish."

turtle logo

"As a trader you cease to be an outsider. You become part of their economy; you enter the fabric of village life. Tourist remains an observer. Trader becomes a participant. You eat their food, you drink their water, you sleep with their women, you take away their money. People deal with you differently; they tell you things you'd never expect to learn. I like to sit back on a veranda in front of someone's hut, keeping an eye on my wares, gossiping with the old folks, absorbing the lazy atmosphere of the place. It's fun."

title of mermaid

With Mermaid up a Moonberry Tree

A beach on a tropical island. Sapphire water of a coral lagoon, coconuts swaying in a breeze, warm sand trickling between your toes. There is something primal and satisfactory in this image. You believe that if you can go living on a beach, you could easily forgo the amenities and conveniences of the big cities. You think, just give me a simple fisherman's shack, bowl of rice with fish, and a dusky partner to share my time with and it will be enough for the rest of my days.
For five years I was living this island dream. As with all dreams, it was not quite as I imagined. A number of important details were buried deep in the fine print. People react in different ways to those unforeseen glitches. Some end up forever complaining, yet they are still not able to leave. Some will drown in cheap grog and easily available sex, while their brains are turning to mush. Some will fight every inch to retain the standards they were used to in their old country. Everyone finds his own solution.
For all its drawbacks, it is an addictive lifestyle. Longer you spend in it, harder it becomes to tear yourself away, no matter how many hassles interfere with a technicolour template we all carry in the back of our minds, no matter how many inconveniences hammer on the door of reason. And reality presents itself in all its twisted forms.
Title of this book, "With Mermaid up a Moonberry Tree" , is an awkward mouthful which comes close to catching the unreality of our existence in Silaga. I did not write a travel guide, and I am afraid the plot is rather thin. It is a loose story, a kaleidoscope of fragments, characters, everyday observations, which I hope will together paint a picture what it was like, living with Cuyonin people on a beach in Paradise. You may call it "Paradise: a personal view". Like all my writing, it is a one-sided and biased view, but honest and uncensored.
Illustrated with pen and ink drawings by the author.

manager

Excerpts from the book:


"Cuyonin believe that when you move to a new place, local spirits come to check you out, they call it "nabati" (derived from a word "greet"). It manifests as a travelling sickness. You come down with flu or gastro, or something. You can also call the spirits in by flattery. When you see a cute kid, and you start admiring it, mother will ask you to dip your forefinger in your mouth and touch the child's forehead with your saliva, removing the spell you cast by your praise, otherwise the spirits will come and the kid will get sick. When Mermaid first took the job with Marina, Tina took her all over the place, to Manlag, to the bush, up the river, showing her how the Marina worked. It is all malarial country and fortnight later Mermaid came down with falciparum, a particularly ferocious kind of malaria. She took to bed, and she spent 5 days lying delirious on the island, while the locals refused to give her any medicine, claiming it was "nabati", spirits welcoming her on Malapacao. Falciparum is not always fatal, and by her ordeal Mermaid developed a total immunity to the El Nido strain of it."

"Some days we had too much coffee and we would sit at night on the top step in the doorway, without light, yakking. About a fortnight after Indita died we were sitting like that in the darkness and silence on the doorstep, when we sensed a commotion on the far end of the beach, below the Santican hill. It was close to midnight, and several paddle boats silently landed, several powerful torches cut the darkness in short bursts of light, a lot of men were murmuring. We were confused. It was not like a normal Cuyonin landing. Eight strong torch lights, no giggling, no cursing, and it sounded very organised. They landed at the place where Tulo dropped the big tree last year to turn it into a casco of a new boat. At the strike of midnight, on a dot, a big crowd of men passed Rocking House in an orderly procession, carrying long narrow red objects on their shoulders, with a white banner in front of them, and a muffled rhythmic chant, as if to keep in step. We were mystified. It looked like a powerful Tagbanua ritual. Indita just died, a Cuyonin witch. Anything to do with her? Or taking home Tulo's casco? None of our suggestions fitted in, but the impression they made was magnificent."

on top of the stairs

"I woke up in a terrific gust of wind. I scrambled and rolled up the vertical tarpaulin blinds before the house was blown away. Deluge followed, but the wind dropped to gale force. On an impulse I walked up the road, watching the developing landslides. I spent three years at Uni studying geomorphology, science dealing with development of the landforms, and a landslide is a geomorphology personified. I was standing on the road below the latest landslide, craning my neck to see the top end of the cut where the forest was outlined against the grey sky. The cut was good 150 feet high, and still active.  Suddenly there appeared a horizontal crack running the full width of the hill. In a slow motion the crack widened to several feet, the whole hillside detaching itself from the top. Massive landslide in process, directly above me. I turned down the road and ran like a hare. Cuyonin mama and her three kids were slowly plodding uphill along the road, dragging the typhoon spoils on their shoulders. I yelled at them to run, run. Mama glanced to the top of the landslide, saw the huge hill slowly sliding down, and they ran as fast as I did. They did not drop their spoils, though; she was still lugging a tree trunk when we stopped at the culvert to watch the devastation."

"Then, as not to make the life boring, in the middle of the foulest weather, in approaching new typhoon, a gang of young guys started digging on the rocks at Silaga Point, at the end of our beach. Every time I approached the place, they all ran off. But they were digging. Finally on the third morning the gang boss appeared there and he stood his ground. I came to have a look. "What is your purpose of coming here?" he barked at me instead of greetings. I was taken aback. "I live here. I came to have a look what you are doing at my place. What are you doing here? Digging?" - " We are doing our best."  - I looked at him in silence. Obviously a two-way communication will not come about naturally. "So why your men always run away when I approach them?" - "We are not running away, we are Philippinos, this is our country." I was not following his reasoning at all, anymore. "So tell your men to come back." They never did. They always kept 50 metres away from me, no matter how much he yelled at them.
They found an old brass marker set into the rock of the promontory by the British surveying team over hundred years ago and they took it for a cross marking a gold treasure. I asked the guy what was his name. "Just call me Judge." I left them to it. As he said, it is their country. Not my country, not my problem."

making mast

"Towards the end of the rainy season the road was at its the worst. When the news about the major funding for the road construction first broke, all the buses sold their winches, and now it was up to the skill of the driver to get up the slippery slope. Santican hill was bad, as every year. Erosion cut the carriage-way into a narrow strip meandering from left to right, barely wide enough for a truck to stay on it, with deep bogs and ravines on both sides. This morning it took "Bandida" eight tries to get to the top of Santican with an empty bus. I walked to the road to watch the spectacle. The tactic was a long run-up, gather as much speed as they could get, and then cling tight to the steering wheel and do not look back. On the top bit all the helpers leaned on and pushed the bus out of the last bog, sinking to their knees in the mire themselves.
"Sweety" was all that time waiting his turn above our house where the drivers started their run up, by racing down to the culvert before they tried the Santican hill. Passengers were sent ahead on foot. It was just too dangerous to risk with a bus full of people. Gaucho, big burly driver, was rocking behind the wheel, chewing at the bit, wired on shabu up to his gills, waiting nervously. Finally the road was clear. Horn, gear in, and Sweety was rolling on his first attempt. With the engine screaming he was racing in the third gear at the culvert, flew over the bottom bogs, nearly tipped his bus on a twin pothole, swinging the wheel in mad turns to keep the bus from plunging into a ravine, then slipped along the narrow strip on the crown of the eroded roadway between the deep gulleys and he had enough momentum left to scream across the main bog hole half way up the hill. No sane driver would attempt it at this speed, at the edge of his vehicles limits, steering by reflex and years of experience. I was impressed, and so were the goons, wildly cheering the "Sweety" from the sidelines. The driver, Big Gaucho, knew how close he was to loosing it, and he did no take on board anyone, not even his own offsider."

What is Mermaid doing these days?

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dremingtitle
bicycle dreaming title

Bicycle Dreaming

Dedicated car-hater, author finds himself on the wrong side of 50, and his body unwilling to ride a conventional bicycle. So he builds himself a comfortable recumbent bike out of scrap from the city dump, and resolves to fulfil his old dream, to ride his machine across Australia on a dirt road, from ocean to ocean.
Based on the travel journals which will take you along 6000 km of the Australian outback, pedaling from Darwin down the Gibb River Road, Tanami Highway, Finke and Oodnadatta Tracks, Kris Larsen delves into forgotten history of Australian overland cycling, and digs up amazing stories of adventure, endurance and showmanship, contrasting them with unflattering portrayal of the iconic explorers. Refreshingly honest picture of the contemporary outback is supplemented by whimsical pen and ink illustrations by the author.

Excerpt from the book:

"I don't like cars. I do not like what cars do to people, especially what it does to their heads. Without cars our western society would cease to exist, but just because something seems to be essential does not mean that I have to like it. Cars made people lazy, arrogant, obese, blind and deaf. Car defines our modern life as nothing else does, from oil exploration and refining, car manufacture, highway construction, to demographic distribution, spread of suburbs and megamarts, international politics of oil wars, down to global warming and climate change.

I love cycling. It's the only time I have completely for myself, when nobody can reach me, and my mind can whirr undisturbed. I feel that not having a car, I am definitely ahead. I am not preaching the gospel according to pedal. I do not perceive world's salvation through riding a pushie, but somehow today people seem to be running around much more, just to stay on the same spot. All that car have achieved is to move faster, but it did not save any time."

tyred slugs

"I've been collecting snippets of cycling history for years, but it was only mid-way through one of the trips I will be describing here that I sat down and started scribbling. After four days of hard slog on Gibb River Road in the Kimberley, in WA, during the heat of the day I was looking for a shady spot to hole up for the afternoon, when I bumped into this marvellous billabong. I propped "Kraken" against a spindly tree on the side of the road and waded into tall grass. 50 metres in I discovered a clear patch of water with sandy bottom and rocky ledge. I was parched and tired. I sat down under the first tree at the edge of the water, had a feed, long drink and a short nap.
I had a leisurely scrub and rinsed my clothes. I carried no soap, to save the weight of my gear. I spread the rags on hot stone shelves, had another swim, and settled myself in a cool spot. Sun was far too high in the sky to climb back into saddle, I had plenty of time, and I started scribbling about bicycles in my notebook. I was going to write about interesting things and marvellous places, about great and crazy people, and their legendary exploits, all of it in one way or another connected to bicycles. I was going to describe how I see the world and how it affects me.
At that waterhole in the Kimberley I was at peace. Every half an hour a dusty 4WD would roar past, windows rolled up, rattling their way over corrugation as fast as their suspension would allow, looking dead ahead, watching for stray cattle on the unfenced road, oblivious to the countryside. Some of them noticed my bright red bicycle leaning against a tree, but none of them noticed the waterhole I was sitting at. They came here to see the country, but their cars made them blind."

road gnat

"South of the Granite mine the true face of Tanami desert shows. Not a tree in sight, not a shrub either, not even a dead one for firewood. Mile after mile of totally flat treeless plain. If there was a place to be called Nullarbor, central Tanami it is. Nullarbor is not a local name of Aboriginal descent, it is a pig Latin for “no trees”, "null-arbour". Tanami feels old, weathered, worn down by time, your only company are low distinctly lumpy termite hills, and omnipresent spinifex. Most travellers complain of spinifex, I admit I like the bastard. 90% of Australians have never seen spinifex, even though it is our most abundant grass and it covers a quarter of the landmass. It lives only in the driest, harshest, most barren and weather blasted country. I like spinifex for its flammable properties. Travelling through spinifex you never doubt your ability to light a fire for cooking, no matter how hard it rains. Spinifex will burst into flame if you look hard enough at it."
"And in the middle of nowhere, without rhyme or reason, by an administrative decision free of religious significance, you hit a 10 km stretch of perfect bitumen. It starts nowhere, sports no branches to anywhere, and ends abruptly the same way. A road gang told me once that those arbitrary patches of tar are inserted by government thinkers to relieve the boredom of the drivers who are not used to monotony of deserted gravel road. A good joke, I say: give them 10 km of relief, let them build up a hope that the cursed dusty gravel is over, then hit them with 500 km of murderous corrugation."

ford

"From the lookout above Lake Eyre I walked down to the shores. A thin white crust, about 3mm thick, covered soft damp sand underneath. At every step you break through the crust, but your feet sink only an inch or so. Several strings of footprints run a long way out towards water, but they all turn back. From the top of the hill you can see the sump in the centre, full of brown glittering water.
I retraced my deep footsteps back to the lookout. Well, so much for our plan to burn rubber on the dry lake. Our speed record attempt was doomed. But I was in too good mood to give up easily. Is there anything we can try as a substitute? Maybe a spin on the road running parallel to the lake? Maybe the proximity of the lake will make us fly like a gossamer. I offloaded all my bags, stacked jerry cans of water next to them, greased the chain, grit my teeth and gave it a go. Biting crosswind nearly knocked me off my bike as I mounted into saddle. Deep corrugation of the dirt road precluded engaging my top gears. Rattling like a contraption from Mad Max we bumped over the prescribed 200 metres. Nope. We aren’'t gonna beat no records this way. Try it the other way. We turned around and started with the wind from the other quarter.

death rider

It was crazy, it was insane, it had absolutely no meaning, there wasn’t even anyone watching the comedy unfold. I was alone at Lake Eyre and I loved every minute of it. It felt like the essence of this whole trip. I was not playing at Stuart the explorer, I wasn'’t retracing wheeltracks of Murif the overlander or aping Freddie the speed supremo. I was playing myself, Kris Longrass, ageing carpenter and navigator, having a time of his life. This whole ride from Darwin had no meaning for anyone besides myself. I achieved nothing worthy, yet it filled me with pride. It’s a shame that these days you can’t just put on your shoes and go on an expedition any more. It has to have a socially relevant goal, it has to be in support of some charity, dedicated to some noble cause, well connected, word has to spread out, blog, website and school curriculum informed regularly by satellite phone, sponsors roped in. Why can’'t you just stand up and say: “I am going because I feel like it. Because I'’ve been dreaming of it for years”? Instead of hiding behind an eight-letter acronym starting with UN? As if everything we do needed logical reason behind it, as if pure wish of doing something or going somewhere wasn't a justification enough."

bradshaw riders

 

out of census title

Out of census

The first volume of an autobiography, the making of Kris Larsen in his various guises. Growing up in Eastern Europe under communist rule, as a tramp and a rockclimber, his escape into the West, then going half way around the world on other people's papers, an illegal alien overlanding to India and beyond. A humorous take on the life of a would-be refugee that nobody wanted to know, showing how little you really need in order to do the things you always dreamed about. You want to get on an expedition? Put on your boots and go.


Excerpt from the book:

"If I could choose one thing to take with me on a round the world trip, I would take a warm sleeping bag. If I was allowed two things, I would add a good passport. In that order.

I formulated this doctrine 35 years ago on the road, as a hungry illegal refugee from Eastern Europe, hounded by cops from country to country, feverishly learning basic survival skills I needed when it became clear that nobody wanted me.
It was to be the opening paragraph of a book, The Book, that I was going to write one day, when I was finally caught and temporarily restricted behind the bars of some friendly nation. There was no point in writing more in those days. Manuscript would not survive my lifestyle. Several times I abandoned everything I had in life, and started somewhere else under a different name. Several times I was relieved of everything that I owned. Leaving Europe, all my worldly possessions were in my backpack. In Indonesia two years later I lost my luggage. I was left with rags on my back, passport with someone else's name in it, and the last $300. Then in New Guinea I was drugged and relieved of those $300. What chance would a half-written book had in those circumstances? I had no family, no settled friends with an address, no country wanted to know me as their own. Where would I keep my precious work? There was no Internet then, to store a copy in public domain, as I do now."

drunk

"Mermaid has been saying for a while that I should write down my early years. She is right, but it will not be easy. I have no records, and my memory is capricious. It likes to gloss over inconvenient. And as I am ageing, it is starting to resemble a Teflon pan. Nothing sticks to it.

There are other problems. I was young, dumb, naive, but I was always resourceful. I am not ashamed of my mistakes. But sometimes those mistakes led me into situations which offered no honourable way out. To survive, I took a dishonourable way. I am not ashamed of that either, but I am not going to brag about it here. I am leaving that out altogether. Every real man who lived his life in full can dig up moments he is profoundly ashamed of. Often it was not his choice, when life forced his hand. That is not an excuse, though. If a bloke tells you that he has nothing to be ashamed of in his whole long life, he is either lying, or he never really lived.

I am an average red-blooded male, with an average hormonal process which periodically needs readjusting to reach a balance. I love women. I love their company, I love their bodies, I love what they can do to you. I know that they are crafty manipulative bitches, who can be perfectly happy if they made you suffer in your private Hell, but that makes the life interesting. For most of my adult life there was a woman somewhere around. Sometimes they played important roles in running my life. Often it was not easy, reconciling my lifestyle with domestic harmony. Yet you will find no juicy bits in this book, no sordid revelations, neither bitching nor soppy rhapsodies. I subscribe to the old fashioned school which holds that private affairs ought to remain private. Sex sells anything, from toothpaste to politics, but writing about who sucked your cock twenty years ago and what it felt like is a cheap way to beef up a poorly written biography. If you have to stoop that low, you have nothing interesting to say and you may as well shut up. So, this will be a selective memoir. No bragging, no airing of dirty linen."

 

Books can only be purchased from the author. Unfortunately the author is currently out there, Blue Water, sailing. We will have to wait with reopening our Internet shop till he gets home. Thank you for your understanding.

sextantbox

Manual of Sextant Navigation

Many people asked me to teach them mysteries of sextant, but I noticed that moment I started talking about celestial mechanics, their eyes would glaze over and my explanations went right over their heads. A lot of sailors are not interested in the theory of astro-navigation, they just want to learn how to use the sextant in practice. And they have a point. You can become a proficient navigator without knowing anything about its theory. So I wrote a 19-page practical manual. Illustrated with 15 diagrams and excerpts from the tables, it explains how to take a sextant sight, and how to calculate latitude and longitude from it, traditional noon shot and a position line. Level of mathematics is Grade 6, addition and subtraction of angles, nothing more complicated. I dispensed with learned definitions, equations and technical gobbledygook, which you can find in any manual of seamanship, if you feel like it.

Manual is available as a pdf download from our ETSY shop, for US$3. All major credit cards accepted.

Interested in purchasing the manual?

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Contact us on monsoondervish@mail.ru
There is no e-book version of my works. I do not write for e-people.

 

photos Yonemitsu Motomi(2), Ed Tadjik, Hasna Mendoza, Alina Uhing, Nat Uhing(3), Peer Hammerschmidt
Drawing of Mermaid by Nat Uhing, all other drawings by the author
Last update November 2016 in Guatemala

For more artwork by Kris Larsen

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