Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Inner LIfe

Town on Nuku Hiva

Patuatu, Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva

Once, years ago at a dinner party I asked a friend of ours, an international racing sail navigator, what he thought about during all those hours at sea. I don’t know what I expected, maybe not ;the meaning of life” exactly, but at least something slightly lyrical.
“How to make the boat go faster,” he answered without hesitation or elaboration.

If you read this blog, you already know some of the things I think about. I spend very little time thinking about how to make the boat go faster; I spend some time thinking shockingly shallow thoughts. For instance—after almost a year of no shopping—what I’ll buy when I get home. If you only have a few clothes you wear day in and day out, they wear out fast. I know for sure that I’ll throw away all my underwear and buy a whole new set. And I’ll treat myself to a new pair of running shoes to coax me to begin running again.

I thought it would be interesting to canvas the crew to find out what they find themselves thinking about on watch.
How to make the boat go faster; boat systems (this week, the electrical system preoccupies), our byzantine financial affairs, our next boat (this week it’s a large fast trimaran—NB. this last theme is more like a lottery fantasy, because of the sobering previous topic).
Farlyn: thinks often of summer back home, the weather here lulls you into the sense that it is summer everywhere. She thinks about the vegetable garden in full production, what’s been planted, what’s being harvested. The bonus is that it will all just be starting when she gets home in June.
Tavish: often thinks of the boat, as if in a movie shot, an aerial—kind of the visual expression of the Sailing Ideal—the sails filled, the hull racing along through an exotic sea, life reduced to the simplicity of wind and ingenuity. Oh, and he thinks of food—what there is to eat or how he can use our odd and spare supplies to prepare something novel (ie. fried bananas with lime, on fish).

We all spend a lot of time reading. Here’s our recent book lists:

Alison: Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
The Turning, Tim Winton
The Bounty, Caroline Alexander
At Night in Chile, Roberto BalaƱo
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
Still Life With a Bridle, Essays and Apocryphas, Zbigniew Herbert
Late Nights on Air, Elizabeth Hay
All Our Wonder Unavenged—poems, Don Domanski

Kim: Mind in the Cave, David Lewis Williams
Ulysses (or so he claims…), James Joyce
The Happy Isles of Oceania, Paul Theroux
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
King, Queen, Knave, Vladimir Nabakov,
Mariner’s Weather
The Adapted Mind – Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, J. Barkow

Tavish: The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
A Soldier of the Great War, Mark Helprin
No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
The Turning
Oryx and Crake
Probably More Than Everything you Wanted to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast, Milton Love.

Farlyn: While I Was Gone, Sue Miller
Walden, H D Thoreau
The First and Last Freedom, J. Krishnamurti
Late Nights on Air
Persuasion, Jane Austen

We have just finished a four day passage from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus, the islands that lie between the Marquesas and Tahiti (the Society Islands). Had a nice couple of days of down wind sailing with the spinnaker up, then the winds shifted dramatically and we ended up sailing upwind for two days.
I confess, I hate sailing upwind in high winds—the boat is constantly heeled so that you fight gravity every minute of the day, plus the seas were rough, so going below is as if you’ve just stepped into a boxing ring, constantly being flung against some hard thing. Eating, taking a pee, bathing, even sleeping is exhausting.

After about 36 hours of this we arrived near Manihi Island just after midnight. We shortened sail to slow our approach as we couldn’t get in until the pass was at slack, and finally motored through at around 8:30 in the morning.

The Tuamotus are dramatically different from the steep lush mountain landscape of the Marquesas. Thin membranes of land seem to float on the ocean—you don’t see a Tuomotu until you are a few miles away. These islands are coral atolls, the endpoint of a volcanic tropical island, what’s left after it erodes away—a necklace of coral reef, sand and coconut forest, enclosing a lagoon. Water percolates in through the porous walls of the atoll and rushes in and out the odd pass.


As soon as we dropped an anchor, a local, Fernando, came by in a speedboat with a bag of fresh baguettes. (I’m so glad the French got this place). Fernando owns the bakery and is the head of the Mormon church here. Turns out he can show you how to cook a fish in a pit, open a coconut, harvest heart of palm, take you to see a pearl farm (sell you pearls), guide you into the anchorage, and dive on your anchor to free it from coral heads. He will also drop you outside the pass and escort you by boat, as you drift on the current, watching the great show “go by” as you zip along at 2-3 knots: thousands of brilliant reef fish: angel and butterflyfish, unicorn fish, surgeonfish, damselfish, trumpetfish, scorpionfish…. My favourite things today were the giant clams, each with bright mantles, like lips, in different shades of brilliant blue and green.


Colene said...

Wow, Alison. You've been in this story so long that it may seem rather normal to you, but it plays as a totally wonderful adventure from afar. I'm starting on your book list immediately and will imagine myself reading dreamily on the foredeck. (Of course, my sailing is all sunny and smooth!)

Alison Watt said...

in Papeete now. I think you and Bill would especially like Cloud Atlas, a complex, richly imagined book.
ps I've updated my bird list (now has the pacific and polynesian species)

Julie Zickefoose said...

What an exquisite watercolor, of the clouds caught up in the palm fronds. Mmmmm.