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Logs & Stories - August 2005


Early August, 2005


We came into Papeete early in the morning of July 24th, and did a boat tour of the quai and downtown before moving to the anchorage at Maeva Beach south of the airport. Amazingly, the place really didn't look that much different than it did 35 years ago. Papeete has a population of about 100,000 and feels about the same size as Bellingham, Washington. Because most of the yachts were several miles west at Maeva Beach, the quai didn't look much larger than it had. The buildings downtown were no larger and looked much the same, although I'd guess houses went further up the hillside than they had. The only big changes seemed to be in the extent to which town stretched westward toward the airport, and the new office buildings and hotels in that area, modern looking but small by Seattle standards. Quinn's, a bar with a notorious reputation where my brother and I had spent afternoons playing pinball machines, had been burned down in the rioting that occurred when the French government wanted to resume nuclear testing in the late-1970's (remember the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior?).

People were mostly still warm and friendly; the only dark body language I experienced was from guys on Le Truck one evening, hiddenly passing a small, glass pipe back and forth. I assume they were smoking a mixture of Bison and pot (here called Pakalolo, the same as in Hawaii) and really didn't want me there in the back of the empty bus observing.

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Mid - August, 2005

We're still sitting in the Maeva Beach anchorage on Tahiti, a few miles west of Papeete. We've been here three weeks now, and have another week left on our visa.

We've applied for a visa extension and believe we'll be granted one that will permit us to stay in French Polynesia until November 1. Our extension request process was fortuitous: in Nuku Hiva we'd been led to believe that getting an extension was no big deal and we'd be granted one merely by asking, but it turned out the rules were a little different than I'd initially believed -- you get to stay if you need to fix your boat, but if you ask without needing a repair, get rejected, and then reapply claiming a broken boat you'll get turned down. We'd pondered being proactive and contacting the High Commission office from Taiohae, but had been too busy to get to it. We have friends who applied earlier, got rejected, broke their boat, reapplied and got rejected. It appears that the Pacific's best boatyards outside New Zealand and Australia are located on the island of Raiatea, just an overnight sail from Tahiti.

We visited the guy in charge of these things, got the right forms, filled them out and took underwater photos of the damage, went back with all the documentation, sniveled about my broken back and dysfunctional leg muscles, offered to show him my six-inch scar (he felt this wasn't necessary), and told him how absolutely terrified I was of hauling the boat and accidentally doing something stupid that crippled me again. We got a sympathetic reaction, and were told to come back in two days to pick up our temporary 90-day visa extension while the permanent extension was processed.

Here's the scoop on the damage: Seafire's minikeel (an underwater log that surrounds the centerboard trunk) has occasionally developed horizontal cracks. I unthinkingly left the centerboard down during the winter of 1998 while I was seriously training in Aikido, and came back in the spring to find that the minikeel sides had developed cracks from the centerboard working sideways, back and forth, and that water had gotten into these cracks, caused the wood to swell and seized the board.

My father had anticipated the centerboard seizing problem when we'd built the boat and we'd made the centerboard trunk a little wider (1/4" or 1/2", I can't recall), but when we assembled the main hull we built the minikeel from laminations of plywood and the last few inches of laminations pressed the sides of the centerboard trunk inward in the middle, making a narrow spot that keeps the centerboard from bouncing and slamming around in the fashion it would if the fit was looser. This spot acts as a 'feeler gauge' of sorts, so that when a crack develops and the wood swells from getting wet, the constriction only occurs at the center of the very bottom of the trunk, making the centerboard seizing area very small, only maybe six inches horizontally and an inch vertically. Pretty fortuitous.

Back in the spring of 1998 I'd hauled the boat, let things dry out and return to their original shape (enabling the centerboard to move freely once again), then attempted to solve future problems by bonding two layers of monster-strength 22-oz biaxial fiberglass to the sides of the minikeel. Bulletproof, except for the fact that I didn't run the 'glass up from the sides of the minikeel onto the bottom of the boat. Now that we've spent all this time bouncing through ocean swells, guess where the crack opened up? The top of the minikeel where it meets the bottom of the hull. Fortunately, the wood hadn't swollen, and the board still moved freely. And fortunately there were two yards in Raiatea that could haul us, and fortunately this really nice Tahitian fellow in the High Commission office appeared to feel sorry for my crippled ass and was willing to let me stay a few extra months to fix my boat and see a little more of his beautiful islands.

I ain't complainin', at least not today.

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Late August, 2005


We left Tahiti about two weeks ago, went to Moorea for a couple of days but concluded that we needed new batteries and went back to Papeete to arrange the deal, plus finish some unresolved visa work and pick up propane. On our second stay in Tahiti we ended up being tied to the downtown quai, treated to noise and dirt from traffic but enjoying convenient access to downtown’s resources and color.

After finishing our business and errands in town, we went back to Moorea, and proceeded to get rained on for several days while whimpiness compelled us to delay our overnight sail to Raiatea.

Moorea was beautiful and our visit was interesting. Back in Maeva Beach and Papeete, we met two boats with guys on them that I really enjoyed hanging out with. The first was a Frenchman, Didier, aboard Amani with his lovely French-Canadian wife, Joanne, and their ten-year-old daughter, Céline, who has become a good friend of Naomi's. The whole family is marvelous. Didier grew up all over Europe because his family worked the barges of the canal system that covers that part of the world. For the last quarter-century he’s lived in Tofino, BC, working as a fisherman, then running a whale-watching business that tapped into the million tourists that come to that town every summer.

Moorea has two large, gorgeous bays on it, the product of the ocean flooding its volcano caldera in two places. One afternoon Didier, Joanne and I went for a length hike that enabled us to see both bays simultaneously from a viewpoint and took us by one of the island's marae (ancient sacred plaza).

Another interesting experience I had was during a visit Didier and I made to the University of California's Gump Research Station, located on the bay not far from where we were anchored. That evening, the facility had two presentations. The first was by a French-Canadian doctor who told us of finding high mercury concentrations in fish eaten by Artic Native Americans, the product of pollution driven to the poles by high-level winds.

The second presentation was by the staff of the facility itself, a plan for expanding the site's physical resources. They showed a map of the area that included a large gray spot that looked something like a parking lot. "What's that?" I asked. Solar panels, lots of them -- veritable acres of them. It turned out that the facility had a large energy bill that they were unable to pay on the income from the current flow of visiting researchers and students, and their plan was to increase capacity and attempt to become profitable via an increase in volume. It struck me as ironic that one of the Research Station's missions was to study the impact of human beings on the local flora and fauna; a site expansion would certainly give them some first-hand experience.

Lately I've had a bit of practice living in a home with low energy consumption, so I felt qualified to pursue the issue and was encouraged by one of the staff members who felt uncomfortable with the damage that would be done to the reef and landscape in the area. Because I've wanted to keep our fuel needs low, we chose to live without refrigeration and most of our lighting comes from low-intensity LED's, and we manage to consume only about ten gallons of diesel a month. I asked about how they use energy. Air conditioning was a big need -- who wants to have sweat dripping off your nose while looking into a microscope? This one puzzled me; even in the 100-degree heat of Mexico, we somehow managed to live without air conditioning. What about lighting? As we sat under intensely bright florescent bulbs, I told them about installing LED's in Seafire.

In the course of the conversation, it became clear that they saw themselves as living under the oppression of unchallengeable fixed energy costs, looking for salvation by increasing capacity and cranking up volume. I kept thinking: "Are these guys environmental scientists or MBA's?" I imagined that the mathematical model they applied to their problem was identical to the one local hotels probably use -- make a bigger facility, make more money. I challenged them to set an example, be creative and come up with solutions that didn’t damage the non-human lives around them. It will be interesting to see what happens.

The other guy I connected with is Ben, a 25-year-old single-handed sailor who got travel-inspired by one of his college professors and dropped out of school four years ago at the age of 21 to go sailing on an old wooden 28-footer. He was concerned that the boat might disintegrate in the ocean's swells (it had never been refastened), so he traded it for a fiberglass 26-footer, and has spent the last four years living on almost nothing in Central and South America. We actually met him briefly in Taiohae, then again in Papeete, then again in Moorea's Opunohu Bay; he spent the morning we left for Huahine playing on the rope-swing in Robinson’s Bay with the kids while Karryn and I got the boat ready to travel. He looks a little like my visualization of Jesus Christ, with long hair, a beard, and a laid-back manner.

He had some adventures in Papeete, one that found him and a friend waking up in jail, not really sure of what got them there, the other with a friendly woman who came to his boat with him for a pleasant interlude and managed to exit in the quiet of the night along with $400. He was still pissed at her, so in the course of our conversation we tried to work through it. We sat there, imagining the good things she might do with his $400 -- maybe she was a single mother and needed to feed her kids, maybe she was helping her parents with their overwhelming debts.

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