I am a hermit crab, or not so dissimilar. I've never paid them much
attention before, if any, but now I think they're very cool. I found one
that was tiny, much smaller than my little fingernail, and just as
purposeful in its actions as the really big ones, the size of a fist. Or
atleast, these are the sizes of the shells they carry. We once
interrupted a crab checking out a new home,- half way clambering out of
his current shell, contemplating emigration. On Pitcairn there are
coconut crabs that live in coconut shells, or at least that's where they
get their name from. A friend there told us she'd seen one scurrying
along with a discarded dolls head on its back. Freaky.
They must be related, hermit crabs and coconut crabs. Crabs that find
their shells from the environment around, and move from shell to shell.
It's not the itineranteity that I relate to. Itinerantnosity?
Intinerantness? Itineraeity is good,-in context, if anyone asks you, you
could say," I admire her itineraeity" and that would make me smile.
Although, on reflection, that sounds a bit like itinerary. Not so good.
Equally, "I'm not sure about their itineranteity, what are they running
from?", would also make me smile, even if it was meant to put my heckles
up. Just to hear the word. But that's not the quality I admire anyway,
it's not like they cover any more ground than standard shelled crabs,
but I guess they view the crab world with a different value system.
No, it's the hermit bit: crawling back into their shells. Poke them, and
in the go, but pick them up, and after a while they poke their heads out
to see what's up. And if you put them down on their back then they'll
flip themselves right again.
I hurt my back last week, last Saturday in fact. It was a rare occasion
when I had rowed alone to a nearby beach, to stretch and stroll and look
about, and by the time I was returning I realised that my back was sore.
And just got sorer.
But before that, when contemplating stretching and strolling and looking
about, something crept up on me and surprised me. Pigs! More pigs. Every
island around here seems to have at least one family of pigs, all living
off coconuts. And, more amusing, sharing their coconuts with chickens. A
few days ago we saw a veritable cacophany of baby pigs and big chickens,
all similar in height, fighting over the same coconuts. And the boy who
lived on the land showed us how to tickle pigs to sleep. No really. What
could be a more useful skill in life? (What would you rather, know how
to reboot your netbook with XP, or how to tickle a pig to sleep? Why is
it we stock up on all the boring skills?)
So I hurt my back, and then I felt like a hermit crab. That's all. Took
a roundabout way of saying it, but there's not much new to report. Ten
days ago we were all packed up, strapped down, lashed in, and ready to
go. We said our goodbyes and farewells, bought four baguettes, formally
checked out of the Gambiers, and set our GPS for Raivavae, Austral
Islands, 700 miles west of here.
That was a Wednesday. Except saying goodbyes and buying bread and fixing
the compass lights and a few other jobs took longer than anticipated so
we prepared to leave first thing Thursday. And just before leaving,
first thing Thursday, we pulled in one more weather forecast, a
different one from the one we usually read. This one covered a larger
area, and longer time period… projecting a ridiculous and
un-trustworthy seven days into the future.
But on that seventh day (that would now be a few days ago), boy did it
show some filthy weather.
Somewhat disturbed by this new information, and not confident of it's
reliability, we rowed over to a neighbour who knows lots about
everything, from Tibetan language and the construction industry, to
sailing solo across all oceans and their associated weather systems.
Like us, he dismissed our tales of seven days ahead – the five day
forecasts looked just fine and you shouldn't really trust anything more
than three. But just to check, and maybe show off his superior on-board
technology, he called up some large scale weather forecasts covering the
entire south Pacific with a five to ten day projection.
Sure enough, swirling across the globe, from New Zealand to –us – was an
almighty low pressure system. Due to sit directly above our proposed
destination exactly when we would have been arriving, and due to hit the
Gambiers around about now.
Which could explain why, as I type, the boat is rocking and swaying, we
have been hiding from rain for three days, and winds are constantly
twirling us around, knocking us down and keeping the anchor alarm
beeping on its metaphorical toes. Actually, keeping Andy on his very
real toes whenever the anchor alarm beeps. I often jump up too, or widen
my eyes, but I'm yet to figure out when we're just uncomfortably close
to the reef, and when to call that we move. So I've stopped jumping up
and now just widen my eyes in pretend connectivity with the situation.
Thus, all in all, I'm glad we stayed. Because of the weather, and
because of my back. Instead of fighting the squalls on a week of
nightshifts and a rolly boat, we have been tucked away in safe places
where I can be mostly horizontal, popping painkillers and reading books.
(Hooray for doctor friends I can consult by email, and hooray for sailor
friends who pass on books.)
Gone are the times when I didn't know how to spend a day doing nothing.
We're about half way through this journey now. Both in terms of distance
traveled, and time taken. Half way means we still have several months
left, but it's allowable to consider the future. And consideration of
the future makes the moment we're in all the sweeter. The delicious
transience of today.
I don't think I'd like to retire as a cruiser, but maybe I'm wrong.
Maybe when I get to that stage, it'll seem like the most natural and
deserved thing in the world. (Of course, to retire implies that I would
have to start working again, in order to stop.) One couple we met, in
their sixties, were shocked that we were 'only' taking one year to cross
the Pacific. 'But there's so much to see!', they exclaimed. They are
planning on being in this area for at least five years.
Five years! In five years I'll be forty. Nothing wrong with that, but I
don't want to be in exactly the same place then as I am now, doing the
same not-very-much. Five years – what an exciting prospect to fill…
doing other stuff. Or more stuff. Different stuff. Collecting a rich
variety of experiences.
Maybe I'm missing the point and there's much more to this lifestyle than
Don't get me wrong, it's a great life these folk have. Living in
beautiful hot places, snorkelling and diving, meeting new cultures,
meeting new friends on boats, drinking rum at sundown, traveling between
countries according to weather, wind, and whim; having friends and
family visit at convenient ports. Yes, it's a good life, no doubt. And
it's net impact on the Earth is probably substantially less than the
life of that same person back in their home country.
So let's all buy boats and go cruising!
A couple of weeks ago I found myself getting into an argument on someone
else's boat. It was fairly ridiculous. I realised that soon after, and
shouldn't have risen to the bait, but some people are so SMUG. I found
myself defending to the hilt the lives of my friends in various towns
and cities around the world, and the life that I lived in Cambridge
before coming here. I had a good life, a job that I loved, I lived on a
houseboat, and had good friends nearby. I was content, life was good.
-Then why aren't you still there?- they jibed. I didn't have too many
replies except that my job was coming its natural end and that it was
time for something new (preferably in a place where both Andy and I
could co-exist…unlike Cambridge with it's complete lack of ocean or
hills). I continued that it would be entirely possible to imagine my
life continuing in that same place, and that same way, for another 5,
10, 15, 25 years. Maybe add partner, kids, change of job, change of home
location… but there's no reason to think that I wouldn't still be
content, enjoying the town I lived in, twenty years from now. Not
everyone back on land wants to leave, wants to escape. Many people
actively choose their lives, and strive to make them as rewarding as
Well, they didn't like this at all.
'They'll never leave'
'They can't go anywhere else'
'Their life will never change'
'Some people are just afraid'
THAT'S NOT TRUE, I shouted, because it's not. I was so angry, so
unreasonably angry, it drives me mad that so many folk out here floating
around the blue stuff and not really, as far as I can see, giving back
AT ALL, feel the right to judge other people's lives and life decisions,
to assume that others are unhappy, or somehow not free, compared to
them. People here aren't any more free, they are just as tied to a
narrow life and narrow mind,- just it's a life of boats not houses and
anchorages rather than cul-de-sacs…and maybe a more beautiful
backdrop. But there's nothing to say that it's more or less fulfilling.
Life is what we make it, each and every one of us, wherever we might
happen to be today.
Then, like a hermit crab, I climbed back into my shell, the lovely
nutshell that is Zephyrus, and blinked for a week.
We've now been boat-bound for about seven days: the first three due to
my back, the last four due to weather. There have been a couple of brief
excursions for a leg stretch on land or cup of tea on someone else's
boat, and Andy's run up a hill twice, but we've been mostly going
nowhere. We've read a few books, each, played some rounds of backgammon,
and are steadily working through our collection of films.
I've even turned to the kitchen for distraction: things must be bad! The
repertoire so far includes a packet muffin mix (disgusting), pikelets
(delicious), crepes (always a winner), roasted veg (surprisingly good
considering we don't have an oven), thai veg curry (yes, I had a
premixed paste), and granola. Andy's still producing the winners too but
in doing so we're constantly reminded of how Wrong We Were about food in
the Pacific. By this stage of the journey we were sure we'd be living
solely of freshly caught fish and rice, and therefore bought an insane
amount of grains, and not too many cans of protein. Alas, most of the
fish around here is infected with something called ciguatera that makes
your lips go numb, your body convulse and expel in all ways, and your
muscles cry with pain. A friend caught it two days after we arrived here
so as a result we've not even bothered trying to fish. All recipes
containing rice, beans, quinoa, and wheat –stuff- that- I- thought- was-
barley ('trigo mote' in chilean), welcome.
From here we're heading to Tahiti, direct. Through watching a couple of
parcels not arriving every week, we have realised that the postal system
serving the Gambiers is not as efficient as the French might like to
think. While envelopes 'should' arrive from Tahiti on one of the two
flights each week, all parcels will apparently be put on the supply
ship, regardless of whether they have been sent air mail. And though the
ocean journey can't take more than a week, it somehow takes them between
one and three months to travel from the Tahiti sorting office to here.
So we've sought out an alternate route for Andy's new passport to be
delivered from New Zealand: namely by hand, via a friend of a friend.
It's dark outside and the sky just shone pink from lightning. Now the
thunder is rolling in. I expect we'll feel the resultant waves next, and
all through the night. Light, sound, water… the very real propagation
of a storm. There's something amazing about experiencing the factors so
physically after seeing them predicted from a global circulation model
over a week ago. It's also comforting to trust, from the same
understanding of weather predictions, that this too will pass. The
transience of today – the storm, the back pain, and the current amazing
adventure will all pass. So here's a snapshot of today.