On The Ocean Blue -2

Posted: November 7, 2013 in journal, Women, Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“Course Capitan?”                                                                                                                                        “Second star on the right Mr. Sulu, and follow it until morning” Capt. James T. Kirk, Star Trek

Ocean Race, graphite on paper, 8x10, from the book "Avitars of Avilon, The lost Bird Adventure"  Written and Illustrated by Cassandra Gordon-Harris, Blurb.com - 2008

Ocean Race, graphite on paper, 8×10, from the book “Avitars of Avilon, The lost Bird Adventure” Written and Illustrated by Cassandra Gordon-Harris, Blurb.com – 2008

My brains have been racked and sacked and stirred and emptied trying to think of a way to describe the next 6 months.  How to elaborate in a short form the experience of a lifetime. How while waiting 2 months for Alex to return John and I hired ourselves out as line handlers and went though the canal about 30 times.

Of how when Alex did return, he brought a friend with him who wanted to sail to the Galapagos, so back down the coast we went and 8 days later the islands rose out of misty sea in all their jagged glory.  Of how we had to wait 3 weeks for the supply boat from the mainland to come into Santa Cruz Island so we could re stock on fresh veggies and other supplies for the crossing.  Of how instead of hiring a local naturalist guide so we could tour the islands, John and I took a 3-day intensive course at the Darwin Station thereby becoming one of first 10 official Naturalist Guides. Even though I grew up in Ecuador, this was my first view of the Galapagos; their austere beauty touched the core of my soul. So much to see and experience, whether climbing volcano’s to see the giant tortoise or looking down into a sulfur fumed smoking caldera, walking on glittering ovaline crsytal beaches or lounging on the spiky lava rocks as iguanas crawled over you, or Mrs. Whimer on Floreana Island and her marvelous orange wine, blue and red footed boobies, land iguanas, of the numerous individuals and characters that would become lifetime friends. Swimming with sea lions, diving fro fresh lobster, watching orcas come nearly the beach themselves so to eat the young pups, more and more!  Birds by the thousands…….I understood how Darwin came to his conclusions.

Those 3 weeks passed too quickly as we turned in our observation reports on the conditions we found on the various islands to the Darwin Station, collected our supplies, sailed to Baltra Island where the Navy had made use of the old US airstrip, put Alex’s friend on a plane for Quito, refueled our reserve tank and headed off into the western sunset.

Twenty-Three days at sea.  There were doldrums, there were monster storms and 20 foot waves we would roller coaster over and down, there was incredible sights such as a dolphin feeding frenzy on an immense school of tuna, there were flying fish that John gathered up each morning and sautéed in olive oil.  There were rents in the sails that needed mending, there was salt to clean off the decks, and there were the haunting sounds of bells, whistles, dogs barking, people talking that would filter in on the wind during the dark nights at the wheel.  There was the wonderful day-to-day routine of watches, work, cooking and sleep.  How huge the moon as it rose over the horizon, the green flash of the setting sun crossing the equator……I never felt more alive, more in tuned with the world even though I was isolated on this great pacific sea.

As we neared Tahiti,  Alex decided to take a shortcut though the Tuamotu Islands that would save us a days sail and put us in Papeete before Bastille Day. The only problem was we really had no maps of the reefs.During the day we could see well enough but then night fell and we slowed to a crawl.  I was on the helm, John stood on the bow taking soundings and Charlen had a powerful lantern shinning it out across the water looking for unexpected rocks and reefs!  We had lowered the sails except for the jib, and were on engine power.  Alex called out course changes based on John yelled out soundings.  Their voices were nearly drowned out by the sound of waves crashing and the engine.  Took us 3 heart stopping days to make the passage, with three on deck at all times while one slept on 4 hour shifts, when finally Fatu Hiva island’s timelessly breathtaking beauty rose on the horizon. Alex wanted to continue on full speed to Tahiti but John (and the rest of us) had enough. A little assistance and the engine started to sputter and groan, and John convinced Alex of how it might be too dangerous to continue without the engine working properly, we sailed into the harbor of Fatu Hiva before dawn and dropped anchor.

It was everything you read about in books, the perfect paradise with just a faint touch of civilization, one church, one bakery, one small shop selling tin goods, fabric and other sundries, and one town meeting place. Scattered thatched houses at the high tide mark and more clustered inland. The population at that time was no more than a couple of hundred.

As the sun rose, two outriggers came alongside and we were invited ashore for the Bastille Day celebrations that evening. John and I went ashore and found the bakery run by a crazed and marvelous Frenchman; we requested 25 baguettes for the following day.  We also learned of a vegetable farm in the highlands and off we went in search of whatever was available. The trek inland was just a narrow goat path decorated every few yards with stone Tiki’s partially covered in vegetation on either side of the road…….haunting.  We found the farm run by an older French couple. They graciously sold us what they could spare offering us bread, wine and good conversation.

That evening the drums lured us back ashore, Alex refused to come, since there was no yacht club, so Charlen, John and I took the dingy and ……. Hard to describe the magic of it all…… the intoxicating Tamure dancing, the food, the local drink…….. however, we did make it back to the yacht before dawn!  Back ashore in the morning to find our crazy baker asleep by the ovens with our bread rising on the long work tables. Unable to wake him John kept the fire in the stone oven going while I baked the loaves. We left sufficient funds in the sleeping bakers apron to cover the cost along with a thank you note.

The 5-day trip to Papeete held a life-changing event for me.  A sudden intense wind came up out of nowhere forcing us to drop sail and go under engine power.  Charlen was at the wheel when I headed aft to collect vegetables we had stored in the well.  The seas were now quite rough and I was wearing a life-line when the boat suddenly listed heavily to starboard and jerked back again; in that instant the movement tossed me overboard, hitting a stanchion as I went, breaking a tooth and slicing up my abdomen. I hung from  the lifeline my feet dragging in the water.  I yelled and yelled but even though Charlen was less than 5 feet away from me, he could not hear me over the noise of the engine.  Like a fool I was still holding onto the bowl I was using to fill with vegetables and realized I either had to save myself or die, so I let go of the bowl, managed to reach the stanchion and slowly, painfully pulled my self back on-board.  Shaken and bleeding I  stepped into the steering well heading for below decks, waved at Charlen who then screamed for John who helped me below and began doctoring my wounds.  Alex came to see what the commotion was all about and calmly said “Remember you are up, so make sure you are on watch in 10 minutes.”  It was in that moment a voice in my head said it was time to leave.

We arrived at the yacht club in Papeete and Alex was very happy we were only slightly off schedule. We stayed for 3 days, loading up supplies again and fuel.  John and I toured the island, visited with other yachts we had met in Panama catching up on sea tales and shared adventures. I began asking around, looking for boats heading east and then she sailed into the harbor.

Another little voice told me this was my ticket home.  She was a 12-meter racing sloop stopping in Papeete for supplies and to leave off a sick crew member.  Having finished a racing circuit, she was headed for Bora-Bora, then Hawaii and San Francisco.  As soon as she anchored I went and spoke to her Capitan and he agreed to take me on. I notified Alex of my decision, said my goodbyes collected my passport, my pay, packed my bag and two days latter was headed back across the Pacific with a short stop in magnificent Bora-Bora.

The feel of a racing sloop under you feet is like walking on the wind with a never-ending rush of adrenalin. We clipped along at 10 knots seemingly at a seemingly  permanent 45-degree angle until we hit the doldrums and then crawled along for several days before we could once again raise the mainsail.  I never would have guess that moving at that speed for long periods of time could be so exhausting.  A hurricane hit us a week later, taking down some rigging and destroying our reserve water tanks.  We were only a week out of Hawaii but rationed our supplies and water just to be safe. I managed to cut myself several times during the next few days, and as we had limited medical supplies the consequential infections were hard to manage.  My fever was not abating by the time we  sailed into Hilo and I took this to be a sign it was time to pack my bags again, collect my pay and go home.

I caught the next plane out for Houston and reality.

  1. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:


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