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Showing posts from January, 2010

162. A RIBBON ON A HALYARD

Those days when sailors crossed oceans with a ribbon on a halyard to indicate the strength and the direction of the wind... are gone. When I realised that, I got angry. A bit like someone who'd learnt how to sharpen a flint nicely to cut a sheepskin and an idiot comes up with a new tool made of iron called scissors to do the job!

So I learnt how to use the new instruments. Reluctantly. I still argued with my captain on various occasions. The last issue was with a kiwi sailor who had taken me on as crew from Suva to Port-Vila. He had programmed his small homemade yacht to enter the harbour of Port-Vila in Vanuatu by itself... and by night. I simply could not stand it! At night, you stand on deck and you get ready to react to anything suspicious. But he wanted to 'test' his new toy and see if he could rely on his programmed plot to turn into the harbour.

We argued. I went up on deck at the bow and waited until my eyes were accustomed to the dark. I saw we were heading not f…

161. Wind and stars (4)

When I sailed across the south pacific in 1997 (do I repeat myself, d'you think?)... cat's pee? you sailed to the moon?... ah!

Anyway, one night as I was on watch... I know, you've heard that one before... so one night, somewhere between Bora-Bora and Rarotonga... a nice stretch of blue water. You can't fathom how big the Pacific Ocean is until you've been on it. Anyway, one night, I was at the helm on my own and the other 3 adults and the little boy were all asleep. The wheel on that yacht was very tall and, as I am only 5 foot nothing (1m50), I had a hard time holding the damn thing. I was not on automatic. I was actually steering. The weather was splendid, a million stars above my head, some fast moving clouds, and the swish-swish of the hull cutting the waves was a lovely sound. We were doing 12 knots. I know. I should'nt have. There was a baby on board and we were not supposed to speed. But the feeling was total elation. The boat slightly on its side. The …

160. TAHITI RAROTONGA FLASH BACKS

In June 1997 I joined the crew of 'Ocean Dream' moored at the Waterfront Boulevard in Papeytey. It was easy access to anyone. I invited my flute teacher from the Music School to visit me on board. The English captain asked her if she would play a tune and be filmed for the BBC. Sure, no problem, she said, and asked for my flute. She started playing but soon decided to go and get her own flute. So, I have this fantastic memory of the bow of the yacht facing the sunset and this flute teacher playing a gorgeous traditional Tahitian song on the flute. It was duly recorded, the whole scene. I have to get in touch again!



Another fabulous flash back takes place at the pontoon of the yachtclub in Bora-Bora. As I recall it, we were still approaching to moore very slowly. This mad yacht comes racing along full sails out. At what looked like a couple of yards distance from hitting the pontoon, they dropped the sails, roared the engine mad into reverse and turned around to... just touch t…

159. Wind and stars (3)

In February 1996 I arrived in New Zealand with the idea of staying there a couple of weeks visiting old friends living in the South Island. I stayed a year, now and then looking for a crew job in a marina to sail to Polynesia. I kept a journal of my days and adventures that year in New Zealand in the form of a tale now printed as the story of 'Li-Yan'. They are great memories. But my plan of sailing on Captain Cook's trail seemed to have stalled. Eventually I flew off Auckland NZ to Papeytey, worked in Polynesia for a couple of months and finally got a crew job on a yacht in June 1997.

I was on an atoll in the Tuamotus when I saw on the local TV that a fleet of 50 yachts had sailed into Papeytey harbour. I dropped everything and everybody and took the local cargo boat back to Tahiti. There I finally joined the crew of a British yacht sailing in that 'Rally around the world' organised from London. The name of the yacht was 'Ocean Dream', it fitted my purpose…

158. WIND AND STARS (2)

These sailing adventures of mine go back more than 10 years ago. I am writing them down now from memory alone. I never bothered playing journalist then. My experience was raw, rough and ready so to speak. At first I had a camera but later when I sailed from Polynesia to New Caledonia, I didn't even have a camera.

My memory can fail, of course. Thinking over it again the story about waking the captain because of the moon rise did not occur as I said in my previous post. On that sailing leg from Noumea to Bundaberg I woke the captain because I suddenly noticed a red light on the sideboard. As it happened, this red light had always been there to indicate that the mast light was on... hence the captain accusing me of being moon struck, as a joke. But I did take the moon rise for a large tanker on the horizon once. I forgot on what boat and where exactly.

After arriving in Australia in December 1995, I went to visit several friends, spent Xmas in Sydney with the family of an old Canber…

157. Wind and stars (1)

Maybe it's time I tell my 'wind and stars' story. I've kept it to myself until now as it is a precious memory and by writing it down I am scared to turn it into just a story. Precious memories can be defiled by people who take pleasure in making others feel small. My sailing years in the south pacific between 1995 and 1999 are jewels to me. Some will judge that they are useless pebbles of no value.

I wanted to go on Captain Cook's trail. However, I didn't have any means to achieve such a dream. Never mind. In December 1995 I hopped onto a small yacht with an American who needed crew from Noumea to Bundaberg. That was not going the right way as far as Cook's itinary was concerned but never mind.

The guy was drunk when I arrived on board. He had sailed from Texas across the Panama canal, then the long stretch to Polynesia and had finally made it to Noumea in New Caledonia. He was heading for the Queensland coast in Australia. It was just him and his sailboat…

156. WIND UND STERNE

Several lives I have been through during my 3x20 years of existence. They are totally disconnected one from the other, have nothing to do with one another. I found myself at ease as a ballet student among dancers and opera singers, hanging around stages and back stages. I found myself at ease as an ethnologist among African migrants, wearing a long skirt and tentatively speaking Fulah. And, as a crew member on various sailboats, I found myself at ease being a sailor accross the Pacific ocean.

Now old and resigned, I enjoy roaming in my past worlds in daydreams. Sometimes the blunt hidden feelings get stirred again by a film on TV or on a dvd.

All this intro to say that I have been recently moved to tears by the film on Captain Cook produced by the NDR (Nord Deutsche Rundfunk) and put on the franco-german ARTE television channel. James Cook is my hero! I sailed on his tracks in the south pacific as much as I could. I had no means, just the mad urge. I often went hungry just to be there…