His speak was theatrical. That is the word to describe it. It was not flamboyant, and it wasn’t filled with emotion–it was plainly theatrical. He spoke for a stage, or more precisely for a lecture hall, and his runty but upheld stature would hold him in dramatic throes for the imagination of attending pupils. His voice, a crisp tenor, was not the remarkable thing. It was the combination of two things–his slow British South African accent, which caused him to stress the end of words like here and to flay them open as if to flourish extravagantly the final syllable of the word; and his erudite mind, which never failed to deliver to his conscience the perfect word to fit his intended meaning. The man’s speak was so perfectly unblemished that he might as well have been reciting from a book. That’s it: he was like a book.
“A writer?” he said, the er pronounced as the open ah of a dentist’s patient. “You see, I have a sixth sense concerning these matters–I knew, I say, I knew that you were different when you came to my boat the other day. I too am a writer. You are an academic, like me.”
“I don’t know.”
“You are. You see, Cale, I have had terribly bad luck with crew, with every last one of them, from the madman who wanted me to smuggle him illegally to Tahiti, to the alcoholic, the depressive woman, up to the latest one, and I tell you this–I have spoken more with you during our hour of conversing here–or to be more precise, I felt more enjoyment in this one single hour of ours than all of the 60 days of hours that I spent with my last crew.”
“60 days? Where did you come from?”
“I came from La Paz, Mexico,” he said.
“La Paz? I’ve been there. That’s the first port I crewed from, across to Mazatlan–actually, I met another South African captain there who needed crew to New Zealand. I said no at the time because I wanted to learn Spanish and see the southern continent. 3 years later…”
“I see. Thomas! That’s no place for a peussy cat, Thomas, yehhshhh.” He picked up his cat, who was sitting beside the gimbal stove watching Andrew cook rice. The thing was a massive cat, and he had the coiffed puffy hair to exaggerate the matter. “Yehhhssh,” repeated Andrew, creating of the middle of the word a sort of glottal fricative. He pronounced ‘pussy cat’ using the French eu, making the word stand out shockingly every time he said it, which was quite often. I suppose everyone has their own way of inveigling their animals.
“It took you 60 days from La Paz to get here? Is that normal?”
“It most certainly is not. It was supposed to have taken 30 days, you see, but alas, the Doldrums had their way with us and we drifted under thunderstorms for near a fortnight.”
“Who was with you?”
“Yes, my crew, as it were. Chris was the fellow’s name.”
“What happened to him?”
“He left the boat once we arrived here. I do not know why, but he left, and stayed with Marilou and her family.”
“Is he still here?”
“Why are you so interested in Chris?”
“I’m not, I mean, I’m just curious about other crew, I feel like I know a lot of them; he was a backpacker?”
“Yes, and he brought his surf board as well. His backpack was twice the size of yours–we had to take everything out and stow it in the four-peak.”
“That’s the forward cabin there,” he said with an outstretched finger. I scanned briefly over the hand, which was marked by liver spots, and wore a waxy sheen from the yellow cabin light. The finger was thick, and the knuckles big and round, but the whole finger tapered at the tip to a long fingernail, and it shook gently under the beginnings of some form of arthritis.
“Mmm,” he affirmed, “I suppose you yanks call it that.”
He served the steaming rice with shredded meat out of a can from Mexico in two large blue Tupperware bowls.
“Here you are,” he said, handing me the warm bowl.
“Now,” he went on, his chin in the air, his glass blue eyes gazing out the porthole. “Underway, what we will do is this. We will eat the meals that we cook, and upon terminating them, we shall place these dishes in the cockpit, to deal with them on the morrow. I just cannot tolerate dealing with the dishes in the evenings.” His hand was grasped around the bulkhead, and he stood there peering out at the anchorage, eyeing the other boats. This was his pedestal, his lecturing position, and in the days to come I’d grow accustomed to this fitting niche of his.
“How much water is there?” I inquired. On Lido’s boat there had been a water maker, and we used it daily.
“The tank holds 140 liters of water, but we shant wash with the fresh water, we shall use that bucket and milk jug, there aft the cockpit on the fantail, to scoop seawater. We will have plenty of water to drink–it should take about a week, I should say, to arrive to Tahiti. When I am sailing, I tend to drink a cup of seawater per day…” he paused.
“…I think I won’t join you in that routine.”
“…Not? Very well.” The ‘very’ had a rolled ‘R’, and a sharp end; something like ver-r-ii.
“So what did happen to your old crew?”
“He went off with Rafael, to Rangiroa, and then to Tahiti, I believe.”
“A Frenchman. A very bright and curious man, he is undertaking a journey to circumnavigate the world by–”
“Why yes, Cale, that’s quite right…”
“I know Rafael. I met him in Panama City. My friend Kate went along with him for a time but got off the boat somewhere in Colombia.”
“He told me about that incident.”
“Well, it’s a small world,” I said.
“So do you think we’ll still be out of here in 2 or 3 days like you said?”
“I do not have any reason to believe otherwise. It should take Gary a day to assemble the roller furler, a day to install it, and we should leave on the morrow.”
Gary was an American on a 47-foot ketch named Miluna. It was he who I passed by in Lido’s dinghy after having retrieved our stern anchor when we had failed to station closer to the beach. Gary’s bowsprit had been ripped clear off the bow, and his forestay and roller furling unit with it.
“It is an unspoken rule in the cruiser’s world that a cruiser will help his fellow boater,” Andrew had said. “I will leave when we have helped that man repair his damage.”
“Do you know him?” I had asked.
“It does not matter whether or not I know him–I will help him.”
“That’s very noble of you,” I’d said. “I don’t think many people share your ethic.”
“That seems to be the way of it. I often feel alone in the world.”
Andrew’s was a 35-foot Cheoy Lee Lion, a classic heavy displacement yacht of a slender beam that had been constructed in Hong Kong in 1965. In those days, fiberglass was a new medium for constructing boats, and they overestimated the necessary thickness by several inches, thus making the boats from that era into veritable tanks on the sea. Today, glass boats sport a hull a third of the thickness of Athena’s.
The woodwork had once been impressive. The bulkhead trim, the cupboard doors, the engine compartment. Outside, the 3-inch gunnel wore a thin wooden cap rail of peeling varnish, which presented just one project of many that Andrew had on his palette. He did not miss an opportunity to speak of the work that the boat needed.
“When I’m rich and famous, and settled in Tahiti, I will buy paint, and I will paint this boat. Oh, it just ruffles my feathers that she’s in such a state. I will haul her out, I will quit her of this wretched weed, and I shall paint her with anti-fouling.”
The cockpit had no luxuries–no awning, no weather protection. Andrew came from the old school of sailors, based out of Durban, South Africa, who admonished other sailors who shielded themselves from the elements. In Athena’s cockpit was a bow-curved tiller, yellowish under the varnish, which matched the wooden covers of the flanking benches. It was all open to the sky and wind, this space of no more than 10 square feet.
It was a small boat, to say something of the way I might have felt coming from a 50 foot cat with enough deck space to accommodate 20 people or more. On Athena, the plywood deck was overlain with sheets of gripping texture, and ran around the cabin house to the bow, where rust from the ancient anchor and chains had smeared into the off-white grip surface. There was no roller furling system on the forward stay, and the rumpled bodies of the genoa and jib were wrapped about the pulpit and safety lines with gaskets.
“You know, when I’m… when I’m rich and famous, in Tahiti, I’m going to remove this boom, you see. It is far too long, and far too heavy.”
“I’ve never seen a roller furling boom before,” I said.
“It’s an outdated design, but this wooden boom is the original. I had the rotten mast replaced, but kept this wretched thing. I had tried to leave with Rafael, but a shackle broke, out there at the mouth of the bay, and this horrible device swung outward and slammed again and again and I could not control it. Oh! Will the world ever let me get on with it? First the engine, then the shackle. What more can go wrong?”
“The engine, you said. What happened to the engine?”
“Halfway from La Paz she just stopped working. I came into this terrible rolling bay under sail, you know. I spent a week trying to repair that blasted engine, and finally found the problem–it was a clog in the cooling system, and I finally freed the rust inside by gently tapping the engine block up there on the bows with a steel hammer. The rust, it fell right out, like sawdust. I dare say that it was the mechanical kin of a triple bypass surgery.”
“Well, if there isn’t a problem on a boat, then it’s not a boat,” I offered.
“In that case, Cale, I think my boat counts for several. But what you were telling me about Lido’s boat there, it seems to me that his vessel is not seaworthy. That beam sounds like a disaster in waiting.”
“Yea, well, we felt fine with it from the Galapagos, and it got us here.”
“I would not trust it for a minute, if I were on that boat.”
Andrew’s spotted hand was stroking Thomas’ fur, which came off in plumes that fell lightly to the cabin floor. I broke my gaze from the hand to look around. I was on the port berth across from the nav table, which shared the starboard side with the second berth where Andrew was sitting. There were about two feet between us. To my right was the kitchenette and gimbal stove. The sink’s bronze pump was an elegant construction that was attractively caked in the peppermint moss of its age. Beside Andrew was a number of cupboards that opened up to reveal a medicine cabinet, the power inverter, and a space dedicated to a myriad of electrical wires. I thought nothing of it then, but the place was markedly unkempt, and so were those wires. Tools were scattered atop the cupboards, and power outlets were remarkably unprotected.
In what Andrew called the “four peak” or “fore peak,” there was a whole mess of clutter–clothes, boxes, bags of beans, books, a cooler that I opened and immediately shut again when the smell had reached my nostrils. He doesn’t bother with the cooler because it takes too much energy. One of his projects was to reorganize the four peak, his sleeping place once underway.
Behind me was a bookshelf, among which were many books I would come to read. Titles like Slocum’s “Sailing Around the World Alone,” “Arabian Nights”, “The Prophet”; there was Moitessier, Knox Johnson, Jimmy Cornell titles; Luke Short westerns, “Now Wait for Last Year” by Phillip K. Dick, which I found hidden and scrabbly; I read all these and more. It was relieving to be around so many books, for I had already depleted the few thousand pages that I carried with me on the crossing. I gifted my book “Ireland” to Andrew, because I thought an Irish citizen ought to have something Irish aboard.
“So you’re Irish?”
“That’s correct. I’ve never been to Ireland, but, I have the passport, and it is the one that I employ for traveling internationally.”
“I was wondering about that tattered flag.”
“Yes, I have a spare one that I have been meaning to install.” He set the steal kettle on the gimbal, and I saw his hand shaking as it returned to scratch his bare chest.
“So how are you Irish?”
“Well my father was British, you see. He also lived in Ireland for a time, a soldier, as it were. He gained, or acquired that citizenship as well. When I came of age, I had the choice to acquire one or the other passports.”
“So you chose Irish? Why don’t you fly the South African flag?”
“I am a refugee, in essence. That is what I am.”
“A refugee,” I repeated.
“That’s right. A refugee is someone fleeing political and economic oppression. That is what I am doing. Africa is a bad place for humans. You see, Cale,” he said, shaking the sugar container over his mug. “South Africa is failing. It is going to the gallows. There were 8 rands to the dollar a year ago, and already it has inflated to 12. These guys, you see, when they came to power, and they came to power overnight, destroyed the country in a matter of months. The current president has 20 wives. Corruption has permeated the entire political and economic structure.”
The kettle sounded, and he switched off the flame. He clutched the handle and brought it to the mug, into which he had put a spoon of instant coffee and two spoons of powdered milk. He poured the water from the kettle before setting it again on the stove, and left the mug on the engine compartment cover to steep. He went on in his slow, careful pace.
“South Africa is a beautiful country, but these guys, they don’t know how to do business. They lie, they steal, and they cheat. What happened in what was formally Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe, will happen to South Africa–is happening there. These guys have taken over. The law is now that a business must employ the correct corresponding ratio of native workers, and the heads of institutions were simply replaced overnight by these guys. We had one of the best healthcare systems in the world, I say, and it was destroyed, overnight. The head of the neurology department of a top clinic was replaced with one of these guys, a native, and he did not know anything about neurology, much less about running a neurology department.”
“Sounds like a mistake.”
“Indeed, a grand mistake, if you will allow me the un-exaggerated superlative.” He had raised a tapered, ringed index finger when he said the word. “These guys are not educated, and their corruptive tendencies are truly virulent. The country will collapse.”
Two or three days turned to four, turned to 5, turned into a week and beyond. I was on Andrew’s boat for two reasons. First, he was taking a B-line to Tahiti, skipping Nuku Hiva, and passing through the Tuamotus. This served my purpose because it would catch me up at least in part with the main fleet, and even if we spent a further week in Hiva Oa, there should be enough time to make landfall in Tahiti within the 15 days that the official had given me.
Andrew was originally heading to New Zealand, but would not be able to continue onward from Tahiti for lack of money. This constituted the second reason why I was aboard his boat.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Cale,” I’d said the night I’d taken Lido’s dinghy to meet other boats.
“My name is Andrew.”
“I know, Brett sent me over here, I visited him on his boat Impi. He insisted I come now to ask you if you want crew, said you’re going to Tahiti.”
“That is correct, I am heading to Tahiti. Would you like to come aboard?”
“Well let me just get this out of the way so I don’t waste your time. I’m not a contributing, or cost-share crew–I work for my berth and for my food. Been doing it now for years.”
“The thing is Cale, I can’t offer you that, since I don’t have many provisions, because I have no money myself.”
At the time, when I heard it, I didn’t believe it. If there’s one thing I had learned in the boating world it is that cruising is expensive. But only a moment passed before I started to feel that what he was saying was true–that he had no money. It was not that he had little money, it was that he had zero money, “naught,” as Andrew put it. I came to believe this during the conversation, and confirmed it during our time together, hitchhiking into town, where I bought food provisions for the journey.
“I bought the boat outright for 4,000 dollars,” he said to me one day in the beginning of our acquaintanceship.
“Well, then I had to outfit it, and rig it. I had to repair it. The mast had rotted through, and there was a centimeter of mold and waste caked throughout the cabin. A centimeter I say. Everything had to be replaced, and it was necessary to purchase new instruments–the auto helm, the radar, the VHF–I still have not completed the wiring correctly on the VHF–my son is an electrician, if only he would be here he would know what to do with it. Do you know wiring?”
“I wouldn’t trust myself with connecting the VHF. For AIS?”
“Automated Information System, that’s quite right, to see other boats. It has a GPS signal as well which is not working at present.”
I couldn’t help with the VHF, but in the days to come I’d go up the mast on a makeshift boson’s chair, and crimp a new connection onto the wiring at the spreader to fix its lights–without success.
“After all that, I had spent so much of my money, I could not remain in San Piedro, there in Los Angeles, where I bought her. I sailed south and spent a year in La Paz. But I had by then spent all of my money. My pocketbook did not fare well there either; the Mexicans are thieves. I did not like the Club Cruceros at the yacht club–the Americans were quite exclusive. So I prepared my affairs and I left. Though, without the zarpe–and they didn’t ask me for it here–and you should take stock in that, Cale, because authority is never something to worry about. I’m sure you have more than 15 days, despite what the official has told you.”
“Well, I tend to take borders seriously if I plan on leaving in another direction. So, you left La Paz. With Chris?”
“That’s right, he showed up a few days before. I am registered with Latitude 38, which gives me duty-free fuel here, and Chris paid the 250 dollars to get his bond exemption through my agent.”
“So you guys left, took 60 days, arrived here.”
“Quite right. Chris had agreed to pay me 500 dollars on arriving here, but he did not, and so here I am, penniless. And I’m glad to be gone from La Paz, because, as I say, the Mexicans are all thieves. It is in their blood to be thieves.”
“They’re not all thieves,” I said, shifting in my berth to look up at Andrew, who stood at his perch gripping the bulkhead.
“Cale. I spent a year in La Paz, and every single dealing I had with those guys was tainted by cheating, lying and stealing.”
“I’m not saying otherwise,” I retorted, somewhat perturbed at the turn in the conversation. “I’m just saying that you can’t claim that all Mexicans are thieves.”
“I can and I very much do, to the contrary.” He sounded like a debating lord in the antiquated atmosphere of the House of Commons. “Every Mexican that I or anyone I know dealt with was conniving.”
“Fine, but Mexico is a big place, 100 million people.”
“Cale, I have spent a long time there–”
“–I traveled in Mexico for a year, and not just in Baja California,” I shot back, heated, perhaps, by memories of good people in that country. “I went everywhere, I know a lot of Mexicans and they’re friends.”
“Yes, well, in my experience I found that Mexicans are thieves.”
“I don’t get it, Andrew. You’re an intelligent person, how can you make such a blanket statement?”
“Because after a year of dealings with–”
“–well that’s gotta be it,” I interrupted again. “You were in Baja California, which is invaded by Americans–hell there’s even a political party that’s based on reclaiming land lost to gringos–”
“–just my point–”
“–but you were only there. You can’t judge an entire people just by your limited personal experiences. Look at your condition. You’re a 66 year old white man living on a yacht, and you have dealings with Mexicans, but no interaction with them–you are not looking to make friends outside of business transactions, and anyway you can’t very well expect everyone to treat you equally.”
“I can. And indeed they should.”
Andrew had a conception of ethic and principle whereby he judged the world in grave tones. His was a globalized view of how things should be, and however just his want of equal treatment might sound, it is always folly to judge. I would have him feel uncomfortable in his dealings, by all means, and to be upset, and to not feel accepted–because despite the bad experiences we may as individuals have, the character of a man is made stronger by his ability to feel reverence even in circumstances that do not favor his person.
“Now, I hope that you will not be like the Canadian couple I told you about–the girl, when I said that women soldiers should not be in combat, ignored me for the rest of the night.”
“I won’t turn off. It’s intriguing to hear your opinion,” I said. “Don’t mind me, anyway, it’s just that I know a lot of Mexicans, and they are good.”
“It could be perhaps that I am getting to an older age wherein I feel quite right with my view of things.”
“Probably,” I murmured.
As soon as I joined Andrew on Athena, we went right to work on Gary’s boat Miluna. If Andrew was an academic and a man of ideas, then Gary was a pragmatic man, and one of action. He must have been around Andrew’s age, but his body allowed him still to be agile. Andrew had been a lawyer, working in a branch of military intelligence as a younger man uncomfortable in the ranks of grunts. Gary was of a different breed altogether–he was gruff, hard-working; he abused his tools with the calculated treatment that someone who knows what he’s doing allows himself. To hide the baldness he constantly wore a baseball cap, weather-worn and pulled loosely over his wide forehead. His eyes were shallow and his deep tanned skin was entering the dilapidation of old age, and his expression seemed locked in a state of alternating disbelief and impatience.
“Hand me the channel wrench would ya?” he asked.
I handed him the crescent wrench.
“No, damnit, the channel wrench, for Christ’s sake.”
He was laying down and hunched over the side, reattaching the pulpit screws into the bowsprit mahogany. We had spent the last few days repairing it. I had been in the dinghy at the bow, holding the bowsprit up as Gary bolted it down to the deck, which he had sanded and which beforehand we had together spent hours trying to mold so that the bowsprit would fit back in. It finally did, and Gary had applied thick blood-red epoxy all over it with his hands. Now, he cranked tension on the final bolt of the pulpit.
“There ya go! Alright,” he said.
“It’s been completed?” asked Andrew from behind. Mostly I was the one helping Gary, if for no other reason than my muscles could take the strain. Under the sun Andrew wore a safari cap with a hood that hung down to protect his neck. He had a white and blue collared dress shirt which he tucked into his khaki shorts, and his feet were comfortable in their black crocs. He looked small when we were outside, in contrast to his apparent largeness when alone in Athena’s cabin, where he was always standing shirtless at his niche and I sitting. His mouth always seemed to be open, lips hidden by a white beard, and his yellowing teeth–the left incisor missing–were perpetually grinding lightly together. His hands hung at his sides in a peculiar way.
“All done with that. But I have other things I have to do,” said Gary.
“Are you going to try to get the forestay and roller furling back up now?” I asked.
“Fuck no man,” he said with breaking intonation. “Well the forestay I can probably attach at anchor, but not the roller furling. That’d be like two monkeys fuckin’ a football. Gotta put the boat on the dock over there, pass the roller furling through the pulpit, raise it, attach it, done deal.”
“Wanna go up the mast?” he asked me.
“What, in this?” I motioned to the swell that was entering the bay, and which had been steadily building for a day. A Polish boat nearer the shore was getting walloped, lifted four or five feet over the passing swell–it looked like it was heading off a storm.
“Come on I’ll show you how to use the self-climbing mechanism.”
I donned the apparatus, and used it to climb perhaps 5 feet before I realized that at the first spreader–not to speak of the top of the mast–I swung with such violence that I would surely crack my head over something. Hiva Oa’s harbor was simply too rough at the moment.
“I don’t think this is safe right now.”
“Oh, Cale,” said Gary. “You know you got something written on your forehead. Begins with a p.”
“What are you saying?”
“You go up then!”
He did try, and then made the same realization.
“Hey,” I said. “You got something written on your forehead…”
The name of Hiva Oa’s town was Atuona, and we hitched there every other day. The locals were generous to give us rides, and I noted that even on this small piece of land in the middle of the ocean, pick-ups were prohibited from taking passengers in their beds.
In town there were plenty of locked internet connections emanating from private houses, and the local post office had a service that would cost 5 dollars per hour, which I would not use. I used the internet at the tourism office one day, the large tattooed Marquesian man allowing me to sit opposite him at his desk, but I felt his eyes and left. I eventually asked at a private home that had been signaled to me if I might use their connection from the street, and like that we had internet. Praise be to the internet.
Andrew would bring one of his two computers into town, and squint through his glasses and past the glare of the screen. I brought my little Asus, and immediately updated all of my crew postings on the sailing forums; “Looking to crew from Tahiti onward,” I wrote. It was not long before I received a response from a man called Luke.
I read your post. I’m in Tahiti now, boat on the hard, ready to go as soon as I get it back into the water in about a week. No worries about cost-sharing, crew does not contribute on my boat. What is your ETA?
Already I had told him 2-3 days, which had passed. I wrote again, with Andrew’s new estimate of 2-3 more days. Gary’s projects were elongating the duration of my stay in Hiva Oa, and I couldn’t help but feel the tug of anxiety–on the one hand Andrew was telling me not to worry about the 15 days I was given to arrive in Tahiti to get the visa, and on the other, how could I not? And Luke’s response was this:
Leaving on Sunday? Alright, 6 days it should take you to get here. I’m looking for one more crew, and once you get here, we’ll go.
I had camped in Panama City, in the heart of the Puddle Jump fleet, and it had taken a month to meet a boat. Here, I was not even an hour off Sarim before I boarded Athena, and now, I had a crewing position on a boat in advance. It was just a question of getting to Tahiti before Luke would decide enough waiting and leaves without me.
With these new thoughts on my mind, Andrew and I went walking down one of the town’s roads, fresh baguettes in our hands. Then, from the corner of my eye I caught sight of a familiar green shirt sitting on a rock beside a wooden bridge. It was Lido. Gil was beside him playing with a stick, and Kelly was away from him, smoking a cigarette and leaning on the bridge railing, looking into the trickling creek below.
“Oh, look, that’s Lido and Kelly, you want to meet them?” I asked Andrew.
“Alright,” he said. He spoke far less outside the relative comfort of Athena’s cabin.
We approached the family, and Lido looked up. His face was drawn, and tired. Gil was slapping the stick on his calves but Lido was hunched and unaware, nursing a Hinano beer in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. Between Lido and Kelly they smoke enough to fill a zeppelin, I thought.
“Hey, Lido, how goes it?” I asked, but my tone was too cheerful–there was a strange aura of melancholy that hung like too much foliage low over our heads, and cheerfulness was no easement.
“Hello, mate,” he said. He pointed with the cigarette to the can of beer. “6 dollars,” he sighed.
I introduced Andrew, but was glad that they did not shake hands–Andrew gave his in a discouragingly limp manner.
“Hallo,” he said, and was quiet as I spoke with Lido about nothing.
There was nothing to say. In coming over to them, we had penetrated a stale air that was not ours to breathe, and yet here we were, feeling this stark malaise that wound round their presences and suffocated the stranger. Kelly was taking powerful, short drags from her cigarette, her cheeks sucked in below the cheekbones, the smoking arm resting on the other that was drawn across her midsection. She gave us a smile, but her eyes were hidden again behind those shades, and I couldn’t tell if it had been forced. It would certainly fit the tense scene. Something had happened between them.
“The inverter exploded,” said Lido.
“Really?” I asked, probably with an exaggerated brow.
“Yeah, mate. 1,000 bucks.” He shrugged. “It happens.” Gil swat his leg with his stick, narrating his game in German, but Lido did not twitch.
“Well,” I said. I eyed him. Kelly was leaning on the railing, that slight smile propped up, but shakily. “Good to see you guys again. Stop by before you leave.”
“Yup, we’re getting ready to leave, slowly slowly.”
Andrew and I trotted off with new energy.
“You see what I mean?” I asked him when we’d gone off a fair distance. “You could feel it?”
“Yes, indeed I could Cale, and I’ll tell you something… that man is a tensed man, and he needs to seriously reconsider taking his family on that boat with that beam fractional as it is.”
“Right, but you felt the stress in the air?”
“I was in that funk for a long time,” I said. “Lido’s a really good guy when he’s a good guy.”
“I think that they might want not to be traveling together with a child as they are,” said Andrew. “You know, there is an old adage that says that it is better to come from a broken home than to live in one.”
“It ’tis,” he replied. “And you know, on another note, I know you want to get underway, but our helping Gary is truly helping him, self-reliant as he is. Ours is psychological support more than anything–that we care about his work allows him to work at ease and therefore efficiently. I truly believe that were we not here to help, then things would not go as well for him. And as a tributary of that thought, I believe also that you served a dual purpose aboard that boat of Lido’s.”
“I know where you’re going with this–I agree. I called myself their ‘drain’.”
“That’s quite right–and you most assuredly were. You were a presence that served as a balance–”
“–I guess I am a Libra–”
“–and as soon as you were off the boat, they were confronted with each other; they had lost that extra person on which to pass blame or to confide in.”
“And another thing,” I interjected as we rounded the point and came into view of the anchorage. “I wanted to be mean before, when they treated me as they did. But I couldn’t–I convinced myself that karma would run the tab. Well, the inverter broke, thousand bucks–I guess that settles it.”
“That’s quite right. Which reminds me–when I’m rich and famous, I must buy a new inverter, for as it now stands I must detach and reattach each copper connector individually when I want one thing or another to charge, and if I had just a little bit of money, I could rewire the spreader lights, which have stopped working, and…” so on and so forth.
Lido and Kelly, with Gil in his little life jacket, came up to Athena one morning as Andrew and I were taking coffee.
“Here you go mate,” he said, cutting off a significant portion of a bunch of bananas and handing them up to me from the dinghy. “We have a whole lot of these and we know how you like to eat bananas.” I would make banana pancakes for Andrew in the subsequent days with this gift.
“Thank you kindly, that’s very gentlemanly,” said Andrew from the companionway.
“And these are good also.” Kelly raised her arms with a bag of mango, pamplamouse and lemons. “We will see you,” she said, and I could see that her azul eyes were smiling.
When they motored back to Sarim to weigh anchor and depart, I felt a momentary twinge of regret. Despite the things that made me want off their boat, I could not deny that their lives, however they chose to live them, were at least graced with a real sense of passion. I never saw them again; they left that same day.
From Gary’s dinghy I shackled the bobstay beneath the bowsprit, and used its turnbuckle to tighten the chain as he saw fit. Later, I wiggled into the forward hatch, beneath the deck, and held chain runner screws as Gary torqued them down from above. There was a wiring problem for his chart plotter, and in the cockpit I removed the metal ceiling and held it as he checked for corroded wires. His boat was a monstrosity of a thing, and the small all-weather, protected cockpit was more like that of a tractor than a boat. Compared to Andrew’s 18 horsepower engine, Gary’s was a tug, and he had installed the massive motor himself.
“I was a motorboat guy,” he said one day. “Marine repair.”
“Yea, ‘oh’. That’s why I know what I’m doin’.”
“You gonna assemble the roller furling on shore?” I asked.
“Well, Cale, that’s a pregnant idea.”
“‘Oh’! Now. I want to replace the bow anchor with the Danforth. Right now there’s a Fortress on there, I want to make that into the stern anchor.”
“Alright.” I said. Andrew was on Athena for the day, preparing the v-berth for the journey.
Gary went to the bow, and started the electric windlass to bring up the Fortress. I took the helm and motored forward as he signaled. We came to within about 6 feet of another boat, whose French owner stood above his transom and gave Gary a determined stare, to no effect. Gary was not the kind of man that worried, and he would wait until the last moment to make a dire correction in a situation such as this.
We pulled the anchor. I jumped into the dinghy, yanked up the stern anchor, stretching my muscle sinews to their limit, and returned to the boat, tying off the dinghy.
“There’s something wrong,” said Gary from the helm.
“It’s English, Cale. Hold this wheel,” he commanded, and disappeared below. I heard tools clatter. He was hammering something, then silence. “Can you turn to starboard?”
I turned the wheel.
“Starboard damn it!”
“I am, it’s not turning!” I shouted back into the cabin. The boat, now free of its anchors, was drifting. The swell in the bay was not as angry as it had been the other day, but it pushed us all the same.
“Um, Gary, better get up here, we’re drifting.”
He popped his head up, and looked around. We were about 20 feet from a Beneteau, and the Polish steel boat was 50 feet to its port. We were too damn close.
Gary squinted at the boats. “Call me if we get too close,” he said, and disappeared again. Metal clanked from below, and I was focused on the closing distance between us and the French boat, which was for me too close 10 feet earlier.
“Gary, we’re going to be in trouble here,” I said.
He came back up to see what I saw; we had drifted in between the two boats, and Miluna was positioned perpendicular to them, our stern heading straight for the Polish boat. We had engine power, but the rudder wouldn’t move starboard, and going left was out of the question since we would hit the beach.
“Oh,” he said. And then: “Oh, shit! Oh fuck!”
“Hey!” cried the Pole from his yacht. “Hey, you guys, you need help!?” His tone didn’t match–the words should have been what the fuck get the hell out of here you’re going to hit me!
“Damn!” I shouted. “I’m in the dinghy!”
I jumped from the deck into the dinghy, freed myself, and started the motor. I rammed against Miluna’s port bow, and held it there at full power, careful not to go sideways and founder. I thought how strange that it was the second time in this very spot that I had to power a dinghy to turn a boat.
“Alright, that’s good Cale!” I heard Gary’s voice. “Keep her like that!”
Slowly the bow came about, the engine in gear. Gary brought her forward of the French boat, the rudder straight, and in due course we were once more at our anchoring spot. I tied off the dinghy, and quickly helped Gary replace the main anchor with the Danforth, set it, then set the Fortress as the stern anchor with the dinghy. We spent the rest of the afternoon repairing the hydraulic steering–Gary wasn’t even phased–we almost rammed two boats, and it was all good.
“Giraffes always eat upwind.” It was dusk, of I don’t know which day–I wanted to leave. Andrew was in his niche, standing before the sink in Athena’s cabin, holding the varnished trim of the bulkhead, his chin upturned to the portholes, eyes gazing outward.
He continued. “When they eat the leafs of a certain tree, that tree releases pheromones into the air. The breeze carries these pheromones downwind to the next tree of its species, and to the next one, and the next one, and so on and so forth. What the pheromone does is to cause these trees’ leafs to turn bitter, so that the giraffe will not fancy them, and thus they remain protected. Giraffes always, therefore, eat upwind.”
“That’s curious,” I said, flipping through Commando by Daniel Reitz.
“And did you know that giraffes never lay down? Or, it is what they claim to be the truth. But as it turns out I happen to be privy to the truth myself. Once, I was driving through a game park and I stationed my car under a tree that caused a pleasant shady spot over the earth. While I was there I slept. When I awoke, I saw a group of giraffes, and one among them had stretched out carefully, and I witnessed him lay down! Of course I snapped a photo and later showed it to the park wardens, who were friends of mine, and they were simply astonished that the giraffe was laying down. So, they do lay down, after all.”
I flipped another page.
“That’s a good account of the Boer War,” he said, pointing that thick-knuckled, tapered index finger at the book. “Reitz lived a charmed existence, almost being killed many times.”
“I have a book, a Twain, and in it he talks about the marksmanship of the Boers–they were the Afrikaans, right?”
“That’s right–the Dutch, or the descendants of the Dutch settlers. A simple people: farmers, and excellent marksmen. The entire British army had to be called to South Africa in order to win that war, which they eventually did.”
I would read that Boer journal, and learn a great deal about the Boer War in South Africa. In days to come I would question Andrew about a stickler in the narrative.
“They rarely mention black people. Did South Africa always have a white majority?”
“Oh no, there have always been more black natives than white men,” he said.
“Seems strange that this white war should happen in the midst of a country mostly populated by non-combatants, and natives, but that there’s so little mention of them.”
“The Hottentots were natives, most of these guys in power now descend from blacks who came to South Africa from the north stealing and killing cattle. They have that in their genes.”
“Well,” I said, effectively resigning from the conversation.
We went ashore one morning and took turns bathing in the outdoor shower by the dinghy dock. I had not had a legitimate shower since Panama, and so I was thorough in my cleansing. Flowers fell like propellers around me from the overhanging branches of a fragrant tree–this feels like Polynesia, I thought.
Andrew was good enough to use his duty-free letter to fill up Gary’s fuel canisters. Gary was not part of the puddle jump, and, curiously, he didn’t get 15 days like I did–he said he got his three months–but I speak French and knew what I’d heard. We used Gary’s dinghy to fetch him fuel and water, for Andrew’s was a tiny fiberglass rowboat that caused us enough trouble.
It was during the moments that we would approach Athena in his rowboat that Andrew revealed to me his furious self. There’s such a self in all of us; it’s just a question of how easily and in what way it presents itself publicly.
“Fucking thing!” he would cry when we would bump into his hull. “Oh, blasted, treacherous contraption, why won’t you just stay? Oh! Fucking…” It was uncharacteristic at first, but as time went on, I would see the professor, for Andrew looked the role of Professor Hammond from Jurassic Park–I would see him slowly supplanted by this less desirous, cursing captain.
“Oh! Some days I wonder if a bullet in the head wouldn’t be a more prudent solution to my problems…”
I disliked that dinghy, and docking it provided me with my first misgivings about going along with Andrew on the open sea.
“Does Andrew have a lifeboat?” Gary asked me one day when we were testing a water pump aboard Miluna.
“He has an inflatable dinghy supposedly, but it leaks.”
“So what are you doing?” He asked as he fidgeted with some wires.
“Crewing across the Pacific, what else?”
“Is that right?”
“You know I’m going to New Zealand, maybe we could talk.”
“Eh, I don’t waste peoples’ time,” I said. “I don’t contribute, or I contribute my budget… 100-150 bucks a month.”
“Well, that’s not good. But I guess you’d eat that much worth of food.”
“I work for my berth,” I said. “I suppose in your case I would tell you that if you don’t have work to do underway then I’d give you two weeks of my labor once in New Zealand.”
Gary was focused on his project, but I could see his eyes creasing in thought.
“You think you’ll make it to New Zealand this season?” I asked.
“Hell yes. Why?”
“Well,” I motioned to the forestay. “You know, repairs. Aren’t you going to American Samoa first?”
“That’s right, but I’ll make it to New Zealand.”
“What if you don’t?” I probed.
“I don’t think like that, Cale. It’s a negative way to see things,” he said.
“Ah, so you’re a hippy beneath your armor.”
“Used to be! Now I’m a realist.”
I sent Luke, the captain in Tahiti, another message telling him that our departure was postponed for another few days. I didn’t hear back from him before our day of departure. There were yet several days in the rolly harbor of Hiva Oa.
To Andrew’s dwindling provisions I had added a few bags of rice, plenty of cans of cassoulet, cans of beans and tomato paste, a dozen onions, a bottle of Thai sweet chili sauce, a half dozen baguettes, several boxes of flour, a bottle of oil, and packets of pasta. Hiva Oa was in general the most expensive place I had been to in my life–and I’d been to all the great capitals of Europe. Everywhere has its cheap eats, but here, the only cheap thing was the baguette.
It seemed that I would remain with Andrew once we were safely in Tahiti, at least until I had my bearings. I didn’t mind–I liked Andrew. I liked the routine of early morning coffee or tea, followed by an aperitif of the same later in the evening, and during the day a few glasses of “cold drink”, as he put it, which was just Tang. I enjoyed his company, as long as I could avoid certain conversations and as long as I ignored when he became flustered and irritable. Everything was slow with him, and it was a pace I could at least follow, after having been tensed and hurried too often aboard Sarim. I would re-provision his boat as long as I was aboard, and word was that there was a Carrefour supermarket in Papeete, Tahiti’s capital (and only) city–surely the Camembert would be affordable. And I dreamed of Camembert.
Checking the internet one day, I had received a project that I had requested from an online employer. 5 articles about a selection of cities, 80 bucks. I told Andrew about it.
“That’s very kind of you,” he said when I offered to give the project to him to complete. “I respect that approach and would not have it otherwise. You have your parameters for your journey–you do not give money, and frankly it is a sociologically incapacitating aspect of life, money, and its exchange is a corruptive form of engagement. Better to teach one how to fish than to just give him the fish. So I will take 60 percent of the earnings and you–”
“–No, no,” I cut in. “If you write the articles, I’ll correct them; I mean, make them how they’re supposed to sound if need be, then I’ll send them in, and you get all the 80 bucks. Sound good?”
“It sounds ver-r-ii good.”
Murky water is the most obvious attribute of Hiva Oa’s little harbor. I jumped in it, and scrubbed at the growth on Athena’s hull. Later I swam ashore and rinsed in the fresh water shower before making my way to the dock where Gary was preparing his roller furling unit.
There’s one big cargo ship that calls in at Hiva Oa. It costs about 2,500 dollars for a berth for the voyage to Tahiti, which it completes in 12 days of travel. Gary was at the dock. The dock is high out of the water, and its walls are lined with huge rubber rollers; bumpers to safeguard the ship’s hull.
“How goes it?” I asked as I approached.
“It’s going ok, coming together.”
“Good,” I said, observing the mechanism.
The roller furler is a long cylinder marked by a single groove and cut into sections, which are attached to each other; the forestay is passed through their hollow bodies, which run the length of the cable. The bead of the headsail is guided into the groove, and inserted all the way to the top of the mast. By pulling the furling line, the sail is wrapped around the cylindrical mechanism. Most sailboats now have roller furling units, which adjust how much headsail is let out. Athena had no such mechanism, and therefore if the jib was attached to the forestay via hanks, the entirety of the sail must be used–there is no way to adjust the surface area exposed to the wind.
Gary had two roller furling units; one for the forestay and another for the storm sail stay. He had rebuilt them both on the dock, and now the plan was to get them on the boat. He had enlisted the help of the Pole, and Andrew and I would be handing the furlers aboard from the dock.
30 minutes later we retrieved the mooring lines that the Pole threw to us from aboard Miluna. Gary, at the helm, brought the boat to bear her broadside to the dock.
“This is a bad idea,” I said. “I don’t think this–”
“–Damn it, we know what we’re doing! Focus! And pull that mooring line in taut!” Gary shouted.
I did as told, but anyone could see the problem. You didn’t have to be a sailor, and you didn’t need years of boating experience to see that the tide swell was drawing too many feet below the heavy rubber rollers. We brought Miluna against the rollers and tied her off, but sure enough, there came one adjustment in the tide that brought the water level down just enough for Miluna to drop below the rollers, and as the swell returned, it pushed her deck up and underneath them. We heard two deafening cracks, and watched as fore and aft, Miluna’s solid teak gunnel snapped in half.
“Fuck! Let go those lines, let go the lines!”
By day’s end the furling units were aboard, thanks to the Pole’s suggestion to come at the dock bow-first, tie off, and keep the engine geared and motoring in reverse. We were able to pass off the furling units to them, under the gaze of onlookers. Gary and he managed by themselves to install the furlers, and one more hectic day had come to an end.
I slept on the port berth, beneath the row of books. But I couldn’t sleep. It had been a week already that I was aboard. I had e-mailed deferral after deferral of our departure date to Luke, and now I was getting anxious. My hands were wrecked, my stomach ached from too much rice and coffee. It was not about wanting to leave Hiva Oa to catch the fleet so much as why we were held up. I was tired of working on boats all the time–I had been so resolved when I left Sarim to be free, but again I was a cog without a say, and it was my own doing. But this time it was more about the strange relationship between Andrew and Gary. I was pissed off that we were taking so long to leave, but more so, I was ticked that, were Gary in our shoes, the man would have been long gone. Andrew was too good to him, and had nothing to show for it.
“He could at least treat you to some gas,” I said. “I get that his boat is busted and he’s stressed, but hell, you’re doing a lot for him and he’s ungrateful.”
“Like I said, Cale, we are helping him whether he knows it or not.”
“Right, ok, I get that,” I replied. “But I just… he’s giving Americans a bad rap. We’re not all like that. He should give you some diesel or something, or maybe come chat, give you a box of wine or, hell, I don’t know, show some kind of appreciation for the time you’re giving him.”
“Your problem, Cale, is that you’re on a schedule and no one else is. We do this for the pleasure. Cruising is supposed to be a pleasant thing, something not to be hurried through the gates like a greyhound. If you’re so ill-settled, you might profit from searching for another boat.”
I didn’t say anything to this–we hadn’t reached the point yet where he was supposed to say such a thing, but there it was. And here was my pride, bubbling up once more. He protected Gary, who I thought was essentially an asshole. He protected Gary and said I might consider leaving. My pride had plenty to say that remained unsaid: I’m worth more to you than Gary, Andrew, I’m giving you a way to work. I’m writing up a description of how to get started making money online, I’m provisioning the boat, I’m the one helping Gary physically and I’m providing you with company that you yourself have said is the most agreeable. You’re a lonely guy–you need me.
I was livid because I felt trapped again, because the truth was that I too needed Andrew–I just didn’t want to need him.
“Everyone here is on a schedule, Andrew. They have to beat the cyclone season.”
He sighed. “Perhaps. Things were far more relaxed in Durban. Crewing in Durban was a thing of trust and reputation. You crewed for the pleasure of it, not to get from A to B. I am becoming disillusioned with the Pacific.”
The days were thick, sticky dough to which there ought to have been added more water, and a bearing, but no; we stayed in that anchorage still. Andrew bellowed his hate for the anchorage; the rolling, the other boaters who anchored nearby. “Most people with boats are not sailors,” he had said. “And they do not know the etiquette of anchoring near other boats.”
“Doesn’t look like there’s much option for them,” I suggested when one day he was raving about Shiraz, a British boat a few lengths to our stern.
“That man is ill-tempered and a slovenly sailor. He should move of his own accord.”
I listened to Andrew’s almost self-righteous cadence of how things should be; listened to him measure everyone against his own principles, and denounce them consequently. This is the one thing that truly began to pull at my cog’s collar, and coupled with an inexpressible deep sense that we ought to be on our way, I was about ready to maroon myself again, to get away from it all, and from myself.
Instead I marooned myself just for the day. I hitched back into town, to breathe of the fresh air high up there past the star fruit and mango and breadfruit trees, up on the hill where Atuona buries its dead. Small white crosses dotted the grounds. Among them I found the graves of Jaques Brel and Paul Gaugin. I sat and drew what I saw before me as I looked out over the cluster of buildings in the valley. All around were mountains, and the largest of these, the one that seemed like the solidified exhaust of a rocket, dominated the rest. From this angle I could confirm that its seaward face was a near sheer drop to the bay waters. The land curved away, and reappeared in a thin film of haze in the near distance. It bent with the crescent bay, disappearing behind the elephant rock island, and reappearing on the far side. Even further, I saw the bulk of Tahuata, Hiva Oa’s neighboring island.
I turned around, and by the stone steps three guys were gathered. They were locals, and looked a bit younger than me. One held a surf board.
“Salut mon pote!” one said.
I walked over to them.
“Salut,” I said in French.
“Tu fais du surfing? You surf man?”
“I’ve handled a long board, sure.”
The three laughed and exchanged high-fives.
“Alright brother, that’s cool man. We surf here.”
“Yea? On that break by the village?”
“Yea man, yea. There’s better spots. Are you on a boat here?”
“Yea,” I said.
The older one was smoking a spliff. “Do you have alcohol to trade?”
“No go,” I said. “I wasn’t thinking about it before I left Panama.”
“Came from Panama? We know some guys who did that, passed this way.”
“Any chance you know the Swedes, the vikings?”
“Oh yea man, three guys, tattoo sleeves yeah? We Marquesians respect them tattoos those guys had, real true, real hard.”
“That’s right! You actually met them?”
“Yea brother,” he said, taking a hit and speaking through the inhale. “They gave a bottle of rum to a friend, and they all got tattoos down by my house from him.”
“Right on, I think I saw photos of that online.”
“Went out with them on their boat, what was it…”
“–Warskavi,” I said.
“Partied hardy on that one,” he continued. The younger guy with the board giggled, and the one on a bike wore a grin.
“Right on, man, I’ve partied on that boat too. Damn, it’s been a while. How long ago were they here?”
“Oh, three weeks I think, fin, maybe more.”
“Hmm, guess I missed them.”
I had missed them. I’d missed Dirk too. The last of my friends from Panama had gone, and here I was, the last to pass. I spoke some more with them, and found out that they seemed to have partied with a lot of the crews. There was a French girl I’d been aware of–probably on her way to Australia–and some Italian guy, and a group of Spaniards too. They helped me to feel connected with all the other crew, and it didn’t matter if I knew them or not–it was an ephemeral solidarity.
“I gotta run,” I told them. “Might have to swim back to the boat if I’m too late.”
“Swim? In the harbor? Oh les gars qu’i va nager la!” The youngest of them, the one with the grin, said this, cupping his hand around his mouth and laughing, looking for reinforcement from the others.
“Yeah,” I said.
The other exhaled another toke. “Man, don’t swim in that water man. Place is notorious. Sharks. Big tiger sharks come in here. Water’s very dirty, sharks can’t tell that you’re big too, so they bite. Not very often they attack, but then again folks don’t swim too far out, just by the beach and the dock.”
So I had missed all my friends. I retained hope that by skirting the rest of the Marquesas, and bypassing the Tuatmotus, I’d be able to at least catch up with some familiar faces. It was the 13th. The next day was France’s Bastille Day; the day all of the francophone world would celebrate the French Revolution and the storming of that infamous prison, and in Hiva Oa there would be dances and alcohol, and hell maybe some Camembert. All week long we had heard the echoing grunts of soldiers practicing their performance in their nearby barracks. I’d seen things prepared, palm fronds stripped and woven together, a myriad of colorful flowers propped up in public spaces. We would not be there for any of it.
Gary had informed us that he had to move to Tahuata, to a calmer anchorage, in order to address wiring problems atop his mast. Andrew decided not to follow.
“We will call you on the VHF as we pass tomorrow, to see how you are doing,” he had said.
Miluna was gone an hour later.
“Helping Gary was not a purely altruistic endeavor, I might remind you. I did it also for myself,” said Andrew. I shivered, knowing that his ‘help’ was really his sharing the crew–me. “I cannot in good conscience let a fellow cruiser remain stranded while I sail off without a care. Whether or not we helped is one thing, but knowing we tried is quite another. And anyway–”
He stopped. We were walking from the gas station back to the dinghy dock, our provision of 6 baguettes under my arm. Andrew was staring off, so I followed his gaze to the mouth of the harbor.
“I know that boat,” he said. “In La Paz.”
When the brown masts of the ketch reached the end of the breakwater, and I could see the hull, I recognized the boat as well–the 53 foot black steel ketch, Karaka.
“No shit,” I said.
“Mmm?” Andrew turned to me, a quizzical expression tuning his features.
“I know them too. Damn, and I thought I’d missed everyone–that there is the very last boat I met before I left Panama City.”
“What was the captain’s name?”
“Tomas, French guy, real cool cat. That there boat is a floating co-op. Folks pay 400 euro a month plus food provisioning to be crew. Cool idea. Hell if I can afford it, but it’s a cool idea.”
“Perhaps we will have to visit them,” said Andrew.
“I’m sure they have rum,” I offered.
“Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a glass of rum with a lime. In Tahiti, once I’m rich and famous…”
We rowed over when it was already dark. It was an ink-black, mischievous dark, and soon the sky broke and we were harassed by heavy rain. I pulled the oars toward our black ketch target.
“Fucking hell man!” cried Andrew angrily. “It just had to wait for us, did it not?”
That Steve was on deck when we approached, and that I knew Steve and started chit-chatting before I’d even thrown him a line, did not help to simmer down Andrew’s frustration at being wet.
“You must focus on one thing at a time my friend,” he said to me through clenched teeth.
I apologized, threw Steve a line, and in short notice we were aboard Karaka, Andrew’s glass dinghy banging against the hull. They went down while I adjusted the line to bring the small rowboat against a fender, then I too descended into Karaka’s spacious interior.
“Tomas!” I said when I saw the young captain among the familiar decor of his boat–books crowding two shelves, guitars pegged on the walls, tapestries, framed artwork, sailing reference books.
“Hello! How are you Cale?” He wore a welcome smile for us. “It is funny that we leave, we spend 54 days at sea, and when we arrive we see the same people that we saw that many days before. These guys we met before leaving,” he said, motioning to three broad-chested Americans. They were visiting Karaka too from the French catamaran in the harbor. I introduced myself and Andrew. Tomas also recognized Andrew from La Paz.
“I’ve been to the Galapagos and Fatu Hiva already,” I said. “Seems like ages since I saw you guys.”
“Well,” said Tomas. He was the quintessential French sailor, with narrow, piercing eyes, a perfectly round head and a stubby face of new sea-drawn whiskers, had a pronounced French accent, exchanging the ‘L’ of well with the ‘L’ of like. “We’ve been straight from Panama.”
We met Zack, his first mate if there were to be one, and Elena, the Bulgarian girl whose website I have linked to for years. None of them looked good. The twinkle of landfall had already left their eyes, and now, they were probably remembering the frustrations.
“Elena, how was it, did you get on well with everyone?”
She groaned slightly and pulled an unruly strand of hair from her brow. “Well,” she said in her fragile voice. “It’s still fresh.”
I couldn’t help but admire her face; her distinctive feminine eyes, the soft slope of her shallow, womanly cheekbones, the gentle pink lips, the auburn hair. It was an austere admiration that I felt, and slight–but to be in front of an attractive girl my own age, after so long without it, felt good. Sailors on age-old ships-of-the-line, spending months bounding over the endless sea, experiencing war and carnage, and hardship, among other disenfranchised, angry and threatened men in squalor, feeling pain, eating tasteless food, drinking stale grog… my God, to see a beautiful woman at long last!
We sat to a welcome glass of rum, and Zack prepared spaghetti.
“Where’s Louie, and the rest of the crew?”
“Trapped ashore until we get them,” said Tomas.
Tomas’ cat jumped up onto the seat beside Andrew, who immediately said, as he petted him with the back of his trembling hand, “Ahhh, a peussy cat, that’s a good peussy cat, yehhhshh.”
Tomas’ eyes watched Andrew’s hands for a moment before readjusting to the bottle of rum. Then he proclaimed: “Now, we drink.”
The night progressed without us. They were finally at anchor, and they needed to celebrate as a crew. Andrew’s annoying dinghy continued to slam against the hull, so we said our brief goodbyes and returned to Athena.
In the morning I gathered a fresh supply of coconuts from the shore. We raised the dinghy onto the deck with the main halyard and tied it down with some coconuts tucked beneath. We weighed anchor at 8 a.m. by hand, Athena being without a windlass–windlassless–and also we enlisted the help of the bulky American crew to raise the stern and port anchors that Andrew had set. One anchor from a double line was lost to the pasty mud bottom of the harbor. I shouted thanks to the Americans, coiled the lines and returned to the cockpit just as we had cleared the breakwater. Finally underway, we were now motoring out into the immensity of the bluish croissant bay.
It should take one week of sailing from the Marquesas to Tahiti. The only way to ensure arrival in Tahiti within the 5 days I had left of the 15 given to me was to lie, to say that we had been caught in a storm–I’m sorry, messieur, I’m so many days late in checking into immigration, messieur, because of the storm. That’s it. That’s what I would do… I would lie.
The mountain of petrified rocket exhaust, which dominated Hiva Oa’s massive bay, was finally at our stern. We remained under power, through choppy blue water that sometimes buried our bow beneath confused waves. Already I was worried that Andrew would turn back.
“I don’t like this,” he said. “This is not supposed to be a beating run. Sailing is supposed to be a pleasant experience, and this is far from it. I’ve already tried to leave here in conditions akin to these. Here I go again.” His British pronunciation of again was sharp, the last syllable a strong gayne.
He was on the verge of turning around. It made me upset–not because we would turn around out of cautiousness, but that we would turn around out of premature precaution. No other boater I knew would make a fuss of such circumstances as those that we were presently in. Andrew was different–he acted based on his own, personal, immediate condition and his experience of the absolute present. Whether it was denouncing Mexicans or deciding that the weather was not appropriate to leave a bay, Andrew judged prematurely.
“Well let’s just get to the mouth of the bay,” I suggested. “The bay messes with the waves, anyway.”
“I know that, Cale. You know, I have 60 years of sailing experience. What we will do is this. We will motor to the edge of this bay, and we will then tack, and raise sail. We will see if we shant pass through that channel between Hiva Oa and… what was it?”
“That’s right–the channel between Hiva Oa and Tata. We shall sail through it if the wind is with us.”
“Maybe we should just motor through,” I said. “When we came up from Fatu Hiva the wind off the islands was varying all the time.”
“The cape effect will be doubled through this channel, I believe. And yes, Cale, I know about the nature of the wind. I will avoid motoring if I can, because we only have 10 gallons of fuel.”
10 gallons? I didn’t know we had so little. But I didn’t care. I preferred sailing, and if it ate into our time, so be it. Still, having only 10 gallons was dangerous.
We made it to the mouth of the bay, and Andrew had already raised the mainsail halfway up the mast, having to use two separate winch handles; one to rotate the boom to release sail, and the other to raise the halyard; still another hand was needed to attach the mainsail hanks to their track. In days to come this became my job. I already knew that he rarely raised it to the top, if his story of spending 60 days on the ocean from Mexico gave any hint. My mind, as the bow jolted and pitched into the channel swell, told me that it was more than likely that a week would pass, and that a second would end before we were in Tahiti.
Andrew was in his harness getting splashed at the bow, struggling to attach the jib hanks with one hand, pulling on the halyard with the other. For the remainder of the journey, I would take over the halyard, standing without a harness at the mast and tying it off. The seas were rough, but still it didn’t seem to me necessary to wear a harness–I had hardy sea legs. Besides, there was no harness for me to speak of. I had fashioned one out of a loose line, but Andrew requisitioned it for use as a jib gasket.
The boom suddenly swung to the lee with such force that it shook the whole cockpit–a wave had rocked us.
“Secure that fucking thing!” I heard Andrew yell as he came slowly aft. I gripped the line and pulled it tight, centering the boom and denying it any room to swing, then tied it off.
“Alright,” he said. “Oh this blasted channel. I knew it was going to be hell. I tell you, when I’m rich and famous, in Tahiti, I will replace this boom and I will–”
“–you told me that already.”
We came through the channel and the waves settled from a rumble into a ruckus.
“Miluna, Miluna on channel 16, this is Athena, over.” Andrew had a curious way of speaking into the radio.
Gary’s tired voice sounded over the VHF. “Miluna here, up one,” he sighed.
“Roger, Athena up one to channel 1-7.” Andrew flipped the channel up. “Gary, how is it going there Gary?”
Gary came through the fuzz. “Well I got the forestays tightened.”
“Are you about ready to make way Gary?”
“No, I’m gonna need another day.”
“Well, Gary, we will check in, and hopefully we will see you.”
“Right. Miluna back to one six.”
There was nothing particularly friendly about the curt conversation. I was glad to be gone, to no longer be attached to Gary. But what Andrew said next, though I should’ve expected it to gladden me, made my eyes narrow on him in distaste.
“I wish Gary had been a more generous person–spare me some diesel or some of that ballast chain of his.”
Perhaps it was my own twisted dichotomy–that I insist Gary ought to have been more gracious, but at the same time I feel anger that Andrew would agree–but I couldn’t help myself, I felt angry that Andrew had come around. The respect that I had for a man doing something so expensive without any money at all was transforming, already, into something else.
A wave broke and splashed into the cockpit, soaking my back.
“Blasted! That is not supposed to happen.”
“Doesn’t bother me,” I said. “Isn’t this part of sailing?”
“Watch your course,” he snapped.
He was standing beside me in the cockpit, his hands resting on the companionway hatch tracks, facing forward. I hadn’t paid it much attention in the anchorage, but already the sea was making me observant of a certain sort of annoyance. Now, it was Andrew’s shorts. He wore shorts of a waist that was too large for him, causing them to sag. They sagged, revealing the crack between and the beginnings of his bare, spotted white buttocks. It was about a foot from my face.
“Watch your course,” he repeated.
“I can’t see it,” I said. Your ass is in my way.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, moving. “There you are.”
I had been at the tiller through the channel, pushing it starboard to head left and port to head right, but now Andrew had pushed the auto helm’s hydraulic tube onto a silver peg in the tiller, and clicked “Auto” on the Raymarine electric dash that was mounted on a swivel just inside the companionway. 210 degrees.
“This is much nicer than that channel,” said Andrew, sitting across from me in the cockpit. The boat was rolling, and we braced ourselves with our legs crossed like threads stretched on a loom. Hiva Oa and Tahuata, mountainous islands, sat nearby. We were slowly adding distance between us. The sky was blue.
“Thomas?” he said. “Now, where is Thomas?”
“I think he’s in the cabin.”
“Come here Thomas, come and visit the litter box, yehhhsh. That’s a good peussy cat.”
The litter box sat behind the boom line and track, on the fantail among cluttered and empty jerry cans, a disused dinghy motor and water jugs. In the channel these canisters had fallen over into the cockpit.
“Oh damn it man, we’re so slack!” Andrew had exclaimed, and I began tying them down.
Now the cat squatted and arched his back in the black dirt that we had retrieved from the land just before weighing anchor.
“That’s a good peussy cat, Thomas, yehhssh. Right, now, you go back down into the cabin, Thomas, this is no place for a peussy cat.”
He picked Thomas up and placed him inside the companionway. Thomas jumped to the starboard berth and crawled under the nav table, his “hole” and adopted home.
“Cats are lovely creatures to have aboard–probably the only animal that fits” said Andrew then. “Slocum was a strange character, the first true cruiser, the first to sail around the world alone–he tried to have a dog at one point, then an insect of some kind, and finally he had agreed to take a goat, which ate all of his sextant sight tables. I believe he had a Bostonian spider aboard for the entirety of his journey.”
“Speaking of, Andrew, do you have a sextant?”
“Yes indeed I do. It’s a very complicated contraption to learn to use, taking sun sightings, but if you have the tables you can learn it quite well I believe.”
“You have the tables?”
“That’s good to know, just in case.” I stood and went below. “So, rice?”
“Mmm,” he affirmed.
I became the chef. I cooked every meal. With the flour I made pancakes in the mornings, or oatmeal with plenty of cinnamon and sugar. For lunch and dinner it was always rice, rarely pasta. One learns quite a lot about rice when it is the only option. Cooking Andrew’s rice required of me, for the first 10 minutes, to pluck out weevils, those infesting black insects. Once the pot was set to boiling, typically I’d mix in a can of something, anything. Tomato paste, cassoulet, beans, corn, vegetables; or dice an onion, fry it, throw in some sweet chili sauce, some water, thicken it with flour, never forgetting the garlic.
I had to brace myself against the kitchenette bulkhead, bending my knee and placing my foot against the starboard berth so as not to fall. Sometimes the heel was enough that I’d essentially have to wedge myself into whatever space seemed apt for the boat’s movement. Only once did I lose my balance while cooking; I fell, and bashed my head into a metal hook that was holding up a USB cable, which left a small lump as a remember-me-by.
There was one thing about eating, besides the weevils, that was difficult to digest, so to speak. Something that one passes off as trivial while anchored or on land, becomes something pronounced, and can turn a mind petulant, when at sea. In this case, it was the combination of food and cat hair. Thomas’ off-givings could not be avoided–there was always cat hair in everything we ate, and attached to anything moist, which was everything.
“Oh this damn movement! God man! Why can’t it just stop? If the wind shifts around to the southeast, we can heel over and it would be quite pleasant. As long as the wind is from our rear quarter, we’re going to remain undulating like this until Kingdom come.”
It was the second day out, and the mountainous islands were gone. The sky, however, smiled its perpetual blue down upon us. The night had been difficult.
“When I’m rich and famous,” he had said, “I’m going to install nets on the berths, so that one can sleep in peace without falling onto the cabin floor.”
That’s what happened. Athena was a small, narrow boat, and although her draft was deep, and we slept well below the waterline, her rolling side to side was enough to throw me from my berth onto the floor several times, and several times I had to spit out the cat hair.
“This–and Cale, I tell you that I am not exaggerating–this is the worst rolling that I have experienced in all my 60 years of sailing. Oh, will it never end?”
“It’s just part of the game,” I offered.
“Oh, this rolling, this rolling, this rolling.”
“Could be worse,” I said.
“You’re quite right–it could be worse. Oh, if only the wind would shift–”
“–Why get the boat in the first place? You don’t seem very happy that often.”
“Well, Cale, it’s because I needed to get out of South Africa, and I couldn’t afford another way.”
“…really? Couldn’t you get social security in Ireland? I was always under the impression that boat living, or traveling, is quite expensive.”
“It is, it’s true, and I could have gone to Ireland, but I am a tropical creature, you see–I need the sun. Ireland does not tickle my fancy. The rain, the overcast, the dreary aspect–it’s all too much gloom for an African.”
We sailed on under the jib alone. I helped pull down the main the night before when Andrew had woken me to say that the wind had shifted, that the auto helm could not hold the course and that if we took the main down it might. It did, and so it was. Andrew, despite his age, was like Gary self-reliant. Unfortunately he was far more brittle, and his body and memory did not treat him how he expected them to treat him–one more short-falling of how things should be that he commented on regularly.
I was not doing much better; I felt despicable. I was crew, and yet I could feel the rumblings of seasickness begin to make me useless. It had been many months since last I sailed aboard a monohull, and that was Worth’s Satori, from whose transom I barfed. Now I realized that I had suppressed my anticipation, quelling any questioning I might have had about whether I would get sick now on Athena. And here I was, rocking back and forth, side to side once more, my eyes glazed-over. I retreated to the cockpit for its fresh air. Every time I went below to cook or to use the head, bracing and wedging as was required, I had to concentrate–don’t yack, don’t yack, don’t yack, my mind repeated, until again reaching the safety of fresh air.
On Sarim we adjusted the sails constantly, and kept the autopilot on a low response value. With Andrew it was precisely the opposite; the autohelm whined at response value 5, and the jib was pretty much a constant. There was fresh air in the cockpit, but the noise of the autopilot mingling with my growing sickness made me mildly insane.
It took 3 days to get over the seasickness. I managed not to throw up, and I was able to continue to stomach cooking duties, sleeping in the berth, falling into the cat hair, and waking at half hour intervals to check the horizon. Andrew did not set our watches at regular intervals. I woke up on my own accord to see about lights on the horizon. If Andrew was tired enough to sleep the entire night, he slept until morning. If he was nervous, he might wake up every 5 minutes. Sometimes he turned on all the lights in the middle of the night and prepared a coffee. The navigation lights on the mast did not work, and we had no AIS to tell us whether other boats were present, and nor could they see us except on radar. For these reasons I forced myself to keep a watch.
100 miles down, 700 to go. 3 knots is a slow speed, but Athena moseyed onward, rarely breaking 4. It was because Andrew was averse to letting fly the whole main, and we never changed the jib for the genoa, even in painfully light winds. There was not enough force to cause us to heel over, so even after I had begun to feel better, the boat persisted in its incessant undulation, like a horribly well-balanced pendulum wobbling under clear skies.
I had heard Andrew, before leaving, complain that his crew had in the past urged him to fly more sail, or to start the engine. I had resolved not to press the matter, and so I sat in my berth and read, letting Andrew make the calls. Every once in a while, when he would open his PC, which was tied down along with his Macbook on the nav table, I would get up to look at our GPS position on his electronic charts.
“So what program is that?” I asked.
“It’s called Open CPN. It works with these USB GPS things, of which I own 3–two here and one on the companionway hatch roof; that’s what this USB cable here on the hooks is for. When I’m rich and famous, I will buy myself a dedicated chart plotter,” he said. “In the meantime, Open CPN is quite useful, except that it does not come with labels.”
“I know. I actually have it on my computer. Hey do you have all the charts?”
“Think you could pass them to me? Something screwed up the download last time I got the charts from my Swedish friends and I don’t have them all.”
“That’s fine,” he said. “That way, we will have your computer to navigate as well.”
I copied the charts onto my USB drive and tucked it back into my backpack, which was stuffed beneath the v-berth. That evening, after picking out the scattering weevils, I cooked rice with a Chinese seasoning in fried onions and cat hair. The easiest way to get the weevils was to flood the rice and skim them off the surface with a spoon. But there would always be a few left speckling the meals like monstruous pepper.
Dishes were kept in the cupboard behind the kitchenette. Just like the other cupboards aboard, it was home to a jumble of things. Andrew tended to wash the dishes in the cockpit with salt water, replacing them still wet to their “homes”, as he called them. “The plates live he-ah, and the cutlery he-ah.” Consequently, the cupboard was humid–all the spice containers were humid including the salt, the sugar; and the utensils swam in a shallow pool of rust-water, which had to be wiped off before each use.
“Bloody hell! God man! If only it would stop, this would be pleasant.” shouted Andrew from the companionway.
I looked up from my book, and saw what had become an excruciatingly familiar sight. Andrew was complaining again about the rolling, which he couldn’t tolerate. But what I was growing to lament, unfortunately but for the sea and these tight quarters and my declining regard for the man himself, was his body. Andrew was a small man with a large man’s breast and belly. Age-worn leathery skin drooped under the weight of his effulgent pink-nipple pectorals. A large belly that must have been larger at some point because of the powdery white and flabby skin dangling beneath it like a gizzard, protruded unnaturally; and the tightly-stretched skin over the apex of his belly was dominated by a button that jutted out, round and big as a plum. I couldn’t help but see this body, and where for over a week it hadn’t bothered me in Hiva Oa, suddenly, confined with it at sea, and its bearer complaining and marking hexes on our voyage with every utterance, it was nauseating. So much talk of what should be, and wishes for a pleasant voyage, and here I was. I suddenly felt trapped in an emphatically unpleasant atmosphere.
At least it’s only for 4 or 5 more days, I told myself. And at least the man let his anger out immediately, and tended not to direct it at me. It was better than the pent-up explosions aboard Sarim. Or so I thought.
As a good ex-Commonwealth Brit, Andrew continued to make coffee or tea several times a day. He would stand at his perch, his lecturing spot, and I would bury my head in a book for fear of glimpsing the belly or the buttocks. Inadvertently I’d look up, and if it was not the belly, or the buttocks, then it was the spotted hands. I might have said they were gentle hands, but the more I unwittingly observed them, the more I feared them. Andrew grasped the bulkhead trim, but rarely did he hold fast to anything with the whole of those hands. Instead, he held things squeezed in the palm, and sometimes at the first plump of finger between the base knuckles. The sharp nails and tapered fingers were gruesome, and his care in their management made me think that he wore them like gloves–clawed gloves, to be precise, with fingers dancing about things as if to touch them would smear the paint.
The first day, we had placed the anchors into the forward lazarette, and at the stern we reorganized the fantail clutter. I watched his hands grip, then shake slightly when they released; they pushed his glasses higher onto the bridge of his nose. At meals they tore bread. His missing incisor did not cause the gnashing to lessen, and the man rived his food like a lion. Should I feel shame at such observations? Can a man be judged for these perturbations? Or is it just the sea…
I cracked a coconut daily. The foredeck provided a reprieve where I laid a towel and lounged, sometimes with my feet over the side, swept by the water on the windward bob. The bananas, grapefruit and oranges were gone after the third day out.
“God man! Fucking thing!”
These became commonplace outbursts. “Complaining doesn’t help,” I told Andrew one day. “It most certainly does,” he had countered. Every complaint brought me closer to indulging my own opinions in Andrew’s presence. For the present, I was keeping those opinions to myself. But as the days went on, I kept thinking “so many days left, then I’m free–maybe I’ll jump ship when we get there.”
Then we hove-to.
Andrew was a cautious man. He was nervous about other boats in the anchorage despite the ample space between us. He was frightened by the prospect of passing through the Tuamotu atolls despite most boats entering the lagoons themselves– “When the tide falls, all that lagoon water has to rush out through tiny channels, and my 18 horsepower engine might not be enough to control a mistake. Those atolls are dangerous, so we’re not going to attempt to enter any of them.” Underway, I had seen him stare at the sails in 5 knot winds, trying to decide whether he should raise more, but the main never went higher than half-mast, and the genoa remained gasketed to the pulpit. At his perch, his blue eyes looked out the portholes, blinking fearfully, imagining the worst. The new safety precaution, which was how he referred to it, was heaving-to. I think he just wanted a pleasant sleep.
Heaving-to is when a sailor adjusts his sails and his position to the wind in such a way that the boat essentially stops dead in its tracks. It was a new phrase that I would often hear from those white beard-shrouded lips: “I am going to heave her to.”
When one day dusk began to claim our light, sucking it through the bosom of distant cumulus, the wind had picked up to around 15 knots. Every other boater I know would sail in 15 knots, always.
“We’re heaving-to,” said Andrew.
Our course was southwest, and in these winds we were able to come about onto the other tack without the engine, which means that we turned around to face the other direction by sailing into and across the wind (sailing is its own language).
When the boat had come about, crossing the wind-direction, the main flapped, or luffed, and then its opposite side caught the blow and billowed. Likewise, the jib luffed, and then billowed. When underway on a course, the jib is presented to the wind on whichever side its sheet (its line) is taut. The wind was from the southeast, so the jib was billowing to starboard with the starboard sheet regulating its angle. When we came about from our southwestern course, we pushed the tiller starboard and brought the bow from southwest, to south, and to just beyond southeast, at which point the sails luffed and changed faces to the wind.
When tacking to actually sail on this new course, we would loosen the jib’s starboard sheet and make taut the port sheet, effectively bringing the jib across the deck without having to pull it down as you would have to do with a genoa. But when heaving-to, the jib remains back-winded, and the interplay between a back-winded jib and a reefed main (‘reefed’ meaning some of the main is pulled down) creates pressures in the right places and the boat stands still. In this case the starboard sheet remained taut, the port loose.
Athena was hoven-to, the wind glancing off the sails. We lashed the tiller to the port side. When the rudder is lashed correctly, the sails receive just enough power to bring her bow up into the wind. Swell tends to follow the wind, its creator, so remaining hove-to means that the boat should be taking the swell on her quarter; it would be dangerous to take the seas on her broadside, especially if they were breaking. When the boat cannot keep her bow up, and waves do break along her broadside, it is called broaching, and in heavy seas it can result in the boat being knocked down. A mono-hull sailboat’s heavy keel will right her again, but the strain on the boat is so great that they have lost masts to knock-downs, and if a crew cannot bail out enough water after perpetual knock-downs, the boat will founder. In very strong wind, or just as a precaution, some sailors let fly dredges, like sea anchors, which are conical or dome-shaped parachutes that are released into the water. As the boat is blown downwind, these dredges are dragged along, and if attached to the bow while hove-to, they will help to stabilize the bow up into the wind. The danger is, if the dredge is too large, it might be the cause of the boat coming about again, in which case it would begin to sail if the jib is restored.
Andrew had no dredge. But in the 15 knot winds, and with the tiller lashed in the right spot, we didn’t even need the jib to be back-winded in order to remain hove-to. I was glad to learn the process, even though I had to suffer my board shorts getting soaked again. Any other sailor I know would have sailed into the night with such wind and a main already reefed such as it was. “That’s racing mentality,” said Andrew. “We are cruising, and it is not pleasant to have to worry about the sail configuration all night.”
I slept soundly enough on my berth that night because the boat was heeling over to port, and my body was snug against the back cushion. I only woke occasionally to pull cat hair from the creases of my lips.
But the comfort was a luxury I didn’t care for. I had kept my opinion to myself, but as I lay to sleep that night I thought about the 15 days I had to get to Tahitian immigration, and about Andrew’s 60 days it took him from La Paz to the Marquesas. This is why it took him so long, I thought: this heaving-to. I didn’t like heaving-to, especially now, when it was not necessary. I couldn’t imagine when it would be.
“I can do that,” I offered when Andrew was on hands and knees pumping the bilge beneath the cabin floor. It was the middle of the night.
“You don’t have to bother with this,” he said. “When I’m rich and famous, I will get myself new tubes for the electric bilge pump, which works quite well I should say–someone replaced its tubes with terribly cheap plastic ones. So here I am. Oh what I wouldn’t give for…”
I drifted back to sleep. A moment later a fat swell jolted the boat and miscellaneous junk fell from all over the place, and the cat slid off the kitchenette, claws born, and landed on Andrew’s back.
“Ah!” he screamed. “Fucking man! Thomas! You have claws my peussy cat, you cannot jump on me like that.” His back had a pair of red tracks showing where Thomas had sunk his claws trying to grip as he fell.
“Looks painful,” I murmured. “Maybe you should put some cream on that.”
Andrew didn’t hear me; he had closed the bilge and was sitting with Thomas, his hand stroking the fur. “That’s a disreputable peussy cat, Thomas, yehhhsh.”
Through a porthole I glimpsed the clementine glare of Venus, the Evening Star, which was always there hanging just above the western horizon. Oh, I sighed in my mind, remember the sky.
Entertainment was limited to books and gin rummy. Between the berths we pulled down the cherry-teak folding table. My roles were cook and card shuffler aboard Athena, and I took to the latter with determined workmanship. I learned to shuffle from my mother, who learned from my grandmother, and over the course of this voyage I would double my speed at the task.
Occasionally I allowed Andrew to win, but only when I thought he might otherwise enter into a broken humor for the rest of the night. He improved, but my vampirical desire to beat him caused me to claim the wins–it was soon to be my only reprieve from my feeling offended at his ever-degrading demeanor.
Andrew began writing about Melbourne on his PC. He had already written an article about London, and once he finished three more, the project would be complete, and I could give him the 80 dollars. I felt proud of myself, proud that despite my fading interest to remain longer with Andrew once we arrived to Tahiti, I would still give him the money, for he had none.
He sipped the coffee as he sat upright, typing. He should have a scarf. He should be sitting in some brass-buttoned scarlet leather chair in a study. He should have a lecture hall, and a horde of students who think he’s simply grand. He’s so intelligent, they’d say, are you taking sociology with him? Yes I signed up for that course, they say he’s a marvelous lecturer.
I was imagining him like that one day as he spoke about sociology from his perch at the kitchenette.
“It is the sociology of the Bible that interests me most,” he said. “You know, the Bible is almost pure sociology. I judge a book by the extent to which it follows the principles of sociology, and in that respect the Bible is one of the absolute greatest books that humanity has produced. I myself studied sociology at uni, and I tell you that were I to live my life over, I would surely be a sociologist. When I gave you those charts, I attached my book as well. Did I already tell you that I’m an author? I wrote a book indeed–it’s a short work of 60 pages, but hopefully, when I put it on the net, and I get rich and famous, it will bring me enough money to repair this boat, to get things prepared to continue on to New Zealand, and to cruise at a leisurely pace through the Pacific islands. When I’m in Tahiti and I have enough money, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do…”
Conversations were becoming fewer. They were being corrupted so that they always morphed into the same end theme. It was becoming tiring, and coupled with the ceaseless rolling of the heavy, small, slow boat, I found myself reading deeper and faster in whichever tomes I could grab from the shelf. I was hiding.
When I finished Slocum’s book, I thought about the truth that where once we were obliged to learn how to provision, how to preserve food, and where once we had to learn charts and the sextant, and we had to learn to sing and talk in order to entertain ourselves, now, what we do is buy canned foods, stare at computer GPS and watch movies or listen to iPods; in short, we were once self-sufficient–now, we consume. Curiously, Slocum, having been the first to circumnavigate the world alone at the beginning of the 20th century, encountering heavy seas, aggressive Fuegian indians, being the honored guest at the homes of countless governors and rulers for his feat; despite all of this, he writes in his book that he regrets that things were not how they used to be, that the romanticism of his voyage is nothing compared to the seafarers of old.
Andrew’s Mexican Valentine hot sauce bottle broke, and spilled in the cupboard. We removed each article of food–old bottles of ranch dressing opened long ago, rusty and unrecognizable cans. I cleaned out the sauce. Later, my knuckles felt licked from within by flame, the sauce having penetrated every pore.
My golden-hair, sinewy and bronzed legs looked fitting for a cruiser, and it set me off on a silent rant against the lifestyle. As I silently fumed, I was about to toss the last of the bread overboard, since it was caked in white and pasty green mold, but Andrew stopped me. “Of course you can eat the mold,” he said, turning away from me, and with those yellowing teeth he ripped a bunt and gnawed it down.
I pumped myself a glass of water, but looked too closely and saw floating chunks of unknown material–these had to be ignored for survival’s sake. Then I sat to read “Melbourne”, the article Andrew had completed. It was drab, and seemed archaic, especially what he wrote about the beaches.
“You can rent swimsuits at the beach there?” I asked.
“Yes indeed you can. One goes to a kiosk there on the beach and leaves a dime, and they provide a locker and swimsuit.”
“Are you sure?”
“I read it.”
I decided not to comment. I would correct the article to give it a sense of passion, for Andrew had very little. Maybe it was because he spoke like a book, monotone and level, and although he spoke about humor, he was lacking a sense of it. Nothing was funny to him, and the only times I saw him smile were those rare moments that I would succumb to the nicety of flattering him when he beat me at gin rummy.
We hove-to again, in winds that I would think good for sailing, but I said nothing of it. Instead Andrew offered to play a film on his computer.
“This movie is very well made, and I think you will like it. It’s the most recent one I have.”
The film was Message in a Bottle, with Costner. It was as clean as Hollywood gets, and I saw in it what drew Andrew–the shipwright, the sailboats, the love story–the man could use a love story.
For me the film was difficult to stomach, as are many films that are based on romance novels. But the ultimate insult came at the end. It made me very upset, because I am not a superstitious man, but the inappropriateness of this film could not be denied in our present circumstances. There was a storm. Costner goes out to rescue a family in his sailboat. Thunder, lightning, breaking seas, howling wind. Damn it Andrew, I thought, You have absolutely no tact whatsoever. Costner’s character is killed by the storm.
It was afternoon of the next day, and Andrew was down in the engine compartment, accessed from a hatch in the cockpit. I was handing him tools, averting my eyes from his peaking crack. He’d called Thomas ‘useless’ the other day–a strange thing to call a cat. I felt it now.
“Hand me the channel wrench would you?”
I handed him the channel wrench, having learned only recently which one he meant.
“Bloody hell man! Fucking thing. Oh–”
“–why don’t you let me go down there and deal with it?” I suggested.
“No, that’s alright, I’m afraid you’ll break something.”
I felt my facial muscles flex into a frown, behind them my mind thinking how ridiculous that sounded–look at him down there, hands shaking, body not complying, and me, 26 and agile, break something!
I sighed and stretched my head backward. The sky was overcast and it was a day of squalls. The small systems were dark patches all around us, and like stalking scouts it seemed as though they were probing for our weaknesses. These were at least preferable to the becalming rolling, which had finally ceased when the wind picked up and Andrew hove us to the other night. We had already sailed through a small squall of drizzle, and the deck was damp. Water sloshed around in the cockpit with the rising swell and took an age to drain, which is why Andrew so conveniently chose this moment to deal with the problem. Then I turned around.
“Andrew? There’s a squall coming.”
“Cale, I have to finish this, do you understand? If I don’t clear this, the water in the cockpit will just build and build…”
“I get that, I do, but there’s a big squall coming–let me deal with that, and you handle the sailing.”
“Oh drat,” he said, when he caught sight of the squall in question. I think I giggled. Then: “Fucking hell,” an amendment that took the humor out of his first word, rendering the moment serious.
“What do you want to do?”
I barely had time to finish my question when the cold rain arrived in a wicked and bitter sideways torrent, coursing on a slant before a sudden gale.
“Oh fucking! We have to heave-to! I’m taking down the jib!”
“Ok!” I yelled back over the sudden howl. I closed the engine hatch.
“Bring her into the wind!”
“Right-o!” I said.
I pulled the companionway hatch closed and slammed shut the swinging doors. Andrew crawled forward but then returned.
“I’ll put on the harness,” he shouted. “One moment!”
When he had the harness on, he began crawling forward, clutching the tether in one palm and whatever he could in the other. The boat had heeled over past 25 degrees, and I was sitting drenched at the tiller, shivering with cold and excitement at the sudden turn of events.
Everything was grey and white, and the gale met us and brought forth her breaking seas. The swell had been growing steadily throughout the day, but now it was donning the aspect of drastic uplands. Athena rose and fell sharply into the troughs, and I kept the crashing seas on the quarter. It must have been blowing 45 knots, but the violence made it seem like more.
“Wow!” I shouted, uncontrolled. Enigmatically: “Whoa! It’s fucking awesome!”
I’d seen this shit on the Discovery Channel, on crabbing shows, and now here I was, riding high on the high seas, blasted from the south by a furious beast, and its spit was stinging my cheeks and making me blink endlessly. I was an observer. I was outside myself, looking through my eyes as through a camera lens, and I saw Andrew, that old South African, braving the storm and single-handedly yanking the jib down and holding its halyard safe in a palm. He would be naked except for the sagging khaki shorts, and through the weather beating on the cabin house I saw his teeth clenched as he did his work. Don’t fall in you old goon, don’t you fall.
The boat was thrown skyward, and came crashing down into the sea, slicing the water and hurling it outward from the bow, which looked like the track of some meteor cutting the ocean surface. And there was Andrew clinging to the pulpit amidst the splendorous lift and fall, pulling the jib, clenching teeth. I yelled in a calm voice things like “All’s well!” “You need some help?” and “Lookin’ good!” –mostly for the psychological effect I hoped it would have to steady his hands.
“Alright!” he cried when he reached the cockpit once more. “I’ve tied down the jib with gaskets! Now we must heave her to!”
“Bring her about!”
I pushed the tiller hard to starboard, and Athena came to, but didn’t go about. Just when the main would luff, the wind-wave combination would push her back.
“I’m turning on the engine!” Andrew cried.
He had to climb down into the cabin, open the engine compartment from there and connect the battery.
“Alright! Turn the key!”
It was beside my shin. I switched it; the engine gurgled and turned, and turned, and finally it caught, and turned over. Andrew emerged and engaged the gear, which I left to him because I couldn’t tell which position was neutral and which engaged, since he had never showed me.
“Bring her about, we now have power!”
I again pushed the tiller starboard and the boat powered over the oncoming waves. When the sail luffed this time, the engine pushed her through; the starboard face of the main caught the wind and billowed, and we were about.
“There’s too much main!” he cried. “We have to take some down!”
“Fine! But lash this first and let me help you up there!”
We cut the engine, lashed the tiller to port again, and together, Andrew with his harness and me without, we shimmied down the narrow way to the mast. I wrapped myself about the boom, took the winch and rotated it to pull in the sail as Andrew lowered its halyard. The sea was a violent spectacle and together with the wind ransacked my senses; large white caps had suddenly appeared on the crests, and their break and spray pierced my eyes and I thought how lunatic this was without a harness.
“This gale came upon us at unawares!” shouted Andrew.
We crawled carefully back to the cabin under the onslaught, went down and shut the companionway. I surely wore a wry smile because for me the storm was exciting. For Andrew, it was something else entirely. He stood at his perch, clutching the bulkhead trim and blinking nervously through the portholes. We were heeled over dramatically, and the port side deck was regularly below the water; sometimes the sea came sloshing over and across the windows.
We took our towels to dry off. I went into the head, whose door closed off the v-berth from the main cabin. I winced when I went to dry my buttocks. There was something painful there. Wedging myself as best I could in the doorframe, I strained to get a look–blisters. Or a rash of some kind. I recognized it and just then Isham’s words came back to me: “The best thing to have on a boat is talcum powder.” “Why?” I’d asked. “For your ass, to stay dry.” These were the beginnings of saltwater boils. I had no other board shorts, nor anything appropriate for the conditions of the boat–and there was no talcum powder aboard. I wrung my shorts in the towel, and pulled them on again.
All night the wind roared, and in the thin blue dark of dawn, which had only barely penetrated the storm, I rose through the companionway hatch to an undreamt sight. I was looking on a waterscape the ferocity of which I had never before seen, and perhaps which I never again wish to see. Our upland swell had transformed, and now it was a fluxing range of green foam and cobalt blue mountains, advancing like a thousand legions over the heights and under a baleful sky that heaven had long since abandoned to the ruinous tendencies of elemental savagery.
How the boat was in such a place was confounding–not that she couldn’t survive the storm, I suppose, but that we should be there in the first place, trapped in this terrible, vicious severity of nature. It seemed to me a morbid and Mephistophelian plan. Or it was a jinx, and it wasn’t supposed to be this way; that it was due only to the ill-begotten whimsical fancies of a seafarer.
I held fast to the hatch tracks and peered over the darkened world, air thrashing and whipping past me if not at 55 knots then surely more. It was awe-inspiring; it was awful. The swell broke, and from afar its spray lit upon the gusts and slathered my face. It was something you can see only on water, where not only the ominous sky but also the earth’s surface causes a panic to prime–for the raging sky moves the water. A thunderstorm sees only the sky shift, unless it causes a flood. An earthquake changes the land, but the sky might be bright and clear. A tornado is something–it toils in the sky and wreaks havoc over the land. All these things can be rapacious killers, but a storm at sea is the most panoptic and, for a sailor so alone, the most idiosyncratic.
30 feet, or 40, they must have been, from crest to trough. We were still hove-to, and for good reason. The swell that bore down on us mostly broke prematurely, thanks to the slick that Athena’s bulk created as we drifted hove-to. Nor did we require the jib to remain hove-to, much less a sea anchor; whether it was because Athena was a small boat, or since she was a heavy displacement vessel, or both, I don’t know, but the bow kept into the wind. Perhaps Andrew, despite being somewhat of a laggard, was simply an astute seaman and the amount of main we left up and the position in which he lashed the tiller was perfect. Perhaps.
Within the cabin, except for the howling of the wind in the rigging, and the fact that you would fall down standing up if you didn’t pay attention to the heeled character of the boat, the storm might not have been happening. I cooked eggless and butterless pancakes, and Andrew went up into the companionway to have a look at the storm.
“Oh! God man!” I heard him say. “Oh my. These winds must moderate!”
“It’s only been a few hours, Andrew,” I reminded him. “How much longer can it go on?”
“I would be surprised,” he said as he stepped back down and shut the hatch, “if it were to last longer than 3 days.”
“3 days?” I staggered. We had already been a week at sea, and we were not even to the halfway point at Ahe atoll. The first few days underway we had been essentially becalmed (not totally the fault of lousy winds but of lousy sail area as well). Now, with this storm, there was too much of everything to even move.
“Bugger,” he said. “Well, coffee?”
I sat sideways on the berth, because the saltwater rash had worsened overnight, and it stung. Andrew had to extend his leg to prop himself up in the berth–he had abandoned the v-berth in the night, because, he said, it was leaking on him. We cupped our mugs of coffee close. I held mine out and watched as I would turn it with the angle of our heeling, to keep the liquid from spilling. We had turned the lights out, but the stormy afternoon light was enough to see about the cabin. Andrew sipped his coffee, and rested his head back against the radar cover.
Thomas crawled into his lap.
“Yehhhsh, Thomas, that’s a good peussy cat. Oh, Thomas, we haven’t been brushing you of late have we? Look at all this fur.”
I drank my coffee, and set the mug in the sink. Lido would be yelling just about now about putting something into the sink, I thought. At least there’s that.
Then, as if the sea had overheard, and as if it felt scandalized by such a thought and also took offense by things in the sink, it just then filled the vacant role of Lido’s anger by sending against us a freak wave across our slick.
Suddenly the entire boat shook under this new roaring force, as though we’d crashed into something solid. It all happened in an instant. Athena felt like she’d go over; we were pushed to heel so far that everything we thought was secure went flying–books, dishes, utensils and spices fell straight out from their cupboards, pots fell off the gimbal and crashed along with tools. This carnage of disorder was accompanied by the wave itself, which broke over the entirety of the deck, and in that instant it sounded as if we were below the rushing falls of Niagara. And in it came. Everywhere I might have expected it to leak, and everywhere that I was sure it would not leak; it all leaked. But it did not just leak, it poured. All the vents became full-fledged spouts; the hole for the mast wires shot forth froth spittle, which soaked the electrical terminal. From every porthole came water, which drizzled down onto the berths and my back as I braced myself against the attack; the seawater gushed through the companionway–the huge wet beast was trying to pound his way inside–water seemed pressurized as it penetrated the doors, and from the hatch it fell as a forced waterfall. Seawater gushed, and found purchase at the top hatch as well, coming in droves of cold saltwater, and landing in an epic display of splashing directly upon Andrew’s PC and Macbook. The PC was on, and before I could kill its power the screen flittered and died. The Macbook had been off. The water filled the cabin floor before draining into the bilge and engine compartment. We frantically gathered things from the floor. Then I donned Andrew’s harness as he swore justly over his electronics.
I opened the companionway to that dark and loathsome world, which blew hellish choruses across my ears. The cockpit was flooded with a foot of water and the lash on the tiller had been thrown off. I crawled out, for the wind had picked up to a greater treble and I was afraid of being washed overboard by the next wave. I wrapped the tether around the winch and gave myself a short line to work with. I began to bail out the water, but it was lifting the buoyant engine compartment hatch and spilling into the bilge, so I left it for Andrew to pump from inside the cabin. I re-lashed the tiller to port, raised my chin to the weather and watched it for a moment in struck awe before retreating once more into the cabin.
“Oh, God man! Blast! Fucking world, fucking world. Oh, Cale, I just don’t know. It seems that that bullet is looking ever more tempting–what more could go wrong?”
“Just, let the computers dry.”
“I had water on my computer once, a whole cup of it, but I let it dry and it worked again.” But not salt water, I thought to myself.
“Oh. Oh. Damn it, now where did I put my spectacles?”
“Here,” I said, handing him his glasses. He was always losing them in front of his eyes.
He took the computers and stowed them away.
“This storm” he said, slowly. “This storm is ver-ii aggressive. I have not, in 60 years of sailing, ever come across such a livid creature as this… I must spend a penny.”
He went into the head. I gathered dishes and piled them into the sink, my muscles making more of it than was necessary–I was flustered. Perhaps I was rattled by the big seas and the breaking waves, and nervous about the dim prospects of the now short-circuited navigational equipment. But I think it had more to do with the man himself. I was tired of his accent, which was most of the time spinning negative yarns or wishing for something it didn’t have. I was growing weak every time I had to bite my tongue to keep an opinion to myself. I was going into myself too often, and it was sabotaging my body, or at least it seemed that way.
I spent the night shivering and cold. The rigging gave the gale an evil ululation. From above me there came a steady drip at irregular intervals, which kept me awake. I wouldn’t retrieve my sleeping bag because I did not want the saltwater to corrode the zipper and rot the packing. I used the blanket Andrew lent me to keep wedged on the berth–if I fell now, it would be into a muck of wet cat hair and grime. I’d clean what I could, but the same muck always returned.
“Here you are,” said Andrew the next morning, extending another blanket to me. The storm was with us still.
“Thanks,” I said. “‘preciate it.”
“Now then, let us see about these computers.”
“Maybe it’s a bit too soon to try–”
“Cale, we need to be able to navigate. I need to know where we are, if we have drifted, and how far. I want to go onto the other tack today because I do not want to drift south into the Tuamotus, do you understand?”
“Yea,” I muttered. “I got it.”
He tried his PC, but it was already dead. When he tried the Mac it came to life, so he tied it down to the nav table.
“Not a good idea, another wave could break,” I said.
“Quite right. We shall cover it with a towel.”
He tied the computer with the cord, and plugged in the small saucer GPS unit. It showed our position; we had drifted south 5 miles.
“You see there,” he said, extending a trembling finger. I cringed in my soul at the thing, watching it and hearing the rigging howl. “We have drifted south, you see. Now, what we’re going to do is this…”
After coffee, we went into the cockpit. It was blowing hard, but the wind had somewhat dissipated to perhaps 40 knots. I sat down and felt the saltwater find the sores on my behind and I winced. In the head I’d seen that they had mutated into mature saltwater boils, which do not look unlike overgrown whitehead pimples. They had spread to my inner thighs, and were encroaching elsewhere. Andrew went forward in his harness, the tether getting trapped here and there.
“Fucking thing! Oh!,” his voice trembled. “Oh… God man!”
He lowered the main an inch or two and returned.
“That’s it, I am not wearing this thing anymore.”
“Ok, but you sure you trust me to bring you in if you fall?”
“Cale I cannot use this harness because it impedes me in my function, do you understand? Oh, fucking hell.”
We came about with the engine and lashed the tiller on the other tack, then retreated into the cabin. I cooked as always, wedging myself as best I could. Andrew was grateful each time I handed him a blue tupperware bowl of nourishment.
“What I would not give for some bread and some cheese–”
“–and some wine. You know, if this wind would just moderate, then the seas would die down. If we could have 10 or 12 knots of wind, we could sail at 4 or 5 knots pleasantly. This is just incessant, I say.”
The storm went on. I had been visiting the head often. I drank enough to keep up my hydration. I was reading in Doomed Oasis when Andrew began to talk absently.
“You know, a bladder that runs as much as yours is an early sign of diabetes. Now, what we must do is to take a blood sample. I have here in this cupboard a sterilized syringe; we will take it and–”
“–please, thank you, don’t continue,” I interrupted quickly.
Jesus, could the man be any more negative? I thought. Already I had to deal with complaints and moaning and why-is-the-sea-not-doing-what-I-think-it-ought-to-do, but I couldn’t abide his overt negativity trespassing on the issue my personal health. What he said would be a far-fetched truth, but hell if I wanted to think of it. I ignored him enough, and a few hours later I told him that it had perturbed me.
“I am sorry,” he said in response. “It was not my intention to hurt you.”
“That’s alright,” I snarled. “I’m just, I just don’t think I have diabetes right now.”
The cat’s sand was stored in the fantail. What was left of it had turned to mud. There were a few days that Thomas had nowhere to do his business, but now Andrew would go into the cockpit in the storm, cursing the whole way, and bring a bit of the stuff back into the cabin. Thomas ignored it.
Instead, he peed on Andrew’s Crocs near my backpack. I squinted to see underneath the v-berth, and noticed that there was water sloshing around, which had soaked the bottom of the pack.
“Oh damn,” I said. “Andrew I’m going to put my backpack on the v-berth.”
“But, but I sleep there,” he protested.
“I’m not putting it where you sleep–and I thought you don’t sleep there now.”
“I don’t see why you have to move the bag.”
“Look, Andrew, the least I can expect is a dry place to store my gear, ok?”
He looked wounded, but I was adamant, and after wrapping the backpack in its rain cover, I stuffed it well away from the space where Andrew formerly slept.
“I’m not trying to upset you,” I said when I saw that he was pouting.
“You just do as you please,” he countered.
“It’s just the backpack.”
“Fine,” he said, and the interaction ended.
During the days of the storm Andrew would often go up to the mainsail shouting the same verbal regalia–“Fucking hell! God man! A bullet!” He adjusted it, and returned. He would remain standing in the companionway for long periods, often splashed by waves. I lay in my berth reading, and feeling my stomach turn every time my eyes glanced over to see that gizzard belly flapping around, and his shorts sinking to the most disagreeable oblivion that I could have fathomed. I was stuck with it. I was stuck with this endless wailing storm.
Later he would stand before the gimbal stove, awaiting the kettle’s whistle. His palm grasped the bulkhead trim and his eyes stared fearfully out through the portholes. But now instead of conversation or an engaging lecture, his mouth produced a string of localized complaints–about the weather, about the broken this or that, about what he might buy when in Tahiti–all of it negative. The most painstaking conclusion was always his only one: if only the wind would moderate.
“Then the seas would go down and we could get this blasted thing underway.”
“You know,” I said one day, tired of hearing the phrase. “The more you say it, the less likely it is to happen.”
The kettle blew.
The first had been the largest and most destructive, and we had turned the vents around, and I’d hung the extra blanket above my berth to stop the dripping, but subsequent waves continued to crash over the boat. The leaks continued to leak, only now the Mac was somewhat protected. Cleaning the floor was an endless chore that we loathed and later suspended indefinitely.
The cabin was becoming something expressive of squalor. When the aroma of cooking wore off or blew away, the atmosphere was thick and smelled of old man and wet cat and piss. Water leaked through the forward hatch, where my backpack had been, and no matter how much we swabbed, it always returned, as if the boat were bleeding. This meant that dirt coalesced in the water with cat fur, and mixed in with Thomas’ piss. Now the cat was even shitting. So the floor was a moist collage of dirt, piss, fur and shit sloshing around.
I tip-toed to the head. The toilet paper, in its cupboard, had been soaked. Defecating meant sitting wedged in on the small hand pump toilet, constantly pelted by drips from the mast wiring hole. Andrew had wondered why the spreader and nav lights were busted; the terminal was being constantly soaked in saltwater. When a wave broke while I’d be on the toilet, the water would rush in and splash frigidly down my back and into the bowl. It was in the head where I ground my teeth and hit my thigh in anger.
I had convinced myself not to clean the floor on my own initiative. Andrew had not asked me to, and I felt decidedly eremitical. The cat’s excrement was not my job, unless Andrew were to play captain and make it my job, which I knew he would not. The irony in all of this was that despite the squalor elsewhere, he insisted on spraying Lysol into the toilet bowl after each use.
Then the Mac died.
It was the third or fourth day of the storm. The wind had calmed to 35 knots, and the seas were breaking less often. It was only a matter of time before the storm ceased altogether and we could retake our course. We had already drifted 100 miles north; it was almost time to get underway again. But just like that, the Mac’s screen went black, and Andrew was never able to revive it.
“Well,” he sighed. “Sometimes I just don’t know why I try.”
“So what do we do now?” I asked. “You have paper charts?”
“Yes, I have them here,” he replied, patting a plastic bag beneath the nav table. He rubbed his nose with the prominent knuckle of his finger.
“And the sextant?”
“Yes I do have the sextant, we can use it with the tables, and I have books on celestial navigation there on the shelf.”
“Where are the tables?”
He paused, concentrating on the floor.
“Yes. They are in the PC.”
“And the PC is destroyed,” I said.
“Fine, I know where this is going.”
“If we can use your computer, we can navigate,” he said, looking at me abnormally. He picked up one of his three GPS units and exhibited it to me in a subtly proud manner.
“Do they have drivers to install, like software?” I asked.
“So we plug them in and they upload the software?”
“No, you plug them in and, let’s see, I have the software disc somewhere in here.” He began rummaging through a cupboard, which had leaked as well. “Where is the bloody thing? Oh, I am the cause of my own torment, this fucking thing, everything is just jammed in here, oh, God man!”
“It doesn’t matter,” I sulked. “My computer doesn’t have a disc drive.”
He stopped his hunt and glared at me.
“What does this mean?” I asked. “We’re lost at sea?”
It was a rhetorical slight, against the man that had so much of my respect in the beginning, but now had none of it. How could he not know that his boat leaks as it does, after 60 days at sea? He kept that from me. How is it that I trusted a man of such phony caliber? He seemed so concerned with the seaworthiness of Lido’s boat that I’d archived his credentials without even seeing them–it was my own fault that I’d come along in a flooding boat, in which everything seems broken or about to break, in which the floor is littered with excrement, and the captain of which says everything to make the world act against us. I hadn’t considered it before, but now I began to seriously regret that there was no lifeboat aboard–hell, I hadn’t even seen life jackets. I’d been out on deck a dozen times in the storm, crawling and clinging with a death grip to ropes while breakers smashed the hull and water flowed over us, and I didn’t even have a harness. It was my own fault but fuck, is he not supposed to force it upon me? A few times the water might have carried me off had I not attached myself to the boat with my own ligaments. And now, fate is here to teach me my lesson–stay at sea, boy, and learn the truth of human nature.
“No,” said Andrew. “I have a handheld.”
“It’s an old handheld GPS. I think it works. I’m not sure if I have batteries for it.”
“You have a handheld? Why didn’t you say so? We can use it with the charts?”
He spoke with a sharp edge. “Well, it would be much more convenient to use your computer.”
I knew it would, but I hated it. His computers were destroyed, and the way things were going, that we were still so far from our destination, it seemed impossible that mine wouldn’t be as well. There was nothing for it; I had to use my computer.
“Right, but I’m going to keep it in my backpack, and only I’m going to touch it. I think I should take care of the handheld as well.”
“I didn’t say that I wanted to touch your computer!” he rejoined, visibly miffed by my remark.
I didn’t say more; I didn’t know how to explain to him that I basically thought he was cursed, that the ocean didn’t like him, and that were he to have free reign over the computer and handheld, they would break. Already I’d seen him, hunched over the bilge, frustrated with a clog, suddenly scream and slam his flashlight on the ground, breaking something inside–now we only had my headlamp to use. I didn’t want that to happen to the only device between us and oblivion. So I would guard the handheld GPS and the computer, and use them sparingly.
Andrew retrieved the handheld from the cluttered cupboard, swearing and calling God man in the process. It was a small machine encased in yellow plastic, and its digital screen looked like a fading etch-a-sketch. The batteries were good, and rechargeable. All we had to do was protect the inverter from the vent spouts when waves broke over us. If we could preserve the computer and handheld, and charge them with the inverter, we had our position, our route and our salvation.
By the fifth day the storm clouds had disappeared, and blue skies spread out like a beautiful, warm, fresh sheet lain over the breeze. But the seas were still up, and the wind still gave voice to the rigging.
“Oh,” trembled Andrew in the companionway, the flabby belly, the sinking shorts… “wonderful sky. Now… if only the wind would moderate, and the sea would then go down, and…”
His querulous tone now carried the crescendo of a sigh, which made it sound testily fatalistic. I saw the sea, and thought that we could sail. The wind was up, but we could sail with the main alone. I said nothing. Cooked, read, laid down to avoid bursting the boils. One day, the entry in my journal read, simply, “scrotum.”
That belly! That button, so big, popping out! The gizzard, ugh. He stands there, a wave breaks, torrents rush through all the leaks, and he remains up there, sodden in many respects.
I day-dreamed of home, of sedentary life among friends. Steak, corn pudding, buffalo wings, lobster, chicken strips, Reese’s; buttermilk pancakes, junk food, my brother’s cooking, my mom’s. I dreamed of playing video games, eating popcorn, going back, every night, to the same bed, in a place that is mine. No, I thought. This sailing is threatening the true dream which is Asia. Must… stay the course.
Dreaming of that food did not help when I had to continue a routine of dealing with weevil infestation. And there was silence. Conversation had all but ceased entirely. The only constant was the card game in the evening, but when I spoke I spoke to the air–Andrew spoke to the cat.
Then the solar panels stopped working.
Andrew came back into the cabin after testing the wiring at the panels themselves. He was wet because a wave broke, and the multi-meter tester in his dubious hand was wet as well. Damn right I’m in charge of the GPS, I thought. He stepped down on top of Thomas, who wailed and scurried to his hole.
“Thomas! Blasted, Thomas, you are always underfoot! Come on man, move it!”
He turned to me, but spoke at the portholes from his perch, water droplets converging on his lenses.
“Well. The solar panels have had it. I just don’t know what it could be. Oh, I just wish this wind would moderate.”
“It has moderated,” I interjected. “Maybe we should sail.”
“Sail? In this? You’re mad. And do not presume that I do not recognize the state of the weather; it must moderate yet if we are to sail, do you understand?”
“Yea.” I was already laying down, protecting my buttocks, and I ended the conversation by lifting Luke Short’s western as a curtain.
The new routine of the GPS was this: Andrew would look off through the portholes and say, “you think we ought to have a look at our position?” I would quietly retrieve my computer, and turn it on, careful to be out of a known leak’s trajectory. I would take the GPS handheld (though in the coming days Andrew would start to handle it, to my great dismay); we’d turn it on, write down the coordinates, and then drag the cursor along in Open CPN, dropping a location mark in the correct spot. Andrew would take enough time to understand the chart, then explain it to me, disinterested when I would say that I’d already understood. If not for having transferred his charts onto my USB, but more so if not for my Swedish friend Simon’s gift of the program in the first place, we really would be lost. There was no other way to get our position. If my computer died, we would be lost. If the inverter died, lost. And if the GPS handheld died, implicitly lost.
Now, if the engine went, and according to Andrew it already had once before, we were also lost. Since the solar panels were no longer supplying energy to the batteries, with which we had cabin lights and by which the inverter ran to charge the computer and GPS handheld, we had to run the engine every day to put juice into the battery.
And there were less than 10 gallons of fuel.
He had told me that he had a son. I knew from conversations during our more tranquil days in Hiva Oa that he had a daughter as well, and both were wealthy in South Africa. He said to me one day that his greatest hope and challenge was to get them out of South Africa before it collapsed. When I asked him why he suffered his financial problems while his family was well off and could give him money, he said that he had already received their help. He had been divorced and lost a lot of his estate, and the rest was invested in the boat. But they’re his kids, they’re family: why not ask them for a bit more assistance? I began to hope that his pride would not keep him from that course of action if in his life there was love. His computers were destroyed, along with the articles and the chances of working online–the instructions I’d written out had been rendered baseless by a torrent of saltwater. I wouldn’t lend him my computer because at this point I would be off the boat as soon as we hit land, if we hit land. Perhaps I’d toss him some money, because already I’d eaten into his provisions enough to make that honorable. But that would not save him–the man might become lost at sea, but it didn’t seem to me much of a change from where he already was.
“Eleven degrees, forty-two minutes, twenty-six seconds south; one hundred forty-five degrees, twenty-three minutes, naught one west. Shall I repeat?”
“No I got it,” I said.
“Let us have a look here. Ok. So, we are he-ah, and we need to go he-ah. Alright, good. Now.” He stood and slowly climbed the companionway ladder to the hatch, and I heard his muffled voice. “Now where is west? Ah-ha. Ok.” He came back. “The wind is from west-south-west. We can make the course in this direction, but only if the wind decides to moderate for us. Then the seas will go down and…” and so on.
The chart showed us that we were well north. I had almost forgotten about the 15 days I’d been granted to arrive in Tahiti–that was finished. Luke would probably be long-gone by the time we made it. And with my buttocks stinging whenever I shifted, Tahiti for me might be a vacuum of my money after all, for I was dreaming of a hotel and a hot shower, and shampoo, and then the movie theater.
Last night had been another wet, shivering night because Andrew had gone forward on deck to tighten the shrouds, which are the stainless steel rigging cables amidships. I went with, angry that he wanted to do this just then, and thinking it unwise to change something that was so far working for us. I came back into the cabin wet. The sodden blankets were useless for warmth, and there was no position in which I could protect the boils from moisture and chaffing. I had to tough it out. Around 3 am there was a succession of loud noises, as if the hull had been pummeled by a school of large fish. We were being thrashed by the waves still, and they broke steadily over Athena creating uproarious sound, sending waterfalls into the cabin–those having become familiar sights.
It was a new day. After I stashed the computer I climbed the companionway to breathe the fresh, albeit violent air. There was something snaking along the starboard deck. It was a shroud.
“Andrew, better take a look at this,” I said.
He came up. “Oh no,” he said when I pointed to the shroud. The loud noises during the night had been its individual cables snapping–now it lay like a defeated serpent, its wasted body draped across the deck. It was the forward shroud, one of four on the starboard side amidships. It didn’t seem to me possible that this could be coincidence; he had tightened the very shroud only hours before. But I couldn’t very well have prohibited him from doing things I knew nothing about–it would have been only a feeling.
“Oh damn it man! Why won’t this wind just moderate already?”
“It’s really not going to help saying that,” I snorted through the wind.
“This is not how it’s supposed to occur. It seems that the wind has picked up since yesterday. It is supposed to moderate, and the sea is supposed to moderate after that, and then–”
“–then we can sail, yes, I’ve heard you,” I said. “And the wind hasn’t picked up, it has moderated since yesterday.”
“Well, what do you think we should do; I think we should remain hove-to.”
“I guess, if you ask my opinion, I think we could sail in this. We ought to try I think, what is it, 20 knots?”
“You think. But you know something Cale, I have 60 years of experience sailing, and I just get the feeling that you disagree with my decisions.”
“You asked what I thought, though. I’m telling you what I think.”
“Well, so we’ll raise the jib, and you will see.”
“Hey don’t be like that–you’re the captain, do as you want.”
“No, we’ll raise the jib.”
So we crawled forward. Andrew untied the gaskets and I winched the jib halyard up. His shorts had fallen well past the halfway mark, and the full moon was shining, pot-marked and jiggling. I coughed loudly, tied off the jib line and returned to the cockpit with care.
It was around 10 a.m. Light filtered through the clouds and, turning toward Andrew, I saw that I had plenty to complain about. But I was glad to hear Andrew beat me to it when he regained the cockpit.
“Cale, these shorts are simply driving me mad. Would you mind if I wore my underwear?”
“No go ahead, I don’t mind.”
I sat back toward the tiller, having snatched a cushion on which to buffer the boils. Finally, I thought to myself, I would no longer be forced to grimace every time I saw the butt crack–I’d only have a bit of cheek and the belly to cause my ashamed offense. Maybe they’re boxers, in which case the cheeks wouldn’t bother me anymore either.
I could still see Andrew in the dark at the bottom of the companionway, and when a wave shoved the boat forcefully, he dropped his glasses. “Oh bugger!” he cried. Then the inverter cupboard popped open and as he held his glasses in one hand and dealt with the cupboard with the other, his shorts fell completely off. Then for a moment I saw him as he stood there, thwarted and fatigued, absently twirling his penis between his fingers. Then he went back to into the v-berth to change.
When he emerged up the companionway, what I saw was so inappropriate that it was funny, and I almost laughed aloud, and would have if I didn’t have the boils’ stinging sensation distracting me.
It was essentially a loose speedo, or that loin cloth that a sumo wears–it was cylindrical and covered his junk, but really it consisted of nothing but a string at his haunches. He looked like a long-since-retired model as he leaned on the hatch tracks peering through his glasses at the horizon beyond where I sat, grinding his teeth. I imagined the practical joke for the 87 year old’s birthday; “Look Gladys, we got you a hot, young, 66 year old hunk!”
When he stepped out into the cockpit and turned around, it became not so funny. I was confronted then with the full, white, red-buttoned ass, greeting me unencumbered, the thong strap disappearing somewhere in there. I had lost all heart. The man never laughed, and this was too much–his image to me was a tragedy.
That night, after a meal of pasta in a cinnamon cream sauce, we were sitting on our opposing berths. Thomas was away in his hole, my feet were propped up against the bulkhead, and we were hove-to once more.
“Shall we take a reading?” asked Andrew.
We did so, and as I was putting the computer away I said, “so what do you think, 3 readings a day sounds pretty alright to me, you?”
It was trivial, but it was enough. Andrew’s face blossomed into a fiery red, furious as I’d ever seen him. All the wrinkles were suddenly encased in a blooming fury, and caused them to appear exaggerated. The pouches beneath his crystal blue eyes became dark caves; the eyes lost what luster they carried, and the tear-drop-path wrinkles beneath them became like scars. All the veins filled with blood and moved behind the skin in a very visible way. And he began a tyrannical rant against me.
“Cale you just try my patience do you not? You are constantly querying me at every turn, saying that you think this or that, that you think we ought to use the computer just three times a day–”
“–hey I didn’t mean to–”
“–well no! My friend, I will not have you, you who do not have 60 years of sailing experience behind you, I will not have you dictate to me the way this boat will be run–”
“–hey I’m not–”
“–you will listen to my rule and you will respect me as captain of this vessel. Your problem is that you’re on a schedule, and you want to sail in conditions that you do–”
“–that’s not true, I–”
“–conditions that you do not understand. You are brash–”
“–you are brazen, you have no respect for authority–”
“–you quarrel, you overstep at every pass, you are–”
“STOP!!” I yelled. It was in a croaking voice that taxed the greatest intensity of my vocal chords; the uvula trembled at the back of my throat, which by sounding this one word had made it immediately sore. But its calculated effect had worked and Andrew closed his mouth and recoiled.
“I’m sorry to yell Andrew,” I continued, “but it’s to get a word in. You’re ranting at me about all these things, and I don’t get it because I don’t even talk enough to get you mad at me for these reasons. I’m not trying to supplant you as captain, I know it’s your boat, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to have all these things happen to you–you lost your computers, the shroud snapped, the solar panels, and I’m sorry, but, man, I listen to you. It is your boat, and you’re the captain, you make the decisions, I’m not undermining anything here, that’s all in your head man–be the captain for Christ’s sake and stop putting the responsibility for decisions on me–or better, don’t ask my opinion if it upsets you so much.”
I took a long breath. I watched Andrew’s lip curl and remain curled as I spoke, and he stayed like that afterward, pouting like a child. I felt ashamed that I’d yelled, but the man was trail blazing where he shouldn’t have been. For him, it was probably the building stress of things breaking on his boat. For me, well, it was mostly him. So, if there was to be any yelling, it happened as it should, and for that I was unrepentant.
The night ended in silence save for the wind in the rigging. And there were more snaps.
In the morning Andrew emerged from the head with a trimmed beard and combed, slicked hair–something about the argument caused him to do this, I knew, and now my captain was a neat professor Hammond in a thong.
We discovered that the forward port side shroud had snapped, and was still attached but looking like a peeled banana at its joint under the spreader. I cooked in cheerless airs. Andrew read Neville. The heat made the salt crystals on my back tingle and I was uncomfortable. Sitting was uncomfortable. Being around Andrew was uncomfortable.
That day we sailed.
That night we hove-to, and I felt it was to spite me. Why don’t we go on watches? The wind is good, the seas are rough still but acceptable, we’ve been two weeks at sea, and we’re in dire need of separation. I said nothing of these thoughts, and went to sleep, uncomfortably.
It is irrational, but animals sometimes receive the same disdain that we feel toward their owners. Thomas became a real nuisance. In the middle of the night when his soiled coat was curled up beside my head, a wave rocked us and threw him onto the floor, but not before his reflex caused his claw to reach out and dig into my arm. I shouted and threw him into his hole, without Andrew seeing.
When I first came aboard, I heard that Andrew’s previous crew Chris had hit Thomas in response to a bite. In front of me, Andrew had said to Thomas, “Yehhhsh, Thomas, this is a good one, this one won’t hit you my peussy cat.” But now I wanted to hit one of them, anyway.
We hove-to again.
In the morning we finally raised the jib. 174 degrees bearing, but with a declination of 10 degrees and a 20 degree drift, our course was 204 degrees. We were pitching into the waves, the bow coming down and splashing hard, throwing water outward and losing energy otherwise good for forward momentum.
Andrew continued to hope for wind moderation. I found it peculiar that he never showed any sense of urgency despite running low on food and probably on water. There was more heaving-to; unnecessary, but I kept my trap glued.
Another day. Still north of the Tuatmotus. The skies were clear, and the seas had gone down. I washed my loins gently, hidden in the cockpit. I began wearing just my towel because the soiled shorts chaffed unacceptably. I would prop my leg up on the cockpit bench to let the wind soothe the rash. It made me think that Captain Morgan, of the famous brand of rum, had not assumed a trivial posture–the man was trying to air out his loins.
Cooking, weevils, cat shit-piss-fur-collage, wet toilet paper, thong, saltwater boils, lurching boat movement, coconuts. That was the day.
In the evening we were in the cockpit, squall systems off our starboard bow, the wind coming from the port side.
“What do you think?” he asked.
I sent him a sideways glance, but answered anyway. “Looks fine to me, let the jib fly.”
“I think we should heave-to,” he responded.
“You know I could take a night watch–we never do watches. If the concern is that the wind will pick up and we’ll have to take down the jib, set watches.”
“Cale, you have gone too far.”
“What?” I asked, climbing back into the cabin. Andrew remained in the companionway, his upper body outside the hatch.
“Every time I make a decision you countermand me.”
“That’s just not true, Andrew.”
“It is so, I say, it is true. You just did it.”
“Andrew, you asked my opinion, and I gave it to you, I didn’t countermand you.”
“What would you call it then, hmm? When you go against my decision, you make me feel that I cannot rely on you.”
“Oh fuck that Andrew, I resent that. Of course you can rely on me. I didn’t go against your decision, hell, you hadn’t even made a decision, you asked my opinion.”
“You take things too far,” he insisted. “I am the captain of this boat, I say that we will heave-to and you try to convince me otherwise.”
“Because you asked me, Jesus. And frankly, my opinion is valid, even though you think I have no experience. Well you know what Andrew, I do have experience. Sailing isn’t so fucking elitist as you make it out to be, and anyone could have an opinion, and I happen to have an educated opinion, so if you ask for it, be strong enough to hear it and then decide against it, ok? But don’t go and say that I’m countermanding you.”
His face was burgeoning again, the wrinkles wearing a wicked emphasis. He was like a stone in a fire; I didn’t know whether it would explode and send shrapnel to cut me, or if it would just get hot before cooling after the fire is doused. He sounded like the Emperor, or Jafar, or Scar or any such character with that evil high British accent.
“We are reaching the breaching point!” he huffed, “we now better just count to 20…”
“What are you talking–”
“–but you just have to have the last word, don’t you!?” he growled, and slammed the hatch in my face, leaving me with his gizzard belly and thong.
“I know what you mean by breaching point, but I assure you it’s you, not me,” I hollered. “You shouldn’t even have crew in the first place!” I went to my berth, and lay down.
We had two more hours of good sailing before Andrew woke me to help take down the jib. He pulled the sail down, yanking up the halyard line, and I found that he had coiled it, and the force brought it into a knot.
“Let the halyard down!” he shouted over the wind and waves.
“Hold on, it’s, hold on–”
Then he screamed, “just let the fucking thing go man, just let the fucking thing off!”
I managed to untie his knot and release the line. I wanted off the boat. This man was becoming ridiculous.
By the time we reached the Rangiroa Channel, a pass between two atolls, the rash of saltwater boils felt like an area recently ravaged by fine-grain sandpaper, tender to every little touch. The western atoll lent its name to the channel; this was the largest atoll in the world. We had arrived to its shores in the early morning, and now we were motor-sailing across toward the pass because we had gone too far and without the motor it would be another day of tacking north.
I triggered Andrew’s resentment not only through my willingness to confront him (his idea of crew was absolute subservience), but by announcing that I disliked sailing. He countered by talking about how finding good crew was so difficult, and what he truly wanted was someone who would contribute for a long-term cruise, who would enjoy a glass of wine every night, and who had a sense of humor; I said nothing.
I cooked sweet turmeric tomato rice with miniature naan, and we ate together in the cockpit. Andrew was talking again, probably because the conditions had moderated to 3 or 4 foot swell, and the sun was shining. He mostly went on and on about the things he had to do to prepare the boat. I began to hear his words as one hears a conversation at a neighboring table, undirected at me. His uplifted spirits did not cause me to forget the unbecoming aspects of his character; I decided that his lamentations were pitiful, and sometimes pathetic, and the fact that he had left Mexico so unprepared, or even South Africa to begin with, had become in my mind irresponsible–I was resolved to leave the boat in Tahiti; I no longer wanted our destinies intertwined.
A sliver of spikes on the horizon marked Rangiroa’s palm trees. On coming closer, they grew and spread out, and we could make out white coral sand. This didn’t tell us where the treacherous reef was, but the breakers in the channel would indicate it once we arrived.
Now Andrew turned on the VHF for the first time in weeks, switched to the distress channel 16, and brought the receiver to his bearded mouth. When he broadcast his voice changed for the occasion just as it had weeks before over the radio with Gary. It was a more guttural voice, with elongated vowels and a sing-song meter. It was theatrical, or from another era, and he seemed then like a living museum of the past. I realized that this man was probably not aging well–indeed he was not.
“All stations all stations all stations, this is sailing vessel Athena, Athena. If you are reading please respond.”
“All stations all stations all stations, sailing vessel Athena he-ah, please come back.”
A European voice came over the receiver this time. “Hello Athena this Mobex, let’s go to 1-8.”
“Athena are you there?”
“Copy Mobex. It’s good to hear another human voice after so long.”
“What? I didn’t read that.”
“I say it’s good to hear another human voice.”
The voice chuckled. “What’s your story Athena?”
“Well, Mobex, I am here offshore Rangiroa, I just came through a 5-day storm, two of my shrouds have broken completely off, I am low on fuel, my solar panels are not working and my navigational equipment has been destroyed, over.”
“Athena, are you going to enter the lagoon, do you need assistance?”
“Mobex thank you kindly, at the moment we are O-K.”
“Who is aboard?”
“There is myself and my one crew. I wonder if you can tell me how far the Rangiroa channel is from my current position, over.”
“What are your coordinates?”
Andrew turned on the handheld and read our coordinates theatrically. I was perplexed as to why he wanted to do this when we had been making good on my computer. Maybe he just wanted the satisfaction, or to confirm that the position of the handheld was true. He had listed all of the problems of the boat, leaving out a few (nav lights, leaks everywhere). But he sounded desperate, afraid, and the yearning in his theatrical voice was astounding.
“It looks like you guys are 60 miles from the channel.”
I was looking at my computer’s opinion. “He’s talking about the other channel, the western one,” I interrupted in a whisper.
“Mobex is that channel you’re speaking of the western or the eastern channel beside Rangiroa? over.”
“Copy, Athena. That would be the western channel, the western channel, Athena.”
“Very well, and might you tell us how far we are from the eastern channel?”
“Roger. You’re about 15 miles out,” said the voice.
I interrupted again. “We’re 5 miles away from it, Andrew.”
“Pipe down,” he snapped.
“Right,” I said.
“Mobex, thank you kindly for that information.”
“Athena is there anything we can do to help?”
“I’m somewhat concerned about my rigging, Mobex, and about my fuel supply, and that my solar panels have simply stopped working.”
“Well, Athena, what I propose we do is this. We are leaving this afternoon out of the western channel. I propose that we call each other on 16 at 3 pm, and from there we continue hourly or semi-hourly calls, and that way you will have a buddy boat to Tahiti, which is only 200 miles from here.”
“That sounds very nice, thank you, Mobex. So I will hail you at 3 pm. over.”
“Sounds good, Athena. Mobex back to 1-6.”
We never had to tack, and made the mouth of the channel under power. The palms had grown and I could see their trunks. I felt sad that I would not get to see the purported crystalline waters of the interior lagoon, shark-infested and blooming with colorful coral. But it was not my journey. My journey turned out to be the storm on this failing boat, and to dazzle my eyes prematurely of our destination with images of a coral atoll would be too cruel–so I was glad that we were passing Rangiroa, and glad to be moving effectively beyond the greatest field of atolls on the planet.
“Oh I just hope we can make it through this channel without something going wrong. Moitessier lost two sailboats on reefs, and I fear that fate desperately.”
He just had to say it, didn’t he? Within a few minutes of this ill-timed utterance, right as we were entering Rangiroa channel, the engine died.
“Great,” I grumbled.
“Oh! I just don’t know why I do it sometimes…”
We located the jerry can of diesel. For the last few days we had been starting the motor for 40 minutes in the mornings to charge the batteries, since the solar panels were still out of commission. Now the tank was empty. I held the funnel as Andrew struggled grasping the can as he poured. I offered to switch roles, but he insisted on tempting his capacities. When the jerry can was empty, he lashed it once more to the fantail stanchions.
He went below and opened the engine compartment, switched the battery on, and I turned the key. There was a loud yawping electrical buzz, but the engine did not turn. Several times we tried this. I looked up, and the atoll’s palms had seemed to grow larger–we were in the channel now, and I could see the beaches and breakers where the reef was. The main was flying, so we were still under sail, but the currents were unknown and it was stupid to be there without auxiliary engine power. Ours wasn’t having it.
“We must bleed these fuel lines,” he said.
“You know how?”
“Well, there’s a manual somewhere here among all of this clutter.” He cursed himself as he rummaged once more in the cupboard where he had stuffed anything and everything. “Oh blasted, these things just pile up because there is absolutely no organization. Oh, oh, my, God man! When I’m rich and famous I will do away with this catastrophe of a cupboard and I will…”
He never found the manual and so returned to the engine.
“I’ve bled brake lines and hydraulic pumps, it can’t be much different,” I offered.
“Cale I worked on Land Rovers my whole life, I know what I’m doing.”
“Turn the key please.”
I turned it.
“Ok, stop.” He adjusted something.
This went on for 10 minutes, and finally the engine hiccupped, sneezed, and turned over.
“Great!” I said with some elation. “What did you do?”
“I turned these he-ah, these fuel lines at the injector, and as you held the ignition, I would close them as soon as I saw fuel spit out.”
“Well, great. Nicely done,” I said.
We were through the channel, and the atoll’s thin black silhouette of coconut-bearers sank beneath a blue-gold afternoon. I felt uplifted to finally be through the Tuamotus. Not that the atolls caused me any anxiety, but because it was Andrew they made nervous. Now we were 200 miles from Tahiti–two days for any other boat, so I reckoned it would take us 4. We had already been at sea for 15 days. The immigration officials had given me 15 days, which were up, and it was partially because of a storm–I wouldn’t have to lie after all. Luke was surely gone, but thoughts of vagabonding in Tahiti had begun to enter my mind and guide me into a pleasantly resolved mood.
So I tried conversation.
“That’s a very pretty sunset on the atoll,” I said. We were in the cockpit, and had just finished dinner.
“…so, you said you had a camera. You haven’t taken many photos,” I said. “Isn’t your family curious?”
“Well, you see, Cale, photography is an art form. To engage in photography one must have a quieted mind. I simply cannot find good compositions when my boat is falling apart. If I had just a little bit of money, I would hire an electrician to deal with these spreader lights. Then I would buy a dedicated chart plotter, because these computers are simply not fit for seafaring. I need to varnish the cap rail. I need to caulk the stanchions where the water is leaking into the four peak, I need to fashion a…” and it went on.
I engaged a new pastime yanking dreadlocks from my scalp. I had not washed with soap except for around the rash, which continued to torment me. And not since Colombia had I used shampoo instead of regular soap. Hence the dreads.
Night came. The deep, pitch-black canvas of speckled light was pulled over our heads, and the cosmic blemish of Milky Way was there, as were the beaming stars of the Southern Cross pointing our way. Perhaps it was that we were finally sailing at our customary 3 knots coupled with this fantastic sky that made Andrew talkative again. There was something about that night, because it was the last time I would hear him speak without mention of wind moderating or of things he had to repair.
“I guess those 15 days are up,” I said that evening.
“Cale, you know, you care far too much about that.”
“I don’t care so much, it’s just on my mind.”
“Well, like I’ve said, don’t put any stock into it.”
“I’m careful around law,” I replied, guiding my hand over the rough ridges of dreadlocks on my head.
“Law,” he said. “Law is not always what it seems. The French authorities, as long as you treat them how they expect to be treated, will not use their full power against you, which they can at any moment. Let me tell you something to illustrate what I mean. South Africa, as I have said,” he began, “is going to the gallows. It will fail.”
“Yea. How can you be sure?” I asked.
“Well. Cecil B. Rhodes was one of the most inventive and notorious men of his time–a billionaire in today’s standards, and a celebrity. He wielded such great power, that his efforts eventually saw his name pegged to a country–Rhodesia.”
“Quite right, but back then it was Rhodesia. Now. When Britain decided to give its colonies independence, it did so first to the north, as did France. They simply handed over power, you see, overnight. The whites, who were in power in Rhodesia, a British colony, saw what happened to those countries–each and every one of them lost its industrial advance, the currencies failed, and these guys just took as much as they could once they got into power–the countries themselves were left fruitless.”
“Right, it’s because the colonial powers had drawn the borders without considering the native tribal boundaries,” I said.
“That’s only part of it. You can’t expect the white man’s industrial tendencies to be mimicked by these guys, especially not overnight. Well, it came Rhodesia’s turn, you see. And they said to Britain ‘No, we shall not hand over power to the natives. We shall train them and with time there can be equality.’ Britain was furious, you see, so Rhodesia declared her independence, saying to Britain, ‘send your troops and we will send them packing.'”
“So there was war?”
“There’s always war in Africa, but what ended up happening in Rhodesia was as they had planned. To keep the native population from restlessness and chaos, the white authority granted a set of powerful laws for the executive, with which they were able to keep peace but also advance the country’s economic interests, you see, without the barrier of bureaucracy. Britain would have had them hand over power.”
“But when eventually power was handed over to the natives, the leaders of whom by then had been assimilated, what happened? Mugabe saw these old disused laws that had been granted to the executive during a time of turmoil, which granted essentially despotic power in the wrong hands, and they had never been rescinded. These guys, you see, they’re naturally corrupt, and greedy. So Mugabe didn’t have to become a dictator, he had all the laws he needed for absolute power–then the reclamation began and whites started losing their farms.”
“Ok,” I said.
“The point is this, Cale. It is often not the law itself that creates power, but he who wields and interprets said law. It might be 15 days in the books, but they’re not going to deport you for being overdue.”
“…well. I wasn’t thinking so dramatically about it. Decent point.” And it was a decent point, but it was the kind of story that makes an American cringe without knowing why.
The wind had picked up to around 15 knots. We hove-to, and drifted away from Tahiti, again. That night as I slept in the starboard berth, the folding table jumped its latch and came crashing down, slamming into my foot. I yelled furiously. I switched on the light and held my foot, wincing at the shock while sitting painfully on my buttocks. I was falling apart.
When I opened the last bag of rice I had to turn away from the smell. The rice had been saturated, and was yellowing in the beginning stages of fermentation. When I poured it into the tupperware bin, chunks caked in white mold tumbled out–these smelled worst of all.
“Andrew, look at this.”
“Hmm?” I showed him the rice. “What’s wrong? That’s good rice.”
“It’s covered in mold, man. Smell it.”
“Cale, that is the last of the rice, and we must eat it. If you do not eat it, I will.”
I felt indignation, but he was right; it was all we had to eat. I cooked it, and the cabin air became rank in the odor of fermentation. With enough cans of beans, and fried onions and spices, I was able to partially obscure the stench, and there was only a hint of it in my nostrils when I put a scoop into my mouth.
How many more days to Tahiti I could never be sure, what with all of the heaving-to in good wind, and the slow, constant drifting away during long nights.
“These blasted solar panels. I just don’t understand!”
Andrew had been working on them when the seas were calm. He had already replaced some corroded wires, but the multi-meter was reading anywhere from -3 to 15 volts.
“Maybe you should wipe the salt off the panels.”
“No, Cale, it has nothing to do with that. It is in the wiring, somewhere.”
But he tested the wiring, and it worked. Regardless, he replaced all of it, complaining of insufficient crimp connections. Still, the solar panels were not putting its voltage into the batteries.
“Sometimes it’s 20 volts, as it should be, but–there! You see? It read 20 just there, and now–drat, you see? -1, 2, -.5. Oh!”
I was beside him at the fantail. The solar panels were folded out, and Andrew had the multi-meter nodes pressed to the wires at their underbellies.
“You know, you’ve replaced the wires and it still doesn’t work. When I was with Lido, my friend Dirk had problems with his solar panels on his boat Lola. Lido came and moved a line that was casting a shadow on the panel, and voila, they worked again.”
I moved to wipe down the solar panels, limping on my bruised foot. Sure enough, once the panels were wiped, Andrew’s multi-meter received a strong, steady signal at 20 volts.
“Ah,” he said, unceremoniously. “Well, it still does not solve the problem of why the power is not reaching the batteries. And it just drives me mad, I say. Everything has to go wrong… so when I’m rich and famous–”
A wave broke, the spray finding its way onto Andrew, leaving me perfectly dry beside him.
“–God man! Oh, dreary day! Why do I even bother?”
Eventually, after testing all the components of the solar panel, Andrew discovered that the regulator was not working, so the 20 volts were not being converted into the necessary 12 volts that the battery could hold. Without the regulator to convert the solar energy into storeable energy, the panels were useless. They were kaput.
One night, the shift in the wind woke me. We were sailing, and when I came through the companionway, I knew immediately that Andrew would heave us to. I took the only bold liberty that I would allow myself aboard Athena, and decided not to wake him. It was blowing 15 knots, and I stared for a time at the rigging. Andrew had reconfigured the remaining shrouds, and I judged the force was manageable now. I crawled back into my berth.
Ten minutes later I woke to Andrew’s murmuring.
“Shit,” he said. I saw his belly and the thong in the companionway. “We must heave her to,” he announced in high British accentuation.
“Fine then,” I managed, and with a long sigh pulled myself from the berth.
We went to the mast to bring the jib down and then to adjust the main.
“We must heave-to so that we drift north!” he shouted.
“Wait, that doesn’t make sense,” I countered. “We’re to the lee of our course line we need to drift south!”
“Cale, do not use terms without understanding them!” he cried.
We regained the cockpit, and I sat down on a cushion. Andrew looked at the course on the Raymarine auto helm, then at the compass globe beside the hatch. He said nothing, but I knew what he was thinking. I’d been right. Again he had patronized me, treating me as a novice. It was then that I decided that I was not. If 90 percent of sailing is maintaining a boat, then I was still a beginner; but in what constituted sailing under wind power, it was different. Months earlier I was a novice, but now I had at least graduated into the intermediate, and where he treated my opinion like garbage, he ought to treat it like recyclables.
We proceeded to turn the engine in order to bring her about . We lashed the tiller. Then Andrew spoke to me. I was expecting something akin to an apology, but it was something else–he wore his fiery, scarred mask.
“I am the captain. When I make a decision it is final. It makes the running of my boat extremely difficult when every time I decide to heave-to I am met with a negative vibe.”
A negative vibe! I thought. The most negative man I had had the displeasure to spend too much time with was telling me that my negative vibe was making him uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t help the vibe. I don’t want to heave-to, you’re right, because we have good wind to sail in.”
“Cale, you do not understand–my rigging is compromised, the solar panel regulator is not working, things are breaking left and right; I will not push her.”
“That’s fine, don’t push her past her limits,” I replied in earnest. “But I just think that she can sail in this.”
“That’s precisely what I’m talking about.” He reprised: “You countermand my decision.”
“I disagree with your decision. But it’s your decision and as you can see we are hove-to. If you continue to ask my opinion, I will continue to give it.”
“You, my friend, have gravely overstepped your role,” he jeered.
“Oh, bullshit,” I said, peeved and smoldering in my chest. I went angrily into the cabin, lay on my berth and turned out the light. What a weak captain, I thought. A weak man, a pitiful man. If he can’t stand the opinion of his crew when he asks for it, he ought to not have crew at all. He’s the captain for God’s sake, it doesn’t matter if he listens to my opinion or not, but fucking hell the man tries to deprive me of it entirely.
It had been two days since Rangiroa, and we were still over 100 miles from Tahiti. Andrew was not going to Papeete, the capital city on the north side of the island. He wanted to go to Port Phaeton for fear of having to pay fees at the Taina Bay anchorage in Papeete. At first I was upset that Andrew wanted to anchor in Port Phaeton, which was tucked up a long passage at the isthmus between the two mountainous circles that made up Tahiti, but as the journey progressed, I realized that it would be easier to leave him from there, which is what I wanted above all else.
Our heading was good for Papeete, but it was too far off to get to the south of the island. We had to tack, and Andrew’s idea was to motor to make the last tack. I didn’t like the idea because we couldn’t be sure how much fuel remained, and we needed the motor to get beyond the reef and into port. In the meantime, if the wind was above 10 knots he would heave-to in the evenings. And the evenings’ drifting exacerbated our heading every time.
Then the main tore.
It was a tear in the aft edge, along the horizontal seam; about two feet of material was ripped.
“It’s this damn wind!” Andrew was letting down the main halyard as I reeled it in. “If it would only moderate, and leave my sails in peace!” I flinched at the infamous words.
We were able to leave some main up after having secured the tear within the wrap around the boom. Just then Andrew extended his claw, the plump-knuckled finger shaking in the wind as it stretched to point.
“Sail-ho!” he shouted.
I squinted toward where he had signaled. It was a sailboat, the first and only we’d seen in weeks. It looked foreign where it was, white on blue, like a black weevil in white rice. Oh–they’d even infested my mind.
I followed Andrew back to the cabin where he switched on the VHF and resumed his theatrical radio call.
“Unknown sail unknown sail, please come in.”
“Hallo? Channel 1-4 please.” It was a German accent.
Andrew switched to 14.
“Greetings, we see you there, what is your heading? over.” he asked.
“Hallo, yes, we are going to Papeete, at 235 degrees. How are you? over.”
Andrew continued. He was not at all sententious. “Oh! Well, I say I might be better. I have a compromised rig, my solar power is out, and my navigational equipment had been destroyed. I’m running low on fuel–”
“–is your boat called Athena?” the voice interrupted.
“Why, yes it ’tis. With whom do I speak?”
“This is Angelica. There was a plane here not long ago, and they were broadcasting looking for a boat called Athena. over.”
“It was a Polynesian naval aircraft, calling for Athena, over.”
Andrew hesitated, and then stumbled into the receiver. “Um, ye–, ok, thank you, Angelica. Um–”
“Can we provide assistance, would you like to follow us, our chart plotter is working fine.”
“Oh, well, I have my crew’s computer he-ah, and, well, we’re O-K.”
“Ok, well, I wish there was something we could do, over.”
“Thank you, then.”
“Well, goodbye. Angelica back to 16.”
He replaced the receiver in its tab and stood clutching the bulkhead trim, staring through the smudged portholes.
“I never said that we were in distress. Oh, that just ruffles my feathers, I say. Can anything else go wrong?”
I wanted to tell him it was his fault for sounding so desperate over the radio at Rangiroa, but I kept that thought swimming in the turmoil of my mind.
“That captain, what was it? Mabax. Oh, he just assumed, did he not?”
“Well, we had said we’d radio each other, and our radio was off. Maybe he thought something had happened.”
Andrew was beside himself, and wouldn’t hear me. “As I told you before, most people with boats he-ah are not sailors. In South Africa, at the yacht club in Durban, the captains had an etiquette that they followed and that the crew followed, and they were good seamen, and furthermore, I would not be the slightest bit surprised were I to discover that there will be a bill to pay for that plane on arrival in Tahiti. But it will not be my responsibility. I will get to Tahiti and I will, once I have fixed the spreader lights and the solar panels, and after I get just a little bit of money in order to haul out and re-paint my boat, I will re-provision with wine and cheese and…”
Andrew went on. He mentioned that his compatriots were “good seamen.” I thought about the times I had found him sopping up water from under the cockpit slats.
“Why are you doing that?” I had asked. “It’s just going to fill again, and you pump the bilge daily anyway.”
“Cale, it is because it is good seamanship, do you understand?” He’d riposted.
I had understood. What I hadn’t understood was how that was good seamanship but a cabin filled with projectiles, exposed wires and a soup of cat shit also was.
“I cannot see it. It should be there, but it makes me nervous that it is not.” Andrew was looking through his binoculars. He had finally removed the thong and replaced it with a towel, and now we were two men in towels aboard a precarious 35 foot sloop. He was trying to see Tahiti.
“You can’t see it because it’s behind those clouds,” I said, impatient with his innocent and condemning preordination. “It’s there.”
“I’m not so sure,” he quavered.
I was aggravated after yet another night of heaving-to. We had to heave-to, it was true this time, but we might not have had to if Andrew, several hours before dusk’s dark dimpled clouds, had not again wished for the wind to moderate, “then the seas will go down, and…” etcetera.
Apparently the man had never been properly taught how to tension a towel to the waist–that, or his gizzard belly was sabotaging the endeavor. In any case, Andrew had to constantly readjust it, and my inopportune eyes were scandalized again and again.
We were 20 miles out from Tahiti by midday, according to my readings. But the island remained concealed behind a wall of clean violet fluff. Andrew was nervous, and wanted readings every hour. I obliged him since we were getting nearer to land. He began jotting down the position on the paper charts, but with a broken traveling rule. The positions showed discrepancy between them, and although I suggested that it was due to the broken ruler, that the bearing he was able to get from the chart’s rose was not precise, he kept us awake half the night.
“Thomas!” he cried. “Where is Thomas? Thomas! Thomas!”
“He’s on the berth,” I said.
“Ah, yehhhsh, Thomas, there you are, that’s a hiding peussy cat, yehhhsh.” I watched that hand stroke that fur, which fell to the floor and soaked into that collage. “Shall we take a reading?”
I copied down coordinates from the GPS, then placed it securely back into the plastic zip-lock bag and into my dedicated cupboard. Andrew climbed the companionway. The towel was loose in his hand as he cursed the lurching boat. He lost his grip and the thing fell about his ankles. Andrew cursed again, but didn’t bother to pick up the towel. Instead he stepped out into the cockpit and turned around to grasp the hatch track with those spotted, delicate hands. This was what it all came down to…stark naked was the man, and my brain whirled. My penultimate feeling was malevolence. My ultimate feeling was one of victimization.
Night came, the towel was on again, and I had just finished washing the bowls in the cockpit. I wore a towel to get air to the rash, but also because, after the first week at sea, I had lost weight. I was thin, and my trunks had begun to fall off from my waist just as Andrew’s had done. It made me furious to have sagging trunks, because Andrew’s had vexed me so totally, and I didn’t want to share such a horrid attribute.
I came down the companionway.
“We better heave-to,” he said.
“Can I give you my opinion on this one?”
He sighed. “What is it, Cale?”
Well, we’re 20 miles from the entrance to Port Phaeton, right?”
“That’s right, yes.”
“Then maybe we should just leave the main up, not the jib, just the main, and take the 1 or 2 knots in that direction. If we heave-to we’ll have to go the whole way tomorrow.”
“Again, Cale, that is race mentality.” You’re far racier than I, I mused. “We will heave-to and tomorrow we will sail and enter the port, savvy?”
“I see, and I know we’re close enough, but if the wind’s no good tomorrow we’ll motor, right?”
“Will we have enough fuel?”
“We’ll just have to see, will we not?”
I let him win, for despite my opinion and his subsequent grating reprisals, he always won anyway. All I had to win by was the card game, and we played less and less after each confrontation.
We came about with the gargling engine, and set the tiller to heave her to. It had been Andrew’s original plan to sail under just the main in the direction of Phaeton, and the only new suggestion I had made was that, if the autopilot couldn’t keep the course, I’d sit there on my rash and steer us for a few hours; then we could heave-to if he wanted–that way, we were sure to make it motoring the remaining distance. He’d have none of it.
In the morning we had drifted, and now we were 23 miles out. The wind was too slight for Andrew, and he turned on the motor.
“But we’re sailing a little, do we need the motor?” I asked.
“This will get us there faster.”
“But the fuel?”
“You see that red plastic container there? Yesterday I put the last of the diesel in the tank. We will have enough. If we do not have enough, we will be in trouble.”
Tahiti had finally emerged from the cloud cover, and on this leeward side of the island, the skies were blue and wonderful, with patches of cirrus high and away to the west. I could already see the breakers at the peripheral reef, and the mists that hovered in consequence, shrouding the shoreline and making the island look as though it was floating. To the northwest the thin outline of Moorea, Tahiti’s neighbor, drew itself upon the horizon, blue on blue. From where we were, Tahiti’s mountains looked as dramatic as those of the Marquesas, and shared the same deep forest green. The water that streamed past Athena’s hull was sapphire blue under the sun, and I saw seaweed, broken bits of the reef, and a sea turtle nibbling at the long slick of floating flora.
I cooked, I cleaned, I sat away on the bow contemplating the journey and my life. Now that Tahiti was here, I was feeling relief. My mind had taken me to places so close to home that I thought I might cave and return there once we made landfall. It was the storm. It was the storm’s unbelievable aspect that had dulled my intentions, and it was this captain’s turn for the worst as soon as we left Hiva Oa–it felt like I had been lied to. I thought about Gary, and how I considered him an asshole. Perhaps I would have preferred his company. My resolve was as strong as ever, and I was determined to get across the ocean, if not to Australia then surely to New Zealand… for it was Asia that I wanted to tread into, and it was those languages that I wanted to let tingle my tongue.
We had taken many readings, I running into the cabin to mark the new position, then running back to spot our entrance. It was a thin line of unbroken blue between spilling white where waves ran over the reef. We could see the buoy markers. Red right returning, an idiom that Americans use to remember that the red buoy will be on your right when coming into a port, did not work in French Polynesia because the colors were reversed. So we lined up Athena as the chart told us to, and kept the green buoy to the right.
Andrew had been adamant about entering the reef here, saying that it was the safest entrance despite it being the furthest from Port Phaeton. But it did not matter. If he wanted to negotiate the coral heads behind the reef for three miles, it was his call. So we motored forward.
And then the engine died.
“Oh bloody hell, I cannot believe it. It just had to happen, and it had to happen he-ah, did it not?”
I was standing in the cockpit. Andrew was in the cabin sniffing at the engine like a starving animal. Again I remained silent, because again there was nothing to say. Novice, I called myself, proud. It doesn’t take an elitist South African yachtsman to fret about running out of fuel, but it sure as hell takes one to jinx it into occurring.
“Well, we go in under sail,” he announced; apparently he felt a measure of pride at the task.
But the winds were not with us, and we drifted outside the correct angle of entry. We quickly tacked and headed into the expansive v-shaped bay that formed at the conjunction of the two islands, or would-be islands, if not for Port Phaeton’s isthmus. We had the main and jib flying, and it must have looked wonderful against these nearing hills and breakers.
“Just keep this course, toward the other side of the bay,” said Andrew, and he went below. Then I heard his theatrical radio voice. “All stations, all stations, this is a PAN call. I am Athena and I am in need of assistance outside Port Phaeton; if you read me, please come in.”
“Hey there, this is John, wanna go up one?”
“Athena, you there?”
“Yes, John, hello, over.”
“Hey, what’s the dealio?”
“Well, John, I’m he-ah at the entrance to Port Phaeton, but I’ve run clean out of fuel. I was wondering if you might be so kind as help us with this.”
“No fuel!? Man, ok. That’s alright, sure. Look I’ll bring 5 gallons out in the dinghy. Where are you guys?”
“We are in the bay approaching the closest entrance to Phaeton, tacking under sail, over.”
“Roger that, alright, I’ll be out.”
“Might you make that 10 gallons instead of 5 over?”
“Um, sure. Over and out.”
I eyed Andrew. He had changed into a pair of shorts that retained their grasp on his waist well enough. I had also changed. My trunks had dried in the sun and I wore them, careful not to sit squarely on my buttocks. Company was coming, and towels are not becoming of sailors.
But he had asked for 10 gallons of fuel. 2 gallons would get us into Phaeton’s anchorage. It was just one more thing that upset me–he wanted to use this man to get more diesel, for I knew he had no money to pay for it. I saw his thinking as if it had been written out for me on the clearest parchment: once it’s in the tanks it’s his.
Presently John showed up out of the swell standing in his dinghy as he motored to us. He was a big Canadian guy, and after introductions and pleasantries, I loaded the jerry cans of diesel from his dinghy, and he climbed aboard. We retrieved the funnel and added one 5-gallon jug to Athena’s tanks. The engine would not start.
Andrew began to bleed the fuel injectors as he had in Rangiroa. John kneeled on the disused refrigerator beside him just inside the companionway. This went on for 10, 15, 20 minutes. I had to come about once to go on the other tack as I neared the far reef of the bank. Finally I noticed the gear shift.
“Um, the gear’s engaged?” I asked.
John looked at me quizzically, then at Andrew, apparently unbelieving that Andrew could neglect that, or that I could. Andrew looked at it, then emerged and pulled the throttle back to set the gear in neutral. I again switched the key, and the engine turned over, rumbled, and gave us reason to smile. John jumped into his dinghy, and as I handed back the unused 5-gallon jug I could feel Andrew’s eyes searing into the skin of my back. I didn’t care–it had been a crooked scheme that I would have no part in.
John was good enough to guide us through the channel, but not before we had lowered our sails, and not before a Polynesian port authority speed boat packed with divers had come out, circled us, and returned in to port–they had received Andrew’s PAN call (PAN being one below a mayday). I began to wonder about the navy plane, and about Andrew’s agent and whether the whole place was abuzz with talk of a sunken sailboat.
John came back to the boat after we had past a few more sets of buoys.
“You just keep on like this, guys, and you’ll find the anchorage.”
“Right on, thanks man,” I said. John motored off.
Andrew was holding the tiller between his legs as he stood in the center of the cockpit. I leaned on the hatch tracks.
“So,” I said. “I asked John and he knows your agent, Coralee.”
“Cale, I am sick and tired of you being so concerned with the authorities here.”
“No, I meant that I have her number now–didn’t you say that all her information was in your computer?”
“It does not matter, there is no reason to do that now!”
“Hey man, cool off, I just thought it prudent to ask someone who might know. I think since today is Friday we have to wait until Monday to–”
“–You know you just do not know when to stop.”
“You just keep on going on about these 15 days and these authorities and you’re so keen on going to immigration as soon as possible–”
“–we could be here a whole week and it would not matter, you just need to quit it.”
“Andrew, calm down, you don’t need to freak out like that. There’s nothing wrong with my concern to be legal–I have a very pricey bond here and it makes me careful, understand?”
His face blossomed once more, bubbling in fiery flame, pronouncing the wrinkles as scars, and his eyes were floating on dark saucers of anger. “You do not speak to me in that tone. I am the captain of this ship and you will do as I say–”
“–Jesus, Andrew, there’s no reason to–”
“–And we have not heard the last of this thing, I say. You must be careful, my friend. You will show me some respect, young man, or you will find yourself camping this night!”
And when he said that I cracked.
“Fine,” I said monotonously. “You know what? I will get off the boat. It makes no sense to threaten a vagabond with camping, Andrew.”
With that, I stormed down into the cabin and hastily packed my things. The backpack set, umbrella ready and shoes tied, I returned to the deck, went forward and sat alone on the jumble of canvas that was secured there.
The man threatened me. He threatened me with camping, for Christ’s sake. I’ve spent years of nights in my tent, my quarter dome that has been with me since Oregon. It would be a pleasure to leave ashore, and to sleep in my tent.
When we found the anchorage and Andrew came forward to lower the anchor, I took it from his poor hands and lowered it myself, letting out the chain carefully. He returned to the cabin. I began to detach the lines that held down the fiberglass dinghy, but when Andrew came back into the cockpit he began a new tirade.
“What in the blazes do you think that you doing he-ah!?” he yelled. “You constantly do without asking–you never ask.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I am the captain of this vessel, see he-ah! I will not have you take over!”
“What are you talking about Andrew? I’m not trying to take over, I’m preparing the dinghy–man I’ve done this a lot with you.”
“This is not yours, do you understand? You just try my every nerve, you think that you are entitled to–”
“–Andrew!” I interjected forcefully. “What’s your problem? It’s as though you’re angry at the world, and you want to take it all out on me.” It was a cliche, I knew; the bitter old decrepit hating the world, but I couldn’t conceive of the circumstances in any other way, and the words simply spilled out of me.
He was engulfed in the flames of anger, which no sympathy could douse. He had become irrational–for him I was already off the boat, and touching things was an invasion, an incomprehensible affront against his sensibility. It didn’t matter that the anchorage was calm, and the surface like that of a black pearl–he was vehement.
“Come on, let me help you.” He was trying to raise the dinghy and lower it into the water himself.
“That’s quite alright thank you.” He intoned the last word in the most conceited way. “I’ve done this hundreds of times on my own,” he said.
He had, and he did, and I stood there without a chore. I had no sympathy for him, and nor was I angry with him. I watched him, this hateful and negative, humorless man, and it was pathetic.
It was worse when we had to row in, again in that atrocious dinghy, and this time laden with my backpack and bag of books. Our faces were a foot and a half from each other. Andrew averted his gaze, and despite my attempts to calm him, his rouge features continued to pulsate.
“I guess your bad luck with crew continues,” I said, having given up on him completely.
We reached a ramp where Polynesian outrigger canoes were stacked on racks. There were 3 men chatting under an awning. I stepped out onto the muddy rock, and turned back to Andrew.
“Right, cheerio,” he said.
As he rowed off, I had trouble believing that a man who I had liked and respected in the beginning was in the end so juvenile.
“You don’t have to be so bitter, Andrew,” I called to him. He pulled harder on the oars.
“I see why you have trouble with crew!” I shouted in a crusty tone. I saw then, perhaps, why Andrew never received the money from Chris, and why he wasn’t going to receive any from me. Then I turned away, and let him disappear into memory.
Was Luke still here? Oh, it didn’t matter, if my experience had anything to teach me it was that his, too, would be a strenuous relationship; maybe they all would be. But I was free, finally. I was free, and the cool afternoon air refreshed me as I breathed it through my nostrils, my cheeks bristling after the break from Andrew. I was happy to be away from it all; no more squalor–the boggy cat piss-shit-fur collage. No more gizzard, and no more sickening feeling when the man would in one way or another become naked. No more moist atmosphere in which nothing ever dries, in which hair sticks to everything; no more weevils in rotting rice, and no more torturous dripping or midnight showers of cold saltwater marked by a quaking hull and snapping rigging–no more sinking fear.
The 15 days had long since passed. I had been wrong to predict that it would take twice as long to arrive from the Marquesas–it had taken three times as long. I had been three full weeks at sea, through becalming and terrible rolling, through an incredible storm, and onward through the foul funk of noxious days in the company of a man whose every other utterance changed the fate of our course.
I asked the three men nearby about where to camp, and they said I should pitch the tent right there under their awning. Before doing so, I emerged from the dockyard fields to a sight that I had not seen in 5 or 6 years, a sight which immediately transported me back to those times in Poitiers, France. A roundabout. A French roundabout with little white arrows on blue circular signs. And there was Carrefour, that giant supermarket. Never before had I so lovingly entered such a place. Nor had I ever retained a smile for so long as I wove my path through its brightly-lit aisles, admiring the foie gras, the wines, the stack of baguettes, the cookies packed into cylindrical paper boxes, the brioche, the cornichons, and then, finally, the Camembert.
A 50 franc-cent baguette and a wheel of Camembert cheese. I sat to this meal, and allowed my mind to transport me back to France, to the other side of the globe, where I was again in my tiny apartment smoking a hookah I’d bought in Casablanca, and dreaming of all the places in the world I wanted see.