29 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 for the entrance of the harbour but for a mountain. I went down and told him. He did not believe me. In the end he came up on deck nonetheless and muttered something and changed course. We argued on and on until we dropped anchor. The next day I left.

Captains blame crew for problems. Crew blames captain for problems. It is not easy to sail a boat! But when you find the right combination between captain and crew, it is fabulous. This happened to me in October 1997 sailing from Noumea, New Caledonia, to Auckland, New Zealand, with 4 of us as crew and one old captain. More on that another day.

Post Scriptum :  The video above is not mine. I thank 'ppconsultant' of Anything Sailing for sharing it with the public.

26 January 2010

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 sails all out on a beam wind... No, don't expect any drama, Alice, nobody fell in the water!

As I was standing there, my feet wide apart to hold on and my arms like a X on the top of the wheel humming the wind in total bliss, here comes the captain out of his den, shouts: what are we doing? So, I say something like, easterly winds, 12 knots speed, on the rhumb line to Rarotonga... or something to that effect. What? he said. Give me the instruments reading? So, I turned the lights on, got my glasses out and eventually gave a list of numbers to my angry captain. Alright then. He just didn't want to have any of my 'feelings' about it. He wanted facts.

The next day we had an argument about this. I explained that I liked sailing with my senses, humming the wind, checking the clouds and the top of the waves and the sounds of the boat and... And then I realized I was actually living through the end of an era. This captain had been taught sailing with instruments alone. He relied totally and thoroughly upon the data sent by some intelligent machine telling him what to do. I was a dodo. That species of sailors going to sea and crossing oceans with a minimum of instruments was on its way out...

This was 13 years ago. Who nowadays sails across the Pacific WITHOUT a gps, a complicated windvein, a radar, 2 computers... and a French cook?

You can see where this happened if you click on the stated 'location' here underneath. A google map will pop up.


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 the pontoon gently with the back of the yacht. It was flying German colours... and a pretty Tahitian lady was on board. Show off, Mensch!!!! What a manouver!

Post Scriptum : The video above is not mine. I thank SVEB6980 on YouTube for sharing it with the public.

24 January 2010

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 exactly. On board was an English couple with their baby boy, plus one American crew member. They were looking for an experienced crew able to do her share of the watch, look after the baby at times, and cook. I did just that.

No notes, no photos. I never met up again with the owners of the yacht. They had asked me to pay for my food and as I didn't have any money, I owed them the money for many years after. Eventually I paid my debt to them. We exchanged a couple of letters in 2001, I think, but no more. Maybe the time has come when I should find them out and pay a visit. They did take a lot of photos and videos. I'd love to see them.

This yacht rally was organised into 'legs' and sailboats were sorted into 3 categories, some racing, some competing for points, and others just taking the start and being counted at the finish with a large time allowance. Having a baby on board, we were of the third category. To add some spice to the sailing, however, we decided to 'compete' with another boat of the same category, betting on who would get first into Rarotonga, and who would fish the biggest tuna... The winner was to organise a barbecue for the loser!

We left Papeytey out of the pass into blue waters heading for Raiatea. I had done that trip a couple of months before on board a small sailboat with a French yacht owner and a German temporary boyfriend. My memory of it was vivid. I knew how to get into that pass and sail to the moorings at the bottom of the bay. But somehow, my English captain and his American crew decided not to pay attention to what I had to say. We sailed up and down the reef for a while. They could not see the pass. Their chart did not seem to be adequate. I did say that the two islands, Raiatea and Taha, shared the same reef belt. There is only one pass for both of them. Eventually they found it and we moored in due course not far from where I had moored previously. My heart was heavy as I remembered the hopes I had had then of finding a job and staying there with my friend.

The next day we were to sail to Bora-Bora. They asked me if I knew how to get there. The lagoon being tortuous and shallow, I suggested to follow the ferry which sails those waters everyday of the year. They said that you never ever follow another boat when you don't know your own way. Alright then. We eventually got to Bora-Bora and moored at the yacht club pontoon. From there on we sailed with our sister ship, 2 men and a woman from Portugal on a nice looking yacht.

We soon lost sight of the other boat but we were in regular contact with them by radio. They boasted having fished a huge tuna. We boasted having a bigger one still! After about a week of sailing south west to Rarotonga, we arrived one morning in the little harbour and saw their yacht already moored tight there. They had sailed in the night... following a fishing boat for guidance into the harbour. Ah well!






Post Scriptum : The video above is not mine. I thank 'leser2006' on YouTube to share it with the public.

18 January 2010

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 Canberra friend, and then went to Coffs Harbour to wait for a possible crew job sailing across the Tasman sea to New Zealand.



I stayed there in a caravan park within walkable distance to the marina, put a note up on the notice board and checked that notice board every day. I got talking to people around the place. As it was often raining, I spent the rest of the day reading a book in the cosy caravan I had rented. One day some yacht owner told me that the New Zealand harbour authorities had invented a charge for yachts being rescued in NZ waters. The kiwi people had enough, they said, of having to rescue stupid sailors not knowing how to handle their boats in the rough kiwi waters. So the Australian sailors retaliated by banning any sailing trip across the Tasman sea that year. No luck for me. I decided to fly over instead. A franco-australian friend who ran a travel agency bought me a ticket to fly Sydney-Wellington at the beginning of February 1996.

My tracking down Captain James Cook was temporarily put off.

Post Scriptum The above YouTube video is thanks to Andreas Paschen. Many thanks for sharing.

10 January 2010

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. He used to take one crew at each stop to share the watch around the clock. I didn't find him to be a nice guy but I badly wanted to sail. So I joined.

 For my part, although I had had previous sailing experience and had done a sailing course, that was a long time ago and I felt totally inadequate. My contribution was simply to keep awake on my watch hours and wake him if anything had to be decided. One night I saw a large white light in the distance, thought it might be a huge tanker or something like that, woke the captain up... who laughed his head off, accused me of being moon struck, and said that it was the full moon rising. Idiot! Well yes, in the middle of the pacific ocean at night, all you have around you at 360° is... the wind and stars, and the moon. You soon get used to that and when later you have to sleep indoors on land, you feel totally clostrophobic.

During that crossing from Noumea to Bundaberg, roughly following the 21st parallel south, we sailed dead into the sunset every night. At one stage about halfway of the 800 nautical miles, there was complete calm, no wind whatsoever and the sea looking like olive oil. The captain kept saying he was going to start the engine but that meant using petrol and it meant additional cost. So he didn't. We waited for 2 days for the wind to pick up. I loved it. I can be zen on such occasions. Not bored but curious of what goes on around. First of all the sounds of the boat are very different. Lots of birds carry on seemingly playing on the water. Lots of birds in the middle of nowhere. You wonder how they got here. Actually throughout my years of sailing on the South Pacific ocean, I have always been amazed at the number of birds and fish, given the size of ocean, its depth and hugeness.

We hardly changed the sails, didn't tack, just got pushed to the Australian caost at about 7 or 8 knots. After the dead calm, we got 2 days of stormy winds and heavy sea. I was not feeling very safe. These yachts might look pretty when moored on a pretty pontoon, but by god they are small on the surface of the south pacific. Bobbing up and down like a cork. After the strom we were slowly coming closer to the coast but still had not encountered one single other vessel.

The captain saw a group of dolphins doing their usual butterfly swimming and coming from the opposite direction from us at quite a distance. He tapped the hull of the boat with his hands and the dolphins diverted their route to come and see us. Unbelievable. Incredible. They were 3 of them including a young. They swam under from one side to the other a few times, went round the bow. I was out of my wits racing all over the deck to see them closer. They really looked like they were saying hello, how are you, have a nice trip. And then they resumed their route and disappeared.


Finally, one day out of the Queensland coast, we saw one fishing boat. Back to civilisation. A big bird perched on the windvein as a permanent fixture. I guessed he wanted the job as pilot to get into port. There was no port, just a small fishing harbour at the mouth of a river. The captain was not too sure about coming to a mooring by sail alone. I forgot how and why we couldn't use the engine actually. And I was useless as a crew... So he called the harbour authorities, said his boat was badly injured, could we have an escort? And then he asked me to 'vamp' myself up a bit to make the Australia coast guard feel good about 'rescueing' us. I hated this man!

I have told elsewhere the story of the first night at the yachtclub. Personnally I was very happy to be back in Australia where I had lived for many years in the 60's, 70's and 80's. I left this strange captain and hitch-hiked to Brisbane.

3 January 2010

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, because I wanted to sail like he did. Ridiculous. Me? a silly little french woman. But I did it. I did some. I did experience the fabulous joy of heading for the high sea and feeling so free.

On that ARTE film yesterday, I shivered on a few occasions: when they hit the reef, moreover when they got loose, that very moment when you feel your fragile vessel is floating again. It had been one of my very first sailing experience in the '60s on the Queensland coast of Australia. We had been hit by a cyclone (there was no warnings for cyclones in those days) and thrown onto the beach of a small island off the coast. The boat lying on its side shuddered all night under the pounding of a mad sea. In the morning when the weather calmed down, we were elated and screamed when we felt the boat was floating again...

The other occasion in the film "Die Reisen des Captain James Cook" that stirred me, was when they found the opening in the reef, a pass, to let them sail out to the open sea. I have experienced that feeling of escaping to freedom.

254. END OF THIS BLOG

I started this blog in 2005 under a different name. When I deleted it at one stage its title was stolen, borrowed, hijacked by someone ...