In Tahuata …

In Tahuata we will find a palm-fringed white sand beach with turquoise water so clear that you can see the bottom under your boat.  In Tahuata we will find trees laden with pamplemousse.  In Tahuata we will stop worrying about wifi and email, but sit and watch the sun light and shadows unfold on the surrounding hills and valleys, sighing as the sun dips below the clear horizon and cheering as the full moon peeks over the ridge top.  In Tahuata ….

It was time to see the rest of the Marquesas.  Leaving the ghost of Gauguin and the muddy anchorage of Atuona behind, we set sail for Tahuata.  What a glorious afternoon of sailing!  With a fresh wind and light following sea we brisked through the Bordellaise Channel between Hiva Oa and Tahuata on a single tack, leaving the dark mountains of Atuona behind in their solemn brooding and approaching the sun bedazzled white beaches along the northwest shore of Tahuata.

There is an unexpected excitement when leaving an anchorage.  As you prepare the boat for sailing again you are thinking about raising halyards and running jib sheets, about securing things inside the boat so that the coffee pot does not go airborne in a knockdown, and about removing snubbers and raising the anchor.  There is a slight apprehension as you imagine the ship heaving in breaking seas and rising winds.  If you’ve been in the anchorage for anything more than a week you wonder if you still remember how to sail.  But once you have that anchor raised and you’re cruising out to sea there is an exhilaration!  Freedom once more!  Goodbye to [mud, mosquitoes, cars — whatever it is you are escaping from] and hello to [fresh wind, sea rhythms, stars — what you are dreaming of].

We anchored in Hanamoenoa for a couple of days before moving along to Vaitahu.  While Hanamoenoa is an undeveloped beach and Vaitahu is the primary village on Tahuata, there were a dozen boats anchored in Hanamoenoa but only three or four in Vaitahu.  The two bays exemplify the contrasting aspirations of the modern sailor:  one bay with a wild palm-fringed shore and sandy beach offering a primitive isolation and seclusion, and the other bay presenting a convenient wharf for going ashore to find fresh baguettes and pamplemousse.

In Vaitahu we had a mission — to get tattooed.

Our friends from Ariel 4, who we had met in Mexico and who had come there from Sweden via the famous Northwest Passage, had been tattooed when they had visited Tahuata a few years previously.  Eric’s manly arm band around his left bicep showed the unusual motifs of the Marquesas, casting him as a savage when he removed his shirt and displacing his otherwise serious demeanor as a modern physician.  When I saw that I decided that I too would go to Tahuata to get tattooed.

In Vaitahu, many have come before me with a mission.  The Mendaña the Spaniard anchored here in 1595, “discovering” Fenua Enata (the true name for the Marquesas, the Land of Men) and naming the islands after his patron, Marquesas de Mendoza.  He named Vaitahu “the Bay of the Mother of God,”, then went ashore to celebrate mass.  Soon a fight broke out and Mendaña killed a couple hundred islanders before leaving to continue his search for terra australis incognita, the fictitious southern continent.  Captain Cook himself anchored here in 1774 during his second great Pacific expedition aboard the Resolution.  Pastor William Crook came in 1797 on a London Missionary Society ship to evangelize the people of Tahuata who were rather hostile about the idea.  The French Admiral Dupetit-Thouars arrived here in 1842 with the treaty in which France took possession of the Marquesas.

Stepping ashore on the concrete wharf and following a dirt road along the black rock beach we passed a few houses hidden in groves of banana and hibiscus.  Several huge mango and breadfruit trees drooped with ripe fruit.  Shaded under a noni tree at the edge of the beach a pink hairy pig grunted as we passed, while chickens ran squawking across the road in their ridiculous fashion with necks outstretched as if inviting one to prepare early for Sunday dinner.

We came to a small church on the edge of the village with a rusting tin roof and a simple unadorned steeple.  Some of its side boards had holes big enough to put your fist into.  Inside, its pews were rough-hewn and small.  On a grassy lawn in front of the church a collection of fishing piroques rested, each painted in bright primary colors.  As the afternoon sun splashed on the church and the piroques, I declared that I loved Vaitahu and would be happy to get tattooed in this magical place.

We discovered fresh baguettes at a tiny magasin in the village, with intermittent wifi just outside.  We were looking for a tattoo artist named Felix.  A young lady at the cash register knew him of course, for there are no more that 600 people on the entire island.  She indicated that he would be back in the morning.

“Environ le neuf heure?” I asked.

“Oui.  Dans le matin.”  That sounded pretty simple.  Come back to the village tomorrow morning and simply look around for Felix.  Since he’s the tattoo artist, he’s probably the one not wearing tattoos.

We explored the village in the ten minutes it took to do so and found a splendid modern church newly built on the village green, supposedly built from river stones that formed the ballast of ships visiting Tahuata in the past.  There were no locals at the new church, whereas the small wooden church at the edge of the village always had a small gathering of locals on the stoop.  The new church was built to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Catholic missionaries.  The Marquesans don’t seem particularly bitter about the missionaries who changed their culture and insisted that they wear clothing.  They seem to have forgiven the missionaries from chiselling off the carved penises on hundreds of tikis guarding the holy maraes up every valley.

Across from the village green and bordering the waterfront were a group of young men playing pitanque (like bocci ball but with heavier steel balls and a small white ball that served as the target, called a cochonet, or “little pig”), while the young women from the village played volleyball.  I declared that I loved Vaitahu even more and would be happier than ever to get tattooed here.

The next morning we tied up again at the wharf, this time with a small stern anchor to prevent the ocean swell from banging the dinghy against the wharf with each rise and fall.  We purchased our fresh baguettes for the day, then made our way over to the village green past a schoolhouse with a room full of singing children.  Outside on the lawn a small band of Marquesan toddlers played a game of leapfrog to the rhythmic meter of a stern schoolmarm, who seemed to believe that these fun-loving youngsters would stoop to wanton frolicking if not kept in check by her exhortations.  Past the new church we met two women sitting in the shade with a basket of flowers they had collected.  We exchanged Marquesan greetings of ka oha nui and me tai and they asked us if we were looking for pamplemousse.  We said yes, and tattoos as well.  One of the women called to a man in a small house up the hill and he came down in a truck to take us looking about for pamplemousse on the way to where Felix lived.

Up a steep road we climbed out of the little village.  Overlooking the bay we spied Pamela and Mintaka resting at anchor and pointing to windward in the blue waves far below.  We had no clear idea of where we were going, or for that matter who this man was, but we grinned at each other as the adventure unfolded.

We came to a shack high on the hill with several fruit trees in the yard.  The man, whose name was Kooki, showed us how to get the best pamplemousse.  I climbed high into one of his trees as he gestured to show me which of the grapefruit to get.   An enormous hog clambered up from a mud pit as we walked through Kooki’s garden.  Next he asked us to take some bananas from two huge clumps hanging under the eave of the shack.  He presented a morsel of delicious banane sechèe (dried banana) for us to sample, describing in French and Marquesan how to dry the banana in the tropical sun until it turned a sweet leathery brown.  He told us to leave the bananas and pamplemousse in the back of his pickup, walk down a ways to Felix’ house, and then Kooki would meet us later in the village.

Not quite sure we heard the directions correctly we walked back down the hill as the adventure unfolded.  Felix was in his truck and about to head back down the hill when we approached him saying, “Felix?  Tattoo?”

Maintenant?” he asked.

Oui, aujourdhui,” I answered.  He smiled warmly and I knew at once that he was the one to give me my Marquesan tattoo.

Into his truck we climbed and rolled back down the steep hill to the village and to a tiny unadorned white shack that was Felix’ tattoo studio.  He explained that there were two tattoo artists here, himself and his good friend.  Felix had few tattoos on his body, mostly on his legs, whereas the other tattooist was completely covered, courtesy of Felix.  In his simple studio we saw a poster showing the other man, his face, head, even his ears, all tattooed in an intricate display.

We also saw an unsigned plaque from the William Spaulding Manufacturing Company, Inc., certifying that this tattoo studio used only the finest and safest modern techniques.

Il faut avoir confiance — have confidence in me,” Felix told me.  He motioned to a plastic chair and told me to sit.

I leafed through a collection of books on a bench.  They showed many varieties of Marquesas tattoos.  I found one that looked like Eric’s arm band.  “Comme ça,” I pointed.

D’accord.  It will be like that.  Only different.”

I closed my eyes as Felix began drawing an outline.  I yielded to his pen.  He was a great artist and he would give me a great tattoo.  If not, I might have to wear a sweater permanently, like Mr. Rogers of children’s television fame, who wears his sweater to hide tattoos that indicate the number of enemies he has personally killed with his bare hands as a Navy Seal.  Or worse, graft some skin off my butt to cover the mistake, or perhaps lop off my arm to add to the piratical effect.

After some time Felix showed me his drawing and asked me what I thought.  I thought it would be hard to erase with an abrasive ink eraser.  “I love it.  What exactly is it?”

“Here is the whale,” he motioned.  I had seen several whales in Mexico at the start of our journey.  “And here — the manta ray.  And here another manta.”  In Hanamoenoa I had swum with a huge manta under Pamela’s keel.  “This is the Marquesan cross.”  Very cool.  Just what I was looking for, a primitive archetype from the early days.  “And here — this is the turtle.  Here the male and here the female.”

“How do I know which is the male and which is the female?”  A reasonable question, which is not at all obvious with turtles.

“Ici, regard,” he pointed.  Sure enough, the male turtle had a point that the missionaries did not know about, while the female had “c” shaped opening to receive the point.

Now came the hard part.  While I waited, Felix assembled his tattooing equipment.  A raw battery provided power to a tattoo gun that he switched on and off with a foot pedal.  He told me to lie down on a table, then adjusted his lamp, switched on the gun and went to work.

It felt like a swarm of killer bees who were pissed off because they couldn ‘t find any flowers.

Felix jabbed and poked with the needle gun and stopped briefly to blot up the excess ink and blood.  I tried to imagine a serene mountain scene but could only think of sitting in a dentist’s chair and measuring the torrent of sweat dripping from my palms.

The ordeal lasted an hour and a half as he made his way around my left bicep.  I tried not to think about the poster above me with the young man with tattoos in his ears.  I found consolation in the fact that Felix had done the tattooing on this guy, and in the promise of the William Spaulding Manufacturing Company, Inc.

Finally he was done.  The tattoo looked much better than the ink drawing.  Now that the buzzing of the needle had stopped, I felt manly and strangely … Marquesan.  I was ready to do the hakka dance, stick out my tongue, and find some missionaries to eat.

Now it was Pam’s turn.  She wanted a dolphin, not just any dolphin, but a special dolphin.  It was her totem.  It guided her through the difficult times.  She showed Felix a picture of one, but it should be turned this way, not that, and here should be some Marquesan architypes, and the face should be different.  Felix had his work cut out for him.

Felix drew the perfect dolphin behind Pam’s right shoulder and I took pictures so she could see it.  Watching the tattooing on Pam was worse than getting mine done, but I dutifully photographed the event for future generation.  She grimaced painfully for the hour and a half that it took to produce the perfect dolphin.

And what a dolphin!  Such intricate detail, including a small bug-eyed tiki in the tail section with his skinny arms folded across his pot belly.

Immediately after finishing with Pam, Felix retreated to the back room of his studio and fired up a joint.  Exhausting work!

The next day I set out to explore more of Vaitahu and the surrounding valleys and cliffs.  As I walked past Kooki’s place he shouted a greeting.  Further on up the steep mountain road a friendly young man walked with me for a spell, conversing in French and telling me that he was off to cut bananas after he fetched his machete.  I followed the road high above the ocean cliffs for several miles to the overlook of Hanamoenoa’s coconut-filled valley.  On the way back down I passed Felix, waving, carrying a load of kids from school.

I felt that I had achieved something special in Vaitahu.  Not just an armload of pamplemousse and a tattoo, but a relationship with some of the special people there.

I am proud of my Marquesan tattoo.  Which is a good thing, because it won’t come off.


The Pacific Puddle Jump

It is the storm before the calm once more.  As we make preparations for the 3000-mile run from Mexico to French Polynesia we bear more resemblance to ants running amok than sun-tanned cruisers relaxing in paradise.

Pam flies back to California to visit old friends, check up on Little Bear, and pick up a few thousand dollars of boat parts.  The friends treat her like a hero returning home from the Trojan wars.  Little Bear licks her hand and wonders where the rest of his pack, me, Lindsay, Julian, have gone to.  The boat parts fill several duffle bags and weigh over a hundred pounds but provide me with the satisfaction of knowing that these aspects of the boat will never fail — because if you have a spare starter motor it is your bilge pump that fails, not your starter, and if you have a spare bilge pump it is your alternator that fails, and not because these are related in any way, but because Murphy’s Law states that the parts that will fail are the ones for which you carry no spares.

Abandoned onboard Pamela at the scorching marina in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle I am left for eleven days to my various vices.  I decide to get a ham radio license by memorizing the answers to 750 exam questions such as “What is the peak-inverse-voltage across the rectifiers in a full-wave bridge power supply?”  I don’t actually need a ham license to talk to other sailors in the South Pacific on my single-sideband radio, but being a ham will give Pam more assurance that I know what I’m doing when I pick up the radio.  Besides, if we run into a whale and I need to send a MAYDAY I can chat with other hams while the ship is going down.

MAYDAY, MAYDAY, this is KK6KMH sending a CQ for all ships.  We’re sinking.  And by the way, did you know that a mixer is the circuit used to process signals from the RF amplifier and local oscillator and send the result to the IF filter in a superheterodyne receiver?

I study like a madman for a solid week, day and night, refusing all offers to drink tequila and eat tacos with my friends on the dock.  I read the study guides for the Technician Class and General Class Licenses, the two levels required to become a full-fledged ham.  I run through the 750 questions five times.  I begin having dreams about capacitors and the ionosphere, my brain turns to soft oatmeal, and I stumble into the testing center at Nuevo Vallarta with red-blotched eyes and bad breath.  I score 100% and the Technician and 97% on the General.  Overkill.

Elated with my achievement and seeking balance I return to the boat and turn my attention to my next challenge.  Is it possible to drink all the Pacifico beer from the marina tienda before Pam gets back in town?

In between sips I change the oil in the diesel and replace the fuel filters.  I poke around in the aft quarter below decks to top up the transmission fluid and stare at the steering cables and autopilot.  I service the watermaker, changing its filters and “pickling” it to prevent nasty organic crap from piling up on the membrane while the boat is sitting in the marina for the next couple of weeks.  I pour all the diesel from the jugs up on deck into the fuel tank and refill the jugs with fresh diesel.  José on the dock agrees to take my old gasoline for free, and I fill the gas tank for the outboard with fresh gas and add a fuel stabilizer, some to the gas tank and some down my pant leg.  I attach a new swivel to my big forward anchor and attach new control lines to the Monitor self-steering windvane I’ve affectionately named Monte.  My calculations show that I can purchase two tall-boys of Pacifico each day and return the bottles for a grand total of $4.80 which would allow me to work on the boat and drink beer in perpetual motion in perpetuity.

I need a break from the boat preparation work so I get some cold beer and move into the air-conditioned cruiser’s lounge in the yacht club and start working on my income taxes.  After a couple of marathon sessions I manage to file my federal and state income taxes and drain several thousand dollars from my retirement fund to help pay for US military might and budgetary deficits.  A small portion of the money will go to roads, an even smaller portion to public libraries, with a couple bucks left to pay for public schools.  The tax form gives me a chance to donate a dollar to the president’s re-election fund, which works out to about half of what goes to the schools, so I politely decline.

Now it is time to attack the brightwork.  The varnish on Pamela’s teak has been peeling like an onion since we entered the tropics, and I’m going to put an end to this abomination.  Robyn on Mintaka tells me to leave all the teak alone and just let it go natural.  Carlann on Pacific Breeze tells me I’m working too hard and all the people in the marina are feeling lousy. But I won’t listen, and instead bring out the heat gun to begin stripping a decade of varnish from the rubbing strakes and cap rails.  The Mexican sun burns down on my head in harmony with my heat gun.

Everyone comes by to have a look.  You can’t apply even a stroke of varnish in a marina without attracting the attention of every advice giver within a nautical mile.  Many are helpful and some may offer you a handy tool.  And then there are small minority who insist on your following their advice to the point of belligerence.

Ian on Salish Sea is one of the helpful ones.  He offers me his scraping tools and a file to keep them sharp.  He shows me how to sharpen them with the file.  After a day of using them he comes by with an orbital sander.  The day after that he returns with a six-pack of Pacificos and we drink them slowly in the cockpit while I show him how to play blues riffs on guitar.

Pam calls to give me an ultimatum — there had better not be any varnish smells on the boat when she returns next week.  I am working from first light to dusk on the varnish, now on day four for this job, but it is not enough.  I need to get into seriously high gear.  I pick up a couple more tall-boys and apply varnish like never before.  Carlann continues to tease me about my slavish work ethic, but soon she is whistling and complimenting the new shine on Pamela’s brightwork.  I vow to have seven coats of fresh varnish on Pamela’s teak before Pam returns.  I am now up to six coats.  She returns in two days.  There is no stopping for a break.  Two more tall-boys of Pacifico, wet-sanding every surface before applying the next coat, I am a man possessed, an obsessive-compulsive bundle of firing synapses.  Like my insane studying for the ham license, this varnishing project reveals yet another example of trout-farm work ethic gone awry.  Perhaps more Pacificos can bring balance.

At last the job is finished.  Pamela’s clean decks are gleaming in the tropical sun.  I tell my friends on the dock that this fresh varnish will help us sail faster in the South Pacific trade winds, less friction and all that.  They stare back at me, too diplomatic to state what they are thinking, which is this:  You’re about to head off across the South Pacific.  Don’t you have more important things to do to get the boat ready rather than varnish the brightwork?

Soon Pam is back on board.  Her trip to California has been fabulous and she has eaten at all the best restaurants in the Bay Area.  The boat is spotless and the Pacifico bottles are all gone.  She dumps the boat parts onto Pamela’s uncluttered saloon floor and looks around.  “Looks good,” she says.  “Smells bad.  Have you been breathing all these toxins?”

The last week crawls by.  I am anxious to sail across the South Pacific, but there its still lots to do, stowing all the gear, more trips to the market for provisions, starting the process for clearing out of the country, cleaning Pamela’s bottom, informal seminars at the yacht club about fixing your rigging, avoiding onboard fires, and how to successfully jump into your life raft when the boat is sinking.  Larry, our crew for the Pacific Puddle Jump, arrives with his guitar.  He has lined up several gigs in town and we go see him play with various groups in La Cruz.  He lets me sit in on a few numbers and I belt out a handful of Van Morrison songs and find harmonies to blend with Larry’s voice and his virtuoso guitar playing.

I’m up the mast doing one last rigging inspection when the officials arrive to clear us out of the country.  Four men come onboard, including a customs official, two immigration officials, and a representative from the Port Captain’s office.  We leave the marina for a couple days in the anchorage getting our sea legs back.  Having gone to the top of the mast, I now take the opportunity to dive down to the ship’s keel.  I am satisfied to find the mast head and keel are right where they should be.

We have a bit of a misadventure the last day in La Cruz.  It is a Thursday, the day when fresh produce arrives at the tienda in town, and Pam has ordered lots of produce along with Robyn on Mintaka.  We need to pick up all this produce, including eight dozen very fragile eggs, but we are anchored out after officially clearing out of the country, not in the marina.  This is a bit of a logistical problem given that our dinghy and kayak are all stowed for the long journey ahead.  Mintaka has two dinghies, a rubber one stowed below and a hard dinghy on deck, so Mark from Mintaka and I form a plan:  Mark is to row the hard dinghy, a stout little ship, along with Pam and Robyn, over to the marina dock, then proceed into town to the tienda to get the multiple cases of fruits, vegetables, and eggs, and then I am to take Pamela to the fuel dock to pick up Pam, Mark, Robyn, and the load of produce.

The dinghy arrives at Pamela according to plan to pick up Pam, and Mark is heaving heavily on her oars through a boisterous chop raised by a stiff afternoon breeze.  The little boat is quite full with three passengers and bags for carrying the produce, and off they go through the rough water.  I give them sufficient time to pick up the produce, then raise Pamela’s anchor and drive her into the harbor and up to the fuel dock, which closes at 7:00 p.m., and now it is 6:45.  The gate to the fuel dock will close promptly at 7:00 so the operation has to go very smoothly or we will be cut off from getting all the produce on board.

But landing at the fuel dock to pick up passengers is not actually allowed, so I make as if to take on fuel.  My tanks, of course, are already chock full, but I’m able to take on three litres.  A nearby power boat is taking on 1000 litres.  The fuel dock girl smiles at me.  She is a doll, quite pretty in her short-shorts and make-up, not at all what you might expect at a Mexican fuel dock.  How the pangeros must stare!  She is not phased by my three litres, but her boss in the kiosk at the end of the pier is suspicious and calls over a fuel dock official.  He arrives with his assistant right behind Mark and Pam carrying bags of produce while Robyn settles the bill with the van driver who they hired to drive them the two blocks to the pier.  Caught red-handed we are subjected to his questioning, primarily “How many people are you?”, a question that seems odd to me until I realize that he is going to charge us a fee for each person.  The fee is 350 pesos, about $30 US.

Robyn, who is good in Spanish and loathe to spend 350 pesos unfairly, makes our case to the official.  The debate goes on for some time before the expressions on the faces of the two officials shows Robyn is winning her argument.  But the officials must save face, and soon we all arrive at a happy compromise.  There will be no fee for Pamela, but we must pay 40 pesos (a couple bucks) for tying the dinghy to the fuel dock pier.  I am delighted to leave Mexico for only 40 pesos, avoiding the customs, immigrations, and Port Captain officials who would not be happy to find us at the fuel dock after clearing out, because clearing out officially means leaving the country right then and there and not hanging out at anchor and fiddling about with produce and fuel.


With Pamela’s fuel tanks filled beyond the top and her cockpit strewn with several weeks of apples, tomatoes, potatoes, eggs, and more, I wave goodbye to the fuel dock girl who waves cheerfully back at me, while Mark pulls at his dinghy’s oars and offers to race me back to the anchorage.  The chop and breeze are gone and the evening is now tranquil, making it easy to divide up the produce and ferry Mintaka’s portion over to her.  We sit one last evening in La Cruz anchorage, watching the sun set and feasting on roast chicken and red wine with Mark and Robyn, who we hope to remain relatively close to all the way to the Marquesas.

And now the time has come that I have been looking forward to for more than thirty years.  It is time to raise Pamela’s anchor, trim her sails, and point her bow to the southwest.  At last we are bound for French Polynesia!  We check email one last time, count how many dollars are left in the bank account, and make one last website post to announce to the world that we are off and away.

Mintaka is resting at anchor a short distance away.  I raise Pamela’s anchor and while I am busy securing the anchor to the deck with extra lashes I notice that Mintaka has slipped her cables and is away.  She is ahead of us!  We raise our sails and begin to fly in the morning breeze but Mintaka maintains her lead.  I attempt to catch her as we glide past Las Tres Marietas islands but she is too fast with her jib, staysail, main, and mizzen.

And then — rotten luck — we hook a skipjack on the hand line and slow Pamela down a notch to reel in and then release the skipjack, for the crew is in no mood for a greasy-tasting jack just yet.  Ten minutes later — worse luck — we hook a big jack cravalle on the rod and reel and slow Pamela even more.  I have been warned that the jack cravalle is a disgusting fish to eat, so we attempt to release him.  But he is hooked too well.  While the skipjack was only lightly hooked and swam away with much vigor when I released him, the big jack cravalle is badly hooked and is laying upon his side like a heavy sea anchor.  It takes twenty minutes to reel him in, and by then he is all done in.  I  work quickly to free him from the hook but he is caught by his gills.  He is bleeding and his gills are nearly ripped out before I have him off the hook.  I feel truly bad about releasing him half-dead.  I am reminded of a botched goat-killing when I was fourteen on the trout farm, when my .22 rifle bullet went astray.  It is a grim memory and haunts me throughout the morning,

As the red sun sets off of Pamela’s bow the full yellow moon rises synchronously off her stern.  It is a good omen for our long trip.  The moon illuminates the horizon all around and its silver trail on the wave tops eventually moves around to the west as the night wears on, giving me a path to steer by.  At midnight a pod of porpoises joins our bow wave.  I hear their gasps of air and watch them play for a while in our bow wake.  Happy dolphins.  A good omen indeed.

On day two the wind freshens and the waves become steep.  The decks are awash and salt spray is everywhere.  On watch in the cockpit, we wear our foul-weather gear, jacket and pants, and wait with clenched teeth between cold splashes of salt water.  Pamela is rolling deeply in the troughs while the contents of her lockers go banging through the night.  I wait in grim anticipation for two dozen cans of turkey meat to crack through Pamela’s hull and six-packs of San Pellegrino mineral water to shatter in the cockpit lazarette.  But the cargo holds.  As bad as it sounds, the ship is solid and does not hole nor capsize in the confused seas.  Meanwhile, Pamela runs at seven knots directly to her first waypoint, latitude 6 degrees north and longitude 130 degrees west, 1700 miles away at the beginning of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (i.e., the doldrums near the equator).

On day three we are becalmed.  The boiling seas have marched off to the southwest and we are left with a warm, calm, sunny day.  We open the hatches and enjoy the fresh air coming through the cabin.  We sit on deck in our swim trunks while our foul-weather clothing dries.  I am mesmerized by the clear blue water under our stern, calm as a swimming pool, stabbed by yellow shafts of sunlight penetrating down hundreds of feet below the smooth surface.  To celebrate the fine weather Pam makes fried chicken and garlic mashed potatoes for dinner.  I am awakened at 0200 by Larry scraping the pot for another spoonful of mashed potatoes, and Pam is awakened two hours later by me doing the same.

Pamela’s systems are all working well, the solar panels, the wind generator, the SSB radio, and the watermaker.  But the watermaker takes lots of amperage from the battery so we have to run the engine every day to make a few gallons of fresh water.  Running the engine means burning up precious diesel since the solar panels and wind generator do not produce enough electricity to keep up with the watermaker and the refrigerator.  I try to keep all these variables in my head but its a complex formula.  I’m nervous about having enough diesel, especially since our cruising guide says that occasionally there are shortages of fuel in the Marquesas.

Pam wants me to fill more water jugs for emergency purposes.  We have 100 gallons in our tanks, five gallons in an emergency jug on deck, and five or six gallons in jugs down below.  Plus a couple quarts in our ditch bag and a can or two in our life raft survival kit. I remember reading various accounts of shipwreck victims in life rafts who have to drink their own urine to survive.  Why do all life raft stories begin like that?  I don’t want to drink my own urine, nor anyone else’s urine for that matter.  So I dutifully fill more empty jugs.

On day four on midnight watch I am startled by a loud gasp from the water a couple of yards from where I sit in the cockpit.  The sound of breathing is eerily human in the dark night.  A large pod of porpoises, a dozen or more, are arcing through the waves.  I see their dark fins come to the surface, while their tails make bursts of phosphorescence.  They glide with grace.  I imagine that I am speaking telepathically to them.  I imagine that they have come from far away just to say hello to me in the dead of night.

On day five it is Pam’s birthday.  Alas, I have no gift other than my presence, our floating home, and a love letter I write to her at midnight.  We set the hand line at dawn, and by midmorning there is a fish on the line.  Another jack?  Hopefully not!  It turns out to be a beautiful fifteen-pound yellow-fin tuna.  We land it easily on Pamela’s coaming and watch the sensational rainbow-colored skin while the poor fish completes its death throes.  Pam sends the fish positive vibes of gratitude.  The cockpit is soon covered in soaking blood, fish parts, and red filets.  By lunchtime the cockpit is clean and we are eating chilled sashimi with wasabi and pickled ginger.  We will feast on this tuna for several days, enjoying seared ahi and fried eggs for breakfast, sushi for two or three lunches, and teriyaki tuna for three dinners.  It is a wonderful birthday present.

On day six we get the spinnaker flying.  The wind is perfect, about ten knots, the sea is mostly flat, and Pamela glides over the waves at six knots, the definition of glorious sailing.

Then the lazy sheet wraps itself around the bow light and pitches it through the air.  A moment later I am staring at it in Pamela’s wake, still floating.  We snatch down the spinnaker, sheet in the main, and turn into the wind across our back trail to try and find the bow light.  A man-overboard setting on the chart plotter shows about where the bow light made its plunge, with an icon on the screen in the shape of a person flailing in the water with his arms in the air.  But with three pairs of eyes we are unable to find the bow light, which probably sank or floated off to join a million other bits of flotsam in the Great Pacific Gyre.  I am seriously bummed.  It’s not the first time my bow light has gone flying — I smashed it into a pier at Catalina, then ripped it off with a spinnaker sheet off the Baja California coast — and I’m running out of wire to attach it back to the boat.

But who needs a bow light 700 miles out to sea?  There is no one here to see it.  That evening, without the bow and stern lights burning bright, I find a boiling trail of phosphorescence off Pamela’s stern.  I try to imagine how Pamela must appear to porpoises swimming far below her in the crystal-clear blue water with the shimmering strands of bioluminescence streaming along her bows, weather strake, and rudder.  Like a comet!  I lay for hours on Pamela’s port rail staring at the glowing streaks as waves are pushed by her bows, then turn over onto my back to watch the stars high above her mast.  The moon tonight is waning, rising three hours after the setting sun, and with long cumulonimbus clouds covering half the sky the night appears black.  When the moon finally rises above the clouds it shines with an intensity that causes the stars to fade.  Once again its silver trail illuminates the wave tops and beckons me to follow.  In my watch from 0400 to 0600 I steer Pamela directly into the well-lit moonbeam highway.

Day seven is a blustery day.  The sky is overcast, the wind is strong from the north-east, and the seas are rough.  We bounce along and are thrown about the cabin as we putter about on various chores and contemplate how to reduce our energy consumption.  We are running the engine for an hour each day to keep up with the refrigerator and navigation equipment.  Soon we will shut down the refrigerator for a few hours each day as we use up our frozen meat, and hopefully we will not need to run the engine so much.  Our cruising guides tell us that the diesel supply is unpredictable in the Marquesas since it has to be carried in by the monthly supply ship Ara Nui and the locals get first rights to it.  We may need to make our fuel last all the way to Tahiti, some 1500 miles beyond the Marquesas.  So we need to run the engine sparingly, keeping our batteries topped up with the solar panels and wind generator and casting our fate to the vagaries of wind and cloud cover.

On day eight the decks are awash in flying fish.  They range in size between a plump ten inches and a scant single inch.  I find over a dozen on the weather side as I take my morning stroll around the deck.  The crew refuses an offer of fried eggs and flying fish for breakfast.  I am reading Sailing Alone Around The World on my night watch, and I relate how Captain Joshua Slocum finds flying fish on Spray’s decks each morning and prepares them for his breakfast.  In 1896 Captain Slocum is the first man ever to sail around the world alone in a small boat.  Soon we will be following his path through the islands of the South Pacific.  His boat, the Spray, is exactly the length of Pamela, 36 feet 9 inches from stem to stern.  Reading this book 30 years ago I was captivated by Slocum’s adventures and decided I would one day follow in his wake.

But I can’t quite bring myself to fry up these bloated flying fish, stiff from rigor mortis and baking in the scuppers.  Pam tempts me with cold fresh yogurt and sweet pears instead.

On day nine I awaken in a foul mood.  The day is grey and the clouds are low.  The ocean has been a washing machine since midnight and the seas can not decide whether they are northerly or easterly.  A big swell from the north hits Pamela hard on the side while Pam, Larry, and I are finishing breakfast in the cockpit.  Cold salt water spills down our shirts and onto the cockpit seats to soak our pants.

After the big wave Pam finds a “ring-ding” on the cockpit floor.  The job of this particular ring-ding is to hold a cotter pin in place, and the job of the cotter pin, in turn, is to hold some vital part of the rig from falling down.  I pick up the prodigal ring-ding and examine it closely.  It is a big one.  It is there — rather, was there — to hold something particularly important.  Now it is no longer holding.  I need to find out where, and right away.

I begin a systematic sector search of the mast and boom, then the various blocks holding halyards, sheets, vangs, and traveller.  Everything that needs a ring-ding seems to have one securely in place.  And none of the existing ring-dings are anywhere close to the size of this mystery ring-ding.  From where did it come?

Back on the dock in San Francisco I would occasionally find a nut or washer on deck.  After an extensive search and no findings I would decide that it came from another sail boat in the marina.  Sure — a curious gull found it on Johnny M’s boat, scooped it up as a kind of scavenger hunt prize, then dropped it onto Pamela’s foredeck as a mischievous prank.  I would not rule out the possibility of Johnny M himself putting a loose washer in Pamela’s scupper.  That might explain his perpetual Cheshire Cat grin.

But out here on the high seas I am unable to blame the lone ring-ding on another boat.  We did see a fishing boat at daybreak, and it is certainly possible that the roving ring-ding could have been carried by a porpoise pod from the fishing boat to Pamela.  And I wouldn’t rule out entirely the extraordinarily tiny possibility that Johnny M himself is behind this ring-ding business.  But even here on the wide ocean where the fertile mind tends to invent apparitions and hallucinations, I can not convince myself that a sea-faring ring-ding flew over from a passing ship or a puckish Johnny M.

And then I remember Monte the windvane.  Of course!  Monte steers the boat night and day with precision and trustworthiness you would never find in human form.  A missing ring-ding from a shieve, spindle, or pulley in Monte’s complex array of mechanical parts would be the undoing of us all, for steering the boat is something we do only for a few minutes as sport rather than necessity around the clock.  I am horrified to find a ring-ding on the windvane exactly the size of the wayward ring-ding.  But my frantic inspection shows that all of Monte’s parts, ring-dings included, are in place and functioning with reliability.

My search is exhausted and there is not a scrap of evidence.  I place the ring-ding on the chart table and try to forget it.  But as I move around the cabin the evil ring-ding stares at me like sinister eyes in a portrait of a brooding great-grand-uncle hanging in a dank basement.  At last I hide the ring-ding under the log book.

It whispers to me in the midnight witching hour:  “Find my pin.  Find my shackle.  The mast is tottering ….”

I need help.  I decide to call in the big guns.  I put it out there for the universe.  There is lot of universe out here indeed.  I get my angels working on it.  I meditate on the ring-ding and ask the spirits to point me to where it came from.

And then, like a spotlight on the sails in the midnight dog-watch the answer is clear and the mystery is solved.  The lower lifeline I found hanging loose a few days ago and repaired with a spare nut and bolt!  Suddenly I am transformed into Inspector Columbo unwinding the mystery:  the lifeline ring-ding somehow unravelled in the rocking and vibration of the boat, its pin was washed over the side while the ring-ding lay in the scupper; the rogue wave washed the ring-ding out of the scupper, over the coaming, and onto the cockpit sole where Pam discovered it.

So the mast is not tottering after all, nor is Monte on the brink of failure.  And with this blazing, and admittedly obvious, revelation I sink into my bunk and begin to snore.

On day ten I ponder.  Foremost on my mind is the filthy state of my body and habitat.  A boat at sea is a somewhat grubby environment, with salt-encrusted cockpit, a plethora of dead flying fish and squid on the side decks, and a galley that reveals just how far that can of tomato sauce was tossed when a breaking wave slapped hard against the starboard beam while Pam was preparing spaghetti sauce.  I ponder the flaking of my salt-saturated scalp and the hole on my crown that is developing from a case of chronic bed-head.  I ponder my navel, now full of tiny bits of blue tarp trapped within it.  (That ancient blue tarp that we discovered in a forgotten lazarette which disintegrated within minutes of putting it to use.)  I am captivated by the myriad oils that my body produces in all of its parts both public and private.  I am appalled at the distinct possibility of an outbreak of swamp-ass, or worse, Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone ball rot.

A fresh water shower in the cockpit, with copious hot water heated by the diesel engine, washes away all of these horrible ailments in minutes and leave me feeling fresh with an awakened vitality.  And then the cycle repeats and the pondering continues.

Mostly I ponder on the enormous effort that we as a culture exert each day to keep ourselves from devolving into this state of disgrace I find myself in on the down-cycle.  Essentially, all of our effort to do well in school, go to a good college, get a well-paying job, and show up to work every day for 40 years is for a single purpose:  to prevent our falling into this natural state of filthiness.  We need to shower daily.  So we need a home with a mortgage and plenty of hot water, and we need to purchase various soaps, powders, shampoos, and deodorants, and we need a car to get us to the local mega-supermarket.  We need to keep the home and the car clean as well, for the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy, conspires to cover them gradually in the grime that we hope will never reach our bodies.  Finally, we need to spend hours scrubbing it all — mornings and evenings in the bathroom scrubbing, shaving, and flossing ourselves, Saturdays spent wiping down and disinfecting the bathroom, and Sundays spent washing the car.  There is just barely enough time before and after work each day to do it all.  When do we have time to write a poem, learn French, or play guitar?  We trade self-cleanliness for self-actualization.

Not so on a boat at sea.  I wear the same pants every day, and when I’m smelling like a flying fish I point the cockpit shower nozzle at each of the directions of my body-compass and blast away, first with my pants on and then with them off.  After a few blasts my pants and I are clean, Godly, and vital.

It is only a matter of a minute or two before a wave crests over the spray skirt and covers me with salt, or a flying squid lands in my lap and squirts his ink on my clean pants.  Alas, the sea and its creatures are conspiring and colluding to make me an integral part of their world.  Why fight it?  If I can learn to accept this all as an essential part of the journey, I might find peace in the simple harmony of the wind and sea.

On day eleven we find ourselves on the same tack for the past 48 hours.  We haven’t touched a sail for over two days.  Pamela is careening along over bumpy seas with 18-22 knots of fresh north east wind.  Long, low cumulonimbus clouds threaten to rain, which we long for.  And then finally the shower comes — a glorious torrent of fresh water carrying away the salt from our bodies, sails, and decks!  I peel off my soggy gym shorts and scamper nude across the foredeck, feeling the warm rain against my salty skin.  I am amused by the contrast between deep tan and Puritan pale, and celebrate the moment by singing gospel songs at the top of my voice as the squall blows sideways sheets of rain into my face.

We are almost at the halfway point, nearly 1400 miles from Mexico and 350 miles from the doldrums, or Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).  I have been studying the weather charts for the past six weeks to see how the trade winds converge around the equator in these seas.  My strategy is to aim the boat at six degrees north latitude and 130 degrees west longitude to reach the point where the north east trades meet the south east trades, with almost no dead air between them.  But now the weather charts tell me that this area will become a large zone of disturbed air flow in 72 hours.  Winds are forecast at four knots, a far cry from the 20 knots that are currently rocking and rolling us ever south.  If this forecast comes true we may sit for days in light air and rolling seas with our sails slatting and tempers souring.  We may be forced to fire up the engine to motor 150 miles or so through this awful zone.  For now, we point our bow to our imaginary waypoint at the ITCZ and cross our fingers.

On day twelve we are soaking in streams of rain.  The squalls hit us hour by hour and wash away all the salt and grime.

I stumble into the cockpit at 0600 and realize I am on a careening train with its wheels just barely holding onto the tracks.  It rocks wildly from side to side down a steep mountainside.  The sparks fly in a dazzling array where its wheels find friction on the slippery rails, becoming bioluminescence as the tracks gradually turn into the sea and the train is Pamela.  I am groggy from a deep sleep and a weird dream.  For the first time in thirteen days I don’t know where I am when I awaken in the dark cabin.  There is no moon and few stars.  Pamela speeds into the black night as I write these words.

The sun does not rise.  The sky becomes a kaleidoscope of grays, light gray in the east and dark gray where the storm clouds hover.  My spirits brighten considerably when Pam pulls a hot brioche from the oven and we attack it with great globs of butter.  She has been kneading the dough and patiently letting it rise on the swinging gimballed stove, all day long rising and swaying as tall waves toss us about.  The fresh baked bread is delicious, soft and fluffy, not at all like the hard-tack I practiced making all summer in preparation for this voyage.  Tomorrow we’ll have toasted brioche and fried plantains for breakfast — yum!

The wind begins to fizzle so we set the whisker pole to hold out the jib to keep it from slatting.  In the hour before dawn the wind is on the rise again and I go forward to take down the pole.  I haven’t done this alone before, and certainly not in the dark.  But all goes well and I have the pole safely stowed as the wind freshens.  I am safely back in the cockpit now and the wind is starting to blow hard.  I look between the shrouds and see the Southern Cross low on the horizon.  Its four stars twinkle, then one by one they slowly disappear, snuffed out by a low lying cloud.

On day thirteen we are soaking in rivers of rain.  My foul weather gear is soaked through.  I go up on deck dry and naked, then layer by layer put on my water-logged gym shorts, dripping shirt, soaked rain pants and jacket.

As I study the weather charts I feel like a seamstress threading my way through highs and lows.  Yesterday’s chart looked dismal, forecasting that in 72 hours Pamela would drift in the middle of a 200-mile-wide high pressure zone with little or no wind.  Today I see a different pattern developing, projecting that we will enjoy fifteen knot winds as we enter the convergence zone

Pam creates the most wonderful scones conceived by the imagination of poets, crusty and hot and filled with currants.  They are overwhelmingly delightful as we munch on them in the rainy cockpit.

Deep in the doldrums and ahead of us by 100 miles, Mintaka motors for twelve hours looking for wind.  We have no shortage of wind so far, with frequent squalls through the day and night.

On day fourteen we are soaking in oceans of rain.  I capture some of it on video as Pamela, with sun on her decks, approaches a sky so purple-black that it quails the heart.  I pass the time doing sit-ups, push-ups, and down-dog Yoga postures on the foredeck, oblivious to the spray and rain.  The day is brightened considerably as Pam pulls a hot Tuscan loaf out of the oven, her third bread of the voyage.  It is soft and moist and reminiscent of Perugia and San Geminiono.  Simply marvelous!

Still 100 miles ahead of us, Mintaka is motoring with a adverse current that limits her progress to two knots.  Our wind turns from east to southwest, directly from the direction from Hiva Oa, and forces us westward for a time.  Ah, the doldrums.

Day fifteen is a good day for washing and drying.  The rain squalls have ceased for a time and there are beautiful cumulous clouds on the horizon hinting at a spell of fair weather.  I remove all the sheets, towels, foul weather gear, and damp rags from the saloon and hang them around the boat.  Monte complains when the bed sheets hanging from the clothesline spoil the airflow to the windvane and Pamela begins to sail in circles.  Then come the chart books that have been lying in a damp place on the floor, and next come my various spiral-bound notebooks that have taken in the damp from the humid equator.  Soon Pamela is festooned in waving flags of laundry.  She sails on proudly in seven knots of breeze, keeping her sails full and drawing and making three knots through the gentle equatorial waters.

We may need to turn on the engine soon.  Mintaka, now well over 120 miles southeast of us, has motored over 24 hours through the ITCZ so far, but Pamela is still finding enough breeze to keep her moving along.

On day sixteen I am visited by a dolphin pod during my midnight watch.  Pamela is sailing finely and churning up long tendrils of phosphorescence, which the dolphins see and hear from a great distance.  They streak through the black water like torpedoes making their own trails of phosphorescence.  They play for a few minutes and then disappear into the starlit night.

On day seventeen we are becalmed.  We talk of crossing the equator soon.  A sliver of moon appears as the sun sets.  On days eighteen and nineteen we are becalmed for a while, then set upon by gusty little gales as dark clouds pass overhead and dump rain down on our salty decks.  On day twenty the winds have finally blown themselves out and can no longer drive the sails.  The sky is cloudy with frequent rain that brings no wind.  The sails are slatting.  Unable to hold any wind they fill briefly and then collapse.  They crack loudly as they swing back and forth and test the strength of the standing rigging and our nerves.  We take this punishment for a while, then drop the sails and motor for twelve hours, then repeat the process, slatting then motoring.  We talk of one day crossing the equator.  Ah, the doldrums.

Pam once again brings hope to the crew by baking fresh bread — this time a light loaf with spiced pumpkin seeds and Mexican habiñero peppers!

On day twenty-one we have been at sea for three weeks.  But today there is a new exuberance —  we are preparing to cross the equator at last!  This is not an easy thing to plan for.  You have to do it just right or there could be consequences.  Typically there is someone on the boat who has crossed previously — a “shellback”.  Those on board who have not crossed previously are “pollywogs.”  The shellback dresses up like King Neptune and performs an initiation ceremony to turn the fresh pollywogs into seasoned shellbacks.  But in our case, everyone on board is a pollywog, so we have to improvise without a Neptune.  Pam dresses up in her Greek Goddess outfit, a gorgeous white gown exposing a sexy calf and ankle.  Larry is stripped to his waist and sports a red velvet fez with a gold and silk tassel, complemented by a Saint Patrick’s Day necklace and a kitchen whisk.  I go simple.  Naked (again?  really?) with a green fig leaf made of watercolor paper and a half a watermelon on my head.

While we’re discussing how we will all pose together on the bow for a photo we are beset by a hoard of wild dolphins.  Like kids running out of doors and alleys to chase the ice cream man, we see dolphins coming from near and far.  One dolphin leaps high into the air and performs a back flip, then flips again a moment later.  There are thirty dolphins now swimming in uniform along our port and starboard bow. They arc upward from the waves, draw a breath, and curve gracefully back below the surface of the water in synchronous twos, threes, and fours.

We photograph our chart plotter at precisely the moment that Pamela crosses the equator at 00 degrees, 00.0 minutes.  As the sun sets we snap our photo on the bow and I marvel that my paper fig leaf has not yet blown away.   We make a toast to Neptune and pour a tot into the sea.

On day twenty-two we are motoring at dawn.  We have been motoring all night.  With all the noise, vibrations, and diesel fumes I’m ready to climb the mast and leap off.  It’s pissing rain and I’m soaked as I stand at the wheel and hope for a squall to give us some wind.  I feel a bit of wind on my cheek and roll out the jib.  It holds!  Encouraged, I release the mainsail ties and the bound halyard and prepare to raise the main.  The wind picks up appreciably in the minutes it takes me to do this, and I’m thinking maybe I should have hoisted the sails when the wind was a bit lighter.  Then, as I’m raising the mainsail, there is a blast from the east and Pamela is thrown down onto her beam ends.  The jib I have unfurled is about to shred itself and the boom is swinging like a disoriented pole vaulter.  The mainsheet, reefing lines, and halyard are a tangled rats nest.  I struggle to get in the reefs and trim the sails.  Larry and Pam tumble up on deck and shout, “Do you need help?”  “Oh no, I’m doing fine.”  They are not convinced.  We work together to get the boat back under control.  I check the wind instruments and see that we have a new ship record, 31 knots of wind.

I make a note to myself to (1) always set up the lines before unleashing the sails and (2) always inform the crew before hoisting, dousing, and tacking the sails.

Larry is shivering in his underwear and lashed with cold sideways rain from the squall.  He looks sideways at me and wonders if I’m sane.

“Happy birthday, Larry!”

Pam makes a peach-upside-down cake for Larry’s birthday.  We have only 550 miles to go before Hiva Oa, and it seems likely we will get there without murdering anyone on board.

My coffee is hot and sweet and dribbles down my shirt.  It is day twenty-three and it is going to be a beautiful day at sea.  The sun is an orange-red ball peeking above the horizon.  It brings out a lustrous midnight-blue in the rolling waves and inflames the clouds in the east.  With the newly formed light I can now see how big the rollers are.  In the dark they seemed like monstrous wrecking balls, while in the early morning light they appear friendly.

The wind is up, the sails are full, and Pamela is full of sounds that indicate that she is sailing fast.  The steering wheel creaks with each turn to the left.  Monte the windvane whistles like a bird with each swing to the right.  Halyards on the weather side clank against the mast.  The American flag snaps against the backstay and makes the SSB antenna wire tremble.  Every minute of so the sea delivers a wave that runs counter to the regular swell and hits Pamela’s port side with a crash, and a bit of spray flies over the skirt and into the cockpit.  If you are trying to sleep in the port side bunk with your head against the hull it sounds like a mini cannon ball when the wave hits.  You hear the hard slap, then wait a moment for Pamela to go down low on her starboard side.  Canned goods in the lockers go bang and the metal water bottle that someone left in the galley sink goes clank.

Up in the cockpit the rocking is gentle and soothing.  Not so down below.  When you need to go forward, say, to the head (the ship’s toilet), you have to make quick dextrous grabs at the various hand holds while the boat lurches in the dark.  Standing at the sink you wedge yourself in with thighs and buttocks and lean hard against the low side of the boat to keep from slamming your back against the teak door.  A few nights ago in pitch blackness I reached down to open the valve to flush the toilet and my hand felt wetness.  It was not the valve, it was the inside of the toilet bowl.  No, I hadn’t flushed it yet.  Yes, it was full.  I calmly pulled my soiled hand out of the toilet and washed it in the sink, quite bemused by my attitude.  No big deal.  I simply accepted this minor misfortune and carried on.  On land I would have had a kannipshit fit.

When the sea is rough the erratic jostling makes you stagger like a drunk around the saloon.  You have to constantly watch out for “boat bites”.  Early in the voyage my head went hard against the edge of the saloon table.  The bump lasted over a week.  That same table caught me in the groin a day later.  Now I pay close attention to the table.  I might not know where my gloves and hat are, but I always know where this table is.

While Pamela looks tidy and ship-shape in a marina, out here she is a disheveled mess.  Coffee and hot chocolate stains adorn the cockpit.  The decks are covered with smelly dried flying fish.  Under the spinnaker bag near the bow I find one half-rotten.  A nice piece of steak lies behind the galley stove.  (I retrieve it, wash it off, then cook and devour it — tasty!)  Plantains in the bottom of the refrigerator are black and oozing.  The forepeak looks like a garage sale with gear and clothing strewn about, wet cushions festering, and potatoes sprouting.  Sleeping in the starboard bunk under a net of hanging vegetables I feel the drip-drop of a putrefying onion.  Meanwhile, back up on deck the water in my glass becomes brackish with salt spray.

But all of this we accept without complaint.  It is actually a nice change not worrying about it.  In Hiva Oa we will find a spring and wash everything out.

In Hiva Oa we will have fresh pamplemousse (sweet grapefruit).  In Hiva Oa we will have baguettes and pain au chocolat.  In Hiva Oa ….

It is day twenty-four and I am huddled in the cockpit with my wet raincoat thinking about altruism.  I finish a Kurt Vonnegut novel about an altruistic heir to a fortune who gives money to the less fortunate and listens patiently as they describe their painful lives, like a kind of modern-day check-writing Jesus.  He is accused of being a lunatic.  I read SuperFreakonomics, which describes psychology experiments in the 1960’s indicating that people tend to be altruistic without seeking any reward, yet recent experiments more carefully controlled indicate quite the opposite.  I am reading an account of the first solo ‘round-the-world sailing race in 1968 by Bernard Moitessier.  The winner of that race, Robin Knox-Johnston,  performed an extremely kind act of altruism by giving away his winnings to the widow of Donald Crowhurst.

Since that time there have been several such races, the Whitbread, the Vendée Globe.  Today these sailors compete in super high-tech machines made of carbon fiber.  But in 1968 many of of the competitors built their own boats. Some, like Moitessier’s Joshua and Knox-Johnston’s Suhaili, are exceptionally strong and heavy with traditionally long keels, able to withstand the savage pounding of waves along the 40th parallel south which circle the globe non-stop without interruption from any continent.  Other’s, like Crowhurst’s, are trimarans made of plywood.  In 1968, no one has ever crossed an ocean in a trimaran.

But Crowhurst’s plywood trimaran, Teignmouth Electron, is super high-tech.  The other competitors have already left Plymouth, England, and the leaders are well out into the Atlantic and past the equator, yet Crowhurst is still tinkering with his boat’s myriad electrical systems.  He confidently assures his sponsors that he will make up the time easily due to his boat’s superior technology.  The competitors can leave Plymouth whenever they want up to a certain date, for the fastest time wins the race, not the first at the finish line.  Crowhurst’s boat is not quite up to snuff, and he casts off at the latest possible moment.  Moitessier is rounding the Cape of Good Hope at the southern end of Africa and Knox-Johnston is plugging away not far behind.  In the English Channel Teignmouth Electron is already beginning to fail.

Crowhurst does not have much sailing experience, but as a technical entrepreneur he is competent and confident.  He has sacrificed much to get this far, having sold his business and mortgaged his home.  He is in debt after spending a fortune on Teignmouth Electron, and he has got to win this race.  His wife and two children wait anxiously at home in England for his upbeat ship-to-shore radio updates, while alone on the Atlantic in his creaking leaking boat he gnaws his fingernails.  He knows his boat is not going to survive the Southern Ocean.

Crowhurst is caught in a vise.  To continue is suicide, to go back is financial ruin and shame.  He hatches a brilliant plan:  he will proceed to the South Atlantic off the coast of Brazil and simply wait for reports of the lead boats rounding Cape Horn.  He will turn back to England ahead of them and simply arrive first.  To convince the race committee he will give false reports of positions off Good Hope, the Indian Ocean, Cape Leeuwin, the South Pacific, and Cape Horn.

The plan actually works for a time.  The race committee is amazed at his progress.  Teignmouth Electron is truly an amazing boat and Crowhurst is a master sailor as well as a technical whiz.  But Francis Chichester is skeptical.  His ‘round-the-world voyage on Gypsy Moth two years prior was the inspiration for this race.  Chichester actually knows the route and what the sailors will encounter.   Crowhurst can’t possibly be that far along he tells the committee.

While he lingers in the South Atlantic, essentially going in circles off the coast of Brazil for several months, Crowhurst keeps two logs.  One contains the false position reports, the other his true thoughts.  He knows his deceitful plan will not work.  He will be found out.  Not only will he lose the race, he will lose all honor and respect.  His wife and children will lose their home.  His journal is filled with the wanderings of his agitated mind as he bobs on the ocean for months, with nowhere to go and going nowhere.

Teignmouth Electron sails dutifully on, creaking and leaking.  Perhaps she is not strong enough for a circumnavigation around the five capes of the Southern Ocean.  But she is still afloat several months later when a ship finds her wandering in mid-ocean without her skipper.  The log books are still intact.  Soon the world finds out about the false reports and the deceit.  The true journal comes to a tortured end.  Its last entry is surreal, resolute, and trails off in an unfinished sentence.

On day twenty-five I contemplate kindness.  It is one of the words I recite each morning when I rise.  But out here I rise at 0400, 0600, 0800, depending on my watch, and with my eyes full of sleep I forget about being kind.  I say something mean to Pam although I don’t intend to be mean.  She is hurt by my words and she does not know how we will make it all the way across the Pacific like this.

Bernard Moitessier’s book leaves me with mixed feelings.  I want to be like him, self-sufficient on the ocean, competent.  He handles all of Joshua’s sails by himself through gales and calms without the modern conveniences of rolling furlers and self-tailing winches.  He shoots a noonsite with his sextant to determine where he is.  He climbs his mast every week to lubricate his wire halyards, and says nothing of the wild gyrating motion fifty feet above his deck.

I climb the companionway steps at 0400 to sit in the cockpit groggy with sleep.  Compared with the muted sounds from my bunk, up here the wind seems to be screaming and the waves pounding.  I don’t quite know where I am for a minute or two.  Can I stand?  I attempt to stand and I’m thrown against the dodger.  Can I make it back to the steering seat?  I attempt to climb around the wheel and I’m thrown against the binnacle.  Could I grope my way securely to the bow?  Forget it.  Could Moitessier do it?  Of course, again and again, whistling a French tune.

Moitessier is more than a top-notch singlehanded sailor.  He writes beautifully, describing living pearls of phosphorescence along the leach of his jib.  During a prolonged calm in the Indian Ocean he trains a wild sea bird to eat from the palm of his hand.  He practices yoga and sends messages to freighters using a sling shot.  His film canisters containing messages to his family and the race committee land with precision on the bridge of the passing ship.

Moitessier loves his time at sea.  He maintains a blissful harmony with the elements as Joshua, which he built with his own hands, cruises effortlessly through the turbulence.  He watches out for icebergs as he rounds Cape Horn, where he begins to imagine that he may possibly not sail back to Plymouth.  Perhaps he will continue going straight, right past Good Hope again, through the Indian Ocean again, past New Zealand again, and then steer left for Tahiti.  One and half times around the world non-stop solo.

Moitessier will certainly win the race.  He will be more than a hero back in France.  The French are passionate, even rabid, about open ocean sailing, and Moitessier will be honored for time immemorial.  Is that what I really want, he asks.  To return to society, living within the constraints of landsmen in accelerated time and limited space.  Or to be absolutely free?  The prize money means nothing to him, nor the status.  Indeed, it would limit him to a significant degree.

What about his wife and family, Pam asks.  Ah, that.  I suppose they will have to wait several more months and meet him in Tahiti.  Eventually Françiose his wife has to tell his daughter that daddy will not be coming home soon.  His daughter cries for three days.

On day twenty-six the moon is high and bright when I awake at 0400.  Moitessier believes that sailors love the moon more than the sun, and I feel this as well tonight.  I am thinking of what I wrote yesterday, about not being able to walk to the bow.  Of course I could walk to the bow, even sleepy in a rolling seaway.  I go forward to prove it.

At the bow is Moitessier himself.  I am not surprised to see him there, wet with spray.

Bonjour, Denis.  Quelle belle nuit,” he greets me in his native tongue.

“Yes, Mr. Moitessier, it is a beautiful night.”

DÎtes-moi Bernard.”  The lines at the edges of his eyes show his welcoming smile.

Très bien Bernard.  We’re nearly in Polynesia.  What an accomplishment!”

“Oh yes.  You can be proud of yourself.”  He looks wistfully out at the dark ocean.  “I have always loved it here.”

“Was it hard when you left Françoise for your solo voyage?”

“Yes, it was.  On both of us.  I was driven, it was my destiny.  She understood this.  We were stronger afterwards.  I have no regrets.”

“Pam doesn’t like it when I read your story.  She says I am trying to be you.”

He cracks his wry smile.  “It is important for you to be you, tu connais bien.  You need to be kind to Pam.”

“You’re right.  I want to sail across this ocean with Pam.  I could do it by myself, but that’s not what I really want.  We’ve been all over the world together.  She is my ultimate travel partner.”

“I like that.”  He stares thoughtfully at the stars on the horizon.  I follow his gaze a while, then turn to comment and find him gone.  There is a draft of warm air and suddenly a waft of sweetness is borne on the wind.  It is the unmistakable smell of land!  Like the fragrance of warm candy, or a boulangere sprinkling driplets of creme brulee on a fresh-baked loaf of coconut bread.  The smell is lusty with a tinge of vanilla.

On day twenty-seven I am giddy with anticipation as the sawtooth ridge of Hiva Oa is gradually formed by the rising sun.  We are sailing fast only four miles off Cape Matafenua and wild plumes of spray are ricocheting off the nearby rocks.

Mintaka is anchored securely in the little Atuona harbor and Mark and Robyn come on the VHF radio to give us helpful instructions for navigating the tight space and setting a bow and stern anchor.  After twenty-six days on the wide ocean this anchorage looks amazingly small, with eighteen boats packed into a space that would comfortably hold half that number.

The mountains of Hiva Oa are unbelievably steep.  The valleys are fringed with coconut palms, while the ridge tops show patches of light green that resemble the high pastures of Switzerland.  The highest mountain rises 3500 feet and is purple and black under a brooding canopy of cloud, its ridges nearly vertical.  Where is the sun today?  The sky is  quilted with various shades of gray.  Occasionally a valley is illuminated by a fleeting shaft of sunlight before disappearing back into gray obscurity.

We launch the dinghy and row ashore, finding Hiva Oa a land full of surprises.  The water in the anchorage is murky and brown from runoff.  On a rocky black sand beach no one is sunbathing or swimming.  Outside the seawall is apparently a favorite place for hammerhead sharks to hang out.  There is a small shack on shore with signs indicating various services, like laundry, but it is noon and the shack is closed.  A group of sunburned cruisers stare at us from the porch of the shack.  Sitting with laptop computers perched on their knees they wait for a fleeting spark of wifi signal to carry an email back to their friends and family announcing their safe arrival.

I stagger drunkenly trying to find my land legs.  I haven’t slept much in the last twenty-four hours and my brain functions in three-quarter time.  We lurch along the country road into the town of Atuona, about a mile and a half.  I am pleased to find ripe mangoes in season, and I share one with a horse who lets me scratch his ears.  The roadside is fringed with sweet frangipani and bougainvillea.  I pick two luscious red hibiscus blossoms for Pam and Robyn to put in their hair.

Atuona seems bleak under the somber gray sky.  There is no one around on a Thursday afternoon.  It is humid and the trees and flowers are prospering while the village sleeps.

We trek up a steep hill to visit the grave of Paul Gauguin, the French impressionist painter who deserted his wife and five children to go and find himself.  Like his colleague Vincent Van Gogh, he shared a burdensome melancholy.  He died here at the age of fifty-five, exactly my age.  Back in the village we wait for the Gauguin museum, then wander through the rooms in oppressive heat to see copies of his work.  The original paintings I have seen before, in Paris, London, Amsterdam, San Francisco, showing the unsmiling painter in various self portraits that highlight his great drooping eyelids and long jawbone.  His expression of Gallic fatalism betrays a hint of confidence in what he is doing.  He knows he is a great painter although in Paris they do not understand him.  He will go to Pont Aven in Bretagne to form his own school, and then to Tahiti in search of paradise lost, and finally to Atuona to escape from the French colonials who have spoiled paradise.

Gauguin’s letters on display show his insecurity.  He compares himself to Degas who has no heart and to Monet who earns 100,000 francs a year from a wealthy patron.  But the letters also show a poetic tenderness, like Moitessier.  To his wife Mette he describes the softness of a Tahitian night, with a stark silence interrupted only by the sound of a dried falling leaf stirred by a passing spirit.

It is the eyes of the Marquesan women in Gauguin’s paintings that capture me.  I see these eyes again and again during our brief time in Hiva Oa.  They stare into the abstract distance with a soft melancholy for a moment and then return to the present to greet a friend or neighbor with an easy smile.

The people of Atuona are not searching for the same things as me.  They do not seem to mind that the wifi service is expensive and slow and they do not pay $20 dollars to watch it non-functioning for twenty-four hours.  They do not seem to mind that there is very little wine in the small magasin in town.  They seem happy enough to chat for hours other under the shady mango trees by the post office.  On Saturday night there is a local rock band playing at the only restaurant, with a sit-down menu of boiled pork and couscous for $25 a plate, and they seem content standing in the parking lot outside and listening to the music while they visit with each other in the warm night air.

But I am still searching.  After five days in the murky anchorage we are officially cleared into French Polynesia, our laundry is done, and Pamela’s water tanks are full, as well as our diesel jugs.  We have fresh bananas, mangoes, and pamplemousse in our cockpit and crispy baguettes hanging in the saloon.  We haul up our two anchors dripping with black mud and catch a cool breeze as we sail out of Atuona harbor bound for Tahuata.

In Tahuata we will find a palm-fringed white sand beach with turquoise water so clear that you can see the bottom under your boat.  In Tahuata we will find trees laden with pamplemousse.  In Tahuata we will stop worrying about wifi and email, but sit and watch the sun light and shadows unfold on the surrounding hills and valleys, sighing as the sun dips below the clear horizon and cheering as the full moon peeks over the ridge top.  In Tahuata ….