OCEANIA AND BILL CORLEY
Many armchair adventurers and sailors dream of heading to the high seas to get away from it all and to live a fulfilling life sailing the South Seas. One person who lived this dream was Bill Corley who recorded his experiences and adventures in his most fascinating and exciting book PARADISE IS FULL OF BUGS. Some memorable extracts from this enthralling book are reproduced below.
PARADISE IS FULL OF BUGS
Before satellite navigation and fiberglass boat construction, the vast stretches of the Pacific saw very few small boat sailors. for fifty years after the great age of sail and when whalers ceased to roam the oceans, only an occasional wooden sailing vessel would venture into the South Seas. Island cultures were more or less undisturbed. To make the Pacific voyage in those days was to truly be on your own with almost no contact with the outside world. It was for loners and people who loved solitude and the simple, no-frills, existence of life at sea.
When "Evening Star" set sail on the odyssey described in this book, her skipper didn't realize that he was experiencing the end of an era. Within a few ye4ars, the age of fiberglass boats and electronic navigation would allow hundreds of small boats to venture onto the oceans of the world. The old, timeless skills of celestial navigation, marlinspike seamanship and the maintenance problems of wooden sailing vessels would no longer be a prerequisite for offshore sailing. Modern technology would provide many gadgets and devices to circumvent older, hard learned skills. Long-range communications now keep the small boat sailor in constant touch with the outside world and provide a means of chatting with others on a daily basis at sea for information and companionship. This eliminates the fear of facing the sea and elements totally alone.
Change is inevitable. Quiet anchorages are now filled with a new breed of sailor who has taken all the modern activity in the island ports seems to be a social thing, I believe that loners who sailed the Pacific for so many years are now a dying breed and, I confess, I was one of them.
The rain drives in horizontally from the starboard quarter hurled by the freshening northeast tradewinds of the Western Pacific. It sets up one hell of a noise as it pelts the oilskins of the lone figure hunched over the wheel. The ship runs free but needs a little help. It has been a night of squalls and shifting wind conditions. and the man is tired from adjusting sails and altering the steering vane frequently. Between trips to the deck he was slipped below and crawled into the charthouse bunk for catnaps until some slight change in the wind or noise from the rigging brings him instantly awake again.
It is almost over. The first light of the approaching dawn will be along soon. He thinks of the sleeping girls, one in the leeward bunk of the main cabin and the other up forward. It makes him feel good knowing they are deep into comfortable night's rest and he hasn't had to disturb them. This has been the custom for many month's of sailing. They stay awake during the early hours of the evening while he gets some sleep after dinner. Then he, along with the wind steering vane, takes it the rest of the night. Most of the time, this is a good arrangement. Only on nights such as this is it a bit exhausting with little chance for rest.
He is weary when the vane, now adjusted for an acceptable course, engages the wheel and seems to accept control again. The rain stings his face as he straightens up and squints hard to take a look across the foredeck into the black wet night. Visibility is zero and he sees nothing. His glance is automatically to starboard because that is where the bit high island of Ponape should be somewhere in the darkness ahead. He must be heading for a point south of the island because the frequent changes of course have all been southerly through the night. Had he not been so tired he might also have remembered there was a strong north flowing current to be encountered as the ship approaches the island. For now, he contents himself that there will be plenty of time to get a position in the morning and hopefully, find a good anchorage before another nightfall. It has been only four days since leaving the island of Kusaie, but in this weather that's quite enough.
With a final glance at the compass and the bit squaresail set and drawing, he steps quickly through the hatch and into the warmth of the chartroom. A puddle of water forms around his bare feet as he slips out of the rain gear and shoves it under the ladder. For a moment he thinks of waking Susie for a watch and going to bed himself, but the thought of disturbing h her from a sound warm sleep on a night like this always bothers him. He is still a father first and the skipper second. What the hell - hang on for a while longer, until daybreak anyway. In the meantime, maybe a cup of hot tea will revive him. --- The ship's clock chimes the half hour. It is o430 in the morning.
The rush of fast water and unusual motion of the boat brings him instantly awake and on his feet. With a sick dread in the pit, of his stomach, he knows even before he reaches the hatch, the vessel is on a reef. He charges onto the deck and grabs the mizzen halyard for support as the boat grinds to a halt, careens slightly and settles into a fifteen degree list to port.
The dream of adventuring in a small sailing ship was nurtured many years ago, but the first positive step came in the late sixties. The recall is clear. I stepped out of a rented car and headed for a sleek little aircraft on the transient flightline.
Bonanza 9827 Romeo -- This is Boeing Tower. You are cleared for takeoff. Instinctively, I eased the plane out onto the center of the runway and applied full power.
It was September 23, 1969, and I felt buoyed and elated as the plane lifted easily into the Seattle morning air and started its climb southward to 10,000 feet. The scenery in this area is breathtaking on those rare days when the sun finds its way through the overcast and I drank it in. At 10,500 feet I levelled off and did my work. Throttle back to 2300 RPM. Manifold pressure back to 23 inches. Lean the mixture a tad more and trim for level flight. With the nose down just a hair, she roared southward. What a great feeling. Three thousand hours of that kind of travel and I still enjoyed the sensation of flying an airplane. It was time to set the radio frequency to the first of a string of beacon stations that would guide me in steps to California but, somehow, that would have ruined the feeling. I banked the plane slowly to the right and headed southwest for the Oregon coast.
A sense of freedom engulfed me as I thought about the far reaching effects of the simple decision I had made and expressed to my business associates only hours before. Why does a man decide to give up the comfort, security, prestige and monetary rewards of the corporate existence to pursue a simpler life? I was not sure I knew. At 40 years of age, I was deeply entrenched in the corporate structure of a progressive company and already well up the income ladder. The challenging responsibilities and earnings from being at the top of my profession were just ah3ead. What then was this thing pulling me away from what most men were reaching for, and hoping for, with every fibre of their being? Maybe my sense of values was distorted. All I knew was that I had always followed my instincts and at this moment they told me I had just paved the way for a much more meaningful existence.
The early winter sun was beginning to move lower across the sky in these higher latitudes and it felt warm as it pouted through the Plexiglas in front of me. For an instant, the coffee steamed the side window as I poured half a cup.
If I was to make this dream of sailing the oceans of the world a reality, I would need a ship, money and plan. At the moment I had only one of the three: a thirteen ton sailing ketch tied up in Oxnard, California. With it, was my wife and a mortgage. The woman was an asset. Good companion, good sailor and willing to share adventures. The mortgage was the symbol of my financial situation. Definitely a liability. Then, there was the responsibility of being a father. My oldest daughter was almost ready to enter college, my fourteen year old son was having teenage problems and was reluctant to stay in junior high school, and a little girl of eight would need all the love and help she could get while growing up. Obviously, adventuring for me would have to wait for a while, but the decision had been irrevocably made.
The magnitude of all these obstacles was too much for my impractical mind at the moment and, lest they dampen my ignorant reverie, I turned my attention to the incoming tide race as it forced its way against the current of the mighty Columbia river. Off to my right the Pacific stretched on to an endless unbroken horizon. I could already feel the beautiful loneliness of the Oregon coast and I gave in to the urge to be closer to it. A slight pressure on the wheel and the plane dropped lower. The airspeed climbed toward a thin red line on the instrument panel and I throttled back and descended to 5500 feet.
How many years had it been since I first started thinking about sailing the oceans of the world in a small boat? I guess it went all the way back to 1949 when I was flying the Pacific as a radio operator aboard Navy transport planes. During my two and a half years in the Pacific I acquired a taste for warm weather and salt water and it had never left me. After my tour in the Navy, the long road toward financial stability, and hopefully independence, was begun. It seemed a pretty slow road for a young man without a college education and not the slightest notion of where to begin. To accomplish something financially was one of my first major goals and I viewed it as not only the road to adventure but an adventure in itself.
In the beginning, it seemed like an impossible task as I tried to support a young family on $70.00 a week while always holding down two jobs or going to school at night. I had faith in the system though, and complete faith in myself, so I continued to work and to dream. It was challenging and enjoyable. An early decision was to leave my native Texas environment and move to the west coast to be close to the ocean and boats. I moved to Newport Beach, California and soon had employment in a shipyard. Those were exciting days, sitting on the docks during lunch break and watching the fish and clear water with seagoing activity all around. I was in my element.
Secondary jobs included everything. I fry-cooked in a drive-in restaurant. I was a janitor and cleaned two Bank of America buildings each night. I cleaned charter-fishing boats and had many other odd jobs. Primary jobs changed from the shipyard to a selling job in San Francisco, servicing radar at an aircraft plant in the desert, sales manager for a wholesale electronics firm in Santa Ana and, finally, a business for myself in a television and appliance store back in Newport Beach. By this time, I was thirty years old and had purchased my first sailing boat, a twenty0four foot heavy0displacement cruising sloop. She wasn't much of a boat, but I sailed her frequently in all kinds of weather. I had also managed to accumulate almost three years of college credits by going to school at night. The next step was to find a progressive, young company that was growing and might provide a vehicle to greater earnings. I found just that in a mortgage insurance company and joined their field sales organization in 1959.
I didn't care much for selling insurance but I was excited about the company, its people and its growth possibilities. That was enough for me and I rose through the ranks and a succession of management jobs. It was at this point in my career that I told my friend and boss, as well as a new company president, that I intended to go to sea as soon as possible instead of pursuing the American dream any further. Even though I had been successful to a certain degree, I was determined not to become entrapped in the system to the point where dreams of adventurous undertakings were out of the question. It was one of the easiest decisions of my life and, at the same time, one of the toughest.
The lights of Santa Barbara began to appear as I glided across the sharp mountain range behind the city at dusk. The smoky outline of Santa Cruz Island lying thirty miles off the coast seemed peaceful and inviting in the last light of the already downed sun. The past became the present as I eased back on the throttle and lowered the nose for the final descent to home. At a thousand feet over the wide sand beach five miles north of Oxnard Harbor, I leveled off and allowed the airspeed of over 200 miles an hour to drop as I lined up for the cluster of boats lying quietly at their berths. I roared over the marina at 200 feet and flashed the landing lights at a familiar little ship among the nesting boats. Then a climbing turn, and it was almost done.
Ventura County tower -- This is Bonanza 9827 Romeo -- I'm over the power plant for landing. -- A short interval and I was not alone anymore as the radio came alive. -- Bonanza 9827 Romeo -- This is Ventura County tower. You are cleared to land runway 26. The wind is calm. The altimeter is Two Niner Eight Five. -- Report right downwind. -- Is Ventura County your final destination? -- Over.
I was tempted to tell him-- It's only the beginning.
This lifelong sailing dream of mine would probably have been made with or without a soulmate, but with the one I had, it was made successfully and with the greatest enjoyment.
Jeanne was a special person.
We met in Phoenix at a party given for the apartment complex we both lived in. When introduced, I was immediately attracted not only to the beautiful young girl of twenty eight, but to a warm, outgoing personality that was a magnet to anyone she met. We started dating and, of course, she learned of my dream to sail the oceans of the world. On the surface, it seemed she was an unlikely candidate to share in such a dream.
She was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas of a fairly well to do family, and had led a typical sheltered and easy life. Considering the adventures she eventually shared with me, it seems funny that she could not even own a bicycle as a child because her parents thought it too dangerous to be riding the streets of the neighborhood. She was married briefly to the son of the Mayor. After the divorce, she moved to Phoenix to be on her own and start a new life. When we met she had a job as a service representative with the telephone company and was making her own way.
I was the Arizona sales manager for my insurance company and just beginning to move up in management and income. We were both young, restless and eager to experience new things. I had all the tools to accomplish that desire. I flew a small private plane in pursuit of my business around the state and had recently replaced my first boat with a beautiful little Tahiti Ketch called "El Viento." The boat was berthed in San Diego and I flew over to sail her almost every weekend. Jeanne was soon accompanying me on these excursions and proved to be an able and enthusiastic sailor.
This idyllic existence was interrupted some months later when I was given a new and more important job of troubleshooting in other areas of the country. My first assignment took me to Kansas City and I was away a lot for a while. Sometime later, I was sent on another mission to Milwaukee which looked like it might be a long assignment. I missed Jeanne terribly and knew there was only one way to solve this problem. I was divorced with three children and was, frankly, scared of the thought of marriage, but threw caution to the wind and proposed. She accepted and we went before a judge in Phoenix on September 1, 1966.
Jeanne quit her job, and our life became one of constant travel the next several years. Together we established operations for the company all over the United States from Minnesota to Florida to Texas. She took care of me while I interviewed and trained people at every post I was sent to. What could have been a very tiring job became a real pleasure as we traveled the country and worked. We were constant companions in everything. It was not all work. We took side trips to the Bahama Islands when we were in that area, and dove off the reefs in the Florida Keys. As we passed through Texas on our trips we would stop for visits with either her parents in San Antonio, or mine in Dallas. I think her folks finally accepted me, adventurous spirit and all, and knew I made her happy. I thought Jeanne was the ultimate in womanhood, and I realized they were right.
All the work was a means to an end for us. She now shared my dream of adventuring in small boats and we made plans to do it when were financially able. When we were not traveling, every minute was spent aboard "El Viento" off the California coast and we sailed the boat and explored the Channel Islands. We loved the quiet anchorages and wildlife, and it was good preparation for the big adventure we were planning. Jeanne was an excellent cook and was very capable as first mate aboard the boat. Because of the nature of my job our home base moved from San Diego to the Channel Islands Marina in Oxnard, then to Berkeley, and finally to Seattle. While in Oxnard, we rented a beautiful little apartment overlooking our berth but, after awhile, it was obvious we spent very little time there. When we were home from a work trip, we climbed aboard the boat and headed for the islands. It was then that we finally broke the ties of land and moved permanently aboard our little vessel.
El Viento was a beautifully built Tahiti Ketch which I had now owned for eight years. Her design had taken many people around the world in the past and we loved just being aboard. She was only thirty-one feet long with a ten-foot beam, but Jeanne made her a pleasant home. While all of our peers and contemporaries were building and living in beautiful shoreside homes, we were quite content with our lives and envied none of them. Once we moved aboard, we never looked back. It was the first step toward our planned adventure and we were happy as clams. Everyone we knew could never understand how any woman could live in such cramped quarters and like it. They were in awe of her and of my good fortune in having such a mate. I don't know of anyone who didn't enjoy an evening aboard with the warmth and good food that Jeanne served in abundance on both counts. We laughed at their skepticism of our lifestyle and actually felt sorry for them that they could not know the pleasures we had.
It was to be over three more years before the first voyage of our planned adventure began, but they were productive ones and provided us with a larger vessel and the financial base I needed. Once I had a plan firmly in mind I called Grant and requested a meeting. He was my boss and trusted friend of many years. It was through his guidance that I had grown in the business and in the company. We met for lunch in the Washington Plaza Hotel in Seattle and I knew he was wondering what this meeting was all about. When our order was taken and the waitress moved away, I stated my mission forthrightly.
"I want the job of National Director of Sales. I've thought a great deal about it and I believe the company needs my services here in Seattle. It goes without saying, I know I can do a good job for you."
I knew I had been considered for this job for some time although it had never been offered or even mentioned directly. The problem, of course, was my stated decision to leave at some time in the near future. After only a brief pause, Grant responded.
"This is one of the better days of my life if you're serious, Bill, but what about your plans to sail the Pacific?"
"To be honest with you, those plans haven't changed, but I am not financially able to make the break yet. In the meantime, the company has been a no-growth situation for five years and a new office building is already in the planning stage. I know we have also expended a bundle of capitol for the new computer system in anticipation of growth. Frankly, I am somewhat concerned about the future of the company. There are too many good people, many of them hired and trained by me, who have worked hard to build a future for themselves and I don't want anything to diminish that possibility. Because of my work in the field, there isn't anyone who knows the problems of the field organization better than I do. I honestly believe I can do something about getting us back into a growth posture again and I am willing to commit enough time to get the job done."
I anticipated his next question. "What kind of time frame are you thinking about, Bill."
"Frankly, I'm thinking in terms of three years."
That afternoon after a brief conference with the President and Chairman of the Board, I was given the job of National Director of Sales and agreed to move immediately to Seattle to begin my new task. Within a week Jeanne and I sailed "El Viento" from California for a new anchorage on Puget Sound and one of the greatest business challenges of my life.
We arrived in Puget Sound at the end of the season. Fall soon turned into winter and we had a berth in the little town of Kingston on the Olympic Peninsula. The boat harbor was adjacent to the Kingston Ferry dock and I commuted to work on it. There was snow on the docks some mornings and I left a single pair of tracks as I walked to catch the early morning ferry to work. I enjoyed the ride across the sound to Edmonds each day and usually had breakfast from the snack bar on the way. Steam heat fogged the windows of the little ship and a walk outside on the decks was a great bracer to start the day. Seattle is a real marine town and the sights and sounds along with the smell of salt air quickens the pulse of any sailor. I was no exception.
The second year of our stay in Washington, my financial situation improved and I was shopping around for a larger vessel. On a visit to fee family in Northern California at Christmas, I found what I was looking for. An ad in a sailing magazine caught my attention and I flew to Newport Beach to check out a forty-two foot boat called "Evening Star."
She was a ruggedly-built wooden ketch, designed by Hugh Angleman and built by Willard Boat Works in Cost Mesa. Her beam was fourteen feet. She carried 350 gallons of diesel fuel, 200 gallons of water, and fully-loaded, displaced about twenty-five tons. She was a very strongly built little ship, of mahogany and oak, and my first impression of her was solid muscle, exactly what I wanted.
The accommodations below decks were spacious and broken up into three cabins. The chartroom, aft, was raised enough to have a full view of the decks, and with a comfortable table and dinette, provided a perfect place to take our meals as well as watch the world go by. An opening between the chartroom and galley made it easy to pass food through as well as provide a pleasant contact with the cook while she prepared the evening meals.
The galley was as complete and spacious as a small apartment kitchen and had all the conveniences: propane gas stove and oven, p0ressure water system, refrigeration and plenty of work space. Before leaving for the Pacific, I would eliminate the refrigeration and install manual hand pumps for both fresh and salt water. At sea, refrigeration takes a lot of electrical power to keep running, and after a few days there is no more fresh food to keep cold anyway. With manual pumps and not much need for electricity, we could sail for weeks without having to run the engine.
The main salon was also the master stateroom. It had a full-size double berth and another table and dinette area opposite with plenty of storage space and bookshelves all around. At the head of this spacious cabin and built into a bulkhead was a beautiful little wood burning fireplace. Forward of the main cabin was the "head" with a great full-sized shower and past that, the forward cabin with two more berths and a work-table opposite. Forward of this private little cabin was the peak which contained the chain and sail locker. An eighty-five horsepower Perkins diesel engine provided auxiliary power to push us about six knots in smooth sea conditions. I spent a day going through her from stern to stern and made an offer before flying back to Seattle. Within a month she was ours, and I made arrangements to take leave from the company for a few weeks and sail her to Seattle via the Hawaiian Islands.
We sailed in April for Hawaii with my mother and dad, then in their sixties, as crew to help Jeanne and me. Sixteen days out of Newport Beach we raised the island of Maui to complete our first long ocean passage. After a month back in Seattle to catch up on my business activities, I flew back to Hawaii and sailed her on to Seattle. Our crew on that leg of the voyage was Ken Murray, a long time friend. We made the passage to Puget Sound in nineteen days. On this five thousand mile ocean voyage I learned a lot about our vessel, about my capabilities, and most importantly, about the sea itself which was to be our road to adventure and sometimes our adversary in the years to come.
A few months later, El Viento was sold to a professional seaman and we sailed along with her for some miles up Puget Sound as she departed for other waters and unknown adventures. Jeanne and I hated to see her sail over the horizon and out of our lives. She was s special ship and we loved her.
The job with the company took three years. I buried myself in it at the beginning and didn't come up for air for eighteen months. At the end of that time we had completely reorganized a field sales force and changed it from an entrepreneurial-type operation to a corporate-team concept. The result were dramatic and impressive. The first year, we had growth of a modest ten percent. The second year we soared to thirty percent. I was well compensated for my work and given appropriate recognition for my contributions. It was heady, exhilarating and exhausting, and it almost aborted my sailing plans.
The docks were quiet on a blustery March day as I parked as close to "G" dock as possible. I reached into the back seat of my old convertible for a propane bottle and backed out with the awkward load. The twinge in my back was not severe as I put the bottle down and straightened up a moment to relieve it then moved off down the dock toward the boat. I didn't realize it at the moment, but it was the beginning of an ordeal.
The slight nagging pain in my lower back didn't go away during the next few days. Instead, it became worse. I tried every kind of exercise to relieve it but soon it was keeping me from sleeping at night. The pain reached alarming proportions two weeks later when I tried to get my car one morning, so I asked Jeanne to drive to the office. The full realization that something was terribly wrong came when she stopped in front of the office and I tried to get out of the car. The pain was intense and I could not manage it without a real struggle. I simple said, "let's go home." That was the last time I worke4d for six weeks.
I have never been one for patronizing doctors, but things became worse. Finally the decision to see one was made form me by a friend at the office. He was on the Board of Directors of a local hospital and knew a good back specialist there. He arranged for me to see this doctor and, with the help of another friend who had a panel truck, loaded me into the back like a side of beef and drove me to the hospital. I felt defeated. I went in with the only pair of pajamas I owned, a shaving kit, a small disguised bottle of brandy, and a nagging fear that my strength of body was gone. It was truly one of the low points in my life. I felt completely out of control.
After a week of traction which didn't help, I came face to face with the doctor and the inevitable. He didn't try to sell me anything but just laid the facts on the table. I had a ruptured disk in the last vertebrae in my back and it was pinching the sciatic nerve, partially paralyzing my leg. It was something that could be fixed with an operation but with a small disk of permanent damage. I sent Jeanne to the university medical book store for a cop of Grey's Anatomy and then had another session with the doctor. He carefully explained the procedure using the pictures and diagrams in the newest addition to our medical library and I said, "let's do it."
My first sailing date was now only a few months away. I had a lot at stake. The company had been given notice that I would leave at the end of the year and they were already booking for a replacement to be brought aboard, hopefully, six months before I departed. In order to leave by year's end I needed to sail the boat south to California before the northern winter set in. While I was lying incapacitated on my boat prior to entering the hospital, Grant asked me if I didn't want to look at my hole card and reconsider before they reached a hiring decision on a replacement. I said "no."
Half drugged, you lie on a roll-around table in an empty hall outside the operating room and wait your turn. When it comes, they roll you in, make a little small talk, give you an injection that wells up as a strong sensation in your throat, and it's goodbye faces, lights and reality.
The operation was on a Friday night, and by Saturday morning I couldn't move any part of my body without intense pain. It was more frightening than before the operation. I was anxious to try to move and by Sunday, with the help of several nurses to hold everything in place, I was helped out of bed and on my feet. To my great embarrassment, I almost immediately passed out and was put back to bed. That was the low point though, and after that, the strength came back fast. With the aid of a therapist I was on my feet within the next twenty-hours.
On Monday I asked the doctor if I could go home to recuperate rather than stay in the hospital. He said I could leave anytime I was able to walk out under my own power. On Tuesday Morning I took a test run down the hall and made it to the nurse's station and back. I was totally exhausted but called Jeanne and asked her to come and get me as soon as possible. There was a big ebb tide that morning and once it was well underway, I wouldn't be able to make it down the steep dock ramp. That afternoon, four days after the operation, I was sitting on the deck of my boat in sunshine, and the fear of defeat was gone.
The last half of 1973 was a time of national turmoil. The sickening tragedy of Viet Nam and being felt by all, and the Watergate fiasco was constantly in the news. My job with the company was essentially over and I had accomplished what I set out to do three years earlier. My replacement had already been hired and he, naturally, had his own ideas of what the company direction should be from that point on. To more or less get me out of the way, I was allowed to move myself and the boat to Southern California in preparation for the voyage before the northern set in. Although I was officially still in charge, it was a lame-duck situation for me. I was exhausted with the corporate effort and, needless to say, was happy to abdicate in favor of a warmer clime and to get out of the pressure cooker of corporate affairs. My mind was now on the upcoming voyage and the vast reaches of the Pacific.
I had only one nagging fear. Was I strong enough to take "Evening Star" to sea after only a few months out of back surgery? I felt great and ready to find out.
In the late afternoon of August 3, 1973, fully loaded with fuel, water and groceries, "Evening Star" nosed her fat snout into Puget Sound and headed out on the first leg of her trip to Southern California. The captain and crew, consisting of Jeanne, my daughter, Susie, and my mother and dad, were all in high spirits. My parents had flown to Seattle to work as crew on the trip down the coast. It was all sunshine and warm weather as we sailed up the sound headed for Admiralty Inlet and the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. By early evening we were approaching Admiralty Inlet and the winds had raised a strong head-sea making it difficult to make headway under power. We decided it would be easier going in the morning, so we bore off to Port Townsend to spend the night in a pleasant anchorage.
The following morning we had no difficulty powering around the inlet in light fog, but picked up a strong head-win and seas again by noon. It was very uncomfortable for all hands, but especially so for my mother and dad. Consequently, I put into Port Angeles before dinnertime for another quiet anchorage. Over dinner my dad had to tell me that he and Mother didn't feel they were quite up to the trip if it should remain rough and that they had decided to abandon the trip and return home. I was disappointed, of course, but certainly understood as they were both in their late sixties. They left in the morning of the following day, and the rest5 of us decided to wait until evening before resuming our trip in the hope of finding less wind and head-seas during the evening hours. Our assumption was correct, and by midmorning of the following day we were finally at the broad entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and able to lay off the wind enough to raise all sail and shape a course to round Cape Flattery.
After three days of head-winds and rough chop it was a welcome relief to be under sail, but that proved to be short lived. In trying to take another turn or two on the main halyard winch I found the halyard to be jammed in the sheave at the top of the mainmast. This posed a dilemma. I either had to back-track to the quiet water of Neah Bay for repairs or try to get up there and fix it. After the difficult three days we had already experienced trying to get to sea I was in no mood to turn around, so we maneuvered the boat in the long Pacific swells to get the least roll and prepared a bosun's chair to get me up to the problem.
If you've never experienced trying to climb a mast in the open sea, you can't imagine the difficulty involved. It takes a lot of strength to keep from being wrenched from the mast as the boat rolls, so you have to hold on while trying to work at the same time. Freeing the halyard was not a problem, but getting to it required taking six screws out of a shield in front of it. That simple job took fifteen minutes. As I hung on for dear life, fifty feet off the water and worked at that tedious chore, I was painfully aware that this was a major test of my strength only four months out of back surgery. When the girls lowered me to the deck after the repair was completed I was totally exhausted and for awhile, I could hardly move. My crew took over for the rest of the day, and under full sail again we headed south, free of the land, and I was a little more sure of my ability and strength to handle any physical test from here on.
For six days we sailed down the coast of Washington, Oregon and California in rain and cloudy weather with winds sometimes reaching thirty knots. It was not the most pleasant weather, especially for August, but we were finally free of work commitments and headed south to warmer climes anticipating new experiences in the coming months. Early one afternoon we rounded Point Reyes in the sunshine and laid a course down the Marin headlands for the Golden Gate. By early evening we entered San Francisco Bay and found an empty slip at the St. Francis Yacht Club under the city.
For a full three days we relaxed and played tourist around the waterfront and provisioned the boat for our next leg to Southern California. Then, on August 16th, we passed again under the Golden Gate, early in the morning, and headed south. Two days later, late in the afternoon, we sailed past the big rock sentinels guarding Guyler Habor on San Miguel Island and anchored under the cliffs. This is an island that is not often visited. Geographically located off Point Conception and the northernmost of the Channel Islands, it has a different climate than the islands only a few miles south. Even though this was late summer, we experienced most cool, cloudy and windy weather since leaving Seattle and San Miguel was no exception. We spent a cool, windy night at anchor before moving on early the next morning. By afternoon we found what we were looking for. Johnson's Lee, an anchorage on the outside of Santa Rosa Island, was a beautiful spot with kelp beds and clear water, and when the anchor went down the heavy clothes came off and it was hot.
Point Conception, about fifty miles north of Santa Barbara, is a distinctive weather dividing line. The marine weather north of that line is more or less the same all the way to Alaska. Colder, wetter and stronger winds, and bigger seas are the norm, while south of that line, all the way to its counterpart somewhere off the coast of Chili, just the opposite is true. We were happy to be on the warm side of that line and we soaked up the sun and solitude of Johnson's Lee for three days before moving on. Our next stop was little Santa Barbara Island which sits all by itself forty miles off the coast with wildlife and peace undisturbed. We were in familiar waters now, having sailed these islands for years on the El Viento before moving north to the job in Seattle.
These were the days when only an occasional fishing boat might stop at one of these outer island anchorages. More often than not, we were the only vessel there to share the abundance of sea life that thrived both on the islands and in the surrounding water. Great flocks of sea birds ranged overhead while huge herds of Sea Lions inhabited the rugged cliffs along the coasts. We could lie quietly on the edge of the rocks and look down into their rookeries without being detected. In the springtime the open mesa on Santa Barbara Island was the nesting ground for thousands of sea birds waiting for their eggs to hatch. If we ventured too close the ever attentive birds overhead would dive on us to show their displeasure at our unwanted intrusion.
For another week, we revisited familiar cruising grounds in the Channel Islands, then went on to our last stop at Catalina Island before heading for Newport Harbor, our temporary home for the next few months. There we would wait out our time and complete our obligations to the company. We knew there was much to do in making final preparations for the upcoming voyage, and we were full of anticipation. It just seemed too good to be true that we were in a position to get away from the workaday world and finally follow our dreams.
An old friend waited in Newport Harbor. Art Curtis offered us an empty slip in the Lido Peninsula Yacht Anchorage only a few hundred feet from where I first saw "Evening Star." We were happy to have such a beautiful place to spend the last few months of the year before our departure now scheduled for late December or early January. I had two major jobs to do on the boat. One was to install some kind of wind steering vane to relieve Jeanne and me of having to constantly be at the helm. The other was to devise some kind of a downwind rig for sailing dead before the wind which I anticipated most of our future sailing to be.
The first problem was easily solved. I contracted with a firm in Los Angeles to install in "Aeries" vane made by a British company. It was thought to be the best in the world at that time, and I think that can still be said of it today. As it turned out, it did mot of the steering on every point of wind for many thousands of miles. Every morning, when coming on deck for the first time, my crew would immediately inquire about the health of "Harry," a nickname they gave this wonderful device that saved them so much work. When they were satisfied he was OK, I might even rate a "good morning" myself.
For me, the other problem was not so easily solved. On the maiden voyage of "Evening Star" to Hawaii, I had only traditional fore-and-aft sails with no special rig for downwind sailing. It was a real pain trying to take a boat so rigged downward in the trades. The problem, of course, is that you can fill only one sail when dead before the wind as that one sail is going to blanket the wind from hitting any other sail forward of it. Because of this the vessel is essentially crippled, limping along on one sail when you would like to have the power of three. The alternative is to follow a zig zag course, alternately sailing one tack, then the other, far enough off the wind so as to broad reach with all sails full. This is not a satisfactory solution because of the much greater distance that has to be covered to get to your desired destination.
The so called "modern" way of solving the problem is by using a spinnaker, or twin headsails. Both have serious drawbacks. The spinnaker needs constant attention and a larger crew to set and keep it flying. The twin headsails are usually too small for a heavy vessel and require whisker poles to keep them full of wind. These poles can be a major headache and somewhat dangerous, in my experience, when jibed in heavy weather. Since a spinnaker rig was out of the question for me, I decided to install twin headsails as the only solution to my problem. I reached the decision reluctantly and without much enthusiasm. Then, one evening, I picked up a book by W. A. Robinson entitled, To the Great Southern Sea, and I knew I had another alternative, and the answer. A full page picture of his beautiful Brigantine, "Varua," under full sail off Tahiti gave it to me.
Why such an obvious answer sometimes so elusive? The problem was solved hundreds of years ago in the early days of sail by using a square sail. It was the answer then, and in my opinion, it is still the best way to take a boat downwind if the vessel is heavy enough to handle the extra weight in the rigging. Robinson's "Varua" was a staysail schooner rigged square on the foremast, thus a Brigantine. To me, it's the ideal ship for offshore sailing because it is essentially two separate rigs. One can go before the wind under square sail and on the wind with the conventional fore and aft rig. I was excited, but how to adapt the square rig to my little ketch posed some problems. First, I wanted something that could be handled from the deck so as not to have to go aloft when setting it. The second was how to be able to brace the yard around when sailing somewhat off of dead downwind on a broad tack. I tackled the problem in total ignorance as it was just not done in these days and especially on a ketch rig.
First, I designed a bracing mechanism to hold the yard to the mast and pivot it both vertically and horizontally. I found a metal worker to help me in the design and to make the device out of stainless steel. Then, by the seat of my pants and common sense, I designed a yard arm that was twice the beam of the boat which became twenty-eight feet in length and tapered for the last seven feet at either end. A firm in Almitos turned the spar for me out of spruce and shipped it to our berth in the yacht anchorage.
That's when the problem began of having to listen to the laughs and jibes from the wharf sailors who thought I was crazy for doing such a thing to a beautiful ketch like "Evening Star." There were times when I had my own doubts, but I continued to tray to make it work. It was a proud day when I finally hauled the yard up the mainmast and made it fast. From that day to this "Evening Star" took on a new personality and became the unique little vessel she is today. A large squaresail was ordered out of Hong Kong where they still knew how to make such monstrosities, and I also ordered a triangular Raffee to fly above it. There are skeptics still among my sailing friends, but none among those who have had the great experience of sailing with me on a downwind run with this beautiful rig, full and drawing.
By early December countdown to departure had begun. I didn't believe it could be so difficult to make the break from home, family, business ties, friends and the everyday world we had been a part of all our lives. Much later in our sailing life we could get up in the morning and decide on the spur of the moment to leave our present anchorage and be on our way by noon for a destination possibly a thousand miles away. For now though, an entry in my journal for December 8th is revealing.
"Early to bed this evening but a long time trying to get to sleep. Still doing a lot of sour searching, I guess. Also trying to plot a course for the next couple of years. Awfully hard to do. I hope my mind will clear somewhat once we are underway."
I worried about finances. We certainly were not in a position to retire and be financially secure for a long period of time. The company helped somewhat with a generous year-end bonus to ease the immediate cash flow problem. Past that, I had some vague idea that I was going to support us by writing or filming or.... Another immediate worry was my kids. Although I had been divorced from their mother for quite some time, we were close, and I knew they depended on me in many ways not the least of which was just to be available when needed. My oldest daughter, Chris, was in college and my son, Steve, was in the Navy, but Susie was still in Junior High School. Another excerpt from my journal just before departure:
"Chris came for dinner tonight on the boat and, again, we went over the financial arrangement for her college and personal needs. Then we said our final good-byes which wasn't easy, although I believe she and Susie have a healthy attitude about my being gone for awhile. I love them both so very much and I can't help but have a tinge of worry about their welfare while I am completely out of touch."
To go through a divorce where young children are involved is something you never really get over and you have to face the guilt when it hits you, which is often. I was particularly worried about Susie and made a strong bid to her mother to take her with us. It was no go, and I understood.
I had one solid rock to depend on. "Donis Leach" was my secretary of the past few years with the company. Actually, she was much more; a trusted friend, capable assistance and confidant, indispensable in helping me with my business activities. She was licing in Seattle with her husband and new baby girl when we left for the South Pacific, and agreed to handle my correspondence and personal affairs and finances while I was away. I kept her informed of our schedule and itinerary, and she was the main link between us and our family and friends, receiving correspondence and forwarding mail. If one of my kids needed help or financial assistance, they called her. I owe a great debt of gratitude for her help and understanding of our situation during those years.
Jeanne's family was another concern. Her mother suffered from emphysema and was reluctant for us to leave on a long journey. They were very close and "Melba" came out to visit us for a few days in Newport Beach. She was a fine woman, full of spirit, who tried hard not to let her illness interfere with an active life. She was fun and we both loved her very much. She and Jeanne had a nice visit and I know the parting was difficult for both of them. Melba could have many years ahead of her with this debilitating illness but you just never know and when she left for home, she bravely wished us "Bon Voyage."
It is apparent why very few people do what I set out to do. Aside from not being emotionally able to take the risk of leaving career and financial security, they are unable to leave home and hearth. I have never honestly been able to answer the question: "Did I do it because I am stronger than other men or just weaker?" I am always reminded of lines in Robert Service's great poem, "The Men That Don't Fit In."
Aside from personal problems, there are many other things to be concerned with. You are leaving grocery stores, hardware stores and every other means of obtaining tangible supplies for an unlimited and uncertain amount of time. It takes some real planning and soul searching to determine your needs. I wanted to be self-sufficient for a long period of time so that I would not have to cut short any opportunity to explore out-of-the way places because of the necessity to resupply the ship. We found the answer.
There was a new business beginning to emerge in a few locations; that of selling freeze dried foods. After some research and planning we purchased what would be almost a years supply of everything imaginable including meats, butter, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and all the staples. That, along with a case of powdered milk, could sustain us when we were completely out of touch with the means to secure fresh food. As it turned out, we only used this food when we were completely out of something else, but it proved to be the key to keeping us self-sufficient, and the best supplied vessel in the Pacific. Surprisingly enough, a lot of the freeze dried things were pretty good and I also had the benefit of a very creative and excellent cook.
On December 12th Grant, and his wife, Suzanne, came to Newport for a visit. I was excited about seeing them and they insisted on taking us to dinner at a fancy Newport Beach restaurant. When we walked in, the Matre "d" ushered us in to a private dining room and there, already assembled at a banquet table, were company friends from all over the country. I am not easily surprised, but this going-away party was totally unexpected, and I was astounded. There was a lot of good-natured camaraderie during the evening, and Jeanne and I had a great time and were very grateful for the tribute. They presented me with a beautiful Tamaya sextant that was to be my daily companion on the afterdeck for the next few years as I worked to determine our position.
We were all nursing hangovers the next day, but after everyone caught planes for home, Grant and I had out final session for a long time. As a parting gesture he took me over to the shipyard and bought "Evening Star" a new "Dyer" sailing dinghy. We immediately commissioned it "USS Grant" and it would take us over many a reef and lagoon in the coming years. This dinghy still sits upturned on the foredeck and is a reminder that good friends of the calibre of this man are a rare gift in this day and age.
Medical supplies are a necessity on a voyage like this, and I was uncertain as to what I needed. On my bookshelf was a good book on the subject, written by Doctor "Peter Eastman." In looking over his book I noticed he lived in the Newport area, so I called him. What great good fortune. He and his wife came down to the docks to meet us and see the boat, and graciously put together a superb medical kit for us. I was very grateful, and it was plain that he and his wife were thinking about making a voyage of their own one day. His young son and new wife had already done so and the experi3ences and some medical problems they had encountered prompted the doctor to write his book for small boat sailors. There are a number of good first-aid books on the market but they tell you what to do until the doctor arrives. Doctor Eastman's book tells you what to do when there isn't a doctor on the horizon and you are on your own.
After a final haul out to paint the bottom, Christmas and New Year's were spent with family and friends and Jeanne and I had a last week with Susie at Catalina Island. There was nothing left to do but break the bonds of shore and start the odyssey we had been planning and dreaming of for so many years. Webster defines "odyssey" as "a long wandering marked usually by many changes of fortune." It was to be so for us.
In The South Seas
William A. Corley
We were ready to go but gale warnings had been up for two days with much heavy rain. Jeanne and I had spent a lot of time in our bunks reading and thinking about the warm southern ocean we would soon be heading into. Then, on the morning of January 8th, it was still raining but the winds were down to small craft warnings. We decided to leave.
As we powered down Newport Harbor in light rain, we realized we were the only vessel underway in this crowded marina of hundreds of boats. Big breakers and heavy seas pounded the breakwater and a strong southeast wind was still blowing. After rounding the harbor entrance buoy, we raised sail on a southwesterly course and held it for about an hour. Taking too much of a heavy sea off our port beam, I altered courses and ran downwind for the east end of Catalina Island. Within a few hours we were in calm waters on the back side of the Island and headed for Cat Harbor to anchor for the night. The storm was dying and I looked for fair weather by morning. At least we were on our way.
The morning of January 9th dawned clear and beautiful as it always does after a storm, and when breakfast was finished we powered out of the harbor and headed southwest with the outline of San Clemente Island off our bow. Within an hour we left the calm waters close to the Catalina shore, picked up a bit of wind, and raised all sail. It was an exciting moment for us, and it turned out to be an interesting day. A nay warship was firing at targets off the outer side of San Clemente island. Jet planes were taking off and landing.
A helicopter flew over to check us out, and we passed large whales close aboard off the west end of the island. About sundown, the warship couldn't contain its curiosity, I guess, and altered course heading our way. We had a beautiful picture driving through that blue sea with spume flying off our bow. I'm sure their Skipper knew from our course and distance offshore that we were headed for the South Pacific. They passed close off our beam and after a lot of waving from both crews, they altered cou8rse again and headed back. We continued on toward a sunset on the horizon.
Our ship's company contained more than just Jeanne and me. We had two cats named Salty and Shanghai that had been with us since they were small kittens. They were part of the family and gave us much pleasure as well as entertained us with their constant antics. They were fearless aboard the boat, it being the only home they had ever known. Every time we headed into the open sea after being in a harbor too long they suffered a brief bout of seasickness. When it was over, they were all over the vessel on one precarious perch or another. We tried not to worry about them when we were at sea but sometimes when one of them would disappear for a period of time a frantic search would ensue, both of us fearing the worst. Then, the little devil would turn up and I would want to kick him overboard. There are many places for a critter to hide on a little ship like ours. We've never lost a coat at sea although there have been a few aboard over the years. Cats make great boat pets, and they have certainly enriched our sometimes lonely existence.
The first week after leaving California was rather difficult. It was still the dead of winter in the northern latitudes and wind conditions changed frequently. This created a lot of work changing sails day and night but our course was mostly southerly and we ran down the latitude into warmer weather within a few days. On January 16th we were about the same latitude as the lower end of Baha, Mexico and becalmed on a warm quiet sea. I launched the rubber dingy and drifted around the boat just for some diversion. The cats piled in too. Within a short time there were a half dozen sharks swimming around the boat and we were entertained for awhile just watching them in the clear water. The cats were, of course, fascinated watching those large creatures so close. They loved fish and always wanted their share when we brought one aboard, but this was something else. When the dinghy was back aboard we turned on the engine to get us on our way again and charge batteries. The following day a slight breeze was in the making; just a few catspaws at first but then, within a few hours, we were at the edge of the northeast tradewinds.
For the next fifteen days the boat plowed a deep furrow in that bluest of Pacific waters with very little assistance from us. Harry, the windvane, did the steering. I was able to hang a lantern high in the rigging at night, go to bed for brief periods of sleep and wake up in the morning with a bow wave roaring and the boat steadily making its way on our course. Because of concern and force of habit, I was up every couple of hours to check on things. It didn't hurt the night's rest though because I would be immediately asleep again when I returned to my bunk. We were out of the main shipping lanes in a remote part of the ocean. The days rolled by and our activities were pretty much the same on each one. Jeanne and I would clean the boat first thing before breakfast. A few buckets of sea water for the decks and a sweep down below. The cats were o n deck immediately after first light to search for flying fish that had flown into the sails at night and landed in the scuppers. They usually made a haul of several and had them half eaten in the cockpit well by the time I washed down. After breakfast I usually started the navigational chores by "shooting" the sun for a morning line of position. After plotting it, we would enjoy the morning on deck with a second cup of coffee and maybe do a little fishing. For people like us who enjoy sailing, the sea was forever entertaining. There were always the great sea birds and an occasional whale or large sea turtle to watch.
At high noon I would "shoot" the sun again as it reached its meridian passage for a latitude shot, and by advancing my earlier line of position for the course and distance run between shots. I could cross the two and pinpoint our noon position each day. It was a high point of the day when I established it on the chart and we could see what our progress had been the past twenty-four nautical miles a day; it was exciting to see the line drawn between noon positions crawl steadily toward our objective which was the Marquesas Islands, lying about eight hundred miles northeast of Tahiti.
By afternoon we were ready to get out of the sun and climb into a bunk to read. It was the first time in many years I could read for hours with nothing else on my mind but total absorption in a good book. The country we left behind was dealing with a stock market at an all time low, a fuel crisis worsening, the food industry threatening to go on strike and the government racked with indecision, chaos and the watergate scandal. We never looked back for fear all of that would overtake us.
The high point of the day at sea on any ship is the evening meal, and Jeanne always outdid herself in that department. We would both have a good refreshing bath after a day in the sun and then a pleasant cocktail hour. Tough life. I usually tuned into the Voice of America shortwave broadcasts to get the news while she fixed dinner. After that, with the lantern lit and hung high in the rigging, we turned in until morning, time to start another day. About every other day we would throw the heavy handline over the stern for fish and catch an occasional tuna or mahi mahi. When we were near the equator where the great yellowfin tuna run, I lost a line on two occasions and gave it up. We saw flying fish by the hundreds, but I don't care for them as a delicacy. For the cats, it was a different story and they stayed fat and happy.
On the evening of our 26th day at sea a celestial observation of the moon and the planet Venus put our position only about seventy-five miles from the island of Nuku Hiva. We were both getting excited about the coming landfall. The next morning at first light I awakened Jeanne to come on deck and view the bold outline of an island about fifteen miles away, broad on our port bow. It was "Ua Huka," and a few hours later "Nuku Hiva" hove into view. We rounded the southeastern tip of the island and looked at what a surely one of the most beautiful sights in the world. The mountains were a vivid green that dropped from sheer heights right into the sea, the greenery extending all the way to the water's edge. Spectacular is the only way to describe it. The first ar3ea we coasted was the Typee valley where Herman Melville experienced living among fierce cannibals for several months before escaping to Tahiti. His book Typee is an exciting tale. A few miles father on the beautiful natural habor of Taiohae Bay faced south toward a tradewind-whipped sea and with French and Quarantine flags flying, we entered and dropped anchor a hundred yards off the beach and village. The midday heat settled down upon us and I spread our awnings over the aft deck to give us some relief from the sun. We had arrived at our first south-sea island port. It was February 5th, my forty-fifth birthday.
The Marquesas Islands, far off the beaten track is the eastern end of the Polynesian triangle, lie isolated and beautiful just beyond the reach of the ever-expanding tourist industry. A very complex, highly-developed society of Polynesian people had reached the pinnacle of their culture when pacific explorers discovered these islands for the first time in 1591. It was a brief encounter, and it wasn't until almost two hundred years later that explorers, whalers and later, missionaries in great numbers began to stop regularly at Nuku Hiva because of the geographical proximity to the lush whaling grounds of the Eastern Pacific and the fine natural harbor the island provides. The result was nothing less than catastrophic for the islanders. In 1774, when Captain Cook visited these islands, it was estimated that over one-hundred-thousand people lived there. By 1920, only some fifteen hundred survived the ravages of disease, pestilence, misguided religious zeal and French occupation. In a sense, the islanders never recovered. At the time of our visit in 1974, the population was estimated to be about five thousand. A little later, Jeanne and I wandered about the Typee Valley and observed the remnants of a people that numbered over then thousand in this valley alone. Abandoned villages (where the only thing left is the great stone papae which served as foundations for homes, temples and communal gathering places) were everywhere in the most lush surroundings imaginable.
At the moment, we were just happy to be in this out-of-the-way place, and we settled down in the shade of our aft deck to wait for someone to notice our quarantine flag, and acknowledge our presence. In this great natural harbor there were only two other small sailing vessels, both flying the French flag. In a short time a bearded young Frenchman from the "St. George," one of the yachts, rowed over with a gift of fresh limes and greeted us. fortunately, he could speak a little English and told us the local gendarme was very lax about the formalities and that we could go ashore at our leisure to clear with him. "Jean Louis" offered to go in with me the next morning to act as interpreter, and I readily accepted his offer.
Jeanne at helm with cat
The next day we stepped ashore for the first time in almost a month and presented ourselves to the French gendarme who was the sole authority on this large island. He was pleasant and efficient and with the help of "Jean Louis," we were given a three-months visa for French Polynesia. With the formalities out of the way, we walked the dirt road into the village that hugged the shore at the head of the bay. Behind the village the greenery climbed steeply into the lush-mountains. The people we met along the way were friendly but somewhat shy and it wasn't easy to be too familiar with them quickly. As we proceeded down the single road that ran the length of the village, we came to the trading store belonging to Maurice McKittrick. He is the son of an English father and a Marquesan woman. Bob Mckittrick, his father, was a well known figure in these islands for many years until his death in 1968. He was a tattooed sailor from the old school and had served on board square-riggers in the days of sail, thrashing around the horn from England to Chili. I had read of this man in years past from the accounts of small boat sailors that had preceded us. He had come to these islands almost fifty years before as a young man and had known them all from Gerbault to Harry Pidgeon to later arrivals like the Hiscocks. They all had one thing in common to say about him: He was a great spinner of yarns and I was sorry we were a few years too late to make his acquaintance.
Maurice greeted us warmly and inquired if we were off the ketch "Evening Star" riding at anchor in the bay and now plainly visible from his store. When I said we were, He produced two cold beers from his refrigerator and presented them to us. He said the trading schooner that stopped a few days before had brought him a letter from a young man by the name of Eastman. He had sailed through here a few years before and met Maurice and was now writing to ask Maurice to welcome us with a brew when we arrived. His letter contained a couple of dollars. What a nice gesture and unexpected surprise!
Maurice remained a friendly and helpful man throughout our stay in Nuku Hiva supplying us with fresh fruit when we needed it. An evening he spent aboard the boat was very enjoyable, and we learned a lot about the islands from him. On the day we were to leave Taiohae Bay for other anchorages I stopped by his store and he pulled a book off his shelf to show me. This was The Hidden Worlds of Polynesia by Robert C. Suggs. He was an archaeologist who had spent months on Nuku Hiva in 1957 digging through the ruins of ancient villages to reconstruct their history and shed insight into their culture. I realized immediately this book was a treasure as I handed it back and expressed my disappointment at not borrowing it to read while I was there. Maurice shoved it back into my hands again and said, "Take it with you." I said, "But this is a book you should keep, Maurice. It is a history of your people." He said that would not be a problem. "I'll give you the name of a friend of mine who runs a Chinese store next to Quinn's Bar in Tahiti. Just give it to him when you arrive and he will see that it is returned on one of the supply schooners." I was both thankful and overwhelmed at his generosity and trust. The book was a treasure and I read it eagerly as we travelled through the other islands. When I arrived in Tahiti a month later, I took the book to the Chinaman and left it with him. A year later I was back in Nuku Hiva, and there on the shelf in Maurice's store was the book. I guess there is still honor and trust in some parts of the world.
The Skipper - Bill Corley
We enjoyed Taiohae Bay. A few other yachts stopped in from different parts of the world while we were there, and in these remote places you make friends easily. The island people are used to having yachts visit from time to time and they tend to ignore them and go about their routine. We found these people pleasant and friendly, but shy. Language, of course, was the insurmountable barrier and our inability to communicate was frustrating and disheartening. Jeanne and I tried to learn a little French before arriving, but discovered that only the youngsters could speak it, so we concentrated on learning some words in Marquesan. A friendly greeting in their own language usually brought a smile and a much more favorable response than "Bonjour, Madame."
The colonialistic atmosphere prevailed and the French segregated themselves from the islanders almost completely. There was, consequently, no great affection between the two peoples. Other than the clearing formalities, we had nothing further to do with the French on the island ourselves. It wasn't by design; they just seemed also to ignore our presence. My limited exposure to the French people left me with the impression that they were somewhat vain and colorless. As for their efficiency in running the island government, they were exceptional.
A fine woman and true friend to all visiting sailors was "Hina." She was a huge woman with a great smile and gregarious manner, and she, her husband and oldest daughter joined us for a bash on the beach one night. The music and dancing they helped to provide was well worth the price of admission - one hundred francs - that we each chipped in to buy beef and bread for hamburgers. The beef was from wild cows that the islanders hunted in the interior of the island once a week, and the bread was from "Ropa." the half-pint Chinese-Tahitian baker who turned out some fairly respectable hamburger buns from his oven for the party. He was a true Island character, and each day he baked enough loaves of delicious French Bread to satisfy the needs of the village. In the afternoon, when the baking was done, he celebrated the event with beer or harder stuff. If you walked into his shed to buy bread you might easily find yourself with a glass of whisky and spend the whole afternoon unsuccessfully trying to pay for the bread. Occasionally he celebrated too much and the village substituted breadfruit for bread the next day.
After ten days the urge for quieter surroundings got the best of us and I hauled anchor and headed for the Typee valley only a few miles away. There we found ourselves alone in another beautiful natural harbor surrounded on three sides by spectacular greenery. At the head of the bay was a white-sand beach stretching from a line of coconut palms to the water with a fresh water stream running into the bay at one end. We could take our small boat up that stream and land ourselves just below the village to visit with the local inhabitants. There were only a few living in the valley, and the whole place had a mysterious air about it. I guess that was because we knew that a large teeming population of Polynesians lived on this very spot a couple of hundred years ago. We climbed on large stone paipai, the great foundations for homes and temples of the past, now all but buried in the heavy lush growth. There was also a tremendous amount of fruit growing that had once fed thousands. From our anchorage we could look back up the length of the valley that climbed into the mountains and see a large waterfall cascading from the heights. A glass of rum and dinner in the aft cockpit in the cool of the evening with that vista of beauty before us will long be remembered.
Evening Star, Ma Wai Harbor, Hawaii
After a brief call again at Taiohae Bay to clear with the Gendarme, we sailed for the island of "Ua Po," about thirty miles away. This is a very small volcanic island and even more spectacular than Nuku Hiva with spires of limestone rock rising straight up hundreds of feet into the clouds. There are no natural harbors around the island, but we found a sheltered spot under a towering cliff that provided good protection on the western side. We anchored in eight fathoms in total solitude with not a sign of habitation anywhere. Jeanne and I immediately put on masks and fins and dove at the base of the cliff in the clearest of waters with tropical fish by the hundreds of every kind and color. but our solitude only lasted a day before outriggers appeared with a man and wife, sixteen year old boy and a baby. They came aboard at our invitation and Jeanne served them a lime punch and sweetbreads. The boy's name was Tex and he could speak a little English. With our growing number of words in his language, we were able to communicate a little. They insisted we come to their village and home for Kai Kai (eat) the following day, and we accepted. Tex came to the boat the following morning to take us to his home.
He showed up on the beach at the head of the bay and we rowed in. A horse was tied to a tree, and had been brought for Jeanne to ride. It seemed his village was in another valley and there was a high mountain-trail climb to get to it. The trail was so steep that Jeanne slid off the back of the horse as we started our climb. I was sweating and puffing when we r3eached the to and could see his village far below overlooking the sea. The panorama was breathtaking as we descended the winding trail to his home. The whole family, and there were many children, was involved in preparing the meal of breadfruit and fish in many different ways. Jeanne and I had brought fresh bread from Rapa's oven and a jug of wine. When all was ready, they invited us to sit down and eat while they just sat around the perimeter of the table and watched. It's strange, but that's the way islanders treat guests. We were their entertainment. They knew the foods were strange to us and they watched with intense interest to see how we reacted. I was always counting disaster at one of these feeds as the food was not for my palate and the flies were a problem, but Jeanne saved the day as she tried everything and raved about them with great good spirit. The kids suffer from open wounds of coral poisoning and I knew where those flies had been prior to landing on the food. During our stay at the island we met many of the people, ferried them back and forth between villages for various reasons, and visited them in their homes. Their music is delightful, played on guitars and home made ukuleles. One of the "ukes" was presented to me as a gift by a village school teacher and was a treasured memento of our stay in this friendly place. After two weeks, we departed the island on a beautiful sparkling morning heading southwest. As those incredible spires disappeared below the horizon I wondered if we might ever pass this way again.
Tahiti lay eight-hundred miles away, and directly in our path to the fabled isle were the low atolls of the Tuamoto Archipelago. It is always dangerous to navigate through these islands because of strong unpredictable currents and the difficulty in seeing an atoll from the deck of a small ship until you are practically on the reefs surrounding them. The easy way would have been to skirt the islands to the north but I wanted to visit at least one of the atolls if possible, so we held our southwesterly course for several days. Lat in the afternoon of our fourth at sea, I placed our position ten miles northwest of the little island of Manahi. Later, I came topside from a nap, and Jeanne was anxiously scanning the horizon for some sign of the atoll. I climbed to the yardarm for a better look, and within a few minutes the island was clearly visible and close aboard.
With the big squaresail drawing and the light tradewind dead aft, we coasted the atoll and enjoyed the scenery in the last light of day. I hove to on the starboard tack with reduced sail, and as night came on we were slowly drifting with the current and forereaching away from the reef. At daylight next morning, the island was still there and only a few miles away. I raised all sail and headed for the lee4 side of the island. There was a small pass into the lagoon and next to the pass was the only village on the island with a population of about two hundred. I stood off the pass until near slack water and then headed in for the village. There was a gathering of people standing on a layer of concrete poured on top of the vertical face of the reef which served as a quay. They took our lines as we came alongside and for the first time since leaving California, we wer3e actually tied up to the land. I was uneasy at first about being so close to a jagged reef but the constant tradewind kept us off it and we lay there next to the village for five days. Since we were the only boat to visit for several months, they welcomed our intrusion.
I stepped ashore and there was a small open boat a few yards ahead of us that was preparing to take some of the villagers to another motu on the reef to work copra. A young man was sitting on the stern working on their outboard motor. I watched for a few minutes and could see he was filing a rusty nail that was much too small and too weak to use as a shearpin. It had already broken once as they tried to leave. I took him aboard my vessel and we found some strong rod that was the right size. In half an hour, I made him a good shearpin and a couple of spares. It was a good way to begin our visit.
Susie and Jeanne
Later in the afternoon, Jeanne and I took a walk to stretch our legs. The whole island was only half a mile long and a couple of hundred yards wide. At the other end of the motu there was a break in the reef and we met a ;man with his wife and kinds fishing. He turned out to be "Huri." the chief of the island and our most gracious host and constant companion for the next few days. He was a fascinating man about thirty-five years old and very intelligent, with a desire to learn everything he could about the boat and navigation. His most prized possession was a small pickup truck the French government had left him. Why, I don't know. There were only a few hundred yards on the whole island on which to drive. It had not run in quite some time and I managed to help him fix it which made him, and especially the kids, very happy. They loved to ride around in the back of the thing.
There was a constant procession of people aboard the boat and we entertained them as best we could, knowing there was not a lot of diversion to break the monotony of their lives. In gratitude, Huri brought an older man aboard one day to present me with a gift. It was a solemn occasion and we sat below in the main salon. He produced a large shell with a pearl still attached in the middle of it and I was highly pleased and honored. We made a frame and it still hangs today on the bulkhead of the main cabin. Later, I asked Huri what would be an appropriate gift for the man in return. He said, "Do you have any asprin? He is a retired diver who hurt his ears on deep dives and suffers frequently from headaches." The gift of a large bottle of aspirin and a bone fishing jig was a welcome present for the old man. These people in the out islands did not have any medicines and could only rely on a short wave radio to notify the French authorities of any problems. We shar3ed things from our medical chest on many occasions.
On the afternoon of our fifth day on Manahi, the wind shifted and an angry swell began to build on the reef just outside our anchorage. We hastily said our good-byes and the islanders cast off our lines. The current carried us quickly out of the pass and we set sail, again heading southwest. With a good breeze to drive us, the little island disappeared as quickly and dramatically as it had appeared out of the ocean a week before.
The following morning, I had another of the Tuamoto Islands ahead of us but the British Pilot book warned against trying to land on it. Rangiroa, the largest Island of the group, lay fifty-five miles away and I toyed with the idea of heading there, but the prospect of arriving at night and the black squalls then building all around us changed my mind. We bore away for Tahiti, now only a few days sail away. The tradewind fell light and it was near midnight of the third day when I sighed Venus Light through intermittent rain showers and about fifteen miles distant. The following morning, we viewed the great green island of Tahiti sparkling in the early rays of the sun. We slipped through the pass in the reef at Pepeete and entered this most famous of all south sea island ports. Sailing vessels from all over the world were tied up Tahiti style, bow anchor out and stern lines tied to large bolyards set firmly in the grass along the waterfront. The colorful town stretched out along the shore with verdant green mountains for a backdrop. by the time we set our bow anchor and backed in close to the shore, a group of Tahitians and other boat crews were gathered to help. I heaved a stern line toward them and we were soon ashore ourselves, laughing and swapping stories with other sailors. To sail to this fabled place in my own vessel was the culmination of a long held dream and I relished.
After several months in the remote islands, Tahiti was somewhat of a letdown for us. The fabled isle was not exactly what we expected it to be, thanks to the invention of the jet airplane. The dusty waterfront of days gone by with schooners backed up to the quay and laughing curious islanders mingling with the sailorfolk was a thing of the past. Instead, there were the usual great number of tourists, hundreds of cars and motor scooters and the resulting gas fumes drifting across the boats anchored at street level. It was till Tahiti though, and Island of incredible beauty. The central marketplace in downtown Papeete on an early morning was still old Tahiti with every kind of locally produced food and fresh fish right from the sea. The colorful dress of the throngs of Islanders and the mingling smells of flowers and fish was a tapestry of Island culture. We spent the first week sight-seeing and writing letters but soon tired of the crowds and longed for quieter anchorages. After haunting the post office for another week waiting for mail that never came, we decided to leave for the leeward islands of the Society group.
With the wind vane set and steering, Jeanne and I worked hard for several hours scrubbing the muck of Papeete harbor off our mooring lines and chain. We passed by the beautiful island of Moorea, renowned for its lush tropical beauty, but feared it would be too much like Tahiti and sailed on. That night remains in my memory as one of the most delightful I have ever experienced at sea. With a moderate tradewind blowing off our quarter and a big moon to light the way, we sailed westward toward the Island of Huahine. I couldn't bring myself to give up the deck watch so I stayed u most of the night before reluctantly calling Jeanne to relieve me. to be able to sit on deck late at night in the Southern Tropics, perfectly comfortable in a pair of thin shorts and barefooted, is an experience we seldom have in the Northern Hemisphere. Add to that the pleasure of viewing new constellations that never appear above the horizon in our country and you have some idea of the fascination those tropical nights held for us. Later, as we moved northward again, we were to miss the sight of the Southern Cross as it rose out of the sky each night followed by Scorpio with its brilliant red eye, "Antares." This is sailing at its very best and it was with some disappointment that Jeanne awakened me shortly after daybreak and announced that the island of Huahine was in sight and not very far distant.
By mid morning, we skirted the palm covered northern end of the island and entered a quiet harbor on the leeward side through a wide break in the fringing reef. Our anchor went down in five fathoms of clear water and could easily be seen digging into the white sand on the bottom. This was another high island with green mountains and still lagoons and was quite be4autiful. After getting the boat in shape and our sun awnings up, we launched the dinghy and rowed a few hundred feet to the beach. Palms grew almost to the water's edge and there were graves of some long dead missionaries along the path that led a quarter of a mile to the little town of "Fare." We followed the path to find the local gendarme to present our papers and passports. As it was siesta time, he came to the door of his house sleepy-eyed and suggested we leave our papers and return tomorrow.
Huahine was one of my favourite islands. It was small, off the beaten track with hardly any tourists, and it had a beautiful anchorage and great diving on reefs close by. There was a new, small hotel near our anchorage preparing for the coming tourist trade but with almost no guests at the time. For entertainment, a few of the local musicians gathered there in the evenings to play and sing just for the fun of it. It was all so informal and enjoyable. The little town of Fare was exactly what most of us envision a South Sea's town to be. It sat in a corner of the quiet peaceful lagoon with one main road along the tree-lined waterfront. Island trading vessels docked on the concrete quay across the road from the stores and unloaded their cargo. The sight of piles of large melons, which Huahine was famous for, along with stacks of sacked copra, added to the colorful panorama of the waterfront. The rich aroma of copra, tropical flowers and sweating people, is the South Pacific. There was one freshwater spigot on the quay and we took our turn washing clothes and filling water jugs with the dinghy tied a few feet away. Just to be a part of the activity and informality of it all captivated us. This is what we had travelled such a long road to see and experience.
A few days later, Jeanne and I were enjoying our nightly cocktail on deck when a friend we had met earlier waved from the beach with what looked like a letter in his hand. I rowed in and he gave me a four day old telegram from Jeanne's father telling us of her mother's death. It was a great shock and a saddening experience for both of us, especially hard for Jeanne, being so far away and not knowing any of the details. She was very close to her mother and her passing left a deep void of love and companionship that would be forever missed. In the quiet beauty of a tropical evening, we toasted the memory of this fine lady and wept.
Four days later, we sailed for Bora Bora less than fifty miles away and arrived late in the afternoon. Jeanne managed to get to the post office in the main village before it closed and picked up the mail that had eluded us in Papeete a month before. Two letters from "Shirl," Susie's mom, brought distressing news. There was a note of panic in them as she described some of the problems our daughter was having since entering Junior High School. My help was obviously needed so a change of plans began to take place. we were only two-thousand miles away from New Zealand, with the Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji in between. These islands had been our likely destinations up to this point. The upwind trip to Hawaii was not a pleasant alternative, but under the circumstances, it was the way we chose to go. The western Pacific Islands would have to wait.
Bora Bora was an absolute paradise and for the next ten days we stayed there and enjoyed the good life. They were lazy days of diving, shelling, reading and writing letters. We were anchored off a large motu inside the great fringing reef surrounding the island in total solitude amid dazzling beauty. Before leaving for Hawaii, we moved over to the island of Raiatea for a few days to get provisions and see what it was like.
On a brilliant morning, we sailed most of the length of the great lagoon that encircles the islands of Raiatea and Taha. By early afternoon, we were through the pass on the northwest end of the island and heading north. The islands of Raiatea, Taha and Bora Bora were prominent astern all the rest of the day, but at first light the following morning, they had dropped out of sight below the horizon. We were close-hauled on the wind for the first time in many months and Honolulu lay almost twenty-five hundred miles away. After only two days of moderate winds, we sailed into a particularly wicked-looking squall and I changed to a smaller working jib and reefed the mainsail in anticipation of some heavy wind. We passed through the squall but the wind and seas remained for the next two-thousand miles to Hawaii. It was to be an uncomfortable twenty days of pounding into wind and seas before reaching our destination. Just before dawn of our twentieth day out of Raiatea, we lined up the range lights of Ala Wai Harbor in Honolulu and entered through the narrow channel. It was a welcome relief to anchor in a quiet spot behind the breakwater to await customs and agriculture inspectors to board.
"Evening Star" lay at anchor in Ala Wai Harbor for a month. The anchorage was near the rock jetty across from the fuel dock with all the activity of Waikiki Beach a short walk away. Jeanne flew home to be with her father for a couple of weeks and Susie came out from California to join the ship. It gave us some time alone to deal with her problems and it wasn't easy. These were troubled times for American youth and I found it hard to deal with the peer pressure. I could not accept the premise that a thirteen-year-old was now able to deal with life in a mature manner and make her own decisions. I had gone through this with my son and lost. He quite school before finishing high school and was now in the Navy but I worried about his future in a competitive world without a proper education. I was determined not to let this hap9pen with Susie. I took a firm stand and there was a lot of resentment at first. It was an uncomfortable relationship for awhile but gradually improved as her renewed respect for me deepened and mine for her. We were always father and daughter but eventually became friends again as time progressed.
Our stay in Honolulu was made more pleasurable because of the presence of two families we had known on the mainland who now both lived on boats in the marina. Don and Diana Anderson had two daughters Susie's age which made it nice for her. Ken and Dawn Murray were good friends also whom we had met while Jeanne and I had the boat in Oxnard. All of us left Southern California about the same time for different parts of th3e world. Don and Diana sailed across the Pacific to Australia with their two small daughters and Ken and Dawn went down the coast to Mexico, Panama and eventually the Galapagos Islands. We had gone to Seattle to follow my business career, but now circumstances brought us back together in Honolulu. Ken Murray was one of my closest personal friends and was especially helpful to me. He took us everywhere in his old car to run errands and see the sights of the Island and we enjoyed his company. --- to be continued...
Hanalei Bay is another of my favorite places. It is a huge bay with a wide sand beach almost a mile long stretched out in a crescent shape around the head of it. The large hotels hadn't found their way there yet and it was a quiet anchorage with not many people on the beach, and the little town of Hanalei a short walk away. A river ran into the bay at its head and we could take a small boat up the river toward the inland mountains for several miles. Towering cliffs behind the town, with numerous waterfalls cascading into the valley below, completed the picture.
Our day was brief because of the urgency in reaching Alaska at the peak of the summer season, but I made a new friend. A broken fan belt on the engine needed a replacement and I was on the road that led out of Hanalei to the main town of Lihue at the other end of the Island. An older gentleman picked me up and struck up a conversation. He was a retired Navy Captain and we discovered that his best friend, also a Navy Captain, was my former commanding officer when I was in the Navy stationed at Hickam Field. I was somewhat of a maverick in those days and had found myself in a bit of trouble. My G. O. had been lenient with me when I went before him at "Captain's Mast," which was just a hearing to determine if the problem was serious enough to warrant a court martial. In my case, the Captain resolved the matter by transferring me to the Island of Guam, some thirty-five-hundred miles away. In doing so, he both punished and saved me at the same time. I had never forgotten it and when I related the story to this gentleman, he said that was typical of his old comrade who was somewhat of a maverick also and sometimes in hot water with his superiors. My new friend drove me to Lihue, helped me find the fanbelt and returned me to the boat. I invited him and his wife out to the boat for cocktails, and in the next few days we visited them in their home on the beach and became better acquainted. When we were ready to leave for Alaska, he presented me with a large sack of hardwood, all cut up into nice sized pieces to fit the small fireplace on the boat.
We left Kauai heading north, and for ten days had beautiful sailing up through the Northeast Trades, through the Horse Latitudes and into the Westerlies. An excerpt from my journal of July 14th:
"Sunday, superb day. Clear sunshine in the morning and fog in the afternoon. Brisk following wind with the Squaresail and Raffee set. Jeanne and Susie baked all day. I fixed hatch doors, tore into the bilge pump and fixed it. Handed in a nice Albacore this aft4ernoon and had fish for dinner. Beginning to get cold in the evenings so we dug out our coats and built our first fire in the fireplace."
From here on, we experienced pure North Pacific weather of some sunshine but a lot of fog and overcast days. We read, played cards, ran the ship and plowed north toward Alaska. Early on the morning of our twentieth day out of Hawaii, we saw the tops of high mountains through patchy fog and overcast. Then, shortly after noon, we made our landfall at Cape Spencer and entered the wide mouth of Cross S0ound, the northern-most entrance to the inside waters of southeast Alaska. The magnificence and beauty of that big country became immediat4ely apparent as we suddenly viewed snow-covered mountains, deep fjords and the blue-white ice of our first glacier falling into Taylor Bay off to our port side. About three miles inside Cross sound, we turned South and entered Lisianski Inlet, a deep fjord-like channel about a mile wide in most places. Under power, we followed this beautiful waterway for twelve miles with steep mountains and gr3een virgin forests on either side of us. As the late afternoon sun disappeared over the ridge to starboard and long shadows fell over the waterway, we rounded a bend and slowly coasted toward the rough hewn log docks of the little town of Pelican, Alaska. --- to be continued ...
It was a few days after Christmas when Jeanne, Susie and I left Southern California, again, headed for the Marquesas Islands. The kittens were not with us, having been given to another family on a large boat in San Francisco Bay. We missed them but some of the places we planned to visit didn't accept pets and we were afraid they would present too much of a problem. Our first landfall was at "Hiva Oa" in the southern group of the Marquesas Island. We arrived just before evening twilight after a twenty-three day voyage from California and anchored in a little bay adjacent to the main village of "Atouna."
We spent almost two weeks there getting reacquainted with the tropics. As usual, the people were great and Susie received her first taste of life in the South Seas. The head of the bay was a luxuriant garden with high palms and heavy tropical growth so dense that we had to wade the river running through it to make headway on our excursions inland looking for fresh limes and bananas. This same valley was the battleground of cannibals less than one-hundred-and-fifty years ago when the people of Atouna and the neighboring village of "Haamau" were at continual war with each other. The eyewitness accounts of human killings and cannibal feasts, as related to Robert Louis Stevenson when he visited this bay aboard the schooner "Casco" in 1889, makes interesting reading. In those days, this valley was a no-man's land between the two warring factions, and today, it is still empty of human habitation. The village of Atouna is the place where the French painter, Paul Gauguin finally retreated to spend the last years of his life. One afternoon, we climbed up to the cemetery high on a hill behind the village to visit his grave site and view the beautiful panorama looking seaward from this lonely spot.
From "Hiva Oa," we sailed southwest to the most southerly of the Marquesas Isles, "Fatu Hiva." We found ourselves becalmed off the leeward side of the island at sunset with an engine that heated up after only a few minutes running, so we hove to for the night. Winds were light most of the following day also, and it was almost evening again before we worked our way to an anchorage. It was worth the trouble. As the sun went down, we just stared at an unbelievable Hollywood-like setting before us. High, wooded cliffs with a carpet of green dropped into the small bay on either side. A sand beach complete with a stream running into the bay was in front of us with a carpeted path of gr3een grass leading up the slight incline toward the village. Behind the village, the valley narrowed with towering lava cliffs on either side, through which the small stream poured from the higher mountains inland. It was another spectacular south sea island setting and we never tired of looking at it.
For the few days, we visited with the villager and walked the paths which followed the stream into the heart of the island. One night, a casual walk into the village turned into singing and dancing along the rock-lined walkway that formed the main road. We could have spent more time in this lovely place but after four days, we raised our anchor and sailed away. Most of the glowing accounts of south sea islands never mention the unpleasant aspects of these places but there was one here. A small black pesky species of fly nearly drove us nuts, even insulated as we were by being anchored offshore. So it was with both regret and relief that we left. With a fresh breeze to fill our sails, we headed for the island of Tahuata, forty miles away.
Again, the wind fell light as we approached the island and I worked into a very poor anchorage in the last light of day. There, we spent an uncomfortable night of rolling and anchor watching. The following morning, we got underway and worked our way in light air along the lee side of the island to the small village of "Hapitoni." The whole population of this little place was about twenty five and they gathered on a grassy knoll as we slowly worked our way to an anchorage a few yards in front of them. The water was crystal clear and we dropped our anchor in among the mushroom coral that dotted the bottom. One of our most pleasant weeks was spent here with the two families that the village comprised. A couple of young girls took charge of Susie almost immediately and we didn't see her for the rest of the week. The chief presented us with a stalk of bananas when I met him and soon our decks were stacked with young drinking coconuts that we continued to use all the way to the Tuamoto Islands.
Jeanne and Susie did a much needed washing at one of the houses where they had a source of running water, and I visited with the men. The chief's house at the end of the village had a generator which needed fixing so we tackled the job. After it was repaired, I set up my movie projector by the house and hung a white sheet up for a screen. For several nights, we watched the Disney movies I had brought along, their favorite being, "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea." Another sailing yacht stopped by while we were there and, luckily, they had a part I needed to repair the saltwater pump on my engine. Just before leaving, Jeanne performed a not uncommon service for these people. Previous visiting boats had written letters to them which they couldn't read so she spent one morning translating and writing replies for them. We took these with us to mail at the next landfall with a post office.
We sailed back to the northern group of the Marquesas to show Susie the places we had visited before and to visit with Maurice McKittrick again at his store in Taiohae bay. After ten days in the northern islands, we followed our track of a year ago to "Manahi" in the Tuamoto islands before sailing on for Tahiti. It was late in March when we tied up again on the waterfront in Papeete only a few yards from our anchorage of the previous year. We only stayed a couple of weeks before picking up three-month-old mail from the post office and moving to the island of Moorea which we bypassed the year before. When we anchored in Robinson's Cove with our stern line tied to a coconut tree ashore and saw how pretty it was, we realized we had made a mistake not stopping here the first time. It was truly a beautiful place, only a few miles away from Tahiti. One of the letters we opened was unique because it was from the cats, Salty and Shanghai. It read: --- to be continued ...
After spending time in Moorea and the other leeward islands of the Society group, we were ready to move on to something new. On April 15th, we sailed through the pass at Bora Bora and headed west toward the Cook Islands. I wanted to stop at Suvarov atoll and visit with Tom Neal, a hermit who had lived on the island for some years. He had written a book called "An Island to Myself" and I had it in my library aboard. He was a New Zealander who had opted for the subsistence life on an isolated atoll and was now about seventy years old. We raised the island eight days out of Bora Bora and studies the pass into the lagoon. There was no chart and it was shallow with many coral heads along the fairway. With Jeanne at the helm, I climbed into the rigging and, standing on the yard, guided her through the pass and around to the lee of Anchorage island. It was just a small motu on the reef and we anchored in quiet water not far off shore.
We met Tom on the sand beach when we rowed in and he was cordial as he invited us to his house. The whole island was only a few hundred yards long and a hundred or so wide. His house was a little two room affair with a small covered porch, made out of driftwood and materials from boats that had been wrecked on the reef. A couple of small shacks nearby, one being his cooking shed, completed his living compound. He also had a small garden which he was very proud of. Tom was an interesting man; well-read and educated, but wore only a loin cloth at his island home. When we invited him to our boat for dinner, he came dressed like an English gentleman.
I asked him about a large open boat lying upturned on the beach and he said he had salvaged it off the reef but it was beyond repair as there was a huge hole in the chine. I told him I might have the necessary materials aboard to repair it if he wished to try. He gladly accepted my offer and we worked for a week repairing the hull. It was an icebreaker for me. After all, he was a hermit who liked his privacy and I would probably not have spent much time with him had it not been for our project. The boat was really not of any use to him because it weighed several hundred pounds and was too heavy for one man to handle, but he said he might trade it to a passing ship. We spent an enjoyable week at Suvarov and took the dingy to explore other small islands around the lagoon. The whole atoll was uninhabited and quite off the beaten track. I learned a few years later that a passing boat had found Tom dying and removed him from the island. He was one of those few men who lived and died doing his own thing rather than being a victim if circumstance. I made my own chart of the island before I left and have it in my chartroom still, just in case I ever go back.
American Samoa lay to the west and we shaped a course for there after leaving Suvarov. Five days later, we entered the big harbor of Pago Pago and tied up to the quarantine dock to go through the formalities. The officials were not friendly and close to rude as they cleared us into the port. This was a beautiful natural harbor hemmed in on three sides by mountains and greenery, but there was a feeling of tension in the place. Part of it was caused by a large population of Korean fishermen on one side of the harbor that the Samoans held animosity for, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. We stayed only a week before moving on. One thing we did find, however, was American goods at cheap prices so we reprovisioned the ship and took on fuel. Less than a week later, we were again at sea headed for the kingdom of Tonga.
Tonga is the last surviving kingdom of the South Seas. They were never taken over by the colonial powers and remained a separate culture, unchanged by the western world. The islands are of raised coral and the people live simply in small villages on the different islands. They don't have much in the way of material goods but they have plenty to eat from the sea and green vegetables that they raise in communal gardens they call their "bush." The bush is a common area of each village4, owned and maintained by all members of the community. A king still rules over a benevolent society.
After only a four-day sail from Samoa, we entered the northern group of islands and made our way through narrow channels to the little town of "Neafu." When you enter Tonga, you know you are in a different world from other South Pacific islands. There is a feeling of serenity, so unlike the westernized culture of Samoa we had just left. The officials were friendly and helpful and the people all smiles and gracious to each other, and to us. The anchorage was poor in front of the town so, after checking in and getting a good night's rest, we headed back to a small island that looked promising when we passed it the day before. There was good holding ground just off the island and we dropped anchor, spread our awnings and prepared to enjoy a few days in this peaceful place. We were next to a causeway that separated two small islands. One one, a village of maybe a dozen families lived on a grassy knoll and on the other was their bush that supplied food for the village.
The next morning, I was working on deck and could see a hollowed-out log with a single individual slowly making its way against the current toward the boat. The current was rather strong and the canoe was not making much headway but the individual sat unconcerned and stroked the water with a makeshift oar. Actually, it wasn't an oar at all, just a flat piece of board. I continued working and waited for him to approach. The middle-aged man was all smiles when he finally reached the boat and I dropped him a line and invited him aboard. He could speak very little English but his name was "John" and we became great friends. He was the only single man in the village and when I asked him why he never married, he said, "I like to take a walk." This literally meant, he wanted to be free to do his own thing. He was like an uncle to all the kids in the village and introduced Susie to some of the young girls her age. They were a happy people and Susie and a couple of the girls became great friends. They rode ponies around the island, took her to church on Sunday and had her spend the night in their homes. The homes were simple affairs with thatched roofs and dirt floors covered with beautiful hand woven mats. The few days we planned to spend in this spot turned into two weeks as we settled into the life of the village.
The movie projector was a great hit as usual. We would to onto the island before dark and set the thing up with makeshift screen strung between two trees and with the portable generator nearby. Then Jeanne and I would return to the boat for dinner before going back after dark to run the movie. They would all be waiting anxiously, sitting in front of the screen when we arrived. As usual, "Twenty Thousand Leagues" was the big hit and there was a lot of laughing and hooting at the octopus fight scene.
John took me everywhere around the islands. On one excursion, we centered a hut on the beach in a neighboring village and there were all the elders sitting around in a circle on the matted floor. The ceremonial kava bow sat next to the chief and his young daughter was stirring the contents. It was obvious all this was for me and I was motioned to sit cross legged in the circle with them. Kava is a strange drink, tasting and looking a little like dishwater, it had a narcotic effect on the throat. Made from the roots of a small shrub belonging to the pepper family, it has no alcohol content and can be taken in large doses without affecting your senses. What it does affect is your body, with a sort of numbness. With some ceremony, I was handed the first coconut-shell bowl and everyone watched as I took a few sips. John smiled and indicated that I was to drink the whole thing so I up-ended the bowl and downed the contents to everyone's satisfaction. The bowl was then refilled and passed around to each one in turn. When everyone had participated, it was my turn again and so it went until the big Kava bowl was empty. After a kava party, all you want to do is lie down but John and I had to et back to my waiting dinghy and cross a lagoon to the boat. Jeanne laughed when she saw the two of us arrive in a state of semi=stupor. Another evening, John asked if I would play guitar and sing for the men of his village, which I did. We gathered at one of the men's homes and sang into the evening with Susie and the other kids outside, laughing at our noise.
We enjoyed these people immensely and hated to leave but we had a schedule to meet for the first time in many months. Grant, my friend and ex-boss from the company, owned a small plantation in Fiji that they had turned into a hotel and we were invited to join them on a certain date for a week's visit. I had a hard time leaving John. He was a great friend and we had some enjoyable times together. When he found out we were leaving the following day, he came aboard with his brother and presented me with some carvings he had made and Jeanne with a beautiful tapa cloth. We were overwhelmed by their generosity. These people had so little but wanted to share with us. John and his brother were building a new boat and I had an extra outboard motor, so I gave it to them. They were very graqt4eful. The next morning, we were preparing to leave hen John came out on the boat and insisted I come to this house for a meal he was preparing. I was anxious to leave but he insisted and I told Jeanne I had to go. It was with some difficulty, I tore myself away in the afternoon to get the boat underway. There were tears streaming down his face when I left him on the beach and he stood there until we sailed down the channel and out of sight heading toward the open sea.
Suva, in the Fiji islands was a major port and an interesting one. There were a huge number of Indians there as well as the native Fijian population. the marketplace was a panorama of color and excitement with every conceivable thing to buy from Kava to Boar's booth jewelry. We enjoyed it and spent our time at the anchorage in front of the Royal Suva Yacht Club. They welcomed visitors and provided all kinds of entertainment in the evenings from movies to excellent barbecued steaks. After being at sea for a period of time, this was luxury we appreciated. We also had the enjoyment of meeting other cruising people on boats from all over the world. We had a week of this before sailing to the north island of "Vanua Levu" to meet Grant and his family. His place was called "Namale" and sat on a bluff overlooking tiny "Nandi Bay." We anchored in the middle of it and spent a wonderful week in the lap of luxury at his small hotel. there was entertainment provided in the evening by singers, dancers and musicians from a neighboring village, and luau's on the beach. We were thoroughly spoiled by the time our stay was over and I feared I might lose my crew on this soft life. We sailed back to Suva, a few pounds heavier from all the good food, and prepared to clear with the authorities and proceed west.
We raised anchor in Suva harbor and with a favorable wind made our way through the pass and around the south coast of the island. The New Hebredes lay six-hundred miles to the west and we shaped our course for the island of "Efate." Five days later, we had the island in sight but darkness closed in and we hove to until morning. With all sail set the following day, we ghosted along in light air and entered the small, colorful harbor of "Vila." Our anchor went down into the coral-studded bottom just in front of a little hotel with an eating porch overhanging the water. We had come from Suva completely under sail without having to use the engine, even to enter the harbor.
The Tricolors of the French flew over one government building while the British Union Jack flew over the other. This was the only condominium government in the world and we were free to choose which one we wanted to check in with. Whichever we chose, we would be under their laws and jurisdiction as long as we were in the islands. I chose the English because of an absence of any language barrier and we settled in for a week's stay.
Much of the New Hebredes was still untouched by civilization and the home to thousands of stone-age people. We didn't know if we would make any contact with them but I wanted to see the islands, so we left Vila and started our trek through them. It was to be a lonely two-week sail from one anchorage to another on four islands.
The first evening, we anchored off some bluffs on the opposite end of Efate island. After dinner, the three of us climbed into our dinghy and rowed along the shore under the bluffs. As we r9unded a point, a small wild goat was crying its heart out up on the bluff. Soon, we saw why. the mother was stranded on a narrow ledge just above the water's edge and was trapped there. She was unable to get to her young one and it was probably long after feeding time for the little fella. We studied the situation and decided to try to help. After first putting Susie ashore on a convenient rock at the water's edge, Jeanne maneuvered the dinghy close to the ledge and the trapped goat. I managed to climb from the boat onto the ledge with the intent of frightening her into jumping into the sea. She then only had to swim a dozen yards where a path led back up the bluff. As I stood on the narrow ledge, six feet above the water, I could see the animal was terrified of my presence and uncertain what to do. She was not so small, probably weighing around eighty pounds and sporting two short carved horns. Her udder was full and dripping milk so I knew she was a bit uncomfortable. I moved toward her a few steps, waving my arms and she bolted, not into the water, but straight at me. I managed to retain my spot as she brushed past me wild-eyed. This maneuver was repeated several times and I could not get her off the ledge and into the water. Finally, with a determined effort on the next charge, I managed to grab her horns and we both fell off the ledge and landed in the dinghy with Jeanne. The goat was thrashing around and bawling but I held on for dear life as Jeanne hurriedly rowed for the path. When we were close, I wrestled the animal overboard and it swam the few feet to shore and rushed up the cliffs. I was scratched up a bit but otherwise unhurt. Of course, we all felt good about our rescue of the little guy and his mama.
As we continued our journey through the islands, we hardly ever saw another human being, except, just before nightfall when the natives would come down to the water to bathe. They were very shy and if we went ashore, they would disappear into the interior. We saw their empty dwellings but never approached them. At one anchorage, there was a deserted French plantation at the head of the bay and we did our washing, using fresh water from their storage tanks. Well-used paths crossed the area but they were not used while we were there. After a week of good weather, conditions began to change and the wind increased as we worked out way down the forty-mile-long eastern side of Malekula island. I developed severe pains in the chest so we pulled into a place called "Bushman's Bay" and dropped anchor off a deserted beach. The wind remained strong for two days and I stayed in my bunk reading the Mere Manual from my medical library trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I finally decided it may have been pleurisy, as inflammation of the membrane that lines the chest and probably caused by my experience with the goat. With two days rest, the pain was gone and we moved on toward Luganville on Espirito Santo island. After a pleasant day of great sailing in moderate wind, we coasted the town of Loganville and searched for a suitable anchorage. A mile past the town the wind began to rise, and in light rain showers we headed for a likely landing spot. By the time we arrived and anchored, the wind was blowing fresh, the bay was full of chop, and it was impossible to launch a dinghy. I let out lots of scope on the anchor chain and we went below to wait out the storm.
The Island of "Espirito Santo" loomed over us and the wind howled through the rigging. Our anchor clung tenaciously to the mud bottom and chain ground against the bobstay as we swung in wide arcs with the gusts. The crew was shipbound for two days and passed the time reading, playing cards and occasionally climbing the ladder to peer out at the island and the beach a hundred yards away. Coconut palms grew almost to the water's edge and they were swaying in the wind as waves crashed on the narrow stretch of sand at their base. The sea was a caldron at the place where we would have to land our dinghy to get ashore when th3e wind died. This island in the southwest Pacific had meaning for me. It 3was the home of Bloody Mary, Nellie Frobush, Joe Cable, Bus Adams, Luther Billis, The Frenchman, and Bali Hai. Thirty-five years before, thousands of soldiers and sailors were stationed on this island as we fought our Pacific offensive in World War Two. One of them, the young Navy Lieutenant James A. Michener, was beginning his Tales of the South Pacific. This was the last and largest island in the New Hebredes group and our jumping-off place to a yet undetermined destination.
On the morning of the third day, the early morning sun slanted in through a porthole and awakened me from a sound sleep. I realized conditions had changed because the ship was still and riding on a quiet sea. The wind was down for the first time in three days and I stepped through the hatch on deck to view the now quiet beach and landing spot. I awakened Jeanne to come and look. We could now go ashore for the first time. We jumped into our clothes and I told Susie we were leaving for a short excursion. Jeanne made a thermos of coffee while I launched the dinghy and we headed for a likely spot to land on the beach. It felt good to be ashore and we took a path that led to a road just a short distance inland. We follow3ed the road in the direction of "Luganville" and enjoyed the walk in the still, fresh morning. Aft4er a mile, we crossed a high bridge over a rain-swollen river and descended into the town. This had been a busy place during the war but it was quiet now with only a few businesses stretched out for a half mile along the road.
As always, we headed for the Post Office first to pick up our mail, then to the stores to find fresh food if it was available. Heavily laden with packages, we retraced out steps back to the boat in the first heat of the day to share breakfast and mail with Susie. This was our last stop in the western Pacific and we spent the next week exploring the surr9ounding area and trying to decide what to do. Our options were several. We could head for the Torres Strait and enter the Indian Ocean for a run to Europe and an eventual circumnavigation or we could head south to Australia and spend six months waiting out the coming hurricane season. The final option was to move north and eventually to Hawaii to wait for spring before going west again. For a few days, we seriously considered the Indian Ocean and Europe but there were some problems. The Suez Canal was closed and due to be reopened before we would reach it in January, but you could never be sure. there were political problems brewing on the west coast of Africa should we decide to head for the Cape of Good Hope and that route into the Atlantic. I had a desire to visit the Central Pacific islands that I had flown through after the World War and the trip back to Hawaii would open that possibility for us the following spring. After a week of indecision, we opted for Hawaii. After all, it was home for a change and we had seen a lot of remote islands. Considering what eventually happened to us in the far reaches of the Central Pacific, it was a fateful decision.
With our sights now set for Hawaii, we moved the boat about five miles up the island to a deserted bay close to a coconut plantation where fresh water could be obtained and anchored for a couple of days. Susie and I made many trips on the dinghy to the head of the bay to fill water jugs from a tap on the plantation. there didn't seem to be anyone around so we just helped ourselves. When the tanks were tapped, we made sail, headed for a pass through the fringing reef and set our course for "Tarara" in the Gilbert Islands. My plan for reaching Hawaii from this point in the Western Pacific was different than any I had heard of before. 'We would sail to the Gilberts and take on a full load of fuel. Then we would enter the equatorial countercurrent with its light winds and easterly current for a power run as far east as our fuel would take us. When it was nearly exhausted, we would turn north, enter the northeast trades and beat our way to Hawaii.
After thirteen days of great sailing, we raised the Island of "Kuria" in the Southern Gilbert Islands. There was an island trading vessel off-loading supplies as we approached and I thought I might secure fuel from them and save the stop at "Tarawa" but they departed as we arrived so I continued sailing in closer to the island anchored some distance off a sand beach. We decided to rest for awhile before moving on to Tarara but soon an outrigger approached with several men aboard. One was wearing some kind of uniform and although they were very friendly, we were told regulations forbade us from landing on the Island before first clearing with the authorities at "Tarawa." I said I understood but, would it be all right if we stayed at anchor for awhile? They said that wouldn't violate the regulations and, with friendly waves, left for the beach. It wasn't long before the same group was again pulling up to our boat in the outrigger. This time the uniform was gone and the canoe was filled with fresh fruit and drinking coconuts. We invited them aboard and they enjoyed inspecting the boat and allowing us to return their hospitality. Late in the afternoon, we said our good-byes and left for an overnight run to Tarawa.
This little island in the Gilberts, only two miles long and one-half mile wide, was the scene of one of the first and bloodiest battles of the Pacific during World War Two. As I approached the clocks at the end of a long fairway, I was well aware that hundreds of men died in the waters surrounding me, trying to reach the same spot I was now heading for. The din and destruction of battl4e had long since faded from memory but some of the reminders of war were still to be seen. Large coastal guns faced seaward and concrete bunkers pocked with bullet holes still stood among palm trees in the middle of the island. There was quite a dense population for the size of the atoll and a group gathered on the concrete dock to greet us as we moved across. A Chinese man ran the fuel dump and arranged to deliver diesel fuel to us the next day while a local British couple invited us to dinner at their home. Without a prearranged Visa for this remote outpost, we were limited to a three-day stay but that suited our purpose. The British ruled these islands for years until they were taken over by the Japanese during the war. They were now back in the hands of the British trained Gilbertese who had a healthy respect for a strict interpretation of the rules. With this in mind, we sailed away shortly before our allotted time was up.
With fuel tanks loaded to capacity, we plowed into the equatorial countercurrent and headed east under power and sail for the long run to Hawaii. We were veterans of the Pacific now and distances meant very little to us. We had full confidence in ourselves and our vessel and would point her anywhere in the world we wanted to go without hesitation. The countercurrent gave us extra push of up to one extra nautical mile every hour and we made long runs every twenty-four hours for the next two weeks. The weather was typical of the doldrums with light winds, overcast skies and some rain showers. Susie celebrated her birthday at sea for the second time and we settled into our shipboard routine as the engine pushed us eastward and the days passed. It was more work for us because the wind vane wouldn't perform under power and we had to stand watches at the helm.
When we were nearing the end of our fuel supply, I judged us to be just far enough cast to make Hawaii on a starboard tack. We hardened up on the sheets and beat into the Northeast Tradewind. As we did so, the current and leeway was setting us to the west and our progress was slowed to about four knots as we moved north, hard on the wind. I wished I had taken on another barrel of fuel at Tarawa but it was too late to worry about it and I watched our progress taking us west of the main islands of Hawaii. Our desired destination was Honolulu but when we reached the latitude of this island, we were a hundred miles west of it with no way to head into the teeth of the Northeast Trades to reach it. We continued on northward for another night and early the following morning I had the small island of "Niihau," which is only a large volcanic rock, dead ahead of us. With light winds, we worked our way into the lee of the island of Kauai and with our last remaining fuel, powered to the little town of Port Allen on the south coast. We were thirty-eight days out of Espirito Santo in the New Hebredes with only a forty-eight hour stop at Tarawa. We were also twelve-thousand miles out of San Francisco with almost a year of steady sailing under our belts. Within a few days, "Evening Star" was tied up at the Hawaii Yacht Club in Honolulu with the crew enjoying the many pleasures of Waikiki Beach. It was good to be home.
Two weeks after returning to Hawaii, I had chance to earn a little extra money. A warm sun bore into my bare back as I worked on deck. The splice was going slowly because of the salt hardened line and I pushed it aside to rest my complaining fingers. A familiar figure was moving across the grass below the Yacht Club veranda toward the boat and I watched him thread his way around the many sails stretched out to dry on the hot grass. I acknowledged his wave and waited while he walked the boarding plank and stretched out against a sail bag just under the deck awning.
"Don" was a friend of many years and he came right to the point. "I came to offer you a job if you want it. I just had a call from a man on the Big Island who had his boat in our shipyard a short time ago. He's a wealthy young buck from the mainland with a sixty-five-foot motorsailor that he wants to take to Tahiti. It seems he started the trip himself a week ago and turned around only one day south of the Island in rough waters. His crew of four is restless and eating all the provisions and he can't find anyone he's willing to trust the boat with. He's asked me to do the job but I can't get away right now so I told him I would talk to you. Any interest?"
I started to say no, but then thought better of it considering it had been almost two years since I had seen any earnings. Besides needing the money, I thought it might be interesting to sail a larger boat with a full crew for a change. I knew my friends would keep a weather eye on my boat and family while I was gone so I told him to sign me on.
The middle-aged skipper who climbed aboard the commuter plane in Honolulu the next morning was thin and physically hardened from many months at sea. From my vantage point in the aircraft, I could see a familiar little ship at anchor, now on Keehi Lagoon, as the plane climbed in to the fresh Hawaiian morning heading for the Big Island of Hawaii. The Kona coast looked like the back side of the moon as the plane approached the runway an hour later. It looked like we were leaning on the black jagged surface of a lava field but at the last minute before touchdown, a ribbon of concrete appeared under the wheels. A thin young man in his middle thirties, dressed like a flower child and sporting a large red beard, was waiting for me at the gate. We had a danish and coffee before heading for his ship.
She sat quietly, moored to a dirt bank, in the small harbor just up the island from Kona. There was some activity on the aft deck and a couple of young men poled in open boat toward us. I knew all eyes were on me but mine were on the ship itself. It looked reasonably well maintained as I took in the whole of her decks and rigging. The name that graced her stern meant nothing to me but something told me I had known her before in other times and with another name, possibly when I worked in the shipyard in Newport Beach over twenty years before. I was introduced to the crew and we almost immediately got under way for Kona to take on water.
That evening, darkness descended on the harbor quite suddenly and with it came a little wind. We were then anchored off the main pier with two stern lines leading to the dock to hold us close. Small waves were beginning to slap against the pilings only twenty feet away and I took up a few notches on the anchor windlass before going below for a sandwich and cold beer. I had set a sailing time for 2200 hours and the ship was quiet while the owner and crew were ashore doing last minute things. The owner and his girlfriend were going to see us off, then fly to Tahiti to await our arrival. I had a couple of hours to prowl the vessel and get a feel for her gear, potential problems and complexities. I knew the potential problems on an old girl like her would be well hidden and only show up on a black night amid lots of wind and chaos. All I really was looking for was an indication of strength and soundness in rigging and gear. The fact that this lady was built in 1925 when builders knew and cared about such things was comforting.
I thought about my crew. When I arrived that morning there were four of them, three young men and a girl who was to do the cooking. Now there were three, the girl having decided to quit the ship. I had learned a little about the men during the afternoon from the owner and my own observations. They were all young, in their very early twenties, and part of the hoard of young people then wandering around the islands, sleeping in hostels and surviving on very little money. A trip to Tahiti with all expenses paid was an attractive offer to this group until they got their first taste of the sea on the aborted one-day trip south of the island. It seemed they actually had three days at sea because after turning around one day into the voyage, it took them two days to struggle back against wind and seas to the lee of the island. They evidently were3 all a bit shaken by the experience but evidently had decided to stay with the ship for another try. A trip to Tahiti has always been a powerful magnet for young men, this group especially, with no money in their jeans.
They were a close-knot threesome and were already viewing me with skepticism. I was not accorded any degree of welcome and their attitude even bordered on rudeness when I arrived aboard that morning. I ignored them most of the day as I familiarized myself with the ship. It was evident there was quite a generation gap or two between us. I represented an authority figure and this generation openly proclaimed on their bumper stickers, "question authority." The three were very diverse in character. My biggest problem, I had already determined, was "Jeff." He was a husky pugnacious guy of medium height and obviously, the leader of the three. He was the only one with some sailing experience on small boats and made no bones about his contempt of my being brought aboard. I think he had a friend with some experience who they hoped would be given the job. Maybe he also thought I was too old for this rigorous life and the sea belonged to younger men like himself. He had not made any remarks openly to me but just a sly smile and a wink to his friends when I asked him to do some chore. I knew he would be my problem but he was strong and I needed him.
James was tall and thin and the better educated of the three. I liked his easygoing demeanor and I even sensed a willingness to learn but, of course, he had his loyalty to his leader and I hadn't tried to invade their shell in our short relationship. "Lee" was the youngest of the trio, sandy-haired and quiet, with seemingly not much energy or enthusiasm. He just liked to hang out with his friends and laugh at their jokes. He was frequently the butt of the jokes and took it good-naturedly. I would have to weld them into a responsible crew if we were to get the vessel safely to Tahiti. Sailing a ship of this size is no joke and could turn into a nightmare and even a killer if not handled properly. There was no time to worry about that. I knew the wind was freshening from the increased motion of the boat so I finished my beer and went topside.
We were in relatively shallow water and the vessel was pitching a bit and hauling hard against her anchor chain on the bow. There was slack in our stern lines and only about twelve feet separated us from the concrete dock. Our tender was banging against the pilings and I surveyed the town and entrance to the dock to see if my crew were on their way back. The wind was up and a few drops of rain beginning to fall. Realizing we could be in a precarious situation if our anchor dragged, I stepped into the wheelhouse and started both engines. When I had them both turning, I looked around to see my crew along with the owner and his girlfriend, running down the dock toward the boat. I yelled above the noise of the engine and wind for the crew to come aboard and for the owner to stand by to cast off our lines. He kept trying to question me about something but I couldn't hear him. When the guys were aboard, I told them to haul the tender aboard as quickly as possible. When it was on deck, I sent Jeff and Lee into the bows to stand by the windlass and James aft to stand by our stern lines. The "Red Beard" was trying to tell me something but I motioned him to let go the stern lines and as loud as I could yell, "See you in Tahiti in three weeks." He nodded and cast us off. I signalled Jeff with both thumbs up to start the anchor in and eased the vessel away from the dock. In a few minutes, the rain shower obscured the town as we slowly made our way straight ahead into the night and deep water.
I sent my crew below to get into dry clothes as I studied the chart and plotted a course to keep us safely offshore but still in the protected lee of the island. It was close to midnight when the crew assembled in the wheelhouse. Their bravado was gone and in the blackness, I could sense their apprehension about what was ahead. The biggest thing they feared was moving out of the lee of the land into those big seas that awaited us just beyond. I would have preferred to raise sail and be on our way but my better judgement told me to hove to until daylight. I was aware that I not only had an inexperienced crew but that I wasn't that familiar with the ship myself. They were visibly relieved when I suggested they get some sleep. "We'll set the watches and get underway at first light."
I dozed in the wheelhouse until dawn, then woke the crew and started a pot of coffee on the galley range. When we assembled in the wheelhouse, I made my little speech.
Our objective is to get this vessel to Tahiti safely with all of us still aboard and in good health. A few things to remember. If you happen to go overboard at night, the chances of you ever getting back aboard are slim. If you go overboard and none of the rest of us see it happen, the chances are zero. If you go overboard in heavy weather, even if we do see it happen, your chances are nil. The message here is - just don't go overboard. The best way to prevent this is to always be alert and aware of the motion of the boat when on deck. The old rule of one hand for the ship and one for yourself is a good one. One rule I insist upon without exception is: never go on deck at night without waking one of your shipmates and never fail to wake me if you see a light of any kind at night. One of the greatest hazards at sea is being run down by a large vessel. Feel free to wake me at any time for anything. We will all stand wheel watches around the clock. I'll take the 6 to 9. Lee, you will have to the 9 to 12. Jeff the 12 to 3 and James, the 3 to six. When on watch, I'll expect you to concentrate on steering a good course. That means no reading or other activity. Just steer and keep a good lookout, not just ahead of the ship, but also astern. Any questions?"
Jeff spoke up. "Yeah, how about cooking?"
"Good question. I should have covered that. You guys will have to share the cooking. Breakfast will be at 1100 and the evening meal at 1800. How you share the chore is up to you but I do want the galley cleaned after every meal and the ship kept clean. Snacks any other time are up to you and I may help out on a breakfast now and then. My pancakes are famous all over the Pacific. Now, let's get this vessel underway for Tahiti. Lee, you stand by the wheel and the rest of us will get us under sail."
We worked for half an hour getting all sail up and the sun was just coming up as the ship moved off slowly south toward the end of the island. It was a good feeling to have two healthy young men doing the heavy work hauling halyards and sheets. On my own vessel, this work was reserved for me. As the sun climbed higher in the eastern sky, we were reaching into increasing seas away from the lee of the island and I took the wheel to get the feel of the ship. At 0900, she was steadied down on course and Lee took over on his first watch. I helped him get the feel of steering a compass course before going below for a breakfast snack.
The first day went smoothly with all of us catching as many naps as we could to make up for the lack of sleep the previous night. with the wind fresh, we were rolling southwards at a good clip. I fixed a drink and took over the wheel at 1800. My crew went below to fix dinner and I enjoyed having the wheelhouse to myself. they had all been clustered up there most of the day getting their sea legs and were pretty quiet. Getting over the discomfort of the first couple of days at sea is always different and they were, of course, thinking it was going to be that way for the whole long hard trip. I knew their depression would disappear in a day or so but you couldn't tell them that. In another half hour, James came up with a tray for me. It contained a bowl of soup and some bread and butter. He said, "It's pretty tough in the galley, so we're not having much tonight." I started to go along with that but decided it better not to.
"James, It's not going to get any easier. Wee need a good meal under our belts and you have to learn to function at sea in all kinds of conditions. You'll just have to go below, plant your feet in that galley and get us a dinner going. We should have at least some meat and potatoes and we're going to have a solid meal every night no matter how rough it gets. Believe me, it will get easier."
He wasn't too happy with that response but said, "OK We've already eaten but I'll fix you something."
With that, he disappeared down the hatchway and I tackled the soup. I could imagine the conversation and name calling when he returned to his buddies but I had to establish control early with this group or I never would.
I received my dinner and sullen looks from all of them when they finally came up with it. Lee took the helm at 2100 and I stayed with him awhile before going below for a few hours sleep. I planned to spend a little time on each of their watches this first night and I was weary from lack of sleep myself. My mental alarm clock got me up a few hours later and I stumbled topside to see James at the wheel and the other two rolled up in blankets along the bulkhead of the small wheelhouse.
"James, what are you doing on watch? I thought I assigned the 12 to 3 to Jeff."
"Well, he was a little tired and I wasn't, so we switched."
"James, it's no big deal tonight but, from now on, I need to know when you want to make a change. I assign these watches for a reason and why is everybody sleeping u there?" He admitted they were all a little queasy down below and thought they would try it up here. I walked over to the nearest form and bumped it with my toes. It was Jeff and he raised up glaring at me. "Jeff, I don't like anyone underfoot in the wheelhouse at night. Either sleep below or on the aft deck." I didn't wait for an answer and just walked over to James at the wheel and watched for the two of them to move their bedrolls out. I hated to be harsh with them so early in our relationship but I needed some discipline from three individuals who, it seemed, had not been exposed to much of it. I alone knew of the dangers and seriousness of managing a ship like this with an inexperienced crew so I decided to play it touch. They really hadn't given me any slack to play it differently, so far. I secretly hoped they would come around as the voyage progressed but I wasn't too optimistic. It looked like it was going to be a lonely existence for me the next few weeks and I scanned the meager library in the master cabin when I went below. There was The Wake of the Red Witch. I plowed into it for company.
The second night out, the wind freshened and we were boiling down big seas with the bows depressed in the troughs and white phosphorescent waves curling off our beam. I could sense my crew's anxiety as we gathered in the wheelhouse to plan strategy. I decided to bring the massive mainsail down instead of trying to reef it and that presented a danger. Instead of a gallows to drop the main boom in, there was only a boom crutch on top of the house. Trying to get that heavy spar into the crutch on a rough night would have been dangerous. It could easily knock a man overboard or break a leg if it got out of control, so I decided to let it rest on deck with lashings until morning. Looking out on that darkened deck with spray flying across it, Jeff asked the question. "Who do you want on deck?" I knew he didn't expect me to go out. The owner-skipper didn't, and they were surprised to learn I was even going to stand a wheel watch. I knocked the ashes out of my pipe and said, casually, "This is too important a job to turn over to a bunch of amateurs. You and I and James will do the honors and Lee will take the helm." I knew he was relieved.
When we worked our way out into the night and gathered at the foot of the mainmast, I gave them a bit of advice. "Don't hurry. We'll take our time and down her inch by inch if we have to. Just watch your footing."
As we ran off before the wind, it took the strength of all three of us twenty minutes to get that big piece of canvas down. James on the main halyard winch and Jeff and I fighting to control the sail as it came down. It was a stubborn job until we had a blanketed somewhat by the mizzen, but then it gave way to our efforts and soon covered the deck. Getting it furled and held with gaskets was the toughest job, and we were all sweating profusely when it was done and the boom lashed. The guys had performed well and I purposely remained on deck enjoying watching the vessel slash through the cresting seas. Once the fear of working on a heaving deck is behind you, it leaves a feeling of strength and I wanted these guys to feel it. I think, for the first time they realized we could handle anything that needed doing aboard the ship, and I could sense their feeling of confidence. The easy camaraderie they shared with me when we went back to the wheelhouse for coffee was s small victory, and I hoped, maybe even a breakthrough in our relationship.
In five days we stormed through the last of the northeast trades and entered the equatorial countercurrent and the doldrums. The weather clouded over and intermittent rain showers were frequent. We were constantly changing sails and course and it was hard work in foul weather gear most of the time. The guys were learning that sailing was more than the romantic notion they thought it to be. My experience so far with the vessel told me she was not a good windward passage-maker and there would be a lot of that on the final run to Tahiti.
We cranked up the two big diesels and ran east in the countercurrent for two days. James turned out to be a good engine-room nan, checking oil and keeping the bilges pumped. We had two problems down there. First, we were taking water through the shaft bearings and also had a leak in the engine's freshwater cooling system. We couldn't stop either of them so it took regular pumping of the bilges and James watched it closely. After a day, the ;main bilge pump burned out so we found a portable gasoline pump aboard that had good capacity. It was supposed to be for topside use in washing down the decks but we put it to use in the engine room. The only problem was the carbon monoxide it emitted from the exhaust and James struggled to get the small engine running when needed, without being overcome by fumes before he could exit the tight space down there. He took the responsibility though and I didn't have to worry about it.
My crew was beginning to shape up well. Jeff was my deck mate, James handled the machinery and Lee became a pretty good cook. When we praised his culinary skills, he worked all the harder to earn our respect, even making fresh bread and biscuits. After the first week, I had a respectable working relationship with the crew although I was still not accepted in their inner circle. Things remained like this for the rest of the voyage and I was satisfied, feeling a stronger control over the ship with this state of affairs.
After gaining some casting under power, we again turned south and entered the Southeast Tradewinds. These winds were lighter and our progress slowed but the weather was pleasant and the guys enjoyed fishing off the stern and sunbathing on deck. They were really into the voyage now and enjoying the seaman's life. I couldn't help but think they were a different group from the kids I had started with. They were beginning to realize that each shouldered a heavy responsibility for the ship and everyone aboard. Jeff followed the navigation procedures closely and I encouraged him to learn. I let them have their camaraderie and time alone and I spent long hours in my cabin reading. I just wanted to get the job over with, pick up my money and get back to my family and boat. There was only one flight a week out of Tahiti for Honolulu by way of Samoa and our progress was such that I would make it with a day to spare without having to spend an extra week waiting for the next one.
The last ten days went without incident until we were within a couple of hundred miles of our destination. Our course would take us by the lee shore of "Tetiaroa" island less than forty miles north of Tahiti but the wind shifted and we were close hauled trying to stay a safe distance off the atoll. With heavy rain showers and low visibility, we spent an uneasy night on watch as we charged past the little island. With the morning came continued unsettled weather and with my eye on that plane departure the following day, we motorsailed until almost noon. By then, we had fair weather again and the big beautiful mountains of Tahiti in view off our bow.
It was another satisfying landfall for me but my crew was excited and couldn't take their eyes off the green shape of Tahiti and Moorea as we approached the islands. We were back under sail and charged through the pass into Papeete harbor. As we rounded up into the wind to douse our sails, the harbor pilot came alongside and led us to the quarantine dock and customs office. "Red Beard" was there to meet us. He had been watching that pass for several days awaiting our arrival and probably wondering if we would ever see his vessel again. After the formalities were completed, we moved the ship over to the waterfront below the town and with bow anchor set, backed in to the quay, Tahiti style. Interested onlookers from the grassy bank took our stern lines and the voyage was done.
Red Beard slipped the boys a ten-spot and sent them across the road for hamburgers and ice cream while he inspected the boat and questioned me about the trip/ When they returned, we set them to cleaning up the ship while we went to the airport to arrange for my flight and then to his hotel. He promised to take the crew out for dinner that evening and I knew they were eagerly awaiting a first big night out in Papeete. My flight was early the following morning and he and I sat by the pool talking.
To be continued...
PART 3 - SHIPWRECK
POART 4 - DELIVERANCE