Quicksand Dreams and the Final Passage

"No more adventures, please", my only request before we leave.
"Just one more", he replies.

The feeling is one of standing on a diving board, looking down. My
ribcage full of butterflies. I am nervous. This time we know what we're
jumping in to.

Ignorance was bliss.

The weather forecast predicts… pumpy. Every cruiser around here is
heading south and I'm yet to meet anyone who is excited by the prospect.
Anyone who gets this far knows that the next bit will be harder.
Windier, wetter, colder. Hard work. But I retain faith that we'll get
there. And keep dreaming about the cup of tea on the other side.

The final leg.

October 27

The poltergeist is back. I've so far been taken out by a flying pressure
cooker, had scalding soup pour out of a pan down my leg, had a plastic
bowl crack, throwing different soup across my arm, and a kettle push me
with such force that I flew across the room in mid- fill.

The vengeance of a final trip, or maybe just a bumpy ride.

Days and nights pass as I stare at the sea, absorbing it all. No books,
no music, no conversation, not even writing. Just absorbing.

Delightfully, we remain in VHF contact with Brandy and Mark from
Restless. After much organising and weather-watching our two boats left
within the same hour and seem very well matched. They are slightly
faster than us but in three full days there is still only eight miles
between us.

Two things I never thought we'd do: cross an ocean in tandem with
another boat, and ask for professional weather forecasting advice.
Indeed, I laughed at people with their own professional 'weather
router', hanging on their every word before so much as changing a sail.

But that has been us these last few days: "are we too late?" was the
question posed to Bob McDavitt, senior forecaster at the New Zealand Met
Office. Most boats jumping on this weather window left three or four
days earlier, and were faster than us.. but at that stage we were still
recovering from the salvage mission. Now we were ready, had we missed
our chance? Bob McD thought not.

I could argue, with some degree of honesty, that the passage to New
Zealand takes us into previously unexplored (by us) meteorological
conditions. And that the Grib files leave us with more questions than
answers. And that this trip is notorious amongst sailors as one of the
less pleasant, with higher potential for getting pummeled.

Indeed, for most boats that have remained in tropical waters throughout,
starting their Pacific adventures in Panama or Mexico, these are the
scariest seas, or could be. And the collective trepidation is
contagious. (In light of this, many cruisers choose to leave their boats
buried in a hole in Fiji during the cyclone season so that their vessel
never has to leave the gentler cruising seas.)

But for Restless and Zephyrus, who both began their journeys in southern
Chile having previously rounded Cape Horn, what's to fear?

Frankly, a return of what we've seen. As Andy said the morning we left –
wasn't ignorance bliss? Truly. The Gribs we saw in Chile showed 20 and
30 knot winds and various passing pressure systems, and though we
understood them in theory, we didn't know how they would feel in
reality. Now I know to fear reds and purples (the colour coded wind
arrows over 20 knots) and passing lows with blue in the middle. And I
know that the forecast we see for this coming week will be… exciting.

Or, as Bob McDavitt predicted in his free weekly weathergram, 'spirited
and bumpy'.

nightshift:

In sailing-ese (how has it come that I can even write this stuff?):

/"With winds of 25 to 35 knots on the beam, we started those days with
two reefs in the main and a reefed jib but rapidly became overpowered
and switched the jib for our former staysail (Zeph no longer has an
inner forestay). Only a few hours later, in the mid of dark, did we
reduce again and the storm jib, by far our favourite and much-loved sail
– always welcome in times of need and fear- remained up for the next 48
hours."/

Or, in less technical terminology, 'conditions were a bit shit'. Other
terms that spring to mind: washing machine cycle, uncomfortable, too
strong, too big, overpowered, tiring.

On one of our regular radio chats Brandy said the conditions made her
dream of reaching New Zealand, and spending an entire year on land. I
had to confess in response that I'd spent much of my shifts staring at
the glory of the powerful ocean, bubbling and foaming to the horizon and
beyond, trying to conjure a sense of nostalgia for this special time at
sea. A sense of poignancy for the passing of time, enhanced alertness
that this was the final section. Maybe even a twinge of sadness.

But no, not an ounce. Land, Land, Land. I asked Andy for some words for
the day's tweet. Without pause for thought his response: "there's no
place like home, there's no place like home". If only we could click our
heels three times.

Around then we discovered that not only had I left the data cable that
connects our computer to the sat phone carelessly dangling but, thanks
to a newly sprung leak, the USB end had been gradually immersing itself
in a pool of salty sea water.

An end to comms, or at least email comms, just when we'd written to
Wizard McDavitt asking for an update. The subject line: 'should we run
or should we hide?'

Collectively, the decision was made to run as the weather files we had
so far seen showed no sign of improving conditions were we to wait a day
or three in Minerva Reef, our only potential stopover on the passage. A
shame in a way as I was intrigued to be anchored in the middle of an
ocean with no land in sight. Then again, it would mean going through the
whole 'gearing up to leave' process again which, despite anything we'd
be sent, was definitely the worst part of the process.

The morning we left I had had full butterflies in my stomach. Andy went
green and silent. Brandy felt seasick before even lifting the anchor.
And Mark was last seen pulling out his hair with the indecision of
departure, or not. None of us wanted to go through that again.

So last night we turned left, into the waves and the wind, bypassing
Minerva reef, and set a direct course for New Zealand.

For two days the ocean overpowered us and all we could do was go slow
and stay safe. Such a weird sensation when replacing the staysail with
the storm jib – in effect a tough handkerchief for a headsail.

The world went into slow motion. The ocean moved like treacle. And we
moved like a slug. It was the sensation of a strobe light pulsing down
on our entire surroundings, to the horizon. I don't entirely understand
it. Our reduced sail meant we were no longer surfing waves, hurtling
along at the speed of the water. Slower than the waves, our relative
frequencies had changed, and the ocean became a standing wave across
which we crawled.

Until we were slammed back to real-time by gusts, and waves pouring into
the cockpit. But the sensation recurred, periodically.

That night I slept deeply but woke gasping for air. I had been in
zero-gravity, and some kind of survival competition. Some of my
colleagues had mastered the art of floating and finding air, others of
us were battling between the two sensations of outer space and
suffocation. It was with relief that I woke to find I was back on Earth,
safely tucked up in a boat that was merely throwing me between mid-air
and my pillow.

Meanwhile, outside in the cockpit, Andy was gazing out to starboard, the
direction in which the waves and wind were rolling fast. For a moment he
too experienced a change in perception. The waves appeared motionless
and he felt himself and the boat hurtling backwards, at speed.

During my next shift of sleeping the winds miraculously calmed. I dreamt
that Madonna had stolen my only posh dress (the bitch!) and I kept
missing hair and beauty appointments. Worse, she gave the dress away to
another really famous person (who everyone knew the name of but me), who
cut it up and wore only the bodice part with bright red hot-pants,
discarding the beautiful long silk skirt. And someone had taken my
tickets to the ball.

Once again I woke with relief to find that I was still in the middle of
the ocean, this time place of no mirrors, dresses, haircuts, or beauty
salons. I guess there are some things that I'll miss about this life
after all.

These are the quicksand dreams of the sea- swallowing you up and
impossible to climb out of.

October 28, 5pm

At last! I feel alive again. We've had our first nutritional meal of the
journey (pasta pesto), caught up on sleep (dreamless), and settled into
the new wind regime (20 knots on the beam, 1-2m seas). And we're making
headway.

Remarkably, I feel so alive I'm even happy, laughing, cracking jokes,
making tea. We both had a wash today too so that might be a factor-
three buckets of sea water (brisk) followed by three litres of fresh.

And it's day four. Critical. Two days ago the end couldn't come soon
enough. Today I feel like we could keep going for weeks. Explore the
world even- how exciting, what freedom! Yes, for this moment I'm in love
with life. No squalls, flying implements, or seasickness to contend with
for six hours and I'm a new woman. Let's hope just these conditions last
for a few more days.

638 miles to go.


Midnight.

Holy Moly. This is like some kind of final test of our mettle, or mine
at least. The wind turned more southerly and picked up, ten minutes
after my 11pm shift started. I was on the verge of tears. Then started
deep and focused breathing. Just keep breathing.

We're screaming along, or that's how it feels. The extent of wildness
increases as you point closer to the wind and we really now should keep
'beating' (sailing close to the wind) in order to maintain our course.
If only my nerves can hold out.

The person breaks before the ship.

Occasional dancing phosphorescence reminds me to smile. Deep breaths,
white light, dancing phosphorescence, smile. Deep breaths, smile. Smile.
Breathe… and it gradually becomes manageable. I can do this. Keep
breathing.

No, I can do this. It's almost calm now- amazing, the power of the mind.
But no, a quick glance at the GPS and I see it has calmed. Dramatically.
We've dropped from a speed of 8 knots to 4. Weird.

I'm counting down until my midnight sched with Brandy. Ironic to have
developed such a dependency now, at the end of the trip when I should
feel the most competent. Six hourly radio check-ins with a friend
near-by and email advice from a professional forecaster, who have I
become? I laughed at those people before I even got here.

I think that's the point.

I give thanks that conditions remain calm over sched o'clock and hail
Restless. Brandy, my fairy godmother since I first arrived in Chile, has
a deep gravelly voice, warm and comforting in even the craziest
conditions, and a wonderful ability to laugh through wildness. I really
have been counting down to hear her; Andy's not much use right now. He
clearly wants me to tough it out and stop asking inane panicky things
about things I really, after nine months of sailing, should know about.

But in truth, I feel like the learning is only just beginning. It's
taken this long to start mastering my fear. Or at least acknowledging it
and continuing to function.

I was a bit down-hearted earlier when I realised that every sail change
we have done since leaving Chile, without exception, has been done by
Andy. I have winched sails up and down at the start and end of journeys,
but I hate carrying the heavy cumbersome sail-bag up to the bow. I'm
scared I'll drop it in the sea, or go in with it, so I kick and squeeze
and drag it along the deck, one hand always on a stay, and generally
make a dog's ear of the whole affair. At a time when time and grace are
usually of the essence.

But I have improved a lot, I think, at steering at least, and other
cock-pit located jobs. And I demand to be awake and outside when a sail
change occurs. He used to ignore me on that point but really, if
anything did happen to him and, at worst, he fell overboard, I want at
least to know about it and be suitably dressed, and awake, before losing
the plot.

So, there are a few things I've decided if we're to continue with this
sailing malarkey, either long or short term. First, I need to enjoy it.
It has to be a choice, a positive life choice, for us both. Second, I
have to know how to operate the boat by myself, even if it isn't pretty.

Right now I'm not sure how I feel about either of those.

I'm zipping between other boats in a sailing dinghy, a fast one. Like a
laser. Having a great time. The wind acts like gravity and I'm flying
along, playing with it, up, down, in, out, across, over, left, right.
Hang on, I'm surfing. This is gravity I'm playing with. No, I'm
snowboarding. I'm snowboarding on my laser. Yee-ha.

"Hey, that's cheating", one guy shouts across at me, with a grin, and
promptly turns his boat into a surfboard to join in the fun. A snowboard
surfboard. Wind like gravity. Is that all I ever needed to understand?

If only one had the ability to step outside such dreams. If so, surely
this one would have spelled warning. Instead, I am woken by Andy's
voice, firmer than usual, "Rhian, get up mate, it's getting pretty crazy
out here… time to reduce sail."


October 29^th

"Grandpa", I shout with joy, a huge smile warming my face. How long has
it been since I've so much as touched or seen this beloved old cashmere?
Embroidered holes in both armpits and around the collar, this jumper has
accompanied me on every outdoor expedition since I inherited it, age 14.
It even came back to me after being given away during the tsunami in
February- the grateful recipient posted it to await us in Easter Island!

Ironically, Grandpa the man was not the outdoors type. More likely found
enjoying a good opera, port, or a round of Bridge. And he certainly
wouldn't have worn holes in his armpits, with pride. Still, as I slip
the old top over my head it's like receiving a hug from across generations.

Andy has his comfort clothes too, most especially a chunky woolen hat
from Chiloe that he demands at all times of stress or bother, even in
the tropics. All is well if Chiloe is on his head.

My underlayer is another hug- a green merino wool t-shirt, a departure
gift from a good friend. Come to think of it, all my remaining clothes
remind me of specific people. Even down to the thick stripey socks on my
feet.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that it's getting colder,
deliciously so, and I'm all snugged up.

The crazy winds appear to have abated and we're bang on course. Plus, a
huge bowl of cold pasta, a mug of hot Milo, and a couple of hours kip,
have made me a content human again. We are such base creatures.

The waning moon is just over half illuminated, a slight belly on its
fuzzy edge. We'll be in New Zealand before it has disappeared entirely.
Moonlit passages are the best.

Plus, we crossed two significant landmarks while I slept. A nice surprise.

1. The 600-mile mark, now only 568 miles to go. Almost half way. At a 5
knot average speed we'll arrive in… four or five days. Damn. Longer
than I thought.

2. The East-West Meridian. Hooray! In the eastern hemisphere at last.
179 deg 53' to be precise, and counting down. I was kind of hoping to
see the change myself but won't go back for it. I wonder if Andy even
noticed.

—-

It's 3.30am and the second time this night that I've been woken two
hours into my three hour sleep for a sail change. The first, at 2145
(while surfing on lasers), was to drop the jib and replace it with the
former staysail: we were being overpowered. By the time the sail change
was fully implemented and course tweaked it was 2215 and made sense for
me to just start my shift.

"Spirited and bumpy", predicted Wizard McDavitt. –Spirited and Bumpy-
Brandy reminded me on our midnight sched.

Indeed. Thank god we reduced sail. Most of that shift was spent with me
staring wide-eyed at the looming clouds, bracing for our increased
speeds of 7 and 8 knots, with the staysail! Average wind speeds were
25-30 knots, gusting 38.

Finally, these numbers begin to mean something to me as I understand how
the effect is intensified the closer you sail to the wind. Add 5 or 10
knots to a downwind route and you just glide faster and better (to a
point). Add it when you're beating and you effectively double your
relative speed. That is, for a 5 knot wind increase you might go 2 knots
faster in the direction of the wind. Which means it feels like the wind
is coming at you 7 knots faster. So the boat tips up more, ropes
tighten, sails are taut, and everything screams together a pitch higher,
both in reality and on your nerves.

"The boat is stronger than the person. The person breaks before the
ship." My mantra.

A couple of hours later and the black clouds finally remain behind us,
the winds becoming more consistent. The moon starts to rise orange,
stars fill the heavens, phosphorous flashes in waves, and we're making
good speed, on course. It's momentarily glorious. It is glorious. "Oh
for the life on the open sea" (chorus of a song stuck in my head all
night).

I've been thinking about what makes us do this. Not us- Andy and Rhian-
that I think I know. But this mysterious collective of 'cruisers' we
have met along the way. I like many individuals a lot but remain
skeptical about the community as a whole. Something just doesn't sit
right. It's like their presence makes the whole experience less of an
adventure, more 'normal'. And therefore easy.

And it's not normal. Really. It's hard work. Mostly it's not about
sundowners, baking, and pot-lucks. Or at least not when you're at sea.
And I am incredulous that all these perfect smiling people are going
through the same experience as us.

Are their souls thrilling with the expansiveness and power of the ocean?
If so, wouldn't you expect to meet a different type of person on the
other side? More like the great solo sailors and explorers of the last
century. And with a compulsory twinkle in every eye.

Sieze the Day.

Or is this what 21^st century day-siezing looks like? Complete with
EPIRBs, GPS navigation, satellite phones, life-rafts, and national
rescue services.

How deflating.

Another thing that struck me as strange, but I now empathise with (at
times), is how many cruisers don't like sailing. Or sailing passages at
least. Anything with an overnight in. It's like they go out of their way
to do short hops, stay in kind seas, and pay people to tell them when to
go and in which direction.

I thought this was all about sailing. About being out there, on the open
sea. Absorbing its magnificence.

No. A collective dread is currently mounting in Tonga and Fiji as people
prepare themselves, mostly mentally, for the passage ahead. And on the
radio huge whoops of congratulations are passed on whenever a boat
safely reaches the other side.

Not many folk check in with –it's great to be out here-. Even Brandy and
I are talking about hotels with clean sheets and hot bubble baths, fish
and chips, and going to the movies.

But yet I still want to sail in Patagonia and Alaska. My heart doesn't
listen to my brain when it tries to explain how much harder that would
be, because of the weather. Harder than this is off my scale of
comprehension.

It's now 0615 and the sun is rising. The second sail changed hailed a
return to the jib, conditions having settled again. Still strong, but
steady.

We've done more sail changes on this passage than any other. To the
point that we now just do them rather than me saying first- wait, how
will this work again? What do you want me to do?

On the most recent change I was toasty warm and deeply sleepy. Andy said
he could do it on his own and I very almost let him. After all, it's my
rule, not his, that demands I'm outside and dressed for such events. And
surely I can break my own rules?

He's already dropped the staysail by the time I've pulled on my 15 soggy
layers plus wet weather gear, boots, and harness. And in truth I'm still
asleep.

I spend a minute or so blinking up at the windvane just trying to
understand where we are, where the wind is, what we're trying to do, and
why, and how I can help.

It's okay, he's not done anything fancy so I can let out some main and
turn us downwind to blanket the jib area and make it easier for him to
winch up the new sail.

But don't turn too far downwind or we'll crash jibe. And watch for those
metal halyards flying around the mast and rigging.

Something snags, I look to see what's happened, and we crash jibe. But,
amazingly, I remembered to put on the preventer so no great damage was
done. No decapitating booms this time. At least I'm learning how to
predict and deal with my mistakes, if not how to prevent them entirely.

You know, there is another way, and it's what most people do. It's
called roller furling and involves having just one headsail that can be
rolled up completely, let out completely, or only partially let out…
and all done from the safety of the cockpit. No flying halyards, no
lumping sails up and down the deck, no stuffing sails in and out of
bags, no need to leave the cockpit. Genius.

Andy 'old school' Whittaker remains skeptical. "When roller-furling goes
wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong." Probably so. But I keep dreaming of
this other life.

Some folk tell me that this boat is great training – if you can sail
this, you can sail anything. But that's the point: I can't sail this.
And I've never done a sail change on my own.

In this age of technology you don't just need pure brawn to be a
competent sailor. Install bigger winches, self-tailers no less, put up
roller-furling, hell, go all out and build a hard dodger so you don't
get soaked every time it rains or the boat takes a wave. I'm not talking
about buying a winnebago here, just enabling. We do, after all, carry
the EPIRB, the GPS, the satellite phone, life-raft, and every kind of
weather forecasting software and technology. We are sailing in the 21^st
century whether we like it or not.

Is this a slippery slope? Definitely. Without all these modern
developments there would, without a doubt, be fewer cruisers out here.
The removal of GPS alone, returning navigation to sextant and compass,
would send most people back to their houses and cars.

The remaining 'old school' must be despairing. Things aren't what they
used to be. Indeed not. This weekend sees a huge party in Tonga and Fiji
followed by a 'raleigh' as people sail collectively to New Zealand. For
many of the participants, there is comfort in numbers.

I'm torn. I don't know what I think anymore. I think the old school
moved to higher latitudes a long time ago, and these were Andy's
mentors. The life they lead, and led, is one that we aspired to.

However, I also think it made sense to 'crack our teeth' in more
temperate waters, with more people around. To learn in gentler
conditions and also know about the bigger cruising picture.

And I think that anyone who is attempting a journey like this on a
relatively small, family-sized, boat, without professional crew, is
brave. No matter how tricked-out their ship, no matter how experienced
or not. And especially the women. The many women who never had a dream
to sail the Pacific but are accompanying their partners and enabling
them to fulfill a life's ambition, together.

These women find big seas scary. Some get very seasick. Several have
children on board and so are also looking out for their safety. And
feeding them. And schooling them. And doing night-watch. And playing
number two to the skipper- a role that for many of us emancipated career
types does not, quite frankly, come naturally.

When things go crazy on the boat Andy looks after the outside and I do
inside. Yes, I'd rather be able to do both but outside is still a scary
place for me when seas are metres high or cables are flying that
shouldn't be. That's why he gets the title 'Captain' and it suits me
fine. It's his dream after all.

So I was surprised yesterday when I asked if he enjoyed the passages and
he said, after some thought –Not really, no.

There's too much unknown and we're only at the beginning of our learning
and experience. When it comes to climbing, or ski-ing, or hanging off
ropes, or surfing, or any other adrenalin sport he has tried, he knows
his limits.

Out here, the weather doesn't really care what your limits are, or how
well you know them.

So, until the limits are higher and experience longer, we will continue
to use GPS and email, to receive weather files, to tune into the HF
radio networks, and to carry a life-raft and EPIRB.

This is the 21^st century and technology does enable us to go to places
we would have previously not attempted without further training. The
ocean is still magnificent, both in power and expanse. Coming here gives
me a glimmer of what it must have been like in the Age of Adventure, 50
years ago, in relatively empty seas.

It's pretty amazing that so many people, untrained as I, are
experiencing it today.

Oct 30 1330

Glorious conditions, glorious sailing. And all because we discovered how
to use the traveler (traveler: sliding bar along which pivotal point of
the boom attaches).

During that first horrific introduction to sailing in Chiloe, a friend
joined us on Zephyrus to 'bash her about a bit' and taught me at that
time: Sheet for Shape, Travel for Trim.

Which is all well and good if you know what it means. I got about half
(Shape- shape of the sail, but how do you know when it's right? You just
know. Great). Trim left me stranded.

But today Andy woke me with a bounce and a grin (I was dreaming about
cabbages). "I've discovered something you're going to love." We're
nearly there? Alas, no. The Traveler.

It's pumped up again, we're overpowered, and continually turning up into
the wind. At a stage where we might have to change sail, but neither of
us want to lose the associated speed. We just want to get there now.
Letting out the mainsheet (Sheet for Shape) changes our course but it
remains a bumpy ride. Letting out the traveler (Travel for Trim) has
calmed our motion dramatically and also improved our course.

Wow. That's amazing. I was dreaming about cabbages. No, really. It was a
great dream. We were in San Francisco and we'd found this enormous
amazing allotment. And some very cool people who worked there, growing
food for this whole huge city community. And we arranged a great deal –
they got to spend a night on a small, cute, boat called Zephyrus, and we
got to camp in this amazing, huge, secret allotment garden. There was
just one tiny door in a hidden wooden fence, innocuous, but once behind
it the city smell and bustle was instantly halted and replaced by Fresh
Green. The smell of growing food, greenhouses, and muddy potatoes. And
huge green cabbages. And we got to sleep in a tent immersed in that
delicious aroma.

Andy by now has taken off his foul weather gear and is attempting to
kick me outside for my watch. "Nice. Yep. That does sound nice. Fresh
aroma. Just what I think when pulling off these stinking boots."

Back to reality, catapulted outside, and indeed it's glorious. Yaay for
Trim. Travel for Trim.

We've been on the go for six days now. Four to go. We never seem to get
any closer.

Oct 31^st

Strong winds, rain, big seas, we just want to get there now. The number
of remaining miles reduces every day but continues to feel
dishearteningly high.

I've had several emails lately from women who just arrived in New
Zealand. They each were on boats that left two or three days before us,
and would take two or three days less time to get there as well. For
each, the relief associated with arrival has been immense. Not one of
them seemed to enjoy the passage. Did, the men, I wonder? It's not said-
in so many cases the whole adventure is the man's idea so maybe he's not
allowed to admit when it's shit. Then the whole family would revolt.

So it's a relief to me that Andy's not loving this either (though it's a
shame as well). In a backwards kind of a way. At least we remain
compatible in what we enjoy and endure.

One lovely thing has sprung up this last day. Two actually. The first-
visits from the Wandering Albatross. So beautiful, makes your spirit
soar watching them fly. We've seen a few now, all quite young, probably
on their first five year exploration of the world. What an adventure. We
wondered why they're so far north and figured their parents told them to
go and explore the foreign lands first, with gentler conditions, before
settling in the South. Like backpackers, student exchanges, gap year
kids, and apprenticeships, the world over.

The second is making a new friend. She's called Lynnis and 'though we've
never met she's is only 50 miles from us, and has started joining some
of the radio scheds we have with Restless. It came about last night on
the 'Penguin Net' when she broke in, slightly panicky, requesting an
early check-in because they had broken a shroud (one of the thick metal
wires on the side of the boat that holds the mast up, or down I guess.
Pretty fundamental to keeping the mast vertical anyway). She, her
husband, and the crew member were all okay, and the boat had a temporary
fix, but she clearly wanted people to just- know.

The Penguin Net started in March when a small group of boats left the
Galapagos together, sailing west. It has since expanded organically and
now includes people checking in from across Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia,
and Vanuatu en route to Australia and New Zealand.

It turns out that we were the closest boat to Lynnis, and we even carry
spare rigging on board, so we arranged to check in independently with
her via HF. Twenty-four hours later all is well but we certainly have a
new friend, and it's a nice feeling. Puts a smile on my face. She joins
our scheds where we share conditions, positions, and weather forecasts,
and just have a chat. Mark has re-branded it the 'ladies morning coffee
net' and he's not far off. It's more about companionship than anything
else. The last thing I thought I'd be seeking mid-ocean.

But here's a thing. Lynnis had a problem. She shared it on an HF network
where maybe 20 boats, widely dispersed, check in. She was fine, but was
comforted to have people knowing about their concerns. It also led, very
quickly, to a potential close source for help should they need it, in
this case us. And we now keep in contact and will continue to do so
until the boat reaches safety. No need for a MayDay, SOS, or other
emergency call.

Now, take the case of our friends who lost their boat. They were very
well prepared with excellent safety equipment on board. They, too, had a
problem with their rigging. Which triggered a chain of other events.
Their emergency and communication equipment was, some might argue, more
up-to-date than that which Lynnis and her boat carry (who don't have any
form of email or weather services on board), including satellite phone
and an EPIRB. And when the situation went beyond their comfort level
they phoned the appropriate number in France. Who, rightly, triggered
the local emergency rescue services to come to their aid.

The first that the local boating community knew of their troubles was a
MayDay alert followed by reports of a Navy rescue operation and a
sinking ship.

Only after the events had unfolded did we realise that there might have
been a different outcome, if only the local community had been
contactable earlier. At the very least there might have been someone
nearby with whom they could have talked through the situation with.

That was one of the things that made me saddest. That she might still be
floating.

Satellite phones are gradually replacing long range radio as a primary
means of communication. We have one, and in truth we would have likely
not bought an HF/SSB (single-sideband radio) had it not come equipped
with the boat. I would now think twice about that decision.

Though we have a phone, there is no standard protocol about how to use
it (unlike the well-established HF communication). We always keep our
phone off except to send emails. And we only have a few numbers
programmed in. We never even thought to swap numbers with our friends.
And even if we had, our phone wouldn't have rung had they called. Not so
with a radio. Even if you don't check in regularly on a net it's usually
possible to track someone down on one of the most-used frequencies. And
that triggers local helping local.

Food for thought in this world that is increasingly globalised, even on
the ocean.


November 1

SQUALL! WIND ON!

As it approaches, the wind increases by an octave. We are surfing up
waves, like a snowboarder or skateboarder attempting a half-pipe. Go
directly perpendicular and SLAM! you fall off the other side. Go too
shallow and you tilt right over, barely reaching the peak, water pouring
in over the lower side and filling the cockpit.

Dolphins surfing. Albatrosses. Small highlights that keep my faith.

Three, four, five, six metre seas. A wall of wave so big it's all you
can do just to look at it.

I am mostly wide eyes, adrenalin, and Milo.

Neptune has not paid us much attention lately, busy concentrating on
more important Matters Oceanic, but he must have just realised that we
have two days left to go and got out his check-list. Tsunami- check.
Storm- check. Downwind- check. Heat- check. Rain- triple check. Cold-
check.

Then he reached the section entitled Big Seas. We had only two out of
three: running with the waves off the coast of Chile (three days in,
still the most terrifying part of this trip), and running across them
from Suvarow to Tonga. But no 'bashing right into them', facing them
head-on.

Right, he realised in the nick of time, must send them some weather
immediately. For their own good.

Gee, thanks.

And that's how it came to be that we were beating into five metre
breaking seas, for two days. An entirely new experience for me, and not
one I really felt needed remedying. But hey, it will make seeing land
all the sweeter.

November 2

Our last day at sea and – at last – a good one. Lovely, in fact. I am so
glad. And relieved. The relief came first, awash with tiredness. Then
peace. Then being glad. Glad because this last day will give me overall
happy memories of the trip. We will arrive tomorrow morning refreshed
and excited rather than battered and knackered. Which was us twelve
hours ago. A long, hard, night bashing into big seas and being knocked
off course.

I finished my book (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) this morning, did
the washing up, spoke with Lynnis on the radio, and made crepes. After
Andy woke (he had had an even longer and harder night than I), and we
enjoyed breakfast , we both washed. ICY! It appears that our fridge (the
bilge) has become a fridge again. As have the tanks where our water jugs
are stowed. Even the tinned butter came out hard rather than like
margarine.

Cold. Last night turned cold. Wonderfully, chillingly, so. The kind of
cold where people from cold places say – brrr, it's cold-. I can't
imagine how most folk are faring who set off from Florida or Panama with
barely a long-sleeved cotton shirt in their cupboard! But I'm loving it.
My brain has more clarity. I feel more me. No longer sweaty and lethargic.

How long ago that seems already.

And now it's our last day at sea. Am I sad? Nostalgic? Nervous? Not at
all. Pleased, proud, surprised,- maybe even happy. Not because land is
in site, metaphorically (though there is an element of that), but
because- we did it. Simple as that. We did it. And we did it for no
other reason than to give it a go. Not to save the world. Certainly not
to save money. And not for the c.v. either. That's a good thing.
Refreshing. And it's taken me this long to get used to the idea. Now
that I finally have, how much harder will it be to now look for work,
think up some kind of life-plan, fill in the –what next?-

But all that is in the future. First we will have a cup of tea. And
before that we need to reach Opua where we'll put the kettle on. One
thing at a time.

I got thinking about phrases this morning. Step by step. Weather a
storm. Let it blow over. Such passive concepts meaning – wait. But a
more accurate translation would be –live- or –live now-. While
weathering a real storm your only thoughts are on today. But not by
passively waiting. Rather, actively engaging in every aspect of today,
to the exclusion of all other factors in your life.

Hm.

The greatest achievement in reaching New Zealand, for me, is that we're
both still alive and happy. Not a day has passed these ten months when I
haven't worried about Andy falling overboard. The fear is huge, and
valid, as I'm pretty sure my response wouldn't be the correct and
rational action. I would panic. Not only for the loss of him, but also
my lack of skill in managing the boat in order to go back and get him.
At least on land I'll be back in my comfort zone regarding emergency
response. And Andy, as a result, may feel more free again.

?


October 2, 1930

The last night in Zephyrus, at sea, on a passage, for a long time.
Forever? For a couple of months? Who knows. I don't want to know what
happens next. Not yet. These last hours feel precious.

Dusk has an extra shine to her hue, Andy is three times himself, all the
best bits amplified. The sound of sailing noises, creaks and bumps, one
time spooks and ghouls in the night, are now familiar friends to me.
What a magical opportunity this has been: highs and lows. Filling our
capacity for living, and on some occasions expanding it, to the maximum.

With the colder air and approaching end I feel more alive, more vibrant,
more excited for the future. This journey is reaching its destination at
exactly the right moment, not a day too soon, not a day too late. We
can't yet see land but I know it's close. Sixty miles. Maybe it'll be
waiting for us in the morning.

Tonight I shall relish being at sea for one more night.

(THE END)

Thinking Forward

Last Sunday we left the Ha'apai Group of Tonga and arrived in the
capital, Nuku'alofa. Our friends flew back to France on Tuesday, ten
days after their boat had hit a reef. Back to France to start a new
life. Leaving their beloved home, their previous life, on the ocean floor.

In all we spent six nights and seven days at the site, working hard to
make it both physically and environmentally safe. During that time
friends from different boats, as well as locals, helped enormously.
Everyone had a role, and everyone had a different motivation. The trick
was to interweave them, like a dance, a tapestry, for the best possible
outcome.

Some wanted to lift the boat, and breathe new life into her.
Resurrection. Certainly an option worth considering.
Those who loved her most wanted to let the boat rest, dissolve into the
sea floor, let her become one with Nature.
Locals wanted food, clothes, and tools. Things of practical use.
Others were pirates, interested in what they might find. Objects of
value. Anchors, chain, the engine.
Men of the Sea wanted to ensure that the boat wasn't a navigational
hazard, that the masts wouldn't shear off and become a danger to other
boats.
Friends of the owners wanted to remove equipment that might have resale
value after all that they had invested.
Environmentalists wanted to protect marine life where the boat lay.
And the owners, understandably, wanted to say goodbye and move on.

You can imagine the discussions, the tensions, the organisation. The
sadness.
On the night when the owners returned, our new local friends killed two
pigs and hosted a roast on the beach. Thus, it was also a time of
community. Of working together for many best outcomes.

I wrote a mountain of words describing events during that week but now
is not the time for such stories. Now is a time for respect, and learning.

We are driven by our passions, and though the week was sad we were
passionate about the task we were faced with. Sometimes it seemed
mammoth, at other times straight-forward, and always necessary. We
couldn't walk away. I couldn't, he couldn't. It wasn't right. I would
hope someone would do that for us, and for the environment, if we were
spent.

I was overwhelmed by the concept alone: that it was even possible to
sink a boat and leave it. That we are even able to be here, all of us on
private boats, without so much as an exam, an insurance document, or any
proof of our ability (or liability). Who do we think we are? But isn't
that also a beauty of the life,- one final place in the world where
we're not subject to continual rules and assessments. Where you just
need to go out there and do it, try it, take a risk, and learn along the
way.

An incredibly unfortunate combination of incidents occurred that led to
this conclusion. How often so many of us have had a close shave, and
lived to tell the tale. Or to not tell the tale. How many of these tales
go unsaid. No-one (with cruising experience) told me – be careful out
there, be prepared, be aware, it's a constant risk. Stay alert. Never
become complacent. No, they said –go for it, you'll have a great time,
you'll learn so much, you'll pick it up as you go along, good for you,
live the dream.

All I could think of was stuff, and getting it out of the sea. So Much
Stuff. Not just on that boat, but on every boat, on our boat. It got me
thinking, and swimming. Plastic bags, bottles of glue, acids and paints,
plastic tubs, medicines, cosmetics and shampoo. Chasing after cotton
buds, straws, disposable latex gloves (the cardboard box dissolving on
contact), and multi-coloured spatulas. Recovering cans of diesel and
petrol, epoxy paint and contact cement. Chasing after plastic bottles,
and a cupboardful of plastic bottle lids. Yoghurt pots. Disposable
contact lenses. Insulation. Mattresses. Kitchen equipment. Bags.
Cleaning utensils. Foods, spices, and individually sealed plastic
sachets of dried coconut or parmesan cheese. Jars of olives. Not even
food will decompose the way our culture packages it.

Andy first wanted to float the boat. When that decision was rejected, he
was focussed on making the boat safe and retrieving equipment. His
combination of impressive freediving skills, foraging expertise, and
willingness to give away treasure made him a local hero. A symbiosis
quickly developed between us and the locals: in exchange for much
treasure (tools, food, clothes, pots, pans, solar panels, a
generator…) they also took away lots of rubbish and hazards to the
environment. We kept only deck fittings and other boat-specific objects
with potential resale value.

When joined by other boats, larger tasks were approached. With the crew
of Taee and Jangada, both masts were taken down and floated to the
shore. Quite an epic task, from the dismantling of the masts themselves
to floating them so carefully that the beautiful fan corals in shallow
water near the beach were not so much as scraped. And the rig no longer
a navigational hazard.

In the afternoon, the environmental clean-up mission began. That was the
day that the owners joined us. After a respectful and sad goodbye, it
felt terrible that they then should witness so much stuff being pulled
out of the boat. But it would have felt even worse leaving it in there.
With time and hindsight, they'll be glad to know she was emptied as much
as possible. That the fish can make a home in her cabins, unpolluted by
leaking fuels and solvents.

After Taee and Jangada left, Andy continued the salvage mission by
freediving with local boys. Mostly tools, chain, anchors, rope, and
remaining solvents. In the afternoon we were joined by our friends on
Bamboozle who made possible a second full day of diving (Taee and
Bamboozle carry scuba gear), the focuses being on salvaging deck
equipment and removing final contaminants and plastics. Over a soup
lunch, Jamie told me with a wink- this morning's dive was for the
owners, the afternoon will be for you. – Not for me, I cried… for the
sea! Cringing and hitting him with a pillow as the words tumbled out.

The nights were the worst. Treacherous anchorage, godforsaken place.
Barreling surf breaks frame the entrance to the pass, not something you
wish to navigate through at night. Wind shifts from every direction
pushing us towards ominous coral heads in the dark. Rain pummels down
hard. When it began I imagined, romantically, that the powers that be
were crying with the sunken boat, the lost dreams. Not so, they have no
empathy, no love, no hate, they are just what they are, and they are
full of power. They are the Elements, and elemental. It's up to us to
understand that, and read their signs.

Every morning at 5am we said – we're out of here, this place is
horrible-. But each day the sun brought calm and more opportunities for
retrieving items and making safe. Every bag saved was one less bird choked.

And the work got done, amazingly quickly. And finally we left.

I know of three other boats that, during that week, hit coral nearby in
treacherous bays. All three are still floating, but in each case it was
a close call. One was a catamaran with a very shallow and flat keel.
Another, a monohull, also made first impact with their keel and had
friends anchored nearby who came to the rescue before the boat fell over
and received a punctured hull. Friends who joined them in the depth of
night and rain to pull the boat off the coral, diving in a storm,
setting anchors, winching the boat out of danger just in time. The third
was just hold-your-breath damn lucky.

Luck aside, there are always lessons to be learnt. We learnt that our
satellite phone stops ringing after two rings, and struggles to call
other sat phones. And that we didn't have all the right emergency
numbers programmed in. And that we didn't have anyone programmed in (or
even written down) who might be able to talk me through a tricky
situation in an event that I didn't think I wanted a rescue, but equally
didn't know what to do. And that often people break before the boat.

The result is new changes aboard Zeph, and we keep learning. And I dream
of steel.

Now in Nuku'alofa friends on boats have been continually helping and
feeding us. We are fuelled up, watered up, and are energizing up. We are
finding buyers for some of the salvaged equipment. And we are starting
to contemplate the next step, the final leg, Tonga to New Zealand. It's
a long one, about 1000 miles, and will take us back to colder, windier
places. After the events of last week all complacency has gone. No
longer do I think 'we're nearly there'. We won't be there until we're
there. Tied up. Safe. Laughing. Feet on land.

Meanwhile, the highlight of my day today was waking up, for the first
time in over six months, snuggled up under a duvet. Bring it on. We're
going South.

Happenings in the Vava’u

'On the road again'. Crescent moon, first planet, blue dusk, rolly
boat. I suspect this will be the longest section we'll motor in this
entire Pacific journey. Potentially the full 120 miles but hopefully
not. Hopefully we'll find some wind. Ordinarily we would never leave in
such calm conditions, or if we did we would just enjoy going really
slowly and the extra two or three nights at sea that might involve.

But times are not ordinary. And that, I guess, is a fundamental essence
of life. Life's force. How quickly things can change. Spontaneity, an
ability to respond quickly and flexibly. Whether to something good or
bad, the engagement is something that makes me feel alive.

Not that I feel very alive and inspired right now. The nature of this
leg is hot, noisy, still, and dull. Weary-making, but happily
uneventful. The engine rumbles the boat loudly, everything vibrates. We
both have bright orange earplugs in so we can only mouth at each other,
and then only important things like – is the engine too hot?-
toast?-hello (that upon one waking). Every now and then I take out a
plug to let the thoughts tumble out and the air cleanse my brain. We
recently heard tell that you can avoid sea-sickness by blocking up one
ear- in my case the left ear as I'm right-handed. So I always unplug the
right just to see. Even if its a psychological ploy I don't really mind-
it amuses me for another few minutes and that's another few minutes less
to fill.

Sea-sickness is a funny thing. Somewhere between Chile and French
Polynesia I stopped feeling sea-sick . I attribute this to longer
passages and greater fear. These short hops are the worst. Even if we're
not physically ill (which I usually am if over-doing it by staring at an
electronic chart or GPS) then we're definitely both lethargic. A friend
here in Tonga described it well: "I don't chuck, I just lie inside
wanting to die for a couple of days." Thankfully we're ok at the moment,
just lethargic, and over half way to our destination (about 27 hours in
total).

The Vava'u group of islands in the north of Tonga was gorgeous. I would
recommend it to anyone looking for a sailing holiday, especially people
interested in chartering a boat for a fortnight or so. Wide channels
winding around steep-sided wooded islets that hide caves and springs and
occasionally blow holes from the ocean. Whales. A steady breeze, not
too strong, plenty of places for shelter, minimal swell, and not too
many hazards. We have tacked more in the last week than the last eight
months, and finally I've started to appreciate the finer points of sailing.

Dropping the foresail gracefully, when to release the sheet on a tack,
knowing how close you can sail to the wind, and where to point when you
turn, reading ripples on the water for approaching gusts that can be
beneficial, played with even, rather than fear-inducing squalls. I've
even improved at anchoring, catching mooring balls, and working with the
genoa pole. None of these, even those that are an option, are things you
want to practice mid-ocean. Because practice implies sometimes getting
it wrong.

Watching ripples on the sea is the baby version of watching a squall
coming before being pummeled. Responding to changing breezes by the
minute and toying with the sails so they sit just right, that's so much
more helpful to intuitive learning than changing sails once a day, or
sometimes by the week. Steering too close to the wind, see what happens,
falling off too far, feel how the boat responds. Heading tighter and
tighter so that water washes along the decks but it's not scary, it's
fun. Just a tweak of the wheel or the ropes and we'll be horizontal again.

We've also rigged up our little sailing rowboat and I've taken it out on
my own returning (a first) with a smile on my face. Slowly, glacially
slowly, sailing concepts seem to be trickling in. It is agreed on board
that I'm not a natural, it's certainly not intuitive, but I'm trying
again at least. And it's so much more fun when you aren't scared for
your life, feeling sea-sick, or trying to cook.

Yes, the Vava'u Group was great, I'd go back in a flash. The town,
Neiafu, also ticked all my boxes. A big fresh fruit and veg market,
numerous western-style cafes with wifi and cheese sandwiches, delicious
fresh BROWN bread (unlike the French Polynesian baguettes with zero
nutritional value), a limited but fine range of tinned and dried
supplies (no supermarket), ample restaurants, great pizza, and the best
burgers in the south pacific.

It's true, I've barely mentioned Tonga, or Tongans. That would be the
down-side: it's a major cruising destination. Everything within our
immediate zone is catering to us, to the yachty community, to taking our
money and fuelling our fun. Admittedly, we saw a local Tongan dance
show, listened to Tongan music, watched an evening's entertainment by
the Fakaleitis…. but this is still all playing to the people. In
truth, when I saw the number of boats in the harbour I accepted what
this part of the journey would be about: sailing and other yachties, not
much interaction with locals, and a limited development of my
appreciation for Tonga as a nation and culture. That may yet change; we
are now headed to more remote and less visited islands in the middle of
the Kingdom.

The increase in boats in Neiafu also raised my awareness of how many
near- misses we all have. When alone on a boat in the ocean, life can be
sweet. The something changes in an instant and life is terrifying. Then
that situation passes and life becomes sweet again. Sometimes in the
middle life is just neutral. We should learn to appreciate those times
too. Whatever the current mode, n=1. There is just one vessel, we are
the centre of the universe, we have no sense of our own probability of
hitting sweet, neutral, or terrifying.

Gather together a multitude of boats with a wide range of starting
points, destinations, sails, motors, budgets, and intentions. Put them
all in one place. Observe. This is a much clearer representation of the
risk and variation we live within.

In just two weeks we know of one boat that arrived full of smoke, its
engine area having caught on fire about 60 miles off shore, one cruiser
who was hospitalised for three days after a finger infection turned
nasty, one small plywood boat that received a hole in its hull after
being hit by a local fisherman, one couple looking for medical
facilities after discovering she was pregnant, and several people
waiting for spare parts. We contributed to the list by discovering that
our four jerry cans of fuel on deck were in fact full of petrol
(gasoline) rather than diesel due to a mis-communication in French
Polynesia. (In French petrol/gasoline = gasoline, diesel= gas-oil. Don't
ask.)

Andy filled our tank with the not quite right smelling fuel but
thankfully didn't start the engine- a suspicious nose and practical mind
I am continually thankful for (the mind, not the nose). The result was
an abandoned adventure, a calling together of six independent noses to
assess our fuel composition (tests included smell, viscosity, touch, and
combustibility), the loan of a spare diesel jug from a fellow boat
(thankyou Dignity), and return to Neiafu where the tank had to be
drained completely before cleaning and refilling.

I am very, very, glad to have discovered this at the only place we've
been to in two months that has facilities both to receive dodgy fuel,
and replace with good. And also that the fuel wasn't just poured into
the tank while the engine was running, as I've seen Andy do twice on
this trip already. BOOM.

The unplanned return to Neiafu wasn't all bad. In addition to diesel we
refilled with fresh food and water and met some old friends just
arrived. In fact, one couple loaned us a 12V oil pump for emptying the
tank (the same guardian angels from Restless who saved us when we
arrived in Suvarow with a broken windvane shaft) and another set of
newly arrived friends (Pursuit) gave us 150L of diesel ready to go. And
everyone had lots of beer and sympathy.

Greatly appreciative of the help we received from various friends and
new acquaintances, I thought of the other incidents and how quickly the
community would jump to action and offer help where they could. Indeed,
thanks to the whale-watching tours and other yachts, the boat with smoke
was towed to safety without New Zealand needing to send out air or sea
rescue services (they estimate a saving of NZ$100k).

Which is all to say, bad stuff does happen but good people make it less
bad. And, considering how many boats were in the Vava'u at the time,
surprisingly little bad stuff actually happened. (Again, empirical data
required. I estimate about 300 boats currently in Vava'u, Andy's
estimate is 50. Either way it feels like a lot but maybe we're at higher
risk than I am suggesting.)

We left earlier than expected, with less than a days notice. Some
friends of ours are in trouble, or rather, their boat is in trouble. Our
friends are safe, they have evacuated their boat (last seen anchored,
floating, but filling with water) and we are headed to its location to
assess the situation and help out. And keep scavengers away while our
friends have time to take a breath.

I wish I had enjoyed my complacency more during the last fortnight. That
time in neutral. It's not neutral, it's re-fueling, resting, having an
easy time of things. Because things will change, always, and sometimes
quickly. And its good to be ready, able to respond, and available. These
things make us feel alive.

Still, as we approach the island I am nervous about what we will find.

Wifi’d Up

Oh yeah, my dreams have been answered: here I sit in a wifi cafe, local beer in my hand while folk all around me enjoy a range of western delights from pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, to chocolate brownies and lattes, to hamburger and chips. It’s lunchtime, a great time to test the internet it seems as everyone is eating rather than surfing. Andy’s on the boat, I think, working on the engine. Or at least that’s where I left him. INDEPENDENCE is delightful!

I hitched a lift to land this morning on a passing dinghy and have meanwhile eaten a delicious breakfast of eggs benedict and a latte while watching a presentation on humpback whales, dropped off an enormous bag of sheets and towels at a laundry service, visited immigrattion, customs, and the harbour master for various paperwork necessities, had a couple of t-shirts custom screen-printed, and had a thorough immersion in Gmail and Facebook. Alas, the latter wasn’t quite as exciting as my dreams from mid-ocean, but I’m loving the concept.

We arrived in the Vava’u area of Tonga on Saturday after an easy 2 day sail – just in time to join in the annual Full Moon Party and spend the night howling and dancing. In truth, we were avoiding ‘regatta week’ because it sounded awful.. yet more potlucks, smalltalk, and overcrowded bays…. but changed our minds when we heard about the Party. You know the best thing about proper parties? Too loud for chitchat, perfect for grinning faces and good vibes. Plus, turns out there’s plenty of space here for everyone, and some.

Yes, life is good, and the Vava’u is sailing paradise. Loads of small islands (an archipelago?), a reliable wind, low swell, plenty of protection. On the way into town (we hadn’t seen a shop for 7 weeks and were keen for fresh food) we tacked and jibed our way around islands and up wide channels, me at the wheel, Andy on the sails… in truth my first real opportunity to learn sailing, enjoy it, and risk making mistakes. Crazy (after how many thousand miles?). But good.

All is well.

Rose Island, Ethical Conundrums, and Rain

Blob tweet*:
Sep 14 _14.278S, 167.160W _ Very Bored Of Shit Weather At Sea

Diary entry:
Not a fun few days. But not the adrenalin rush of our first
encounters with bad weather either. First, boredom. Second, just wanting
to have it over and done with. I don’t even want to describe it, don’t
want to remember it. Perhaps that’s what keeps the long-time voyagers
going: a well-honed ability to forget how incredibly rubbish the bad
bits are.

Not that this was really bad, not scared for life or anything (though
when the lightning started I did do a mental check of all our emergency
gear). No, primarily: bored.

There is also a new element to this trip, considerations not just
physical, emotional and psychological, but also ethical. Rose Island.

Rose Island; Wildlife Sanctuary.

I interject; you need some background.

Rose Island. Directly en route between Suvarow and northern Tonga, and
the thing that entirely consumed my thoughts during those first three
days of the journey. A simple internet search, sent to us by email by a
good friend, will tell you:

“Rose Atoll, sometimes called Rose Island or Motu O Manu by people of
the nearby Manu’a Islands, is an oceanic atoll within the U.S. territory
of American Samoa. It is an uninhabited wildlife refuge. It is the
southernmost point in the United States.

“…Rose Atoll contains the largest populations of giant clams, nesting
seabirds and rare reef fish in all of American Samoa. The fish
population is unique from the rest of the region due to a high
concentration of carnivorous fish and low concentration of herbivorous
fish. Almost 270 different species of fish have been recorded in the
last 15 years. Tuna, mahi-mahi, billfish, barracuda and sharks reside
outside the lagoon. In deeper waters, tunicate and stalked crinoid have
been spotted by scuba expeditions. Sea mammals such as the endangered
humpback whale and the stenella genus of dolphin also use the waters.

“The atoll is a critical nesting habitat for the threatened green turtle
and the endangered hawksbill turtle. The turtles migrate between
American Samoa and other Pacific Island nations. Their nesting season is
between the months of August and February.

“Approximately 97% of American Samoa’s seabird population resides on
Rose Atoll. Each of the 12 bird species is federally protected.
Red-footed boobies and greater and lesser frigate birds nest in the buka
trees. Black noddies and white terns nest in the middle and lower
branches. The root system is used by the reef herons and red-tailed
tropic birds. Other birds can be found in the Pisonia forest, the only
one left in Samoa….”

In other words, Pacific Paradise.

We know of boats that have visited, and of boats with intentions to go.
We have whispered its name since we first pored over charts in Chile.
Indeed, it must be exactly the paradise that everyone here has been
seeking, and not discovering. We even heard of a boat that stayed there
for three weeks several years ago. Imagine! An atoll to yourself.
Suvarow without the summer camp. Is it possible?

Andy was naturally intrigued to visit. In search of solitude. At one
with nature. And far from other people.

I was also intrigued (who wouldn’t be?), but also conflicted. I kept
thinking of my lab in Antarctica, the Clean Air Sector Laboratory, the
only place with any kind of scientific’out of bounds’ for thousands of
miles. A place that my companions would generally ignore and avoid,
mainly because it was too much effort to walk the 2km to get there. But
occasionally, just occasionally, we’d discover a telling pee-hole in the
snow, or see footsteps beneath an instrument that measured snow
smoothness. And I’d rage

“WHY DO YOU HAVE TO PEE HERE, OF ALL PLACES, WHEN YOU HAVE THE ENTIRE
ANTARCTIC CONTINENT TO PEE ON. why here? because it’s the only place
you’ve been told not to go?”

A friend asked me, do you always respect Keep Out signs? I laughed- I do
if I write them.

If Rose was restricted for weird political reasons, I probably wouldn’t
have been so bothered. But it is designated as a Wildlife Sanctuary, and
goodness knows we’ve seen a lot of decimated wildlife on this trip so
far: lagoons full of ciguatera, dead reef, a sparsity of fish or
colourful coral… of course people want to see what every place would
look like if it weren’t for the people… but therein lies the problem.

We thankfully side-stepped the Rose Debate . A few days before our
departure some friends en route to Tonga sent us news that there was a
scientific research campaign occurring there, and that the entrance was
clearly barred by a large US ship. Andy was disappointed, I was relieved.

And then I became curious. What a great opportunity to find out about
local habitats from experts. And interesting to see how this kind of
remote campaign was organised. And how much would I enjoy talking to
scientists there, honestly, about this issue of visiting yachts… and,
well, everything.

I wrote an email to the chief scientist responsible for the region, not
really expecting a reply. Almost by return of mail however, she sent a
very friendly note clearly not authorising our visit, but saying she’d
contact those in charge. I liked the fact that all the people mentioned
were women. (Not that I was surprised, was it maybe just a refreshing
change to come across women in charge again?!)

The morning we were due to leave I checked email one more time. Another
scientist had written: the ship has left, the campaign was over, the
island was out of bounds.

“Please respect that the atoll is closed to visitation. A primary
reason for the closure is to ensure quarantine procedures are followed
including ship hull cleaning/ inspection, rodent, insect, plant, and
seed inspections and quarantines. One of our biggest challenges on our
island refuges is destructive introduced invasive species. Most of which
were unintentionally introduced.”

Spontaneously grinning, Andy told me to put the coordinates for Rose
Island into our GPS.

“No”
“Yes”
“No”
“Yes”
“No”
“Yes”
“No”
“Yes”
“I’m going for a swim”
“Good plan”

We swam in opposite directions, me with vigour. Ranting with each
stroke. By the time I returned, after a long sweep of the anchorage, I
was in full inside-voice torrade. “How can we convince the world’s
population to change its ways with regard to climate change if I can’t
even convince my own husband to not go to Rose Island?” “How can society
ever move in the direction of communal good over individual interest?”
“Why do cruisers have to go and visit the only [tiny] prohibited area
for thousands of miles when they have the entire Pacific to ruin?” etc
etc. The issue had escalated to huge moral proportions.

I climbed on board. In silence we prepared to leave. “You worried?”, he
asked me. “What about?”, I retorted. “About the passage, the journey,
the sailing?” “Ha! I have bigger things on my mind than mere sailing!”
“You do, like what?” “Like Rose Island.”

“We’re not going there”, he told me laughing, “I know you can’t go there”.

I love him. And felt awash with gratitude.

Thus was our course decided: anywhere but Rose Island. I opted for Niue,
the furthest south, and therefore furthest from Rose, but we both knew
the strong south-easterly waves and winds would make that a hard
passage. The Vava’u Group in Tonga was the next option, requiring a path
far to the south of Rose. Niuatoputapu, to the north of Vava’u, was now
third choice solely because Rose Island was directly en route.

We departed wonderful Suvarow, course set for Vava’u. Conditions were
not great, but not too bad. There were a few squalls and seas were quite
big, but we had left, and were sailing. It was good to be free again.

A big swell rose from the south east, consistent rolling waves about 3m
in height that kept knocking us off our course, sending us too far
north. After about six hours we gave up fighting and changed our
destination (we didn’t really care where we’d end up). New destination:
Niuatupotapu. Translation: Very Sacred Coconuts. Seemed as good a reason
as any to go there.

The squalls really hit on the second day. Torrential rain, strong gusts
of wind, lashing conditions, seas of 4-6m with occasional big breakers.
We were taking shifts, day and night, in full foul weather gear, sea
boots, thermals, woolly hat… and still soaked through. It lasted for
two full days, and by the end we were thoroughly exhausted, and keen for
land. Any land.

All this time Rose Island was always getting closer. Worse, when we set
a route south of it the winds sent us north. When we set a course to the
north, the winds sent us south. However hard we tried, we seemed to be
heading straight for it. No longer was it a paradise refuge, it was
rapidly becoming a collision risk.

diary entry cont’d..
We have changed our mind about Rose so many times that I truly didn’t
know what the outcome would be until right now- three full days into
this journey.

First, no question, we wanted to go.
Then we heard we couldn’t.
So I wrote and asked if we could.
And was told we couldn’t.
So we headed anywhere but there.
Except the winds pushed us exactly there. So much it became a concern
not to hit it.
And then the weather got stronger and we got tireder and the waves got
bigger and the rain got louder and we ripped a sail…

… and things got so bad that we started considering going there after
all, despite our best intentions not to, just to find brief shelter, and
rest, and fix the sail, and re-prepare, all under the protection of
‘force mayeur’.

And I was so tired and the weather was so wild that even though my brain
said –no, it’s not right-, my body said –please, just a few hours, just
one night-.

A far cry from the weeks of solitary paradise we had earlier dreamed of.

And so I caved, and said yes and plotted our course. And on the chart I
re-read the words WILDLIFE SANCTUARY; ACCESS PROHIBITED.

And not long after Andy said, we’re no going there, I can’t do it. This
isn’t Force Mayeur.

And we changed course for the umpteenth time. Tired, desperate for a
break, but not going to Rose.

He would go where my ethics wouldn’t allow. I would have gone where his
ethics didn’t allow. I couldn’t go to a wildlife sanctuary except under
Force Mayeur. He couldn’t call Force Mayeur unless we were endangering
our lives or the boat. Strictly speaking no-one need have known but
ourselves. But we are the ones¸ ultimately, who have to live with
ourselves.

And so at last, after three painful days of ethical wrangling, we passed
Rose Island, and we didn’t visit.

diary entry con’t
When the system of incessant squalls has seemingly passed, the
relief is tangible. We both collapse and I sleep a sleep heretofore
unknown to me in transit. Is this a second skill I’ve learnt en route?
First: to forget; second: to obtain oblivion.

I’m tired now. Two or three nights to go and I just want to be there,
anywhere, anywhere with land. In truth, I’d like that land to be New
Zealand and this be the end of the adventure. I want to stop. I want
some home comforts. And to see my friends. I want to sleep in a large
double bed that is comfortable and doesn’t need to be packed away. I
want a holiday from sailing and living on a boat. I’m done. Eight months
is enough.
__

It’s the fourth night and the squalls seem to have passed. We are now
sailing well, and quite fast, in steady winds and what feels like a firm
sea below. Strong and steady- much more like what I was expecting from
the weather reports.

Amusingly, I find myself dreaming of being in a friends house in NZ,
wifi’d up, new macbook in my lap, frothy latte by my side (from a cafe
conveniently next door), immersing myself completely in Facebook. For
days. Writing to old friends, tracking people down, reconnecting, maybe
even meeting again. My daydreams take me back to old friendships that
make Andy feel like a very new arrival in my life. People who were a
daily part of my life but I have now lost contact with.

I’m loving my Starbucks internet facebook employment and audibly laugh
as I scan the horizon for yet more no boats. How the hell did I get
here- ocean all around and days away from the Kingdom of Tonga, a place
I couldn’t even put on the map a year ago. I thought that once I had
habituated into this life I might never want to return.The catchments of
modern life would seem so fickle. We would choose to sail forever, in
love with the ocean and the albatrosses. I would feel a revulsion for
the old world and all its trappings.

But no. I crave Facebook and a cafe latte.

As it turns out, the last two nights of the passage were glorious. Clear
starry nights, strong and steady winds, a relatively flat sea, good
speed, and comfortable sailing motion. On the last day we even had a
Good Life moment: sat side- by- side in the cockpit watching Zephyrus
sail herself bang on course through trauma-less conditions, eating pizza
freshly made by Andy and drinking my latest batch of home-made ginger
beer while the Tongan flag I was creating indoors lacked only a final
cross and some loops for hoisting up in the morning.

With first light I saw a perfect volcano on the horizon and Andy was
woken to my whooping and cheering: “LAND AHOY!” It was a spectacular
view made only better, a few hours later, by the sight of mother and
calf humpback whales breaching in the entrance to Very Sacred Coconuts.


*georeferenced blobs appears on the smilingfootprints map

Spearfishing, Sharks, and Snorkeling in Suvarow

Today we leave Suvarow. We've been here almost three weeks. Well,
three weeks to the day, except that we arrived in late afternoon. I'll
not forget that,- after anchoring for a second time, and after a seven
day passage restricted to the boat, Andy dove into the bath-warm sea to
explore a nearby patch of coral in the light of the setting sun. In less
than five minutes he was back on the boat, wide eyed and heaving
breaths, "you don't have to go far to be a long way from home". It
became our catchphrase. And that's how we learnt that shark populations
in the lagoon quadruple at sunset: feeding time.

As the days melted into each other I became less afraid of sharks. I
don't think I was particularly afraid to start with, having been such a
sop as a kid that no-one would dare watch Jaws with me (or ET, after my
mother famously drowned in my tears while we watched Dumbo en famille)
but equally, sharks weren't something I went out of my way to get close
to. I have now discovered that they are beautiful animals, sleek,
inquisitive, intelligent, and not very interested in eating people.

What they are interested in, is the smell of blood, the frenzy of an
underworld fight, and injured fish. Three things that occur almost by
definition when spearfishing.

On one occasion we went for a 'drift dive' in the pass with two
families. This involved taking two dinghies to the lagoon entrance,
jumping in the water with snorkels, and drifting with the dinghy as the
current carried us towards the open sea. Our youngest companion, Adelie-
age 12, wore a full length wetsuit and looked unfortunately seal-like.
She held tightly onto the dinghy rope and stayed close to her mum while
her elder brother and Andy ducked and dived all around, and usually
below, us.

The pass to the lagoon is deep, several hundred feet in places, and a
perfect shark habitat. We saw black tips, white tips, and a couple of
grey sharks, about the same size as me. The greys come right up to you,
not looking for food, just inquisitive, checking out the new activity in
their territory. When they got close I waggled a wooden stick at them to
look ferocious and they turned around, but I don't think they were
really that bothered. It was breath-taking.

One great highlight of our time here has been Andy's discovery of
free-diving and spearfishing. Every day he stays down deeper, looks
calmer, and shoots faster. It has come to the stage that at the end of a
snorkeling trip he'll calmly say, "shall I catch us some dinner?" and
return with something delicious in far less time than it used to take me
to go to the local corner shop.

We returned to the pass with two brothers who, like Andy, have been
practicing their spearfishing skills here. (It's worth noting that
spearfishing only occurs under the strict guidance and authority of one
of the park wardens, and hunters only ever take what they can eat that
day.) The pass was new and scarier territory, due to the sharks. And
sharks there were.

The boys float on the surface, watching, preparing, loading their spear
guns. Stealth. It is very silent.

Smoothly and without fuss, one will duck dive downwards, kicking fast,
propelling himself to the deep where he stops. Sometimes he finds a
coral head and holds on, lying horizontally, motionless. Watching him, I
forget he is underwater. Sharks and fish swim all around as he waits for
the right moment. A couple of minutes later, that feels to me like half
an hour, he looks up, pushes off, and rapidly ascends before his lungful
of air is depleted entirely. That is Bret.

His brother Chad repeats a similar action. He swims down fast into a
cavernous area but orients himself vertically, head pointing up, doing
slow acrobatics as he turns circles for prey. Then returns upwards
again. I have James Bond music in my head.

Andy's method is different again. He swims downward at a shallower
angle, straight towards a fish or group of fish. He hunts in mid-swim.

Ka-thwang. The quiet but sharp noise of a spear gun being fired.
Violence has no noise underwater, so you have to look in it's direction
to see if the shot was successful. If so, you'll see the hunter swimming
to the surface fast, holding his gun, trailing a frantic flapping fish,
sometimes trying to hold the fish as well.

The other hunters are beside him in seconds. Pointing their guns in all
directions, protecting him. The sharks appear instantly, they must have
been close to us all this time. The chase is on. They're brave but not
stupid and when a spear gun is pointed at their head, sometimes with
contact, they try a different approach.

Spearfishing lore teaches the hunter to hug the fish: it reduces blood
and sends a clear message that this fish is not for sale. The owner is
keeping it. Easier said then done, both physically and psychologically.

Chad catches a huge red snapper. Andy catches a medium sized Jack and a
large Parrotfish. (I can't help but think it is an evolutionary flaw
that the Parrotfish is so beautiful, colourful, and distinctive, and
also delicious. The upside is that it's a reef fish so only accessible
by spearfishing, not trawling or lines.) Bret is brilliant at swimming
after sharks. A team effort. After any given catch, we move to a
different location. After the third catch we have enough to feed our
dinner party of six and the guns are left inside the boat. The boys just
go snorkeling now, enjoying how close they can get to fish, playing,
doing somersaults, and seeing how deep they can go. Andy sees a grouper
hiding under a rock and tries to tease him out with his knife. One of
the boys starts laughing, swallows the sea, and has to come up for air.

Spirits are high, but respectful. Life is good. Life is abundant. Life
is healthy. We visit Apii, one of the rangers out in a boat, and show
him the catch. He was going to come with us but has instead taken two
recent arrivals diving, with tanks. They are somewhere below us, showing
their location by a thin veil of bubbles on the surface. The boys can't
resist and instantly jump back in the water, free-diving to depths below
the tank divers and waving at them from beneath.

This is a good place to be. Refreshing. The land is beautiful, covered
in coconut palms; the reef is fascinating, home to lobsters and coconut
crabs; the ocean is full of fish. A place to enjoy nature, and
appreciate how it feels to be a part of it too.

As I write this Andy is strapping down and lashing up: we are preparing
to leave. Water jugs are full (thankyou to the rain at Suvarow!), the
engine has been checked, sails are being dried, boxes, books, bags,
mattresses, crockery, pans, computers, random stuff lying around the
cockpit… is all being put away. This anchorage has been safe and
still, the kind of place you forget that leaving a coffee cup out on the
counter was ever a problem.

It's 10am. I suspect we'll eat some breakfast (I baked bread in
preparation for the voyage), say goodbyes, and pull up the anchor
shortly after lunch. We'll have a few hours of bold sailing in the
afternoon and by sunset will have decided our course. We still don't
really know where we're going.

Niue was our first choice,- the smallest independent nation in the
world, rich in caves, caverns, whales, and amazing diving. But the winds
make it look very unlikely we'll get there: too strong and pushing too
far west. Another option is the Niua group of Tonga, right at the top.
An island called Niuatoputapu, about six days sailing away. But in that
direction the weather forecast suggests we might lose wind altogether.
The third option is the Vava'u group in Tonga, 700 miles away, and
somewhere we were always intending on visiting. Our last country before
New Zealand.

In short, we'll go where the wind blows, arrive somewhere in about a
week, and be in exactly the right place.. if only we'd known that all
along.

Suvarow Summer Camp- An Island to One’s Self

Welcome to Suvarow Summer Camp- your very own tropical island
paradise, complete with daily activities and fun for all the family.
Watch the palm trees glow iridescent at sunset, swim with
extraordinarily colourful fish in one of the Earth's last remaining
healthy coral reefs, get up close and personal with sharks the size of
yourself, learn to catch crabs, spear fish, make coconut pancakes, or
just hang out in one of the hammocks, find a spot of pristine beach to
read a book, or engage in quiet meditation. Whatever you are seeking,
you can find it here.

Suvarow Summer Camp. Welcoming to all and virtually free… to anyone
who can get there.

And what a gorgeous place it is. Tom Neale lived here on his own here
for six years, in two stints, between 1952 and 1963. He was a brave,
intrepid, resourceful, visionary, and very lucky man. If you're
interested in knowing more, read his book: An Island To Oneself (Ox Bow
Press), or download the full text from
http://www.janesoceania.com/suvarov_tom_neale/.

We've only been here one full day so far, and two nights. I just rowed
Andy ashore to join a crabbing expedition, the results of which will
hopefully form the centrepiece to this evening's pot-luck barbecue on
the beach. I chose not to go 'though I'm sure it will be really
interesting. I'm pre-menstrual and just the site of the twelve other
dinghies coming ashore with day packs and happy camper smiles was enough
to confirm the wisdom of my decision. Some days I should just avoid people.

Suvarow is a national park, and nominally uninhabited. Two park wardens,
this year in the form of James and Apii, are employed to spend six
months here each year, from June to November, specifically to cater to
the ever-growing yachting community. The most important aspect of these
jobs, from a Cook Island Government perspective, is to ensure that the
strict quarantine rules are respected, to inform visitors of no-go zones
due to nesting seasons or other such sensitivities, and to collect the
US$50 landing fee. But the job goes much further, and everyone I have so
far met who has been here, or who is here, has nothing but overflowingly
good things to say about our hosts.

Which is great. If a bit weird. Like – take away all the bad stuff or
difficult stuff or uncomfortable aspects of everywhere in the world, ie.
the people, and leave just the paradise. Then pay people to ensure that
paradise is sustained. I guess that's the point of all National Parks.

Of course, the lack of language barrier here also helps, especially for
North American visitors of which there currently seem to be a majority.
(The two predominant nationalities found cruising these waters are
without doubt French and American.) And I also wonder if the lack of
local people is, for some, an advantage… no longer is there a need
for cultural sensitivity or an understanding of local politics and
economics. Just playtime in paradise.

There are loads of kids here too. More than I've seen, collectively,
since leaving Chile. Somewhere between ten and fifteen but it's hard to
count as they're always moving and reappearing in unexpected places,
like other people's boats. On our first morning, while waiting for the
official customs and biosecurity visit, we spent a good hour watching a
family with four kids rigging up a new kind of swing off their spinnaker
pole and then successively jumping on, falling off, being pushed off
and, when sharks were observed, rapidly pulling each other back in.
"Suvarow TV", Andy said with a big smile.

It is, of course, no coincidence that so many kids are here right now. I
imagine that two weeks from now (the maximum stay is a fortnight) there
will once again be mostly adults visiting. Unlike most cruising boats
who generally seek out solitude and a sense of isolation, families
attract each other and kids love to play together. So these groups of
english-speaking kids, ranging between 3 and 15, have clearly started
meeting up progressively more often since they first met somewhere on
the route from Panama to here. And, if I was a parent, one of the places
I would certainly choose to rendezvous with other families would be
Suvarow. Great for the kids, great for the parents, everyone's a winner.

Thankfully we had some warning that we wouldn't be the only ones here.
Every morning on the radio net we could hear boats giving their position
and destination: Suvarow. And given that at any time there will be
between eight and eighteen boats visiting, each usually with a couple on
board and sometimes a brood of offspring, the resultant summer camp
feeling is just about the best solution I can imagine. The only island
you can anchor by is not large- on a twenty minute amble around its
perimeter shortly before sunset we met three other couples
circumnavigating in the other direction (maybe there's a direction you
need to go so as to not bump into each other?), as well as another four
people at 'shark bay' where you can see black tip and grey sharks
swimming very shallow, very close to the shore. So rather than pretend
to avoid each other, best to get to know each other and have a good time.

I hear the outboard of an inflatable dinghy approach the boat, and
Italian voices calling. "Hallo? Hallo? Andy askk that we brring him his
maskk and finss." So lyrical.

Oh. So you're going swimming? Crabbing doesn't happen on shore? We
thought it was coconut crabs in holes. "Yess, we go over therre. I don't
know wherre exactaly, but they say aboutt fourr hourrs. Is a pity you're
not well." I tell them I'm fine. "Oh, really? You wanna come?"

I do consider this for a nanomoment. Swimming is an entirely different
thing. In a lagoon you can have thirty people snorkeling and still feel
entirely alone with nature. And the lagoon here, by the way, is
enormous. Absolutely vast (between 6 and 8 miles across at all points).
Unfortunately we can't visit most of it due to nesting birds on the
beaches, and the fact that it's mostly too shallow for the reach of
Zephyrus, and too far for the reach of our rowboat… so once again the
only way to see these places is to go collectively. Which I can see they
currently are: about six dinghies are all zooming across the lagoon to
somewhere beyond my imagination.

No, I'll stay. I am, after all, still liable to be a grump and would
have to throw things together pretty quickly. I'm more in the mood for
moving very slowly, walking like an old woman, and generally giving
myself large doses of my own tea and sympathy.

The zodiacs whizz off into the distance.

Hang on. Has the entire population of the bay really just left the
island? I feel myself energising already. I have the island to myself?
For four glorious hours? Suvarow Island all to myself? That's pretty
amazing. Hell, to share it with only thirty or forty other people is
pretty amazing. It's an amazing place.

Time to pack. Bikini (although if it's really empty maybe I won't even
need that?), mask and snorkel, book, a spot of lunch, washing stuff.
Apparently there's a fresh water shower here that was rigged up by
yachties for the wardens earlier in the season . When visiting our boat
said wardens took one look at our 1 litre bottle with holes in the lid
and spontaneously offered us the complete use of their facilities. That
was after bursting out loud in laughter and saying with a chuckle,
"jeez, if we had to wash with that it would take us all day!" (Cook
Islanders are typically not petite folk.)


Andy returned from the crab hunt a happy man. It was on land after all,
but far away from the main island. From what I gather he spent most of
the day with the four-child family anchored near us, reaching elbow deep
into holes and underneath rocks, wrestling with enormous crabs while one
of the kids poked at it from the other side.

In total the group returned with eighteen crabs for dinner. Does this
not, um, effect the local crab population?, I ask one of the wardens as
gently as I can in the evening. The irony is not lost on us that,
indeed, had the wardens not taken people crabbing then no crabs would
have been caught today, or any other day. Yes, and no. They're keeping a
pretty good eye on crab population and sizes on the various islands, and
have restricted crabbing on most… and, let's face it, if it wasn't for
the pot luck dinners then the wardens would have very little diversity
to their diet beyond local fish, crabs, and coconuts.

I further discover that during the months that there are no wardens here
other Cook Islanders visit Suvarow to go fishing and pearl-diving. I
guess this is the kind of National Park where humans are part of the
dynamic ecosystem. This works as long as numbers remain small and
catches, sustainable.

My day was delightful, as planned. I lay in a hammock and read, bathed
in the salty azure sea, had a shower, and listened to fantastic
classical music being blared top volume by the remaining warden who
also, clearly, thought he was alone on the island. Later on I was
cautiously invited to join those remaining for a session on preparing
coconut pancakes. To start with, find coconuts that are already
sprouting, with three leaves on the sprout. Crack it open on a big spike
(I was not a natural), and pull out the foamy white stuff inside. This
is what the milk turns into before it grows into the next coconut tree.
And tastes surprisingly ok. From there, grate the coconut, add flour,
water, sugar, and deep fry. Everyone agreed they were delicious although
I have a suspicion this was as much related to the frying and sugar as
the one local ingredient.

Since that first day we have totally relaxed into being here. Twenty
miles outside Suvarow the shaft of our self-steering windvane sheared,
meaning that we had no reliable self-steering mechanism. (For those
following our story, this is the same shaft that bent en-route from Juan
Fernandez to Easter Island, and that we replaced and fitted in Easter
Island.) The miracle of email, radio, and friendship means that in a
very short time a new shaft has been found, bought, paid for, sent to
Bora Bora and, we understand, put on a yacht headed for Suvarow. We
should therefore have the bar in about a week and can in the mean-time
enjoy legitimately going nowhere.

I can't help but smile realising that we've managed to get stranded in
paradise. Most people find themselves waiting for spare parts in the
shit-hole industrial corners of any given country.. and we are waiting
for our part in a place that has no people, no post office, and not even
a telephone. That's a skill.

Andy has been out spear-fishing a couple of times. The first time, with
a bunch of others (all men), he not only spiked some fish but also got
an amazing underwater sighting of a 50- foot humpback whale and calf
(15-20 foot), inside the lagoon. And he saw a turtle. The second time,
on a snorkeling trip with just me and two others, he caught three fish
that we all enjoyed for dinner: one electric green parrot fish, one pink
parrot fish, and one grouper, or maybe it was a reef-cod. Today,
following another crabbing expedition, there is another pot-luck so I
am, yet again, preparing cous-cous salad. One of the wardens laughingly
told me that the real reason why people leave here is that they run out
of food for the pot-lucks. I can well believe it. (Could we possibly
take a box of crackers and tin of sardines?!)

Me? I've been less active. More of a passive enjoyer of nature. The
snorkeling here is better than anything I have yet seen: warm salty
clear clear water, big fish, not too big sharks, colourful coral housing
clusters of tiny wee miniscule fish, small moray eels, big eagle rays
and sting rays…. and all this aquatic life extending for miles and
miles. On land there are zillions of birds nesting high in trees, just
as many trees and bushes, and all over the ground creatures scuttling
and buzzing: crabs, lizards, beetles, bees. But nothing very dangerous.

Thank god this place is so far from everywhere; it's so small it
otherwise surely would have been trashed.

I also joined the crabbing trip today but half the group, myself
included, went litter-picking. And a surprising amount was collected
from large gas bottles and science buoys to plastic bottles, lids, and
light bulbs. One of the kids even found a message in a bottle! All the
debris has washed in from the ocean. All in close vicinity of hundreds
of nesting birds and large fluffy chicks high up in trees.

Who knows what we'll do over the next few days, I can't imagine there's
a risk of boredom. I've even started becoming sociable again. Or,
rather, discovered some really interesting and sympathetic people, and
that it's really 'ok' to spend time with other folk from boats. Upon
first arrival I found the mass of people a bit overwhelming but I have
since been enjoying time with new individuals, learning their stories,
sharing in laughter, probing the point of it all, and life in
general…. just like summer camp.

On one evening we had dinner on another boat. As a special treat they
had chilled some champagne (they were apparently given lots when they
left, and have a fridge as well as the necessary storage space). As the
cork popped an analogy rushed into my head. Champagne bursting out of
the bottle, frothy and happy, somehow related to the spirit of the bay.
The lid of must-sees and shouldn't-dos has been released. No more the
struggle of a language barrier, no more the sense that we should meet
locals and not cruisers, and embarrassment of other (to my judgmental
mind culturally-insensitive) cruisers, no more the fear of
misunderstandings or cultural faux-pas', no more the foreigner. Like it
or lump it, one beauty of an uninhabited island (aside from temporary
visitors) is a freedom to be ones-self, and a necessity to accept others
for exactly who they are.

The two wardens are paid specifically to cater to the yachting
community. And they're having a great time. They're eating well,
laughing lots, making new friends, showing us around the island, and
being incredible hosts. They are both warm, friendly, and great
conversationalists (and conservationists). They strike a healthy balance
between engaging us in work (re-building the pier, collecting rubbish,
building a shower or stove for their base), and teaching us new skills
(husking coconuts, catching crabs, spear-fishing). There is even talk of
going camping next week on one of the outlying atolls, and catching
lobster there at low-tide. They build big bonfires, play guitar, sing
songs, live large. They show us ways of living off the land that their
own families don't even practice any more. They don't seem to resent us
being here, indeed, there's an argument that the place is better looked
after because of its visitors; the main attraction of Suvarow being the
pristine environment.

I have been enjoying one-to-one conversations more than the group
activities. Especially with some of the women and kids. To my delight I
have met two other women here who cook less than their partners, one who
has never made bread, another who was the money earner for the family
for the last fifteen years, and three who are still struggling with the
gender work balance on board and sense of identity-loss. What a blessed
relief. I was developing such a fear of being asked for my favourite
bread recipe or how I organise 'my galley' that I had started avoided
women cruisers altogether.

Last night was especially fun. It was Dave and Rayanne's twelfth
anniversary (yes, it's true, I have come to the most remote place in the
whole frikkin' world and found someone else with almost exactly the same
name as me. But I'm being very grown up about it.) and somehow I
volunteered to baby-sit the kids for a few hours. I rowed over to ask
when they might like to come over for popcorn and a movie and about
thirty seconds later discovered two fearless kids, ages three and six,
sitting in my row-boat demanding an adventure. So we went a-visiting.

First we went to Silver Lining (a French/US family of four) and were fed
tea, juice, and figgy biscuits while the three year-old girl happily
explored all corners of the deck and rails in a way that would raise the
heart-rate of even the most relaxed land-lubbing parents. Then we went
to Liquid Courage (two american men, middle-aged) where I drank a beer
and the kids played with pins and stuffed toys but sadly we had arrived
a bit too early for chocolate cake. Next we rowed all the way across the
bay to Broken Compass (two twenty-something Californian guys, twins) who
have a gorgeous husky on board that was a bit too friendly and resulted
in both kids clambering high on my lap and shoulders and throwing bits
of dried fish at her in order to keep her away. The sun was setting, and
we could see sharks larger than the kids swimming around us, so the next
two visits were a bit shorter. First to a catamaran called Zenitude (an
older Italian couple) where the little girl got to bounce on the
trampoline – gently and for not too long- and then to Tutatis (Brazilian
couple in their forties) who asked us all about our adventures.

"Tell them what you saw this morning", I encouraged the boy (age 6). He
looks at me quizzically.
"I saw a star fish?"
"Well that is cool, but I was kind of thinking of the bigger thing."
"Um- I dove for a fish?"
"Even bigger"
"The whales?"
Yes. The whales. That morning they had seen two whales leaping and
slapping their tails for several minutes just outside the reef. Every
adult who was there told me it was the coolest thing that they'd seen
yet but for these kids I guess it was just one in a long list of every
day amazements.

The sun was dropping so we had to miss the remaining boats (British,
Danish, French, and American) but were invited to collect Andy and take
the kids for dinner back on Silver Lining where the teenage boys did
most of the babysitting while we drank wine and either laughed at them
or ignored them. Around 9pm we returned to Zephyrus to play with Rocky
the racoon, make the bed (in proof that there really wasn't a bedroom on
board where they could stay), and read them a passage from The Hobbit.
"That's REALLY different from the Bilbo Baggins story we have. In our
book he goes on adventures and meets dragons and everything." Ah, I
guess that would be the condensed version.

We return the kids home happy and sleepy. They had been in my care for
six hours and not a single peep of anxiety, squabble, or a whimper. And
I had never played with them before.

So. We are enjoying this bubble, eating well, making friends, learning
new skills, doing odd-jobs, discovering underwater treasures, and
generally being happy. A holiday within a holiday. Or a holiday within
an adventure.

4am Shift

[Aug 22] I feel a tremendous surge of optimism right now, like life is
beginning again and the future is a whole spectrum full of opportunity.
I feel young, energised, and excited.

What a brilliant night, complete with monsoonal rains, strong squalls,
bright stars, an almost full moon, and magical airs.

The booby died this evening, on deck. Were the surrounding storms a
response to his dying, or his death a response to the storms?

On my first shift the winds became so slight that our large genoa
flapped and flopped, seeking some consistent force of air. But behind us
I could see a heavy black ridge approaching, dark line in the sky. And
behind that: grey blank.

I watched the clouds progress upon us, in both awe and trepidation.
Perhaps it'll blow through and be nothing, my imagination over-zealous.
Steadily it gained on us, taking no hostages.

I call to Andy, are you still awake? He's not. I go inside, nudge him,
ask a little louder. Conditions are still eerily calm outside. And he's
definitely not awake. I think- I can do this on my own, it's nothing on
previous weather we've experienced. But we do still have the genoa up.
Now, right now, would be the time to take it down and change for a
smaller sail. Before the squall hits. But I can't do that on my own, or
won't, especially not at night-time.

I decide to wait, see it through. The ocean is relatively flat and wind
alone, I keep reminding myself, can't knock us over. Or not for long.

The black line is almost upon us. Directly above I still see stars and
puffy clouds. But that picture stops abruptly with what looks like an
enormous, expansive, manta ray flying above. Silent elegant gliding
motion with no apparrent propulsion. Or so it seems.

The manta is now directly overhead and still conditions are okay. The
wind speed has picked up a little, maybe a few spots of rain. But I am
wide awake with adrenalin racing through me.

I don't want to do this alone.
I do want to do this alone.
I don't want to do this alone.

Before I even know what I've done, I've called his name, loudly, twice.
But when he wakes and orientates himself I pretend he woke himself. "No,
no, nothing to worry about, there's just another system coming through
and I think it's about to pick up. Yeah, I'm fine, no need to get up
[subtext: but please stay awake, or wakeable]".

Slowly he rouses, stretches, pokes his head out of the hatch: nothing
too alarming going on yet. And then the rains start and the winds howl.
He's inside, hatches battened [I have him just where I want him], and
I'm outside, wet wet wet. We go through it together. I'm very glad he's
awake.

It takes about twenty minutes for the manta's front edge to be
definitely ahead of us. I can still see stars to my left, weirdly, but
we are definitely remaining under the manta's long cloak. There are no
signs of it ending.

Somewhat reluctantly Andy comes outside to change the sail. The rains
have temporarily eased and winds are once again manageable, but we can
see only grey clag to the horizon. The wind direction has shifted and at
a minimum we need to put the sail on the other side, which involves
first repositioning the pole. And if we're going to do all that it's
prudent to consider changing the sail at the same time.

But before all else, the bird. He's made himself quite at home on the
foredeck where there's about to be a lot of action. If he isn't first
hit by a dropping sail then he'll be knocked by a long pole or
accidentally tripped over and kicked.

He attacks when Andy encourages him to move. Boat hook action required,
and eventually he is nudged to a place of safety. Still he doesn't fly
away.

The genoa is dropped and removed, pole repositioned, jib hanked on, new
sail raised…. and the manta finally passes by. Stars reappear once
again and we crawl along at three knots.

Andy's now been with me for an hour and his watch would be about to
start. Anyway, he's wide awake and boiling hot from running around on
deck so he chooses to stay up. As I prepare to rest I see him through
the window talking to the bird, gently reaching out to touch it. No sign
of attack. Not long after I hear a gentle plop as the bird is reunited
with the sea.

It is sad.

Silence.

And slow, slow, progress.

I know Andy is considering the genoa again. Wisely, he decides to first
have a cup of tea. Thank god for British rituals. The kettle boils, I
make tea, we watch the stars and feel the boat lolling nowhere. He's
watching the speed on the GPS. I'm guessing the wager he's made: if it
doesn't reach five knots by the end of this cup, I'm changing the sail.

Slurp. Sip. Silence.

A puff. Or two. Four knots, four and a half. Three point two.

A stronger puff. A five! A five point five. A four point five. And the
tea is finished. The smaller sail stays.

Thank god for tea. An hour later a huge squall has come through and Andy
is soaked from head to toe, hand-steering the boat because the wind
direction keeps shifting, his feet ankle deep in rainwater in the cockpit.

From inside I hear the sail being pulled across to the starboard side
again, with no pole, and the wind on our side. We're screaming along.

I get up- are you okay? Can I help? I'm not sure, he says (unusually).
So I keep him company. In fact, I do nothing practical and say little,
but I stay present. The same as I wanted from him earlier. There is
comfort in companionship, and knowledge that we could act quickly if
required.

It wasn't required. After about fifteen minutes the worst passed and I
lie down again, leaving him to his shift. He wakes me at 3am, there's
been a momentary lull so he'll have some rest (and my shift is due to
start now anyway). He's been hand-steering all this time.

I take over. Ten minutes in, another squall. Rain, wind, crazy
directions, steer downwind, keep the boat with the wind, wearing a full
foul-weather jacket but still feeling wet.

It's great. I whoop. "You okay?" he calls. "Just great" I holler. It's
only wind, the sea is still quite flat, and wind can't knock me over.
Let's ride this baby! West, north-west, whoa, why's the wind over there
now? South-west, south. Full South and the wind's behind me, then it
comes back from the east and we're going west again. Long ago I learnt
to make that arrow work for me. It still points counterintuitively, to
my mind, so I just head for the tail.

I recall that first storm off the coast of Chile, a crash course in
steering downwind. We had no sails up, three looped 100m ropes (warps)
dragging behind, and still were making nine and ten knots surfing down
waves.

By comparison, this is child's play. I'm not scared, I'm even enjoying
myself. Bring on the clutch control, jump on that free-wheeling bicycle,
fly with the wind.

It's over before I'm exhausted, I still feel adrenalin pulsing through
me. By 4am we have remarkably pleasant conditions again. By 4.30 the
boat is steering herself, perfectly, bang on course. It's now 5.30 and I
see stars in all directions. I have been writing for a fair while and
not touched a thing.

The night made me alert. Arm hairs stand on end, eyes are wide open,
head clear and awake. Somewhere between adrenalin rushing through my
veins and the wind settling down I start daydreaming, vividly.

This is one of my favourite activities. I am fully alert, watching the
sky, the GPS, the sail, the compass, feeling the wind and the chill in
the air. My attention is not immediately needed for the present but it
could be any minute so reading a book or listening to a podcast are out
of the question. And anyway, they don't tally with my current state of
chemical composition.

I dream of futures, and presents, and sometimes the past. I talk with my
son as he leaves home to explore the world, and find that I am crying. I
spend years exploring the oceans and its people with Andy, on a small
boat. We make documentaries. I write stories. (Why? In search of
purpose? Justification? Or a genuine desire to share these wonders?) He
learns ancient survival skills and I learn to read the clouds and
constellations. Next I am deeply engrossed in my work again, always
climate change related. People and climate, influencing each other. I
discover that whenever my fantasy work takes over, as it has also in the
past, I lose my sense of today. I lose the magic of now. I have kids
again. This time they don't go to school, but learn from toads and
oceans. Clearly I've been influenced by an essay I read earlier today:
Small Silences by Edward Hoagland (Harper's Magazine July 2004, Best
American Science Writing 2005). My mind continues to leap and spiral,
and I feel effused with potential and joy, … glee? Hoagland writes,

"Some people scarcely know what to do with their bonus time – doubled
life spans plus round-the-clock availability of artificial light-
because nature doesn't deal in bonuses. The sun rises and sets when it
did a million years ago, with daylight altering by immemorial increments
as the planet rolls. It doesn't award you an extra hour if you have a
deadline. Can you make it? nature asks instead, if it says anything at
all. But secondly, and curiously, I think, it speaks in terms of glee.
Glee is like the froth on beer or cocoa. Not especially necessary or
Darwinian, it's not the carrot that balances the stick, because quieter
forms of contentment exist to reward efficiency. Glee is effervescence.
It's bubbles in the water – beyond efficiency- which your thirst doesn't
actually need.

Bubbles are physics, not biology, and glee, if the analogy is to carry
far, may be an artesian force more primordial than evolutionary. To me,
it's not a marker for genetic advantages such as earning more, but an
indicator that life – the thread of Creation, the relic current that has
lasted all this way- is ebullient."

Gentle Passage

"Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days
that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to;
while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may
make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway. They stayed long in
that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to
leave. Bilbo would have gladly stopped there for ever and ever- even
supposing a wish would have taken him right back to his hobbit-hole
without trouble. Yet there is little to tell about their stay.

..His house was perfect, whether you liked food, or sleep, or work, or
story-telling, or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a
pleasant mixture of them all. Evil things did not come into that valley."

– The Hobbit, upon visiting the Last Homely House in the fair elvish
valley of Rivendell, where Elrond lives.

And so it is with me. Such a lovely journey, and so little to say. But
considering the pages I have spent on all things less good thus far, it
seems only right and proper to give the good times some paragraphs too.

Should I write of the soft warm air, and the sparkling glistening ocean,
endless blue with silver stars on every crest? Or the gentle motion of
the boat (when the sails are set right…) carrying us silently on
course at about five knots? The light blue sky scattered with
non-threatening puffs of white clouds, miles away, surely deserves a
mention as it this that sets the heart and mind at ease. Not only are
conditions good now, but a scout in all directions suggests they'll
stay. Unlike last night when heavy, ominous, fronts of black passed
across us followed by winds, waves, and rain that made the boat quite
hard to handle. But today is once again good. So good.

The boat, of course, still rolls and rocks so the schedule remains
gentle and careful. Daytime naps and book-reading interrupted by easily
digested food, a radio sched, and random chat. The movement carries us
up and down, side to side, forwards backwards. When exacerbated nausea
is avoided by enjoying the horizon and ignoring signals from the inner ear.

Our Canadian flag flaps, the wind vane flicks, the water purrs around
us, and the sun's heat encompasses us. This is the Pacific, and the
trade winds, of lore, and I relish every day that it lasts.

A booby lands on our boat (that's a sea bird).

He's looking right at me now. Long white, sharp, beak. Friendly eyes.
Where are his ears hidden in that soft down on his head? I'm so close I
can make out corrugations along his beak, for grabbing fish?, and what
look like nostrils just above.

His down is so soft I want to stroke him. Small brown feathers cover his
back, wings, and neck, and his belly is white. Now he hides his head
completely inside his back, under a wing, and rests.

First he landed on the edge of the solar panels but had comical ability
hanging on, sliding from side to side until he eventually slipped right
off – plop- onto our brown canvas sunshade. The same colour as him. As
birds go, he's reasonably large, like a big duck or a small goose, and
weighty, and was peculiarly ungainly on that loose cloth. He rolled
around there for a while, flattening himself (or herself?) against the
ever moving material but it was clearly not conducive to rest.

Briefly, and foolishly, a perch was next found on the flat face of the
solar panels. Here he had no grip at all and literally sloped right off
the side. I thought he'd have had enough at that point but he stayed
where he landed, on the deck, right next to a window. Which is why I am
now so close I can see individual wing feathers. He's fast asleep.

We're about 125 miles from Suvarow, the closest land that I know of
around here, so maybe this is a lucky pause for him, a chance to
re-energise out on the wide open sea.

Andy has dozed off in the cockpit. He wakes, stretches, and checks out
how our visitor is doing. Almost in synch, the bird raises his head,
shakes his feathers, and also stretches. He walks up to the front of the
boat, checks out the scenery, and settles down again for another sleep.
Do seabirds like he sleep on the wing? Or on the sea? They must do. And
where has he come from? We're going downwind, surely the easiest way to
fly, are we un-doing all his hard work getting here? No, I tell Andy,
I'm sure birds have some kind of inner sense of direction, inner
magnetism. But we're a ferro-cement boat, he retorts, we're screwing
with his homing device. O no. Before, I wanted to know more about fish.
Now I want to know more about birds. Must take more reference books on
the next trip.

[Next trip?!]

The kettle is slowly coming to the boil, even that is slow today. It's a
baking hot day but true to our heritage we still love an afternoon
cuppa. As I said, the days are good. We expect to arrive in Suvarow
sometime tomorrow. No hurry.

Breaking News: Invasion in Tupperware Zone

Great advances have been made in the War on Noise aboard Zephyrus in
recent weeks. This can mostly be attributed to the total invasion, and
subsequent evacuation, of the corner cupboard in the galley, previously
better known as the Cupboard of Plastic Doom.

This last stronghold of anarchy has always been home to unwanteds and
undesirables, indeed its cavernous nature and difficult access
specifically attracted such retrobates. Before long, the governing
parties nominally in charge of this no-go zone rebranded it 'Tupperware
Cupboard' in the vague hope that this might instil a sense of order and
pride amongst residents. All who lived within, however, could see the
facade, further acknowledged by the fact that said Governors never dared
visit the region beyond a cursory look through the access door (that
sits high above all the residents even in the rockiest of seas), always
accompanied by a look of resignation and defeat.

Inside The Void, as it is known to locals, plastic tubs of all sizes
rolled and slid amongst glass jars (some with ancestry amongst purveyors
of fine jams no less), numerous thermos flasks (each with a single
defect), mixing bowls of various materials and sizes, rusting sieves, a
set of four multi-coloured plastic espresso cups, with saucers, and a
wide array of lids who lost their pots many moons ago.

To add insult to injury, The Void is the last remaining 'indoor' space
that oceanic salt water can still access. The Governors were well aware
of the situation but only ever took cosmetic action: the corners into
the cockpit have been re-sealed three times since the boat's refit but
only ever from the outside, testament indeed to the Governors dismissal
and fear of entering The Void itself. The entry of seawater was also the
reason why this region was designated fit only for plastic unwanteds in
the first place: all items of greater value to the Governors being
given, of course, homes in the dry. The resultant sticky salt layer that
coats all Void residents is the reason for their derogatory nickname,
'The Crusties'.

Something must have changed amongst the Governance as, one fateful day
in late July, a full call to order and inspection was implemented,
without prior notice. All inhabitants were force-marched out of their
homes, scrubbed with fresh water, and lined up in a parade. Those
parties deemed 'space-wasters and noise-makers' were broken, donated, or
sent to a Polynesian landfill site. All glass jars fit this description
barring those deemed useful as future paint pots. These were instantly
re-labelled and re-housed amongst the hardware department, a department
already so over-crowded that there is zero possibility of any objects
rolling around or clinking as the boat rocks and lollops. Lids without
bases, however, had no such possibility for re-branding and survival.

Unbeknownst to the Crusties, a similar scrub-out had occurred the day
before in 'Herb and Spice Land', just upstairs from Plastic Doom but
much more accessible to any chef. Due to its accessibility and pride of
place, popular celebrities were often found in this area despite their
official home being in the bilge or under a bed. The Governors pretended
to scold them but a particular blind eye was turned to night snack
celebrities such as honey, marmite, and peanut butter. However, their
illegitimate presence in what was a designated 'dry zone' rapidly led to
a particularly unpleasant and tenacious mixture of salt, honey,
linseeds, and dried active yeast coating several surfaces and vessels
within this space. Once discovered, the Governors decided to introduce a
New Order in the region and immediately passed the Munchies Bill that
allowed special priveleges to 'sweet delights' on the grounds that
'opening the bilge during nightshift disturbs sleeping patterns and is
dangerous'.

Outrage by less popular items still relegated to the bilge (soy sauce,
pickles, mustard, and pesto to name a few), chiefly led by Nutella,
mango jam, and Vegemite who assumed they would be nightshift desirables,
resulted in the term 'sweet delights' being changed to 'items essential
to nightshift contentment', thus allowing for inclusion of marmite, Ritz
crackers, and the changing whims of the Governance. The Bill was
immediately passed by Health and Safety, with no questions asked, and
remains in force today.

The combined effect of Herb and Spice Zone being cleansed, and the
passing of the [amended] Munchies Bill, led to creation of specific new
homes for all night-shift celebrities who had previously only had
squatters rights in this region. Power took to their heads and they
demanded not only legitimate homes in this area, but the prime
positions, subsequently rehousing previous favourites such as fruit
teas, a box of wasabi, and a huge tin of Argentine 'mate' tea that, the
Governors had to admit, were rarely accessed these days. That Order had
been created in the days when Voyaging was but a theory, and items
naively stowed according to a system of food-type (teas, herbs, spices,
condiments…) rather than food popularity. The new system would make
little sense to an outside observer (peanut butter next to ginger paste
and vanilla essence) but is somewhat intuitive to its primary users.

The reorganisation of Herb and Spice Land gave the Governors, especially
she in charge of the action, a disproportionate sense of achievement and
satisfaction. But there was one remaining discomfort: the actions
occurred in the tranquility and stability of a calm bay. So thorough had
the evacuations been that this area was now comfortably uncluttered,
tidy even, as one might hope for a cupboard on land. A boat moves,
however, and it was clear that just one day sailing would instantly send
all the newly arranged articles soaring first to one end of the
cupboard, and then the other.

Which was when, coincidentally, the Crusties were invaded, washed, and
marched to parole.

Rather than return the select few deemed 'keepers' to their cavernous
hole, all Crusties were relocated, much to their dismay. Thermos flasks,
metal bowls, and a steel coffee pot were sent to the engine-side of Herb
and Spice Land, which regularly overheated and melted any foodstuffs in
this region. They were primarily chosen as space holders rather than
objects of desire but enjoy their new promotion and warmth greatly. All
remaining plastic items have been squeezed into other holes (mostly
between the spirit bottles), where there is less potential for creating
clatter.

Today the only remaining official inhabitant of the former Cupboard of
Plastic Doom is one large plastic mixing bowl that fits nowhere else,
has a rubberised base, and sits on a no-slip mat. Already new retrobates
have started arriving, however, such as a plastic jar that used to
contain nuts, and a large sieve. They all understand that they can stay
indefinitely, as long as they remain quiet, and all enjoy the solitude
and expansiveness not available anywhere else on the boat.

And at night? The boat is quiet. No more the sound of plastic and glass
flying around and clanging into each other. No more the swooshing from
side to side of collective objects moving as one across a painted wooden
floor. At night, on their off-watch, the Governors sleep, undisturbed by
the sounds of entropy from within and beyond. The only interruptions to
their rest now are due to the start of crazy multi-coloured dreams, but
that's another story….