Chapter XXIV – New home, new pace

From the first moments on Maristela, I felt like a totally new era in my journey has begun. For the last eight months, while on land, I was under constant time pressure: whether stopping for a short land visit on one of the islands or passing through one of my destinations on the rush through Central America, time was scarce and precious, and had to be distributed carefully between sightseeing, Internet time and, in shore stops case, big load of ship maintenance. Suddenly, I had all the time in the world, and practically no duties. We planned to stay in American Samoa for two weeks at least, and there wasn’t really that much to sightseeing to do, and little day-to-day maintenance. That suited me perfectly – after the last busy months on Lorraine-D I felt that relaxation was what I needed most, and John was similarly minded – after a difficult single-handling passage from Tonga, he felt he needed some rest.

And the two of us had a beautiful vacation.

Enchanting sceneries, and zero tourists to spoil them – what else could you possibly wish? Maybe a McDonalds…

We explored every bit of Tutuila Island, going on every road there was, climbing the mountains and exploring the towns, going along beautiful seashores where high waves broke on the rocky ridges and walking on the shady jungle paths. Using the opportunity to stock up with food and supplies, we explored the local shops of all kinds. McDonald’s near the marina, the center of the local yachtee social life, offered free internet for six hours a day, and at last I was able to get hold of friends I haven’t talked to for many months.

In one of our most successful trips, we rented a car, and for the first time in my life, I was driving without an instructor;  and I enjoyed that immensely. Previously, driving was expensive, dangerous and tense; suddenly, it was just fun. American Samoa was the best place for inexperienced driver because the locals’ relaxed manners expressed itself in the driving, taking the edge out of it. The speed limits were 30 km/h inside the villages and 45 km/h between them, and the drivers were totally content with the limits, never overtaking and honking only to greet someone they knew.

Never has our Toyota looked so out of place.

We drove on mountainous roads across the island, reaching places so idyllic that made clear why there was not much done in the Pacific – why work if you can lie on such a beach, drinking coconut milk and watching the waves? From the local market, it was obvious that the locals didn’t grow anything that needed to be picked from the ground – bending was clearly too much of an effort.

One of the remnants after the disaster. The West coast was hit the hardest by the tsunami.

One mysterious fact interested us very much – though many of the houses on the island were half-destroyed and in a very bad shape, but the cars on Tutuila were new, big and expensive. Turned out, there was a tsunami that hit the two Samoas and Tonga. American Samoa was hit the worst, more than 200 people were killed, and we still could see remnants of ruined buildings everywhere on the west coast. To help the local population, US government sent each family a tent and 40 thousand dollars to repair their home. The Samoans, sharing the American love for big cars, left their homes unattended, but they all bought new, luxurious cars…

 In the evenings, we had time to read, cook food and enjoy long, deep conversations about everything in the world – and there was much to talk about. Coming from places and age groups as far as possible from one another, different cultures and different backgrounds, we were equally curious about the other side of the world. We both didn’t know much about the other culture’s history, politics and everyday life, having never met anyone from each other’s country in our life before. Each of us proved knowledgeable and ready to share experiences from our homelands, and the other was ready to ask and listen. So we spent many quiet evenings sitting on the stern of Maristela, watching the lights of the harbor and talking about Edmund Hillary and Eliezer Ben Yehuda, about the Palestinian problem and New Zealand economic policy, about places and people equally far from both of us… there was always something to talk about.

John was eager to share, and I to learn, his knowledge and experience about sailing. He had impressive mileage, including around-the-world trip, two voyages through Alaska and Hawaii, three journeys to Tonga and two to Australia and Tasmania.

Taking bath in the dingy boat after a rainy day, as it caught plenty of rainwater. Just about as hardcore as I got during this trip.

All of those were done on Maristela, and this small wooden lady and its builder and captain seemed perfectly adjusted to one another in 46 years of coexistence. Contrary to Lorraine-D, equipped with a lot of complicated systems and thus needing constant maintenance, Maristela was totally self-sufficient and able to be managed by one person. It demanded very little electric power, all the pumps being operated by hand, and the little electricity that was needed came from a small solar panel. John’s way of sailing was also very different from what I was used to: on Lorraine-D the sail handling was monotonous and simple, as we had only two sails and we used both of them if we could. John, on the other hand, had 14 different sails with him, and he could adjust Maristela to any weather conditions, optimizing her speed relatively to the wind direction and velocity. With light Maristela, who would have difficult time going hard on the wind and the waves, he had to plan his track more carefully, taking the weather into account. In short, on Maristela, sailing was art, while for Lorraine-D it was just the means of proceeding forward.

In American Samoa, my vision of sailing and sailors underwent a big change, not only because of John, but also of all the people on the boats surrounding us. Previously, I was always sure that mostly people sail in bunches of at least three-four people; turned out, the most common number of crew on a private boat is two, and loads of people sail single-handedly. From a dozen boats we saw in Pago-Pago, there were 6 single-handlers, 3 pairs, one family with kids and two commercial yachts with bigger crews. This statistics is a bit unusual for most places, but American Samoa attracts single-handlers because of its cheap prices on anchoring and living, almost free internet and peaceful atmosphere undisturbed by tourists.

Towards the new adventure.

After the two of us felt like we relaxed, travelled and shopped enough, we decided to move on to Western Samoa. Although the two Samoas were the same nation and spoke the same language, Western Samoa was under German and then New Zealand control, finally gaining independence in 1962. While the nation called itself Samoa, the US Samoa has insisted on calling it Western Samoa, to feel more equality between the two. The two main islands of the neighboring countries were situated only 60 miles from each other, thus promising less than a day of sailing between them. After raising the anchor and cleaning it from all the junk that clung to its anchor, we were ready to make our way to Western Samoa.

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Chapter XXIII – Jumping ship

The way to American Samoa is tied closely in my memory with sail repair. Never had we that much of it as during those 7 days. As our sails were still torn in Pitcairn storm, We mounted a spare jib and main; and though the jib was well experienced, hard-working one from the Atlantic, the main was old, evidently not used for 5 years at least, small and not quite adjusted to the boat. The thread that sewed together its parts tore constantly, and a rip that advanced in a few minutes took hours to repair. Additionally, we manage to tear the third spinnaker sail only hours after hoisting it. I spent my last day on Lorraine-D sewing the two sails, starting at 9 in the morning until it was too dark to sew.

Yes, I'm married, and I have a very jealous husband, and I'm busy this evening and I don't want a tour of local bars.

We arrived to Pago-Pago harbor on a sunny morning of July 19th, and made our way to the dock in extremely dirty water: plastic trash, food scraps and bits of wood were floating in the water all around us. After we attached ourselves to the dock, we were greeted by unbelievably fat local officials; the marine patrol policemen, who came by to say hello and ask if we’re married, were even worse, resembling potato sacks more than human beings. Afterwards we found out that American Samoa is the fattest country in the world, with 93.5% of the population suffering from obesity problems.

Despite that, the trash everywhere on land and in the water, and the stink from a local tuna cannery, we liked American Samoa from the very first moments on land, when we boarded the local bus. The buses here looked homemade, as though someone has busted the back of a regular car and fitted a wood box on it instead. Inside, they were decorated with local colorful fabrics, had big speakers that played reggae at high volume and cost you 1$, no matter where you went. In short, they were friendly and fun, and had just the right atmosphere of living in South Pacific. Our previous encounters here were a bit disappointing – Rarotonga and Tahiti were too touristic and expensive, Mangareva too remote and dormant, and all of them lacked any indigenous speck we really looked for in this part of the world. US Samoa, though thoroughly infiltrated with American culture of junk food, consumerism and love for big cars, had nevertheless its own relaxed and friendly way of life. The local green scenery was unspoiled by tourists, who avoided the island because of the water pollution and the fish stink of the tuna factory, and the island didn’t even have any facilities to receive them, having only one hotel which wasn’t very attractive. Though I’m not a big fan of consumer culture, seeing American-fashioned big department stores with impressive choice and reasonable prices was nice after the appalling shopping costs of all our previous stops.

As I went back to the yacht after our first lookout, I met John, our closest neighbor, whose wooden boat bearing the name Maristela was attached to the berth ahead of us. From our first conversation I learned that John is from New Zealand, and he sailed alone to Pago-Pago only for a brief stop, to get the boat out of Tonga, an independent island nation to the south-west of Samoa, where he spent a lot of time. It was then when I started considering the possibility of moving from Lorraine-D to small, cozy 32-footer that was operated single-handedly by probably the most amazing person I’ve met on this trip.

John has dreamed about going around the world on a boat since he was a little kid – he used to sail as long as he remembers himself, and his school notebooks were full of boat drawings. No wonder than when he started his carpentry apprenticeship, he begun the preparation for building his first boat at the back of his house. After searching meticulously for the best model and gathering lead scraps for the keel, 17-year old John begun building Maristela, who would be his loyal companion and only home for many years. Working full-time, John devoted all his free time and mental effort to the boat, and after three years of work, the boat was finally ready to be launched on water. It took John another three years to get prepared for the big voyage, and in 1968 he set out on the big trip of his life – going around the world. For the next few years, John has led a life of a gypsy, travelling between all sorts of countries and stopping here and there to earn some money to keep the boat going. After stopping for several years in US, and sailing twice to Alaska, John decided to return to New Zealand with his family, thus completing his circumnavigation in 18 years. Since then, he has undertaken quite a few trips in South Pacific, and in the last three years has frequented the Kingdom of Tonga, New Zealand’s closest neighbor and wonderful place to find shelter from the cold New Zealand winter.

Old home, new home.

I didn’t know that much then, the long and fascinating tale of John’s life slowly uncovered before me during our subsequent talks. At that moment, talking to John on our second day in US Samoa, I knew basically that he’ll spend some time in US Samoa and will head back to Tonga, that he’s done a lot of sailing in his life and that now he sails alone. However, I sensed the atmosphere of altogether different sailing around the boat, and guessed that the bag of John’s stories is full an just needs the proper listener… that’s why, when I hear John is leaving the dock to anchor deeper in the lagoon, I asked him if I can join him in his journey. After some consideration, consulting with his wife and mutual discussion about possible plans of sailing together, John agreed. I stayed the following couple of days on Lorraine-D, trying to do as much cleaning and tidying as I could, doing this last bit of favor for the place that has been my home until now.

The last photo on Lorraine-D.

The parting with Lorraine-D and its captain wasn’t painless – I have spent more than 7 months on the boat altogether, and felt as if I was a part of it already. I stood on the dock to release the mooring lines, seeing, for the first time in my life, Lorraine-D leaving the port without me onboard. But after saying goodbye to this wonderful period in my life, it was time to move on, to the new adventure.

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Chapter XXII – From Tahiti to Rarotonga

The passage to Cook Islands’ capital, Rarotonga, is too gloomy for me to remember clearly. The departure of Anna and Evgeniy, my best friends of this adventure, was so sudden and swift, and took us all, including them, by total surprise. Their imprint was still felt on the boat, and every nook on Lorraine-D was full memories of the time we spent together, of little Lielle’s smiles and songs and questions and games… The loneliness I felt now was deeper than ever.

I had plenty of time to ponder the strange events of the last months: Ziki’s daughter spent most of the passage adjusting to the sea, and wasn’t quite fit to do anything for the first five days. The shifts therefore were divided between the three of us, and 8 hours of steering a day gave plenty of room for bitter thoughts. These deprived me altogether of any will to care for the boat which desperately needed it: our engine room was flooded during our stay in Tahiti, and I found the engine knee-deep in sea water when I descended into the engine room for some routine check. Now, we had to cope with consequences of the engine and gear soaking in salt water for two days, and never in the entire trip had I so little desire to visit the engine room.

And, reluctant as I was to admit it, I was growing tired. Tired of the waves and the winds, tired of seeing the same rooms, decks and ocean around me, tired of being bossed around, tired of difficult relationships with people. More and more I thought about leaving ahead of time, but when I talked about it with Ziki, he asked me to stay a bit more. I was ready to help him out – except him, there were now only women onboard, with only me proficient with sail operation and engine room assistance. However, at least now we had tanks full of fuel, so our way was swift – if the wind weakened, we turned the engine on. In a week, we were on Rarotonga, Cook Islands’ capital island.

The forest-covered mountains of Rarotonga: the typical scenery of South Pacific.

Though it seemed that no place could be possibly more commercialized than Tahiti, Cook Islands set new standards of price abuse: every person departing Cook Islands had to pay 55$, and whoever wanted to drive on the islands, had to purchase local driving license. Food, fuel and internet prices soared here even higher than French Polynesia, exploiting the numerous tourists coming here mainly from New Zealand. However, after months of speaking Spanish and then French, it was nice to have the locals understand your default language for a change. Here, we made good friends with the neighboring yacht Slow Dance, a luxurious steel beauty slightly bigger than us, but housing only four people. They gave us a lot of help and advice, and made me understand how little I still know about sailing and boat maintenance.

We found a way, though, to take advantage of the Cooks’ greediness: as local license was needed to drive any vehicle, the attestation for a new license was very simple and cheap: a theory test, for a fee of 5$, tested your knowledge of a small green brochure containing all the traffic rules of the island, which really weren’t complicated, as there wasn’t a single traffic lights or a multilane road on the island. For another 5$, you could pass a practical exam with a police officer, which was almost impossible to fail, and you were entitled to buy a driving license of Cook Islands for a period of up to 10 years. As I didn’t hold the Israeli driving license, but desperately wished for some driving practice, this was the solution. The theory test needed about an hour of studying to pass; and to prepare for the practical one, I had some driving practice with Ziki on the car he rented. Though I was sure that I didn’t pass, the officer repeating a couple of times I was a dangerous driver, I was pleasantly surprised when he gave me a paper to get my license. I could drive!

Well, it wasn't that bad...

Retrospectively, Rarotonga probably wasn’t the best choice to stop in Cook Islands: housing the administrative organs of the nation and a big fishing port, Rarotonga was too westernized and commercial to be truly interesting, and even the local market on Saturday felt very fake and tourist-adjusted. The common place for a boat to stop in Cook Islands is Suwarrow, a deserted, remote coral atoll accessible only by a private boat, which is called “the most romantic island in the Pacific”, being, on top of all a real treasure island. And if the name sounds vaguely familiar to you, then yes, it is named after a Russian ship Suvorov who discovered it. Rarotonga did, however, offer some nice walks and swimming – even the dock that we were tied to was overgrown with coral.

Here, we had another crew top-up: Elena’s friend, Natalia, interior-designer from Moscow, joined the boat for a month. In addition, Pupi flew from Tahiti to rejoin us on Rarotonga. Setting out to American Samoa, there were only women on Lorraine-D, except for the skipper: Elena, Natalia, Maayan, Pupi and me. Who said women on ship are bad luck?

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Chapter XXI – Tahiti

Almost every person I ever talked to about Tahiti during the voyage was disappointed with it – and we were not an exception. If you would ask a visitor to describe Tahiti in one word, probably the word you would hear most oftenly would be “expensive”: one of the most costly destinations in the world, Tahiti is a place where you can pay 15$ for a hotdog or for a bottle of water in the supermarket.

The green mountains of Tahiti - at least this beauty you can enjoy for free.

Other than the highest prices in the Pacific,Tahiti didn’t really offer much except for beatiful green mountains: its beaches were mediocre, most of the coastline occupied, and other attractions not much different from anywhere in the Pacific. This was especially annoying regarding the fact that to enter Tahiti – and French Polynesia in general – is financially challenging: any person entering Tahiti by boat is forced to pay a bond in size of his or her ticket home. The bond has to be paid in cash in local currency (Pacific francs) and is returned in the same currency in a designated port. Our agent saved us from the bond as our visit to Tahiti was very short, but many boatees avoid Tahiti just for that reason, and those who did, flee as soon as they could to the neighboring small island of Moorea, which did look like a proper tropic paradise. Still, this was the capital of French Polynesia and probably the most famous place in the Pacific, so we spent a day circling the island.

Gauguin's portrait at the entrance to his museum in Tahiti

I made special effort to visit the museum of Paul Gauguin, a famous impressionist who spent a lot of years in Tahiti and died not far from here on Marquesas – even at his time, in 1891, he complained that Tahiti was too Western and the French ruined it with civilization. The rest of the time was dedicated to the boat, who didn’t see proper port for the last three months and definitely needed some care.

The day before our departure was marked by an unexpected and saddening event – Anna and Evgeniy, my dear companions and friends on the ship, decided to leave. Their strife with Elena has marred their experience on the ship considerably; recently it began to affect little Lielle as well, so they could not bear travelling on the same ship with Elena any more. We expected that in Tahiti Elena herself would leave Lorraine-D, as during the last weeks she talked a lot about leaving the boat, but she changed her mind after spending some time on land; therefore, the Family kept to their promise not to continue their voyage if she stays on the ship.

Lorraine-D in Tahiti marina, just before setting out to Cooks.

As Pupi decided to make a small land break, the ship’s crew was halved, and now we’ve reached the lowest crew number Lorraine-D ever housed since the beginning of its journey around the world. There were only four of us: Elena, loyal to the ship after all her scandals and tantrums; Ziki and his daughter, Myann, who had just joined the ship in Tahiti; and your humble narrator, who intended to leave the ship on Fiji, but now was having serious second thoughts. Thus, downcast and gloomy, we set on our way to Cook Islands.

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Chapter XX – From Gambier Islands to Tahiti

This is the story of one of the grimmest passages I ever had on Lorraine-D. It wasn’t supposed to be long – the distance between Mangareva and Tahiti is only 800 miles, and the voyage was supposed to be about 9 days in the regular conditions. However, the winds were not favorable. That wouldn’t be bad enough if we had enough fuel to sail hard on the wind; but the mere 200 liters we purchased on Gambier weren’t enough for much. We tried to get more than that as hard as we could, but, scared of the fact that Danny’s drug dealing operations would jeopardize the whole journey, Ziki wanted to distance himself from Mangareva as soon as possible.

At the beginning, we didn’t quite realize how bad the situation was: though we were aware how little our stock was, we hoped to replenish it on one of the Tuamotu islands, on our way to Tahiti. The trouble was, Ziki didn’t want to stray from the course to Tahiti too much, and the only island on our way was Mururoa, and the GPS maps Ziki had showed some human construction, though no marine facilities. As we couldn’t really do any background research on Gambier, we sufficed ourselves with that. However, as we approached the island after several days, we saw that it was completely deserted. No wonder – as I did some reading about French Polynesia afterwards, I discovered that Mururoa was actually a nuclear test site, and it was our luck we didn’t approach it on our way…

After passing Mururoa, it dawned on us slowly how bad the situation was – we had to reach Tahiti with around 80 liters of fuel in our tanks, with at least a week of travel ahead of us. Just for comparison, keeping the batteries properly charged required about 30 liters of fuel a day, and we needed to save at least 20 liters to be able to enter the Tahiti port while being in control of the vessel. Effectively, this meant that from that moment, we had to abide by the strictest electricity saving rules we ever had in our lives: no electrical lights and devices; navigation equipment turned off; very limited time on charging our gadgets. To add to it, the wind had changed to north-westerly, blowing exactly from the direction we were heading to. That meant that the journey would have to be even longer than we planned…

This was the time to see how much we depended on our electricity. We turned on the generator once in two days for about 40 minutes (in comparison, regularly, the 220V electricity would be on for about 3 hours a day, with two sockets functioning all the time). During this time, we had to be as efficient as we could: we charged all the electronic devices we could, did the vacuum cleaning, baking, and any kind of jobs that needed electricity or lighting. In all other times, however, the situation was quite miserable: after the sunset around 6 o’clock, the ship was plunged into darkness, forcing different sleeping habits on us, as there was nothing much to do after dark. The usual entertainment – movies, music, computers – were all unavailable. Myself, I didn’t care much for those, but found that my spare time was diminished to nothing – the amount of work stayed the same, but amount of effective hours I had diminished by 30%, essentially robbing me of any time for my hobbies and studies. Even though we tried to adapt our day to the light hours, having breakfast at 7 o’clock in the morning and dinner at 5pm, there was still too little time. The shifts became much harder – we had to hand-steer using the magnetic compass, which was less accurate than the electronic one and slower to react to the change of course. Thus, steering the ship in complete darkness, lighting a small handtorch only occasionally to see the compass and not even being able to see our location, we slowly made our way to Tahiti.

As if that weren’t enough, on the next day after we entered the no-lights regime, a problem that Ziki tried to conceal to prevent the panic on the ship had finally to be uncovered: there was a rat on the ship. It had entered the ship while we were tied to the dock, probably through Elena’s window, and settled itself in her room, much to her fright and disgust. It left excrements, made squeaking noises at night, and fed on whatever food it could find – luckily enough, the food stocks were sealed from it. As there were a lot of hollow spaces in the boat, it made its way everywhere, leaving its signs in some of the uninhabited rooms.

One can hardly imagine how much inconvenience and panic can one rat induce in a closed space populated by 5 females, one of whom is 4 years old and another 75. Elena, who was the first to encounter the rat and apparently saw it with her own eyes, was taking it the hardest: she couldn’t sleep in her room any more, and all the other rooms seemed rat-infested to her as well. She ended up sleeping in the living room and on the deck; now and then, she would find new rat excrements somewhere and would show it to everyone. She was sure that the rat was a pregnant female, and thought she heard the little ratlings squeaking – the ship for her was a rat-infested nightmare. Her panic was contagious, and not one of us lay awake at night, listening for the rat noises.

Once, I was awaken in the middle of the night by Evgeniy, who saw the culprit making its way into the kitchen – it was actually a small mouse, hardly longer than a finger. That brought us a bit of relief – annoying and damaging as it was, the mouse was hardly dangerous for little Lielle or for any of us. Elena, however, couldn’t be convinced that there is probably only one small mouse on the ship. The relationship between her and the others, that were already tense for the last few weeks, grew into open strife, and the situation became absolutely unbearable. Never in the entire trip had we waited so much to reach the land… and how glad we were, when the wind finally swung in the right direction and we started closing on Tahiti. The whole passage took us 16 days.

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Chapter XIX – From Pitcairn Island to Mangareva

When we started the voyage to Gambier Islands, a group of islands in the south-eastern end of French Polynesia, the weather was bad, with 25-knots wind blowing steadily behind us and gusts of heavy rain. We could see the rain clouds on the radar and knew that when big spots with blue border were approaching the ship on radar’s screen, the wind would strengthen and slightly change direction as the cloud would pass the ship.

We were sure, therefore, that we are experiencing this kind of wind-and-rain gust when a big cloud approached us on the morning of June 6th. However, soon enough we saw something was wrong. Instead of stabilizing around 30 knots, the wind kept growing, and when Ziki, worried, sent us to trim the sails, it was already too late – by the time we reached the mast, the main sail was already torn to pieces and the genoa sail was fluttering hard in the wind, as the sheets snapped under the tension. While three of us tried to salvage the last pieces of the main, Alon and me were fighting hard to furl in the genoa. Rain was pouring on us, the deck was slippery, and the bow dived deeply into the waves that the gust generated, but we would hardly notice, trying as hard as we could to furl the sail fast and save it from breaking. We didn’t manage, though: mere two minutes before we managed to close the sail completely, a big gap opened in its rear end. We did the best we could to close and tie the torn part, and headed back to the bridge, drenched and exhausted. By that time, the wind had already subsided back to strong, but reasonable 28 knots. The storm had lasted for no more than 20 minutes.

Trying to fold the giant torn main sail took us all the afternoon.

Short as it was, the storm managed to inflict a lot of damage upon the ship – beside the ruined sails, worth at least six thousand dollars each, much damage was caused because of the tilt of the boat: during the storm, the water was waist high on the downwind side. All equipment unattached floated on the water surface, and some of it eventually made it into the ocean – among it, to my disappointment, was my bathing suit. What’s worse, some of the sea water got into our fuel tank through the tank air openings on the deck. We were grateful, however, that everybody was fine and we had no casualties during the storm – and retrospectively, we were risking a lot, working without lifejackets or any other kind of protection on the wet, rocking deck, which felt as if it was trying to throw us away into the ocean with each oncoming wave, so that sometimes we had to hold for our lives. Amazingly enough, the women inside the living room didn’t even feel the rolling so much, and after the wind subsided a bit were even were even able to cook a multipot lunch for everyone.

Though we hoped that the storm would make the crew forget their petty quarrels and unify us a bit, reminding of the things truly important, the result was quite the opposite. Some people were acting like the storm was the captain’s fault, and insisted we should have stayed close to the land instead of venturing into the stormy sea. As any experienced skipper prefers to be as far from the land as possible during a storm, their claimed could be easily dismissed. Some blamed the skipper for not reacting quickly enough to the storm. I have to admit, at this point Ziki and those who just wanted to help him were so tired from the hardships of the weather and the bickering of the people that we did not deign to go into discussion with the uncontented, and just went on doing the best we could to neutralize the consequences of the storm. There were five of us: Ziki, Anna and Evgeni, me and Pupi, who did her best to share the load of duties, challenging as it was for her. Danni and Kanni, still in open strife with Ziki and not allowed to do any ship operating duties, refused even to cook food, moving therefore to open mutiny, and were removed from any activity on the ship until their disembarking in Gambier Islands. Alon, who was their best friend on the boat, felt they were dealt unfairly and his own months-long quarrels with Ziki led him to join the mutineers, planning to leave the boat with them. Elena, due to her personal tensions with Ziki and the rest of us, kept distance from what was happening, but still on the other side of the barricades. Only the five of us were left to operate Lorraine-D.

Those were hard times. There was a lot of work to do on the ship even without the storm damages and the harsh weather – with the shifts divided between four people, each of us had six hours of watches to start with. Than, there was food preparation, and caring for the sails and engine – we needed to hoist our spare sails, which, though older and less efficient than the previous ones, could do the job of carrying us on. In addition to all this and the everyday ship maintenance, we had to focus everyday on some project to cope with the storm damages – pumping out the bilge, trying to revive the generator who stopped working as we found seawater in our fuel… Even though we rarely slept more than 5 hours a day, there was still work to be done, and the weather didn’t get better. Fortunately enough, the distance we had to pass wasn’t big, and the strong winds carried us at good speed towards Gambier Islands. In three days’ time, we saw land ahead of us.

French Polynesia, a huge compound of islands occupying the big part of East South Pacific, consists of five different island groups: Marquesas in the north-east, Gambier on the south-east, Tuamotu in the middle, Austral in the south, and to the west – the more famous Society Islands, one of which was Tahiti, the capital island of the country and probably the biggest hub in South Pacific. Of all these groups, Gambier were the smallest and the most remote archipelago, with a population of mere 1300 people and, so it seemed, nothing to interest the tourists. The biggest and most populated island of the group was Mangareva, a comb-shaped island surrounded by a reef making access to the island quite challenging: to approach the only port on the island, one must pass in a channel of deeper water, straight and narrow. The reef, though complicating the life of those who tried to reach the island, was a crucial key to the local settlers, who fed from the fish who swam among the coral.

Spending the night in one of the numerous lagoons of Mangareva, we entered the port near Rikitea, the archipelago’s capital village, the next day. As our outboard motor sank to sea during our Pitcairn troubles, we had to tie ourselves to the dock – after months of anchoring, it was like sleeping in a proper house instead of a tent. We were glad to say goodbye to Danny and Kanni, and never to see them again – their behavior on the ship was unnerving, and we hoped their departure would improve the grim atmosphere. We then planned to stay a few days, buy some fresh fruit and fuel and head on to Tahiti.

Mangareva was the most quiet and isolated island I had a chance to encounter during my travels, except of course Pitcairn. Its small population of a bit more that a thousand people lived quiet village life, interrupted by occasional boatees, and once-a-week flight from Tahiti, but other than that, nothing much happened on the island. The only service facilities were a post office, a police stations, and too small grocery stores; a food place nominally existed, serving the clients ready plates of food for a small price, without having any tables to sit by. There was one inn on the island, which held probably the only piece of beach that could be used by tourists, as most of the shoreline was occupied by private estates. There was absolutely nothing for tourists to do, so the community lived its small, private life, without showing itself off to anyone, on this beautiful piece of land.

All shades of blue of Gambier waters. The small white dots are pearl farms.

And beautiful it was: from the Momotomo peak, I could see a gorgeous view of the forest-covered spurs, with lagoons between them filled with water of all colors. The color of the water depended mostly on how high the reef rose, and most of the waters around the island were too shallow to navigate with a boat bigger than va’a, local outrigger canoe; from the mountain, you could see clearly the access channel that we came through the day before. All inside the lagoons were spread small houses, built on the shallow waters over the reef: those were the pearl farms. The famous Tahitian black pearls are actually farmed mainly in Tuamotu and Gambier, and sent over to Tahiti for sale. The pearls are grown by inserting an implant of Missisipi River mussel inside the shell coat, and it takes about three years for a pearl to form.

Our Mangareva friends

The contact with the locals proved to be very fruitful this time: the local young guys, who helped us to buy the fuel, turned out to be exceptionally friendly, and after sharing our meal, they brought us all kinds of fruit, including a sack of local-grown pomeloes, and the famous breadfruit. As we didn’t really know what to do with it, they also showed us how to fry bread fruit chips. Curiously, most of their families didn’t come from Gambier: the Polynesian population of this part of south Pacific was quite mixed, and migration between different groups of French Polynesia, Cook Islands and Hawaii was quite common. One of them actually has spent some time very close to Israel: he used to serve in UNIFIL, Lebanon UN peace corp, in 2006 during his French Army service, and had his own stories about Second Lebanon war.

In the evening, an unpleasant event happened that urged us to leave Gambier on the next day: a drunk local came to the boat looking for Danny. Turned out, between the shows Danny made his living growing and selling marijuana, and he brought quite a stock with him to Mangareva to sell. That made Ziki very worried: if Danny was arrested and could be traced back to Lorraine-D, this could have gotten the boat into big trouble. This is why, even though we had an insufficient amount of fuel, we arranged ourselves to leave. Before the departure, we had a very pleasant surprise: the Polynesian guys we hosted yesterday came to the dock to say goodbye and to bring us a farewell present – real black pearls of local produce. After mere two days on Mangareva, we were on to our next port – Tahiti.

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Chapter XVIII – From Easter Island to Pitcairn Island

We set out from Easter Island on May 19th. Faithful to its tradition, the sea was horrible on the first two days of the trip: the boat was rolling so bad we had hard time not falling from our bunks. Kanni was having such a difficult seasickness case she could barely function. That’s why, when the wind subsided after two days, we could finally breathe with relief: after so much trouble from the sea, we deserved some peace. Danni uncovered his ukulele, a traditional Polynesian banjo-like instrument and entertained us with traditional Rapa-Nui singing: turned out, his main job was culture performances, and he even represented Rapa-Nui during his tours on Marquesas Islands. He also participated in experimental trips on reconstructed traditional Polynesian boats, which were built to demonstrate how the Polynesian people were able to reach remote areas like Easter Island and New Zealand.

The first big dorado caught - and the smallest of them

This passage was marked by huge fish we caught every second day: due to remoteness of the area, not much commercial fishing was going on, so the fish grew to remarkable sizes. Three times, we caught a fish weighting more than 25 kilograms; the last one, nearly 40 kilograms, was comparable in weight to the female part of the crew. This was another opportunity for cultural exchange: Danny’s Rapa-Nui father was a fisherman, so he showed us quick and efficient ways of filleting the fat dorado fish, called Mahi-mahi around the Pacific; the dialogue was slowed significantly by the fact the Danny barely spoke any English, and my Spanish left much to be desired.

The days of peace, however, were short; soon, the atmosphere on the ship started to deteriorate rapidly. Kanni was having a very hard time getting used to marine discipline: she probably expected to be treated more like a passenger, and Lorraine-D didn’t have passengers on this voyage, only crew. For her, it was especially challenging, as in Chilean culture the ladies were treated with care and respect, with clear distinction between what “men’s job” and “woman’s job” should be. She therefore found it very difficult to participate in deck cleaning initiative Pupi raised, to make the deck a bit more pleasant to us all. Insubordination is treated radically on any boat, and Ziki took it especially seriously due to incidents in the past. After a couple of arguments and explanations, peace was reachieved, but the incident rocked the atmosphere for a few days. In addition, Elena’s attitude towards the boat, its crew and the captain deteriorated after her injury, and the tensions between her and Anna and me were quite tiresome. Our spirits weren’t improved when fresh water started running out unexpectedly, meaning we had used up about thrice out usual norm in 10 days. This meant the end of fresh water showers, and was hard for most people, who didn’t quite get used to showering in sea water. Therefore, we were all glad when we finally saw Pitcairn Island appearing on the horizon.

Closing on Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island was definitely the least-visited place most of us would visit in our lives, and we were waiting to reach it with keen interest. Its history is tied closely to the Bounty mutiny in 1790. Bounty was a British ship that came to the Pacific with a mission to collect the bread fruit plants and transport them to West Indies. For that purpose, it arrived to Tahiti and the crew spent there five months, collecting more than a thousand plants. During that time, the crew familiarized itself with the local culture, and some of them married Tahitian women. The captain, in the meantime, was harsh and unforgiving, and tensions grew among him and the crew, which wasn’t too delighted about leaving the tropic paradise. Finally, after Bounty set sail and was already 1300 miles in the ocean, the mutiny rose, and the 18 rebels set the captain and 18 crewmembers loyal to him afloat on the ship’s launch. The ship then returned to Tahiti, and set out again with Tahitian men and women aboard. They finally settled on Pitcairn Island and set fire to the ship. During the next years, the population was having hard times: violence, alcoholism and diseases took away the lives of most of the settles, until John Adams rebuilt the society using the ship’s Bible. The island’s only town, Adamstown, is called in his honour, and he was even granted amnesty by the British after they rediscovered the island 24 years later. During the 200 years, the colony’s population was growing and diminishing, peaking on 233 in 1937. Nowadays, only around 50 people reside on the island, and many of them do not originate from it, coming to seek peace on this tiny (2 miles across) peace of wood-covered rock, which is only visited by a supply boat once 3 months and occasional yachts during the sailing season. The islands are a British overseas territory, but proudly name themselves “the smallest democracy in the world”.

The concept of 50-people island fascinated me, and I was really curious to find out how such a small amount of people could survive in reasonable comfort, and how many facilities would they need to operate for themselves and for the tourists. When on the next day Ziki went ashore for a fist contact, he brought back with him the first brushstrokes of the picture of Pitcairn life: ready to receive tourists but having so little of them, the island had one souvenir shop that opened upon demand, a restaurant that was opened once a week and served two dishes each time, and an internet café where the internet was actually cheaper than in most South Pacific countries. The people themselves were friendly, hospitable and ready for exchange: we could swap some of the dry food we had for fresh fruit the islanders grew.

The next day, it was my opportunity to go on the island. As we landed on small dock used mainly for fishing boats, we were warmly welcomed by the locals, who gave us all a map of the island; it contained more names than I have ever seen on a map, seems that naming any road, valley or cape was the favorite pastime of the bored Pitcairners. They gladly offered us a ride up the steep hill, which bore the name Hill of Difficulty, and seeing its angle, you could understand where it came from.

Typical Pitcairn sign: the island probably has similar number of offices and people

I started the Pitcairn exploration from Adamstown. Surprisingly for such a small place it housed all the possible facilities a town of any size might need: two stores, a courthouse, school, a post office, a hostel, a restaurant and a café. The island also held a tennis and a golf court. Turned out, all the people who work in these places receive a proper salary from the British government, otherwise it would be impossible for them to make their living. After hanging around the town, I headed to explore the island; quiet and deserted as it was, Adamstown had a bit of Steven Kingish feeling, like something dark was lurking behind the welcoming smiles of its small isolated community.

The majority of Pitcairn can be overviewed from any high point

As the island was so small, it was probably the first time when I had enough time to explore it all. As always, the first goal was The Highest Point (that’s its official name!), where you could see the Pacific Ocean all around you, and feel how vast it was. Other than that, the island featured quite a bit of cliffs and edges – and the beauty of the thing was, that from any high point you were able to see all of the island’s grounds or at least most of it.

As I got back to the meeting place, bad news awaited me: the weather was deteriorating rapidly. It wasn’t perfect already when we came, the swells rocking the boat so badly that some of the crew with weaker stomachs felt mildly seasick while onboard. But the next day, the weather promised to be downright stormy, and we didn’t want to be near the shore in such a weather. This meant we had to leave, preferably – that same evening. We planned to stay on the island around 4 days, and the change of plans frustrated deeply some of the crew, especially Danny and Kanni. They tried to negotiate with the skipper about staying longer, but failed, and we agreed to meet in an hour and a half on the shore to take the dingy back to the boat, weigh the anchor and leave. In due time, though, they were not in the meeting point – aggravated by the previous tensions with the captain and unsatisfied from the short visit to Pitcairn, they decided to stay on the island and wait for another boat. As their belongings and passports were still on the boat, we had to wait for the next morning to deliver them ashore: crossing back to the island in the dark through the nearly-stormy sea was too dangerous a venture.

Ziki was worried about staying the night, though we backed up our anchor by another one, attached to the ship by a strong rope, but there was not much to do. We divided anchor shifts between ourselves and went to sleep, to be awaken after a mere hour by Ziki. He himself got up purely accidentally, to find Alon asleep in his shift and the boat moving away from its position – the anchor was dragging, and the rope that backed it up snapped. Again, we needed to seek shelter at a more protected point, thankful for the lucky timing of the captain’s alertness.

The next morning, Danny and Kanni were brought to the yacht by Pitcairn Island authorities: according to the laws of the land, people were not allowed to leave the boat they came on, so the pair was denied the right to stay. We spent the morning searching for the end of the rope that snapped yesterday, to retie it and pull the spare anchor back on board. The atmosphere was this with tension: Dannny’s and Kanni’s extreme case of insubordination to the captain was punishable under marine law, as their failing to show up in due time without warning endangered the lives of us all. They, on the other hand, didn’t feel any regrets, and merely were disappointed by the fact that they weren’t allowed to stay on the island. As disobeying crew is one of the more dangerous things to have on the ship, it was known that they would have do disembark on our next destination; and so, facing physically and socially difficult passage, we set out for Gambier Islands.

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