Bebinka Circumnavigation 1971
Scott Kuhner has posted pictures of the voyage at
The Voyage of Bebinka
Part 1 Westport to St Thomas, USVI
Captain: Scott Kuhner
First Mate (Chief Cook & Bottle Washer): Kitty Kuhner
Each year around the first of October, the waterways of the East coast of the U.S. become infested with boats making their way south, either to Florida, the Bahamas or the Virgin Islands, for the winter. Most of these yachtsmen, in both sail and powerboats, follow what is known as the "Inland Waterway" for a good part of their migration. The Waterway appears on most maps of the East coast as a dotted red line extending from Boston, through the Cape Cod Canal, running the length of Long Island Sound to New York Harbor. Those boats with little draft may continue through the canals and swamps of New Jersey, while bigger ones are forced offshore for the run to Cape May. The Cape May Canal opens into Delaware Bay, a body of water which can be treacherous because its shallow depth and numerous fishing pots protruding like tree branches and making buoy navigation difficult if one slips away from the busy shipping channel to explore the rivers on the southwest coast of New Jersey. From there one heads into the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and, after a pleasant 12 mile run, comes the beautiful Elk River, and thence into one of the most scenic cruising areas of the U.S., Chesapeake Bay. Norfolk, Virginia, at the southern end of the Bay is where one enters the real "inland" waterway, a series of often narrow rivers and canals, usually surrounded by charming and uninhabited countryside, which only infrequently opens into wide rivers or bays. Thus it continues all the way south through Florida.
Our voyage began on Sunday morning, October 17, 1971, with a magnificent sendoff, including much too much champagne, from our sailing friends at Longshore Marina in Westport. The week of countdown and the pace at zero hour had been hectic and although we thought we had everything stowed correctly, it would be two weeks before we really had a place for everything and could get our hands on an object without tearing the boat apart. With the boat not exactly in the finest Bristol fashion, we set off for City Island with a 20 knot easterly and the next day headed down the East River for our last look at Manhattan (which was not quite as malicious as might be expected, it was almost comforting) and out under the Verrazano Bridge. The weather held until we rounded Sandy Hook and had Barnegat light on our beam. About 7 pm the wind began to back and increase in spirit.
By 0200 Tuesday it was a steady 30 knots out of the north and the seas were 8-10 feet, so we put Atlantic City far enough to the west and hove to for some much needed sleep. At dawn the wind was still 30, gusting to 40 knots, and we made good 6 knots under storm jib alone for the rest of the trip to Cape May.
The boat was taking the seas and weather in great comfort. However, between Atlantic City and Cape May, a Coast Guard helicopter asked us if we needed assistance no less than three times. It is really quite a sight to look up and find a monster helicopter hovering about 50 feet overhead, with a guard dressed like an astronaut ready to jump and do who knows what. We were comforted by their attentiveness but to spare them any further effort, Scott decided to use the radio for the first time. In two minutes Cape May Coast Guard came through clear as a bell and in high fidelity. We thanked them for checking but assured them we were A okay. Hopefully this was a good omen and would be the closest we ever came to using the radio in an emergency.
In Cape May we had the good fortune to meet a charming Canadian couple who had come from Toronto, via the Erie Canal and Hudson River, in their 35 foot yawl with three young boys. Carolyn and Ken have saved for 12 years to buy the boat and make a trip to Barbados. We spent several lovely days with them getting to the Upper Chesapeake. Unfortunately, we began noticing at that time that a new thru hull fitting (for the sink drain, we use the old drain for a saltwater intake) was leaking quite a bit, so off we went alone in search of a good boatyard where we could haul and straighten things out. That is how we ended up in Oxford, Maryland, possibly one of the nicest towns one would ever want to visit.
We spent a day and a half getting to know Oxford with its lush, finely kept lawns, old white frame houses, tree lined streets and rickety old brick sidewalks. Luckily, this town also has an excellent boatyard and next door to a fantastic place to get crab cakes. Within a short time the fitting was fixed and all seemed okay.
As the weather had been terrible for the whole trip, and didn’t look as if it were going to clear up for us to enjoy the rest of the Chesapeake, we decided to make an overnight run directly from Oxford to Portsmouth, Virginia, next to Norfolk. The distance was about 120 miles or so and we figured on leaving Oxford at 0800 and arriving in Portsmouth the next afternoon. The wind picked up after dinner to about 20 knots and we had a fantastic downwind sail all night. The only problems come with the other boats, mostly tugs and freighters, which we avoid like the plague. We had our huge radar reflector up and that helps our peace of mind. Apparently, this makes us show up like a 100 footer on their radar screens. In the Chesapeake the Captains have to change course a lot to follow the buoys (which they don’t do at sea), so at least you know they keep some sort of a lookout. This overnight was so pleasant that it even made up for the rocking and rolling off the Jersey coast.
Our arrival in Portsmouth was like old home week. Carolyn and Ken were there on "Ragamuffin", our friends from NYC (from Kitty’s navigation class) aboard a Bermuda 40 "Quadriga" finally caught up to us and later in the day the guys from Westport aboard "Windsong" showed up. We had worried about the latter as we heard they were caught in a bad storm off NJ, but they were all fine. It was here too that we met the crew of "Shaman", the new owner’s name for the old "Figaro IV" previously owned and quite successfully raced by William Snaith.
Our problems seem never ending and the leak in the thru hull fitting starts all over again; and the stern pulpit gives in two places (because the steering vane was originally set up too high and over the summer had put a lot of undue stress on the stern pulpit). Thus we had to layover again and get things fixed up. The yard in Oxford promised to refund the money we paid them to fix the fitting, so that is some sort of a help.
On October 29 we left Portsmouth in tandem with 4 other boats to make the trip down the Dismal Swamp, surveyed by George Washington and one of the country’s oldest canals. It is supposed to be quite beautiful, especially in the fall but certainly lived up to its name for us. It drizzled and rained the whole trip and turned out to be just a miserable 40 mile passage under power. There was a little excitement for us though, as there are two locks to go through (our first). We tied up to a big motor sailor and just hung on while they raised us 12 feet with foaming water (unfortunately from pollution) rushing at us. Going down was very easy - 12 feet will be nothing compared to the Panama Canal!
At the end of this trip is Elizabeth City, N.C. where all of the boats went in to tie up at a wonderful marina. During the evening we wandered from boat to boat and the next morning the fog didn’t seem to want to lift, so we all went to the marina lounge where they served fresh, homemade, warm from the oven, doughnuts and hot coffee for free. We all, numbering about 15, sat around chatting until the fog lifted and then shoved off.
Crossing Albemarle Sound the sun came out for the first time since NY and we all rejoiced. But bad weather really doesn’t get you down so much when you’re on a two year vacation as opposed to two weeks!
While little children everywhere were trick-or-treating, poor Scott was down in the engine compartment trying to figure out why the engine had decided to just quit earlier in the afternoon. No warning, no sputtering or choking, just died. Not knowing much about diesels yet, we decided it would be best to head to the nearest dock (which Scott sailed up to quite nicely) where we might get some help. With a little experimentation, advice from people hanging around and a long, hard look at the engine manual, we determined there was air in the fuel somewhere. Working on it was an all night event and even for several days afterward she would die every hour and Scott would jump into the sail locker to bleed the hose in the fuel line – a dirty job and sometimes a little scary if we were in a tight canal situation as we had little control of the boat with no sails or engine. It must be a faulty fuel line as she still starts to suck air when we get low on diesel fuel (say down to 7 gallons left); it helps to keep the tanks pretty full at all times.
We arrived at Morehead City, N.C. (just below Cape Hatteras) on November 3 to find everybody we know in port preparing to go offshore. At this point we were still planning to go off from Charleston or Wrightsville, but decided that Morehead was the best place to make some repairs and take supplies on. While I bought and took on supplies (and had to re-stow everything because the boat was listing badly), Scott worked hard on the boat. For instance, he fixed the twin jib pole pad eyes on the mast (one had been ripped clean out off NJ), swaged topping lift and release mechanisms on the twin jib poles, put plastic tubing over electrical wires outside the mast, replaced the bulb in the mast head light, fiberglassed the exhaust pipe to the chain plate, installed a cut-off valve in the fresh water intake to the sink. He also replaced and re-bedded all the life line stanchion fittings to they would be sturdier – an all day job in itself. All of these jobs are time consuming and we ended up spending 3 days in Morehead. We would have been ready to go offshore on Friday the 5th, but had to continue to Wrightsville to pick up more charts being sent to us from NY Nautical.
Many of the boats had now headed off to St. Thomas, but we kept on the waterway to Wrightsville with "Shaman", who was picking up extra crew members there. Wrightsville turned out to be an awfully nice place and we spent two days and nights there awaiting good weather reports for offshore. One of the nights we were invited to dinner by a fellow we met on the dock – off we went to suburban Wilmington, NC, for an outdoor dinner consisting of raw bluefish, steamed or raw oysters, cooked shrimp (but served intact, i.e. with head, eyes and long, spindly legs, which you cleaned yourself) and deep fried blue and spot fish. Scott loved every mouthful, but I must say I was practically gagging by the time I left!
Finally the big day came on Monday, November 8, when we powered down to Southport, NC, to head out to sea through their beautifully marked harbor. We were to head east to a theoretical point in the ocean of 66 degrees west longitude, 30 degrees north latitude, from which we would finally head south to St. Thomas. When we left the mainland it was very, very cold (mid 30s) and we were heavily clothed in long underwear, ski parkas, wool hats and gloves. I don’t remember too much of the first 3 days (except that a huge school of porpoises played off our bow for 30 miles & I took that to be a good omen) as I found my stomach had not taken a liking to the sea. I was constantly ill and in my bunk most of the time, when I wasn’t heaving overboard with it freezing on the tow rails when I couldn’t lean out far enough, fast enough! Scott handled everything during this period, which would turn out to be our most difficult. Besides the cold, the wind came out of the NE at a steady 40 knots just when we got into the Gulf Stream and the combination of wind going against the Stream’s path made very steep (at times we estimated 20-25 feet) seas and a most uncomfortable crossing. It took us a few days to get into better weather and from then on it was quite good sailing.
On Thursday or so I came out of hibernation and began cooking again and trying to regain some strength. Scott had been mostly drinking Nutrament instead of eating and he deserved better than that. At this point in the voyage I was still trying to figure out how he had talked me into this whole thing in the first place – but my enthusiasm picked up with the arrival of warmer weather.
A typical day would go as follows: Sun up about 6:30, make bunks and straighten up cabin. About 7:30 Scott would take a series of morning sun shots with the sextant and work them out. After that I would get breakfast, usually bacon (vacuum packed, pre-cooked, therefore greaseless avoiding the possibility of having a pan of hot grease all over you in heavy seas) and eggs, or pancakes, French toast with fried Spam, Cream of Wheat or Maypo, even coffee cake baked in a heavy domed lid fry pan on top of the stove (I didn’t have an oven on my two burner kerosene stove). Breakfast was really the most fun meal. It would be 9:00 before the breakfast mess was cleaned up and then I would usually read and Scott would fool around fixing this or that on the boat, settle into a book or his damn harmonica for a while.
At what is known as local apparent noon, Scott would take his noon sun shots and pinpoint our location on a chart we keep taped to the wall. This was an exciting event because you could see your progress and most important, how many more days to go! Lunch consisted mostly of sandwiches and tinned fruit. Would you believe we didn’t have even one plain old peanut butter and jelly sandwich, although we did have p-butter and bacon and honey.
During the afternoons we would rest, play Scrabble and do all the inconsequential, but important in the long run, little jobs on the boat. For instance, check turnbuckles and rigging as well as the lines for wear and abrasion. Try to figure out where all the little leaks were coming from – our only earnest disappointment in the boat itself this trip was the incredible amount of water that could come through one loose or poorly installed fitting during heavy weather. Somehow the days would pass and about 5:30 I began pulling out cans to try to get a decent meal together. Since we don’t have refrigeration or carry ice, we are lucky there are some good tinned products out now. For dinner we might have stew made with pressure cooked fresh potatoes, carrots & onions adding canned roast beef later (Libbys has a delicious canned roast beef). Or chicken curry made from tinned cream of mushroom soup, chop suey vegetables (the water chestnuts give it that crunch you begin to miss when eating all canned goods) and spices served over rice. Or roast beef plus canned vegetables spooned over instant French’s mashed potatoes. Beef stroganoff, chicken cacciatore or Swedish meatballs were served right out of the can when opening several cans was impossible, and unnecessary, in rough seas.
After dinner we usually turned on the short wave radio and listened to the news or whatever we managed to receive (Scott did get the Buster Mathis-Muhammed Ali fight one night). I forgot to mention that the self steering vane did all the work on the trip, even at night, when the person on watch had the responsibility of getting up every 15 minutes or so to check the compass and traffic, which was usually nil. Before you knew it, another day would dawn.
Our total mileage for the trip so far (including the Inland Waterway) is about 2,300. The offshore passage covered about 1,480 miles and took us almost exactly 12 days. Our best day’s run was close to 170 miles, which is just fantastic for a 30 foot boat. We found Bebinka to be faster than we thought.
I must say there is a great amount of self confidence gained in making a passage of this sort with just the two of us. Scott’s celestial navigation was absolutely perfect (and a pleasure having the use of a super Plath sextant loaned to us for the trip) and St. Thomas loomed right off the bow exactly as he said it would (7:45AM, Saturday, November 20) and we knew all along right where we were. I was really proud of him! Most of the boats making this passage used a Loran set, we were one of a very few who used celestial navigation only. Also, we were the smallest boat by over 5 feet, with the fewest in crew. Scott really enjoyed the whole trip; I had my good and bad days but of course will make many other such passages anyway. It’s worth it when you get there!
It was such a thrill coming through the Pillsbury Passage, separating St. Thomas from St. Johns and the British VI’s. There are enormous cays with craggy faced, steep, rocky cliffs – and islands which are extremely mountainous, with lush green terrain and snug little harbors nestled in behind white sand beaches. We were really impressed with our first sight of land in 12 days!! Arriving at Charlotte Amalie (capital of St. T) was fantastic – everyone had made it (and we weren’t so far behind even though the last to leave) and had hair-raising tales of their passages. Needles to say, our first day here was one big social gathering. We thought we had troubles, but it was nothing compared to many boats" "Quadriga" had a miserable time as she lost her engine 3 days out and depends heavily on batteries for Loran and refrigeration. The batteries, of course, couldn’t be recharged by the engine. That’s what happens when you depend on electrical things working – nothing on "Bebinka" depends on batteries and the diesel engine can be hand cranked if necessary. "Shaman" lost her engine transmission the first day out. "Ragamuffin" had some trouble with her rigging which meant going without mizzen and main for a while. We had the Chinese water torture the whole trip, but all in all are quite pleased with our little rig.
We plan to be in the American and British Vis until Christmas, which we hope to spend with the Kuhners in Palm Beach. We come back here about once a week for supplies, water and mail, which can be addressed to us c/o Yacht Haven marina, St. Thomas, VI, Yacht "Bebinka". Before the first of the year we’ll head on down the chain to the Grenadines, spending time in and around Grenada through the end of January. Of course we are dying for news from home and can also pick up mail directed to us c/o Yacht "Bebinka", Stevens & Co., St. Georges Harbour, Grenada, during January. Mid-February we will see some of the smaller islands off northern Venezuela (if Venezuelan customs are kinder to us than they have been to others), including Curacao and Aruba, then head direct to the Panama Canal. Most likely we will spend several weeks in Panama preparing for the 1,000 mile trip to the Galapagos and the 3,000 mile voyage to the Marquesas. This is the best itinerary we can muster up at this point and it is still tentative at that.
Scott and I still can’t get over how kind everyone was in getting us off – many, many thanks to all of you for your help and moral support! And especially to my poor colleagues at Acquavella galleries who are getting these 6 pages through the copy machine many times so that everyone will hear what’s going on!
Hopefully I can get Part Two – Cruising the Caribbean – off from Panama.
The Voyage of BEBINKA – Part Two: St. Thomas VI to Pacific side of the Panama Canal
Master: Scott Kuhner Crew: Kitty Kuhner
Sitting here at anchor at the Balboa Yacht Club, on the Pacific side of the Canal, watching the ships of all sizes and nations easing up to the first locks, it becomes a little difficult to think back to Thanksgiving in the Virgin Islands, almost exactly three months ago. But, here goes…
During the Thanksgiving weekend we had the pleasure of having Ronnie Shapiro and Connie Stefanou (both friends from NYC) spend some time on the boat with us and Thanksgiving Day was spent in Cruz Bay, St. Johns. Here we were rafted up with two other boats, one of which invited us over for an absolutely fantastic turkey dinner, trimmings and all. I think we were all surprised to find ourselves enjoying such a good meal on a boat!
The rest of the weekend was spent in and around St. Croix, as we also had mutual friends from NYC, Dorkie & Calvin Beatty, staying with relatives there. We managed to get around the island for some sightseeing in a rented car and were amazed to find that part of the island is somewhat barren, while the rest is lush, tropical rain forest. One of these days was spent at Buck Island, only a few miles out of Christiansted Harbor, where we swam and snorkeled among multicolored tropical fish and beautiful coral.
After all our friends from home departed for the canyons of NYC, we began a two week cruise through some of the other islands with Roger and Mary Quigg and their 3 l/2 year old son Sean. Roger is a former NYC cop who started a small construction company to renovate his apartment, which turned somehow into a pollution control business, and later he gave up the police force to bring the company public. But he has now given that up too and has retired to the sea for the time being. Anyway, there are several highlights of our trip with them, one of them being an evening at Foxy’s on the British island of Jost Van Dyke. Foxy’s is just such an incredible place – it’s merely a shack planted on the beach among palm trees, but it is a must for anyone visiting the area. It’s easy to get the little scratch band, manned by the natives, going and everyone dances and sings and mixes and mingles. When the band is taking a break, they turn on their record player and play their one and only record "Simon Says" and invariably it is at the wrong speed, but you can be sure no one notices it. The nice thing is that you meet a lot of the local islanders, as well as the crews from whatever other boats may be in the harbor.
In West End, Tortola, we splurged on dinner at a newly opened restaurant and had an interesting evening with the owners and several local couples from Tortola. One of them, a fairly influential guy in Tortola, owns the local bakery and a restaurant called Cell 5. Cell 5 being a sort of out of the ordinary name for a restaurant, we asked why he named it that. Apparently, he began putting up the building without a permit and the local officials requested that he stop. But he went ahead and ended up in jail, where all the cops would stop by to say hi and have a game of cards. When he got out and cleared up the whole mess, he finished the building and called it Cell 5 and his biggest clientele are still the cops of Tortola. We really enjoyed the evening and learned a lot about the politics and economics of the island.
After visiting other islands and secluded coves, we returned to St. Thomas for mail, supplies and a shower. Here we got word from a good friend in NYC that there was a woman on the island who was possibly going to sell her food wholesaling company and needed someone to help her with the negotiations. Never being one to pass up an interesting business opportunity, Scott got involved and spent days on and off for the next month actually "working". We both became very fond of the people he was working with. The night before we left St. Thomas for the last time, one of them got all of us together for a farewell dinner that we’ll never forget. The company was delightful, the food delicious. Their home was one of those wide open and elegant tropical homes, situated 1,000 feet up high over the harbor of Charlotte Amalie.
While Scott worked, I scurried around gathering supplies for the upcoming offshore trip and fixing up things here and there on the boat. While he wasn’t working, Scott did odd jobs on "Bebinka" at least two hours a day and usually ended up spending the rest of the day looking for miscellaneous parts. Maintaining the boat has been almost a regular 8 hour day for us so far, but now (knock on wood) it seems under control.
During one of the periods where we had a few free days, Scott’s father came down to sail with us. We had five or six good sailing days and also managed to get down to St. Croix to visit friends of mine from St. Louis. It’s always so much fun to have family or friends who up somewhere nearby!
Those of you who know the harbor in St. Thomas may wonder why we would stick around a dirty place for two months. Of course, the job was the main reason but the fascinating people we were meeting, both on and off yachts, was a real factor. People sailing to and from here, there & everywhere with stories that are almost unbelievable. You can’t help but learn about sailing, other lands and peoples from them and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The only thing we did not enjoy about St. Thomas is the incredibly expensive cost of living – luckily we made up in Scott’s job what we had overspent there and on the way down.
One couple we met were Sten and Bretta Homdahl on a Swedish boat named Fiording. They had already sailed round the world and, in fact, we had read about them in Eric Hiscock’s book, "Around The World In Wanderer III". They invited us aboard their boat for dinner one night and during the conversation had asked us why we were off sailing. We painted a picture of tropical paradise islands and interesting and friendly natives whom we had hoped to meet and befriend. They immediately said that we were describing the islands of the Pacific and that we should forget the rest of the Caribbean and instead head straight for the Panama Canal.
And so, on January 20 (exactly two months since our arrival in the Virgins) we cleared customs and headed offshore with a beautiful easterly wind behind us. We had decided to sail direct to the San Blas Islands, off the north coast of Panama. It was with some regret that we left the area without seeing Antigua, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Grenada, etc, but we know we’ll never see every island in the world and with Sten and Bretta’s advice still in the forefront of our minds, the excitement of finally heading beyond the west horizon and seeing the Pacific at last, overcame any of our doubts.
Our first few days out were really pleasant, 20-25 knot winds off the stern and we are able to keep our course of approximately 240 degrees without changing the twin jibs. Although we had 35 knot winds for several days after that and the seas did accumulate to awesome proportions, they were still pretty much behind us and we had a great 7 day trip. A little rolling of course, but nothing we couldn’t stand. I thought we would see a ship a minute being on the way to the Canal, but over the entire period we didn’t see more than four or five in the whole 1,000 miles. But regular watches, especially at night, were kept.
All of Scott’s labor in re-caulking the deck fittings really paid off on this voyage – Bebinka was dry as a bone the whole way. Far more pleasant that the constant inch of water on the cabin sole on the way to St. Thomas. The sea-kindliness of the boat, combined with the efficiency of the Hasler steering vane, gave us a really comfortable trip.
On Thursday the 27th, we expected to sight land sometime in the morning and were looking for the 2,400 foot high mountains along the Panamanian coast behind the westernmost of the San Blas islands. It was a trying day though because land just never seemed to want to loom up before us, but with the noon shots that day Scott determined that we were just a little north of where we should be. Three hours of heading due south turned up the small atoll of Porvenir, (our intended landfall in the islands), which we had not expected to sight before the mountains due to its elevation of about 2 feet. As it turned out, those mountains are almost constantly surrounded by haze and would never make a satisfactory landfall. We really did not sight them until we were about 5 miles away – they should mention this in the Sailing Directions.
With Porvenir clearly in view, we turned on the engine to cover the 7 mile distance and hurried to arrive before it was too dark to see the reefs. It was a little hairy getting in because Scott insisted I hold an exact, and I mean exact, course and then he suddenly, and quite accidentally, let go of the damn chart and it promptly fell overboard into 6 or 7 foot seas. You just don’t enter these islands without a chart, so we circled around to try to fetch it out of the water (all the time I was thanking God it was Scott, and not me, who had let the chart fly!). After three swoops at it, with Scott yelling that it was going to sink if we didn’t reach it the next time, and adding that he would jump in and get it if we missed it again, he finally came up with it after almost drowning in the process.
As the sun fell under the yardarm, we were anchored securely (we hoped), behind Porvenir, where there is a customs house but not an official port of entry. It was such a relief to be relatively motionless even with three reefs pounding around us, as we were almost sure we would have to heave-to out at sea that night and try again the next day. But, there we were, behind a lovely palm studded island in clear, clean water. We realized then that one needn’t go the Pacific for those paradise islands, here they were only 70 miles from the Canal, $150 excursion fare from Miami! Soon after we were settled, our first Cuna Indian visitors arrived in a large cayuco, their gaily colored sailing canoes. The women were wearing the traditional mola blouse (an intricately designed and colorful blouse, depicting traditional subjects, animals, flowers, or even complicated geometric patterns, all done by hand with swatches of cotton material), sabarete skirt merely wrapped around and secured like a bath towel, dangling gold necklaces and earrings, wrist and ankle beaded bracelets – absolutely stunning! They had come to sell molas and jewelry and neatly laid their wares out on the cockpit cushions and naturally we bought a mola, which turned out to be one of the nicer of the many more we would buy. This was just beginner’s luck however, because we soon developed a definite taste in what molas we felt were good enough to purchase and made a mistake or two in the process.
After checking in with the Cuna customs agent the following morning, we sailed off in search of Pidertupo, an island on which a man from Pittsburgh has managed to set up a tiny resort, with the consent of the locals. We were disappointed in the place though and decided to accompany another boat anchored there up to Chichime for dinner. After a week of just seeing each other, Scott and I were in a gregarious mood and had a really fun evening with the Homer family aboard the "Faith Jones", a 47 foot ketch out of New London, Conn.
We spent the morning on Chichime, conversing in broken Spanish with the men and looking for molas. The men taught us some Cuna words as that is what the women speak & it was helpful in negotiating for molas. Then we had another gorgeous sail to an island called Tiatupo (tia means fresh water well, tupo is an island), where we met two particularly nice Indian men who spoke some English. Ishmil learned it from the missionaries who came to the islands in 1924 and Victor (which he pronounces Peter in English) learned in Panama. Peter took us both out lobster hunting the night we were there – it was quite a thrill paddling out in a huge cayuco to the reef, which was really pounding with a full moon above and just jillions of twinkling stars. Peter got one big lobster and kindly gave it to us for our supper, which he wouldn’t share with us. In the morning I gave him some bacon and pudding for his wife and a sail sewing needle and some sailcloth for the sail of his cayuco.
The Sunday after our arrival we decided to head for the Rio Sidros, which is one of the islands that has a relatively large village on it. This was a smart move because here we met Californians Helen and Roy Wildman and family aboard the "Rose of Sharon", their 50 foot schooner. A more delightful group one will never meet! Roy rowed right out, escorted us to a good anchorage and invited us to dinner. His wife was in the village at the time with their two girls, so we met them there and all wandered around for a while. The Wildmans have been in the islands for 5 months and speak very good Cuna. What a pleasure to have her introducing us to all their friends ashore – they even gave us Cuna names: Scott is Kilobipi (kilo is uncle, bipi is an affectionate ending) and I am Amabipi (aunt). They all howl with laughter when I tell them my name is Amabipi, Kilobipi’s ome (woman).
That evening we bought a camu burwe, a reed musical instrument that the men play, which both Scott & Roy play for them, and danced too; they just loved it and laughed that infectious laugh that makes them so charming.
Each day and night for the next week was spent doing something with the Wildmans and family, which at this point included a young Cuna girl and her older brother, ages 9 and 15. We went to chichas, which are the puberty rites celebrations for the young girls where they cut their hair to a short length, a sign that they can now marry. They are island wide parties which last from 3-5 days, a sort of coming out party, but more fun, where we sang, danced (usually a sort of a crack-the-whip, follow the leader deal) and drank chichi, an alcoholic corn drink. I wore my tule (Indian clothes) mola, sabarete, tuneude (scarf) and jewelry consisting of triggerfish teeth and sweet smelling seeds, and was really a hit. They all wanted to know where I got my mola neudi (good) and igi mani (how much money I paid for it). This gives them an idea of how much to charge for theirs and lets them know that I buy only good molas, not tourist molas which are mainly sold in Panama.
One day we all went a few miles up the river in Cayucos to bathe and wash clothes in fresh water. The river is bounded by plantations, plots of land owned by families that they farm for coconuts, bananas, plantains and native fruits. Here red hibiscus bushes abound, brilliant red headed woodpeckers, egrets and other unidentifiable flora and fauna. It’s tranquil and peaceful. After swimming and washing, we swam across the river and hauled ourselves up the muddy bank to visit the traditional Cuna burial grounds. They build thatched roofs over the family plots and surround the graves with the loved one’s favorite things.
A lot of time was spent in the towns talking to the people. One evening Helen and I were ashore for hours talking to the chief and several men (in Spanish) about the problems of the village. For instance, they need to learn more advanced agricultural techniques in order to use their farming land on the mainland more wisely (incidentally, their nation is composed of a series of islands which stretch for over a hundred miles, plus a lot of land on the mainland bordering their islands). They are also very interested in finding out things about the States, such as what the cities are like and especially in knowing how their products are priced there – for example, how much we pay for coconuts, bananas & molas – and what fruits we grow ourselves.
Talking with the women is a little different and because of the language barrier, much more basic. As the women don’t speak Spanish, I had to study my Cuna words (which I kept on a list as I learned them) to be able to converse with them at all. They are enthralled with Scott’s beard (because they are pretty hairless skin-wise and none of their men have beards or mustaches) and ask me if it rubs my skin and why don’t I cut it off?? Do we have any children, where do our relatives live, do we have a mother and father, who owns our boat and is it our home too?? I never understood about 90% of these conversations, but they love it when you’re interested enough to try to learn and will spend hours trying to teach you more.
One particularly memorable experience took place after one of the chichas. We were invited to the house of one of the Indians we knew for some of their very sweet, very strong coffee, and a rest, which we needed as we had had a pretty wild time dancing during the chicha. We were with the Wildmans and the four of us got into individual hammocks (their beds) and found them so comfortable we decided to stay a while. Soon we began entertaining them with songs like "Oh, Susannah", "I Been Working on the Railroad", etc. but with our voices I don’t know if you could consider calling it entertainment! What a good time we had and our hosts loved it. The owner of the house gave us a bunch of bananas and his wife presented me with a tiny shell necklace, which we considered quite an honor and accepted with pleasure.
Our last two days in the San Blas were at Chichime again, as we had all decided to try lobster hunting again. The first night the men speared or caught enough fish to feed an army, but no lobster. Poor Scott has never had a fish on the line, much less a lobster in hand, so he was determined the next afternoon when we all went out again in cayucos to have another go at it. Here again the boats were loaded with fish and when we had about given up, along comes Scott with a 7 pound lobster in gloved hand! The group from our two boats and several Indians who had taken us out in their cayucos all went ashore for the feast. That old lobster fed 11 of us, all having seconds, and was it ever delicious! We sat around the blazing fire for hours, gorging ourselves, singing songs and telling jokes.
I don’t have to reiterate how much we enjoyed the Cuna people and their islands and it was a tear-jerking departure on Sunday morning, February 6, when we left for civilization. It is a 70 mile run to Colon, so we made an overnight stop at Isla Grande to see what the mainland coast of Panama is like. We arrived in Colon the next day, coming through the breakwater at the northwest entrance to the Canal and wove our way through numerous ships at anchor to moor at the Club Nautico. From there we took a 15 minute bus to Cristobal in the Canal Zone to collect mail at the yacht club there and see if our South African friends from St. Thomas, Roger & Sheila, had arrived safely. They had and the "Faith Jones" was there too, so we spent some time swapping stories of the offshore trip down and our visit to the San Blas and then went off to find the Panamanian customs officer in Colon.
Colon is a sleepy, typically tropical, town of about 60,000 where one can get around on foot with ease. As is the usual cases, I got to know the town quite well in my rounds looking for foreign consulates (we still needed the boat’s papers for the Galapagos and our personal visas for the French Islands), chamois’ (to strain diesel fuel through, have come across a lot of dirty fuel so far), places to get film developed etc. One of the astounding discoveries was the prices in the supermarkets; $1.10 for average size liquid soap, 90 cents for two small rolls of paper towels, $1.10 for a can of strawberries, even worse than St. Thomas! We decided to stock the boat up for approximately 5 months and this entailed a lot of planning and buying by the case to save money. We managed to get a lot stored in our lockers, but still have 8 cases of food on the floor, which I guess will have to go on the free bunk in the foreward cabin. Meanwhile, Scott was getting us hauled out to re-do the bottom with fresh antifouling paint and we don’t plan on having to haul again until New Zealand.
We liked Colon a lot and our limited Spanish got us around pretty well. We were also lucky enough to meet two young couples who live in the Zone, one in the Army and one who is a ship pilot for the Canal company. They each had us to their apartments for dinner and it was fun to hear what life is like in Panama.
After a few days at Club Nautico, we cleared Panamanian waters for the American Canal Zone and spent a few more days at the Panama Canal YC before transiting. We had to make arrangements to have "Bebinka" measured for the amount of tonnage on which to base our fee, which is calculated on our cargo holding capacity, as it is for all vessels, large or small, that transit the Canal. Our fee was $5.25, plus a $20.00 fee for the admeasurer’s time and effort, however we won’t have to pay this fee in future transits – as if we’re going to be transiting a number of times! In 1971 the average vessel paid about $6,200 and more than 15,000 ships went through, about one every 45 minutes day and night.
When all the paperwork was finally complete, we were advised that our pilot would be on board at 0600 on Tuesday, February 15 (1972). The first thing he said when he arrived was "I don’t mind getting up so early, but I hate hand lines." A hand line is a small vessel or yacht, such as ours, that has to supply 4 of their own 110 foot lengths of line to keep the boat secure in the center lock while being raised or lowered, as opposed to the big ships that use cables and are towed by locomotives. Apparently this is the normal greeting of pilots when boarding small yachts. We believe it is a conspiracy to make us feel guilty and consequently spread out the gourmet food and liquor. In fact, our pilot indeed took a fancy to our Scotch and was soon in a better mood!
We arrived at the first set of locks (the Gatun locks) at 0700 and were tucked in behind a large freighter in the 1,000 by 110 foot chamber. Here we felt smaller and more uneasy than at anytime on the vast sea. As soon as we had a line secured from each side of the bow and stern, the water started rushing in through eight 18 foot diameter culverts in thee bottom of the lock. The turbulence was incredible and each man (we had to have 3 other people besides the pilot to handle a line on each quarter of the boat) had all he could handle to keep the boat from breaking away and smashing up against the sides of the lock.
The series of 3 locks at Gatun raised "Bebinka" 85 feet above sea level to Gatun Lake, where we were able to sail and power the 27 miles to the Pedro Miguel locks, the first of three where we would begin our descent to the Pacific Ocean. What a thrill as the last gate opened and we slipped into thee Pacific at last!
FYI the Canal is 50 miles long in all and runs northwest to southeast in direction; the Atlantic entrance being 33.5 miles north and 27 miles west of the Pacific entrance. Another little realized fact is that the pacific entrance is actually about 40 miles east of Miami!
And here we are in Balboa, a few miles from Panama City. We have had the fantastic luck of finding a friend of the Soult’s (I grew up with their daughter in St. Louis) who lives here in panama and he is really giving us the all-out Welcome to Panama treatment. The Colonel takes us sightseeing every day (in the morning when he can be away from the office) and helps us locate the supplies we need. Balboa is in the Canal Zone and is one of the most beautiful town/residential spots we’ve come across yet. It is all civilian Canal people or military and the whole area is kept spotless & the grounds manicured, as if it were a national landmark. Panama City is a place of incredible contrasts with slums backing into beautiful homes with lush gardens and an amazing mixture of races and color making up the 400,000 population. We like it very much here, to our great surprise, and will keep it in mind as a potential spot for "settling" down, if that day ever comes! I hate to sound like a travel poster, but do visit Panama and the San Blas!
Poor Scott is now down with some sort of dysentery, which I hope to avoid, and it will hold us up somewhat a far as leaving for the Galapagos. Maybe we’ll get off to the Perlas in the Bay of Panama within a week and still manage to get the good winds to the Galapagos.
Instead of General Delivery in Tahiti, we plan to use the local American Express office for mail (they won’t accept packages of any size though).
Mr. and Mrs. Scott Kuhner
c/o Tahiti Tours (American Express)
Post Office Box 627
It’s a little up in the air as to when we’ll be there, as we would like to spend more time in the Marquesas than originally planned; probably sometime in June. We’d love to hear from you all!
The Voyage of Bebinka - Part 3.
Panama to Tahiti!
How to tell the story of the last 3 ½ months – at this point it looks like an impossible task with log books and carbon copies of correspondence strewn about and a myriad of memories shuffling through my mind.
In the quiet darkness, we cast off our mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club at 0500, February 24, 1972, bound for the Perlas Islands, 50 miles southeast. Bebinka was heavily laden, riding well below an already raised waterline, with supplies for at least three months. Two cases of canned corn; one each of spinach, peas, fruit cocktail, peaches & pears; 144 tins of apple, V-8 and orange juice; 20 lbs of potatoes, 15 lbs yams, 25 lbs onions; 15 dozen eggs (all boiled for 5 seconds each in hopes of preserving them for quite a while without refrigeration); 20 lbs flour, 20 lbs sugar, 5 lbs assorted noodles, 10 lbs rice, 20 lbs spaghetti; one case Spam; 10 lbs instant milk, 5 lbs cream of wheat & 5 lbs oatmeal: 14 bottles ketchup; 8 lbs peanut butter, 14 assorted jams & jellies; 30 lbs tinned margarine and on and on. Most of it either on the main cabin sole or in the front bunk, each can returned to its case after being waxed, as regular stowage lockers were still stocked with NYC and St. Thomas supplies. And of course, 72 gallons of water and close to 40 of diesel fuel.
Because there wasn’t a breath of air, we were forced to use the engine and precious fuel we thought we would need to get us to the Galapagos. At lunchtime we looked into the cabin and saw the floor covered with about an inch of water. Scott leapt below to taste it – it was fresh, so we weren’t sinking but we couldn’t afford to lose any more water. Throwing open the port sail locker revealed the problem immediately; one of our wooden fenders had slipped onto and broken the T connection between the tanks. The tanks were shut off, saving about 15-20 gallons. Luckily we were only a few hours from our destination, but we had learned the importance of keeping extra drinking water in jerry cans – had the tanks completely drained, we would have still had 12-15 gallons in separate containers.
At this point we debated returning to Balboa, but that would mean all sorts of hassels and explanations to the customs officials, so we carried onto the Perlas, knowing we would have to really work to refill our tanks. And we did. One of the natives took us in his boat to an uninhabited island where we trekked into the jungle along a foot path carved by many bare feet passing over it. Finally we arrived at a big hole in the ground, surrounded by lush green trees which kept all sun out, filled with brackish water almost invisible through a layer of dirty scum. This was the best water for 60 miles and so we gingerly splashed the scum away and filled our jerry cans with 40 gallons of East River Special. It took two solid days, with the kerosene stove going constantly, to boil, chlorinate and filter through charcoal this filthy swamp juice. The surprise result was very tasty, potable drinking water!
Everywhere we go it seems someone takes us under their wing and the Perlas were no exception. We and Roger & Sheila (our South African friends returning home to Durban on their 36 foot schooner "Kuan Yin") met a fantastic Ecuadorian fellow who cared for a house on Isla Bayoneta and George just couldn’t do enough for us. He showed us around several islands in his powerboat, took us shelling and diving and offered us all the comforts of home. The night before we left, he asked us if we’d like a band and went off in his boat to one of the few "town" islands to round up 6 young boys, who surprised us by arriving without any instruments. We were fascinated to see them take an old gas can, a bit of rope and a broom stick to make a bass, pick up old pots and pans, wood blocks and a beaten-up old 5 string guitar. But the sounds they managed were incredible, real soul music.
On the 29th we powered out into dead calm seas in the Bay of Panama to begin the trip to the Galapagos, which we all dreaded because it is a section of the world notorious for lack of wind. It turned out to be an enjoyable trip- the seas were almost like glass and a 3 – 8 knot breeze blew most of the time, which didn’t give us much speed but kept us moving and the sails full. We ate dinner each night on our ungimballed table with no fear of finding Bully Beef in our laps. The night we crossed the Equator we celebrated with a fantastic wine given to us by a friend in St. Thomas and a special beef stroganoff dinner. We got a little tipsy polishing off the wine, but Scott wasn’t worried because we knew darn well no gales were going to blow up and demand a change of sails or worse than that, make us think.
But the trip was not entirely a breeze. Our first night out the rudder began making a banging noise and Scott had to go into the water at midnight with face mask and flashlight to investigate the trouble. Apparently the rudder bushings had developed a little room for slap due to an unnatural strain put on them by the wind vane. It was no cause for alarm, but extremely nerve-wracking as each time any following seas came upon us, this slight noise reverberated loudly through our fiberglass hull. Then, two days out of the Galapagos, we discovered again 4 inches of water in the cabin. A quick taste, it was salty! My first thoughts in crises like this concern how fast the life raft will inflate, but as Scott says, it can only be one of a certain number of things and you must systematically check them out. We had been powering for a short while and after immediately shutting the engine off, I began frantically pumping the water out while Scott checked out his suppositions. Sure enough, it was reasonably simple – the salt water intake hose had separated and we were pumping water back into the bilge while the engine was on. Solution, don’t run the engine.
We arrived at Wreck Bay, San Cristobal island, Galapagos, on March 8 and made one of those exacting entrances into a strange harbor at night. I preferred heaving-to and going in the following morning, but Scott would have none of it. Just before dusk, he took all kinds of bearings from the island, determined our precise position and plotted a course in, giving me the option of taking the tiller or pumping while we powered. Not wanting to be responsible, I chose pumping, He did a beautiful job getting us in using mainly the one flashing beacon in Wreck Bay and even the Port Captain was duly impressed. So there we were, anchored in the mysterious Galapagos after covering 940 miles at sea in 8 days, 11 hours.
Shoot, I just realized I forgot to tell the whale episode. This is a quote from a letter of Scott’s: "…we were right on the equator and it was so hot I barely had the energy to think about going over the side for a dip in the ocean to cool off, which would have been feasible as we were barely ghosting along. Just when I made up my mind to muster the energy up, there was a huge whoosh and it felt like rain in the cockpit. Only there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and rain never smelled like rotten sardines. I quickly looked over the starboard rail and to my horror there were five HUGE whales not three feet away. For the next few minutes we couldn’t breathe for fear of hitting and awakening them. The one thought that kept running through my head was that I had almost dove right into them. Make no mistake (as our leader would say), they were about 30 feet long, as big as the boat. A short time later, when they were about 500 yards off our stern, something woke them and they began to slap their tails in the water, sounding like a cannon barrage over the hill. To give you some idea of why we were so frightened, the day after our arrival in Wreck Bay a fishing boat pulled in with a shipwrecked sailor aboard. Chris was from New Zealand and on the last leg of a circumnavigation in his 19 foot wooden sloop. He had no engine and had taken 30 days to get to Wreck Bay from Panama. About two miles out the wind left him and for three days he drifted out to sea. The third night at four am he woke with a start as his little boat was tossed about6 feet in the air by a whale, who he had also woken with a start. His boat was badly damaged and sunk within hours. Chris spent a half day in the water with only a life vest, his ship’s papers and a flare gun, which he used to flag down the first ship he had seen in 20 days. As soon as the fishing boat got to Wreck Bay, the captain made Chris go to church with him – he got that Old Time Religion!
We spent a week or so on San Cristobal seeing our first iguanas, hiking up to the village of Progresso high up in the green and lush mountain country and getting to know Wreck Bay and its friendly townspeople. Before leaving for Barrington Island, only 25 miles westward, we had to get our passports back from the Port Captain, which we had a feeling would have its complications, as all dealings with Ecuadorian officials do. To obtain a permit for bringing our boat into the Galapagos we had gone through all sorts of troubles with the Ecuadorian Consulate in Colon, Panama, and finished up by paying him $40 plus to issue the papers. The port Captain in Wreck Bay had been pleased that we arrived with correct documents, but managed to think up more fees we should be charged just before we left, amounting to another $9.
Bitching among ourselves about the $9, we weighed anchor with Roger and Sheila, bound for Barrington island. Here, in 20 feet of the most crystal clear water we’ve seen yet, a number of seals swam out to the boats and performed magnificent little underwater ballets that kept us in stitches all day. They even climb into the dinghies and rubbed their bellies along the keel. Lobsters were amazingly abundant and there were nights when Scott and Roger came back with enough for two or three each – this was the beginning of our not having to go into our food lockers for meat, as each day for over 5 weeks Scott and Roger would dive for whatever we felt like eating, lobster or an infinite variety of fish.
In Academy Bay, Santa Cruz island, we collected our mail which many of you had sent to us care of General Delivery. We also visited the Darwin Station, which is the headquarters for scientists doing various experiments and studies in the islands. In a small building the scientists raise tortoises until they are old enough to survive the attacks by goats, wild dogs and rats (all introduced by outsiders). A big pen in the back contains examples of different types of full grown tortoises, which were the only ones we saw as their natural habitat is high up in the hills. Academy Bay is also home of the Angermeyers, a large German family that moved there to settle years and years ago. You may recall a Jacques Cousteau TV special a few years back about the Galapagos; Carl Angermeyer is the one who had, and still has, iguanas living in his house.
All four of us realized that we couldn’t possibly see all the islands in the time we had to spend in the Galapagos, so we worked out a "cruise" which would take us to the most interesting spots and yet not have to spend too many days actually traveling from island to island. (Unfortunately the winds are light and variable most of the time and thus the engine is in great demand. Since we don’t enjoy powering, we tried to limit the sea miles we would cover.) Our first stop on the itinerary was the Plaza Islands, off eastern Santa Cruz, where we found a big colony of land iguanas. They are more ferocious looking than the marine iguanas, a sort of yellow-reddish color, aggressive and inquisitive. We had to chase several out of our beached dinghy when we wanted to go back to the boat.
Sullivan’s Bay, northeastern James Island, was absolutely gorgeous - to our left a spiraling lava crater, fore of us a beautiful brown sandy beach, on the right a huge jutting rock about 100 feet high. A hundred yards away was a submerged crater that was spectacular for skin diving. Scott ran into an eel as big around as your thigh and about 6 feet long; that would have driven me out of the water immediately! One morning we started off very early to climb the crater and the view from the top was magnificent: tall hills of James Island enveloped by a cloud cover and sparkling white sandy beach coves dotting the shoreline.
When checking into the Galapagos, we declared the M-1 carbine a friend had pressed on us before leaving. The officials then explained how the whalers at the turn of the century had introduced goat to some of the islands so they could stop & get fresh meat for their return trips. Unfortunately, the goats were consuming the giant land tortoises’ source of food and so they encouraged the guys to go hunting. So in Buccaneer’s Cove, James Island, Scott and Roger went off one morning at 6:00 to hunt goat. They were such a funny sight - rowing away in our tiny rubber dinghy with their guns, hunting knives, camera, binoculars, hiking boots and faithful hunting dog Shanty (Roger & Sheila’s dog, Scott’s best friend).
Scott’s version: "Once on shore we drew straws for the first shot and I won. With Roger taking the lead we hiked into the bush in the direction he had seen some goats go earlier in the morning. After about an hour we were at the base of a large crater which we decided to climb in order to get a good view. Half way up I was tempted to let Roger finish the climb and do the looking, but decided to continue because I had a feeling we would see our prey. Sure enough, once on the top of the ridge we looked down into a lush green crater and there at the bottom was the grazing herd. We were trying to figure out our best approach when we saw a small goat only about 20 yards away – ‘Shoot it!’ Roger hissed. So I picked up my camera and squeezed off a shot, then got the M-1 and KA POW, right behind the shoulder. The second shot went right through its head. At that moment our trusty hunting dog thought it was his job to chase the rest of the herd out of the canyon and took off like a shot, barking all the way down. Shanty was so exhausted after the hunt that he couldn’t move for days." It was curried goat for a special lunch and delicious hibachi barbecued goat on K.Y. for dinner – and boy did our teeth ache the next day from so much chewing! Remember, the only meat we’d had for months was mushy Spam and corned beef & neither was much of a strain on our teeth.
Around the corner we went and anchored in various sections of huge James Bay for four or five days. Beautiful sunset pink flamingoes flocked in the lagoon just beyond the beach and one morning we made a special trip in with the camera to photograph them. I was rowing and Scott clinging to the Pentax all wrapped in plastic bags and he glanced over his shoulder and saw a gigantic freak wave coming at us. He leapt out of the dinghy and held the camera high over his head. Meanwhile, the wave broke over me and somersaulted the dinghy, oars and me onto the beach. I came up sputtering with my pride a little dashed, but the important thing was that the camera escaped damage.
James Bay used to be inhabited by a salt mining community and one day we took the long hike to the abandoned salt mine, deep down in a green crater. On the way we poked around the deserted mining town, which still had signs for a bakery and social club posted above the old ramshackle buildings. The most fun here though was swimming with the seals in grotto-like bubbles in lava flows leading to the sea. There were all kinds of caves and underwater passageways to swim in, with the usual friendly seals leading the way or poking around behind you. It was especially nice knowing that sharks wouldn’t venture into the grottoes and we had actually seen the seals chase some away. We finally saw some penguins hobbling about and an incredible variety of bird. James Island really was interesting and kept us occupied for well over a week. One of the happy surprises there was that we were able to fill our water tanks with good, clean rain water collected on our awning during several heavy squalls. No more of the boiling, chlorinating and filtering – for the time being at least!
In Baltra we spent the better part of a week in a nice calm anchorage working on the boats. KY beached to paint their bottom and Scott painstakingly sanded some Teflon bushings for the rudder in the hopes of eliminating the slap. The process was more involved than sitting in the sun sanding; it meant taking the rudder off and then replacing it each time he thought the bushings were exactly right. The work was well worth it, not a sound out of the rudder since. While he was working on the rudder he kept his spear gun loaded and hanging from a line tied to the dinghy. This way he was able to grab it and catch three 10 lb snook (they have a jutting chin and stripe down the side) who curiously had come a little too close. Very delicious.
After returning to Academy Bay again to get mail and take on last minute supplies for the 3,000 mile journey to the Marquesas, we had a beautiful sail to Floreana where we planned to relax for a few days before leaving. Our first stop was a little unprotected bay known to circumnavigators as Post Office Bay, where years and years ago whalers rounding the Horn from Salem, Mass., stopped for tortoise meat and left mail for homeward bound ships to carry back to New England. The tradition continues with yachtsmen and other visitors and we put several cards destined for the States in the famous barrel, which is barely visible through a maze of placards bearing the names of passing yachts. Some of the signs were quite elaborate and so I spent a morning painstakingly carving "Bebinka ‘72" into a piece of teak and in the afternoon we had a ceremony to tack it up. It was fun to see our name hung among those of friend’s boats and some of the more famous globe-girdlers we had read and heard about along the way!
About the only inhabitants of Floreana are old Mrs. Wittmer and several members of her family, who reside in a small settlement several miles down the coast at Black Beach. They are rather infamously well known in that part of the world as being connected with several unexplainable and mysterious deaths and disappearances on the island. As a last treat before starting the 3,000 mile passage, and also to satisfy the curiosity aroused about this so called "murderess", we decided to splurge $6 and have dinner at Mrs. Wittmer’s tiny home restaurant for visiting yachtsmen. She turned out to be like everyone’s favorite grandmother and we thoroughly enjoyed our chicken dinner, although I’m sure none of the four of us failed to remember that someone had supposedly died of poisoned fowl years back.
The following morning we put "murderesses" and poisoned fowl behind us and began the first organized Floreana to Hiva Oa, Marquesas, race at 8:30 AM, April 12, in cold rain squalls, big rolling seas and little wind. The recommended course was about 225 degrees, SW, for about 300 miles until we hit the trades and then pretty much due west to the Marquesas. We lost sight of our only other contender, the "Kuan Yin", at 4:30 that afternoon and did not see another sign of human life for 22 days. The poor weather conditions continued for the first 5 days of the trip and we wondered bitterly where those long, smooth Pacific rollers, sunny blue skies and puffy white trade wind clouds were; this passage was supposed to be the finest sailing in the world. Like the stock market, we know the weather can have its ups and downs and sure enough, it changed. Excerpts from our log during this passage may give you a better idea of the trip:
Mon. April 17: Awoke to fantastic weather, wind out of the SE at 25 kts, at last the big Pacific rollers, doing 7 kts, surfing to 10. The water is a beautiful rich blue. Set the twins. Scott made baggy wrinkles for the bow pulpit to protect the twin jibs from chafing. Topping lift gave way at top of mast and boom banged down on the dodger; jury rigged another. Read, studied French.
Wed. 19th: One week out, 838 miles on the log. Baked first bread at sea and it is fantastic. Scott put extra weight on the steering vane and a bungee cord on the worm gear and she keeps a much steadier, tighter course. Gorgeous day.
Thur. 20th: Head south again for more wind. Passed 1,000 miles on the log. Cut Scott’s hair and ears in the process. Tried to get some pics of both of us by setting the timer on the Pentax.
Tues. 25th: Only averaging about 130 miles per day now, little or no current. The days have been beautiful but with weather and sea conditions always the same, it makes you feel as if you’re standing still. About ten or so days to go, but sometimes I think I’ll have to jump ship before then (not for suicidal purposes, merely to get off the darn boat). Back and stomach muscles, as well as legs, atrophied from disuse; feel like a blobby amoeba. Scott is patiently reviewing navigation with me and I’m thoroughly enjoying working sights out and taking a few myself.
Sun. 30th: Today was a really good, enjoyable day. Bebinka’s topsides covered with growth almost to tow rails; it looks as if we’ve plowed our way here. Have been eating like pigs, meals and snacks are the highlight of the day! Ate last of the canned pudding – very few treats left but then this was the trip we’ve been saving them for. We continue trying to listen to the crummy Zenith after dinner each night for the news. Hear voices on Ship to Ship channel on radio telephone.
Wed. May 3: Scott had to hand-crank the diesel as we had let the batteries run down. Thank goodness we had an extension added to the crank in St. Thomas, otherwise we would have had to remove the sink to crank it. Noon shot put us 150 miles from Atuona, Hiva Oa. Wind dying, seas calm. Will sure be glad to get there tomorrow despite the Sailing Direction’s comments that leprosy and elephantiasis are common and that the bites of the little nono flies swell and infect quite easily. The days lately have flown by – thank goodness for good food and good books!
Thurs. May 4: LAND HO!! 9:30 AM Hiva Oa off the port bow about 20-25 miles. What a thrill! Mile-wise the longest passage behind us.
More about the passage since everyone is curious about the goings-on during a long offshore trip in a small boat.
We usually got up about an hour and a half after dawn (we kept our watches set so that would be about 8 AM) and had breakfast of French toast, pancakes, Cream of Wheat or porridge, and eggs & bacon as a special treat. This was served with hot coffee or chocolate and the bread was baked in the pressure cooker (without pressure but with the top on the pc made quite a good stove-top oven). Then Scott would take and work out the morning sun shot, giving us our longitude. After several hours engrossed in a good book, it was time to get our latitude at local apparent noon, at which time he would advance the morning line to find our exact position and we could calculate the miles done since the previous noon. As hard as we tried not to, we always succumbed to mentally figuring the mileage yet to be done – which can be depressing when you have already been sailing for 8 or 9 days and still have 1800-2000 miles to go. Stop and think about the things you’ve accomplished in the last 22 days and then imagine spending those days completely at your leisure and the nights lying in bed with an open skylight overhead so that you can see the sky and stars.
After a lunch of sandwiches, canned spaghetti or leftover dinner, we would venture out into the sun on deck and read and take refreshing salt water baths. About 3:00 we would begin thinking about dinner and I usually got all my cookbooks out for inspiration. Inspiration as to how to cook Spam or corned beef that is. As Scott says, "I’ll bet you didn’t know they each can be served 793 different ways!" His favorite was lasagna made with corned beef and a new dish for us that trip, hot German potato salad. We began to feel a little ashamed about the importance of food and were glad to hear everyone else at Hiva Oa discussing the culinary delights of their voyage. Dinner dishes washed, out came the Zenith Transoceanic radio to try and tune in Voice of America or AFRTS ( the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service), or BBC. The most interesting of all though was Radio Moscow. I always passed out early, but often Scott would stay awake absorbed in a good book.
While we did hit the rack each night, Scott had a compass mounted next to his head and would periodically wake up and see if we were headed approximately west to make sure the windvane was keeping us on an acceptable course. We always slept well and before you knew it, another day had dawned.
This routine was only interrupted once in a while with brief spurts of energy which produced baggy wrinkle chafe guards, a patched genoa, several pairs of mola patched jeans, a letter or some little odd cleaning job. Our mindless wonder windvane did absolutely all the steering and for twelve days the wind came out of the east to push us straight west under the twins, which needed no attention. Scott tried fishing at first, but the line caught in the taffrail log and produced a mess which took him two hours to untangle. Flying fish landed on deck every night, but all were very small and never enough to make a meal. Some mornings we even found dead baby squid, which somehow managed to get on deck. Other than that and a few porpoises, we really saw very little of the undersea world around us.
At any rate, we arrived in Atuona, Hiva Oa, after 22 days 7 hours at sea. We averaged about 137 miles a day; Scott read 13 books and I 9; we ate incredible amounts of food but only drank and/or cooked with 15 gallons of fresh water. We were the winners of the Floreana-Hiva Oa race by the way; Roger and Sheila arrived 6 ½ days later!
The bay we pulled into was somewhat like a fjord – long and narrow surrounded on two sides by green rolling hills leading to majestic mountains whose tops were hidden in cloud banks most of the time. At the head was a black sandy beach fringed with coconut trees, several thatched roof huts and a fresh water stream met the sea here after winding its way down a gently sloping valley. A lengthy hike brings you to the town of Atuona. It is really a civilized paradise – clean dirt streets lined with multicolored flowering bushes, breadfruit and mango trees in every yard, well-kept and surprisingly modern homes (which we learned later belonged mostly to employees of the French government), charming women and children in colorful clothes, but no bare breasted women in bright pireau skirts, much to Scott’s disappointment!
One super way to see the interior of an island is by horseback, so we went early one morning with another friend to rent some horses from the village chief. When I saw the condition of the saddles I elected to go bareback, although the backbone of my horse wasn’t much more appealing than the tiny wooden saddles. Scott and Jim’s stirrups were too short, uneven and non adjustable, but it didn’t hamper their enthusiasm, at this point anyway. Scott claims that his horse hated him; at least that was the only way he could justify the animal’s lying down on him twice. Finally he got rid of Scott and the saddle and I figured it was time to try trading horses. Scott says what really made him mad was the smug look on the horse’s face for the rest of the journey. It turned out to be a pretty hellish 9 hour ride and for two weeks each time we sat down our painful saddle sores reminded us of it. The views on the ride up the mountain were stupendous – we could see Fatu Hiva, one of the southernmost Marquesas about 60 miles away and looked down valleys to tiny coves with a few coconut palms and white water breaking on the beach. Each time we rounded a bend into another valley, the wind roared through like a whistling train, a really eerie sound. We must have each eaten a hundred sweet sugar mangoes, which the boys shook out of the trees; we were a sight with juicy mangoes dripping down our chins, all sitting well to one side of the horse trying to ease the pain.
Unfortunately the fishing in these islands is not as good as in the Galapagos because many different species are poisonous. The locals tell us that the nuclear testing done by the French in the South pacific is the cause and it certainly is a shame, especially considering that fish is the mainstay of their diet. In Hana Menu Valley, also on Hiva Oa, Scott and Roger supplemented our diet with fresh goat, which they shot on a high plateau over the bay and had to pack back about 3 miles, poor guys. When the 70 lbs of meat arrived back on the boat, Sheila and I washed it off and began cutting it into pieces for various purposes: ribs and one leg to roast right away for dinner, good meat cut into chunks for stew, not so good meat cut off for the dog and strips set aside for drying into goat jerky and salting. When drying it, it must be hung in thin strips out in the sun each day and brought in at night to avoid dew & it takes about a week to dry properly. Salting is much less work, you simply salt each piece well and stack it in a glass jar covered with a piece of cloth or canvas. We put our stew meat in the pressure cooker and cooked it 20 minutes at 15 lbs; each day thereafter, whether you are using the meat or not, it must be cooked again to kill any bacteria. We had delicious goat stews and soups for a week after.
Scott had seen a small herd of wild horses on the plateau, so several days later we left the boat at 6:00 AM to hike up and see if we could find them again. The climb up the ridge wasn’t too difficult, but very steep and I wondered how on earth they had managed to get that goat back down without killing themselves. No mater how steep, the climb was worth it – looking down behind us were our boats bobbing about in a gorgeous bay and in front of us a gently rolling, grassy (but rocky) plain with yellow flowered bushes and wide shade trees scattered here and there. As you follow the goat and horse paths a little further towards the mountain, the terrain changes and becomes almost forest like and quite a bit hillier. Alas, we didn’t spot anything but hoof prints, no horses at all, but it was well worth the ascent and descent to see the plateau and the valleys it separates. It was bloody hot up there though and a plunge in the cold, spring fed waterfall pool at the head of the bay was foremost in our minds from high noon on and we could hardly get down the cliff fast enough. We fell in, clothes and all (to protect us from the nono bites) and just sat, letting the cold soak into our pores.
We still do a lot of maintenance work on thee boat. In the Marquesas we sanded and varnished the tow-rails, several deck fixtures and the steering vane again (the hot sun and salt are murder on varnish); fixed a broken stern stanchion and the salt water pump for the galley; sewed sail; made more rat lines for climbing the rigging to look for reefs; soldered a leak in the kerosene stove tank; jury rigged a new hose to replace one on the engine cooling system which had worn through where it had been touching the engine; swung our compass to re-check our deviation. The through hull valves for the head have to be removed and greased periodically and we keep a close eye on underwater growth on the hull. Naturally, there is as much laundry, all done by hand, as any other couple has and chores to be done below. I only mention these things to be sure you don’t think that all we’re doing is sailing around the world!
From Hana Menu we had a rough overnight sail to Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, the northernmost of the populated islands. We didn’t like Taiohae as much as Atuona - the people weren’t so friendly and don’t look as healthy, even the dogs, chickens and horses are skinny and disease ridden. There’s more litter, especially Hinano (the local French Polynesian brand) beer bottles on the streets. Compared to the other islands, they are overrun with tourists as almost every passing ship or yacht stops in Nuku Hiva, whereas many do not venture south to Hiva Oa as we did. This isn’t to say it’s St. Thomas, but it’s a possible excuse for sourer faces.
Most yachtsmen are familiar with the name of trader Bob McKettrick, who ran a store for years in Taiohae that catered to the needs of yachts. After his death, his son Maurice took over and he likes to think he has a monopoly on us sailors (and in a way he does, he has the best and cheapest supplies and about the only English on the island!). If you sign his guestbook, you are automatically a member of the Taiohae Bay Yacht Club, totally the antithesis of the quarters of the New York Yacht Club, and get special attention at the bar from the very interesting commodore.
In one of Eric Hiscock’s books we read his description of Taioa Bay, the home of Daniel the woodcarver, five miles west of Taiohae. He mentioned it was a little difficult to find – a gross understatement! We didn’t have any charts at all of Nuku Hiva, so we approached Taioa Valley with care. In front of us ocean swells broke into white spray on cliffs which rose straight up for 1,000 feet. To starboard we looked for an opening, but couldn’t even see the valley until we rounded a corner and entered the narrow pass. It was a breathtaking sight too – there were two bays, the westernmost being the most spectacular with its rugged, perpendicular, gothic-like cliffs and Daniel’s little palm fringed settlement nestled at the head. We anchored in the eastern bay, which was calm and pretty in its own right. We had a good feeling when we arrived here and our stay in Taioa turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip so far.
We arrived with other friends, the San Franciscan crew of the 53 foot yawl "Skylark" and early the next morning all six of us piled into their dinghy and sped over to the adjacent bay to meet Daniel. He and his wife Antoinette are incredibly friendly and hospitable. After we persuaded Daniel to show us his most recent woodcarving, an exquisite rosewood round table, Antoinette offered to be our guide to the waterfall 4 kilometers up the valley. Approximately 2/3 of the way we wound along an old, crumbling rock promenade, passing abandoned house foundations, stone walls and wells and tikis. These were all signs of long ago when 2,000 people inhabited this valley alone (now there are only 7) before the whalers and other foreigners introduced diseases such as tuberculosis, measles and syphilis which killed off almost the entire population of the Marquesas.
At the end of this "road", we picked our way along a narrow, often completely overgrown footpath, taking us through seemingly impenetrable bush and swamplands, across narrow logs spanning roaring rapids and up rocky creek beds, beneath mango, breadfruit and low hanging jungley trees. After two hours of what I consider serious hiking, we found ourselves next to the plummeting cascade. Its vertical drop was nearly 1,000 feet and it formed eerie caverns and grottoes around a deep pool. After a good swim and lunch of mangoes, bananas and biscuits, we trekked back. Sweet Antoinette cheerily accompanied us the entire round trip (in fact we couldn’t have found our way without her) in her flimsy flip flops and then barefoot when they gave out.
"Kuan Yin" and our Aussie friends on "Metung", who were nearing home after a four year circumnavigation, came in the following day. We wanted to take our Nikonos underwater camera to the falls, so we acted as guides on a second expedition up the valley. Even having been there once, we managed to get lost and all six of the guys branched out to look for a trail. Voices called out from every direction claiming they had found the right path, and after following two or three for a while only to discover they were mistaken, Sheila and I gave up and just sat down until they got sorted out. Finally, someone was absolutely sure and after an hour of fumbling around we were off and running. We eventually got to the "road" and then were home free.
The shelling was stupendous at Taioa. Every low tide we combed the sand and rocks in search of augers, cones and cowries and did get a few nice ones. One night we all went out with flashlights (they come out to feed at night) when the tide was out and scrambled around in search of shells and lobster; the shelling part wasn’t too successful for us but Scott did grab the only lobster and we had a nice lunch the next day. Looking for shells is a lot of fun, but cleaning them is another matter. We bring them home in a shell bag, an old sock, and boil them for a few minutes to kill the animal and then put them in salt water. It usually takes several days for the meat to loosen up (once in a while, with bigger shells, you can pull the whole body out right after boiling) and then begins the process of each day digging a little more out of the shell. The smell is sometimes overpowering, obnoxious enough to make you give up shelling all together, and when the wind is wrong the odor wafts its way through the boat. But when you finally get a shell clean and shining, it’s incredibly beautiful.
There was one unfortunate thing about Taioa and that was the nonos. It was our first real bout with these little flying insects – the little buggers swarm all over you and bite like hell, although you often don’t feel them and therefore don’t swat them away. Every time we went ashore, and often even on the boat, we wore our official nono clothes: for Scott it his one piece foul weather gear and boots, for me a scarf, turtleneck long sleeve jersey, white long underwear and wool socks. Still I managed to get bitten badly enough to force me to stay on the boat the last four days because I got hysterical about the thought of just one more nono bite. On my legs alone I had over 100 bites, and now have a scar for each and every one even though I didn’t scratch them.
One day a hilarious pig hunt took place, which Scott will tell you about:
"One evening Daniel suggested that whoever wanted to, could accompany him on a pig hunt at 6:00 AM the following morning. Roger, who is always up at dawn anyway, suggested 5:00 in spite of the daggers I was staring at him. Daniel agreed to the earlier hour, but when the four of us arrived at his house the next morning at 5:00 he was just getting up and we sat around until 6:00 hating Roger for robbing us of an hour’s sleep.
We finally set off in single file up thee valley in quest of our wild pig. This was no small army, as our weapons consisted of two 22s, one 30.30, one 30.06 and my semi automatic M-1 carbine. A fast pace was set by our guide atop his horse, who had had his extra hour’s sleep, while the great white hunters scrambled behind on foot. Roger, a South African, commented that they wouldn’t believe this back home! After three miles we left the horse and stalked on like a herd of buffalo for another mile, where, with a hand in the air, Daniel brought us to a halt to listen for pigs. He figured they were above us and he would circle around and scare them down to the waiting firing squad.
We all took our assigned positions along a picket line and waited, breathlessly peering into the bush, with guns at ready not even daring to slap at the swarms of mosquitoes for fear of scaring the pigs. After an hour and a half of this agony, I just about went crazy with mosquito (nono) bites and took off in quest of Roger and some company. Soon all four of us were quietly joking, eating mangoes and swatting mosquitoes, when 2 ½ hours and 5,000 bites later, Daniel comes traipsing down the trail with his pig, already skinned and cleaned. Isn’t there an easier way to join the Canadian Club???"
Actually, every minute of suffering on the guy’s part was worth it as the following afternoon Daniel and Antoinette held a real Marquesan luau for us all. The pig was roasted in a pit, along with breadfruit and red bananas and was served with a thick coating of delicious coconut milk sauce – it’s no wonder so many Polynesians tend to be on the rotund side! We also munched on crisp pig rinds and Antoinette’s delicious little bread fritters.
Ten days passed all too quickly and on Wednesday, June 7, we weighted anchor for the Tuamotos, laden with a stalk of green bananas and a plastic bag full of Antoinette’s coconut fritters. As we left the bay, the nonos began disappearing one by one from the boat and at long last we were able to shed our awful nono protection clothes. Never before had I appreciated so much the simple act of lying in the cockpit soaking up the sun; it was really strange to be in such a gorgeous climate constantly dressed in those terrible outfits.
In the Sailing Directions and on ocean charts, the Tuamotos are referred to as the Dangerous Archipelago as they are very low lying islands, basically just sand bars with coconut palm trees (and some of the smaller ones don’t even have the trees) visible for only 7 miles in perfect weather and invisible in the frequent black rain squalls. Each year several boats end up on the treacherous reefs surrounding the islands, some of them unsalvageable. Some sailors circumvent the islands completely, going out of their way to get to Tahiti, but we were attracted by talk of 150 foot underwater visibility and excellent shelling and so decided to at least stop at one of the atolls for a while.
On this Wednesday morning, we set off in company with "Kuan Yin" and were going to try to stay together, just for fun, for the 450 mile passage. Keeping our speeds the same meant a lot of sail changes, (mostly reductions for us as K.Y. is quite slow in light winds, we had never reduced sail in 8 kt breezes before!) as well as staying at the helm the entire time. We each used storm lanterns at night and in a generally empty ocean it was nice to see their light bobbing up and down, also making watches more interesting. Each day at noon we pulled together to compare noon sights and usually found our positions to be within a mile of each other! Our Saturday positions put us 68 miles from Takaroa, our landfall, and not wanting to be anywhere near the atoll at night, we both hove-to in a beautiful 20 kt wind, planning to set sail at midnight and steam into the Takaroa pass about 10:00 AM. After much ado and many sail changes to see how best to set the boats up, we finally were satisfactorily hove-to, suffering about a 1 knot leeway in the direction of Takaroa. Star sights were impossible, or so I thought, but Scott managed to get four stars crossing in a perfect fix (clouds dispersed at just the right moment). Wouldn’t you know, the damn wind dropped from 20 to about 3 an hour later and we sloshed around in big seas still over 50 miles from our destination. Mid morning we all got irritated and started up the old engines, finally sighting Takaroa in perfect visibility right after lunch. As we closed in on the island, rain squalls brewed up in the SE, obliterating sight of our landfall several times. When we sighted the wreck of the 300 foot 4 masted schooner "County of Roxborough", washed up on the reef during a hurricane in 1909, we knew our exact position along the 15 mile atoll and four miles later we turned into the pass. The current was running about 3 or 4 kts into the lagoon, but Scott skillfully brought "Bebinka" around in the narrow pass and by tea time we were secured to the wharf, with what seemed like a jillion of the curious townspeople swarming all over the boat and peering into every porthole.
Our first two days there we hiked along the beach and combed the reefs for shells. Donning snorkel and flippers, we dove in deep water indentations in the ocean-side reef and also in the calmer waters of the lagoon. As it turned out, we shouldn’t have been in the sun so much for the following day we had our first bout with heat exhaustion, suffered by poor Scott. The glare of the sun is so intense along the white rock and coral beach and apparently many visitors are laid up for a few days.
The people on Takaroa are so friendly and curious that at times it was hard to get them away. Privacy on board your boat there does not exist. But still we had a marvelous time because you can’t help but like them. And what a musical lot they are; every night the guitars and banjos came out and we either just listened to the beautiful Tahitian songs or danced on the wharf.
Although we had hoped to visit some of the other atolls, over a week passed in Takaroa and by then we were getting anxious to see the gem of the pacific, Tahiti. We were really looking forward to our first civilization in the nearly five months since Panama and so when the tide turned out the pass on the 20th, "Bebinka" and "Kuan Yin" raced along with it.
A day later we had the last of the atolls behind us and 200 miles of reef-free ocean ahead. It turned out to be one of the absolute worst passages we’ve ever made. The wind went from 0 right up to 40 kts and the seas built and the rains came down. We had to spend an extra night at sea because I was positive I’d spotted land and it was not in the right place at all, so we thought maybe our navigation had gone haywire somewhere. To avoid a small reef right north of Tahiti, we turned east and hove-to for six hours until dawn. As far as I was concerned, it was rougher than our experience in the Gulf Stream and I couldn’t have been more pleased to sight land than I was the next morning. Natch, I had been wrong about sighting it the night before and then we had to beat into those winds and rough seas all day. Tahiti lay right where our navigation said it would.
Today is July 3 and we’ve been in Tahiti about 10 days, but we’ll keep you in suspense as to the goings on until the next newsletter. That is if any of you think you care to go through another one after this 11 pager!
We hope to arrive in Fiji mid-September and spend the following month or six weeks (or more, who knows) among the islands. Our American Express mailing address there is c/o Hunts Travel, GPO Box 55, Suva, Fiji
The Voyage of the Bebinka Part IV
Tahiti to Fiji
It was June 23 when we finally arrived in Tahiti after a rough sail from the Tuamotos. As we entered the pass to Papeete harbor, the pilot boat pulled alongside and with its usual lack of consideration for small boats, disembarked some sort of an official who slipped and slid about the decks in his clumsy street shoes. He let us berth next to "Kuan Yin", who by some miracle arrived before us, and by the time our stern lines were secured on shore, several friends has gathered to say hello and swap stories of their trips and experiences so far in Tahiti.
After a quick cold beer on the lawn behind "Bebinka", we went off to the main wharf in town to see who else had arrived and, as usual, found many boats we knew. At this time there were about 40 cruising yachts in the harbor and it was fascinating to look over them and see the variety of sizes and shapes of boats that put to sea – from tiny 20 footers to old, old four masted schooners to sleek, new racing boats. There were several well known yachtsmen among them, including Bernard Moitessier, a Frenchman who sailed 1 ½ times around the world (alone) without stopping and has written several sailing books revered by us all. Eric Taberly, also French, who won this year’s L.A. to Tahiti race on "Pen Duick III" was also there.
The waterfront of Papeete is gorgeous with lush flowering trees, green lawns, parks with goldfish ponds and charming old white frame homes interspersed with many modern and tastefully designed official buildings. Motor bikes hum past, mostly driven by young girls in bright dresses with their long dark hair flowing, or modly dressed Frenchmen. As are the Marquesas and Tuamotos, Tahiti is administered by the French and their influence, for better or for worse, is very strong. Listening to melodious French spoken everywhere and relaxing over a glass of wine in a street side café, Papeete often seems to be a mini Paris. The town offers everything from cheap Chinese restaurants with excellent food, to pizza parlors, strip joints & super fun discotheques, to boutiques with the latest French fashions, fabric shops with an incredible variety of colorful Tahitian prints (made in Hong Kong), dusty Chinese shops displaying exotic tinned foods, large department stores, old book stores. Although many have cashed in on the commercialization of Tahiti, it is still a beautiful spot and always will be a paradise, especially for those single male crewmembers!
Unfortunately Tahiti is a very expensive place and that coupled with the fact that our US dollars are devalued by 20% anyway, made it doubly so. We were spending money for the first time since Panama and found it wasn’t worth much (we had budgeted $3,000 per year, but actual buying power is about $2,400 out of the states) and somehow $500 slipped magically through our fingers in 3 ½ weeks. Such luxury items as a dinner out, daily Dairy Queen cones, recent Time magazines, fresh vegetables (one head of Boston lettuce 75 francs, close to 95 cents US) and meat and a splurge on a Tahitian woodcarving added up. Small things for the boat (fittings re-welded, buying new line, pressure kerosene lamp to save on our batteries, small spear gun for reef fish and lobster) are always a necessity.
The French Bastille Day Celebrations, known as "Fete", began on July 14 and as Scott describes it "there were four days of festivities, including such highlights as a torch parade through town, canoe & outrigger sailing races, basket weaving competitions, fruit carrying races, dance competitions and of all things, a kiddie playland. The night of the torch parade we all wolfed down our dinner so we wouldn’t miss the big do and double-timed it to the Governor’s mansion to find the parade. As we arrived, a small squad of military men consisting of a few drummers, a couple of bugles and some guys flanking them, holding torches, came out of the driveway. We all thought they must be going to where the parade was forming up so we followed them. Within 10 minutes there were about 50 people following and when we took a turn out of the side street onto the main drag, we saw that WE WERE THE PARADE and that about a thousand people were lining the streets watching us. Everybody loves a parade and soon it was two blocks long as people from the sidelines fell in. We were having so much fun walking down the street, waving at all the yachties we knew and throngs of others we didn’t. Then we went and watched the kiddie bumper cars. The ages of the drivers were between three and six and it was hilarious. Apparently the kids here think the rules are to try and NOT hit the other guy and if this is the way they drive in France, watch out! There was one little guy about four who had such a serious look on his face you could almost see the beads of sweat from consternation rolling down his forehead. One little girl couldn’t get her car moving because she had turned it into the wall. So her mother came dodging through the cars to help her little darling get going and it was better than watching a Charlie Chaplin movie. In their efforts to avoid each other they have more pile ups than in Disneyland, then they throw up their hands and look like they’re going to have an ulcer!"
Although we had a super good time that night, it wasn’t exactly what we had expected of the Fete and things went from bad to worse. None of the locals seemed very enthusiastic and with the cost of some of the events, I could see why. Tickets for the traditional Tahitian dance (called the tamure) contest cost anywhere from 300-700 francs a seat, so we just hung around backstage and looked at the costumes, which were stunning, and watched them practice or fidget around waiting to go on. We wanted to get some pictures in the daylight of the dancers, but the program put on for photographers cost 1,000 francs!
By the end of Fete, we couldn’t wait to get away from Tahiti and visit some of the other Society Islands. On July 18 we set sail along with "Black Rose" (a 28’ NZ yacht owned by Anne and Bruce Goodhue completing a 6 year circumnavigation with their 2 ½ year old son, who was born in Cape Town) and "Kuan Yin" would follow the next day. We headed NW to Huahine, 100 miles away and by noon the next day were anchored in the western lagoon of this gorgeous island. We stayed several days and took many trips out to the reef by dinghy to dive for shells and fish and then all left to sail five miles down the lagoon to the southern tip of the island. The beach there was fabulous, surrounded by banana and coconut plantations, papaya and breadfruit trees. Apparently some American has offered the owner of the beach $10,000 US for the area to build a hotel on; obviously the owner doesn’t realize the value of the land and he is considering the sale, which is really sad because soon the whole island will be commercialized. $10,000 isn’t even a fair offer; the guy might as well steal it.
All three yachts went on to Raiatea and Tahaa together (we would eventually sail all the way to Fiji together) and then on to Bora Bora, which is just as beautiful as you’ve heard, but not so friendly as the other islands. The 6of us took a bike tri around the island, about 20 miles, and about ¼ of the way Scott decided he wanted to try to go overland instead of along the sea. So the two of us set off (the others weren’t so stupid) on a fairly decent mud path heading towards a gap in the hills. As it got steeper and the path became almost invisible in the undergrowth, which was tangled in the bike spokes of course, I suggested an about-face. No luck though, Scott was really determined and we practically backpacked those bloody bikes up the hill and it was mosquito bites that finally brought us to our senses. About halfway we could mount the bikes again and we went screaming down the path over rocks and branches, with startled natives eyeing us as though we were lunatics to have even attempted that path with bikes. After some exhausting peddling, we caught up with the others and gathered some green coconuts to quench our thirst. The whole ordeal took about 7 hours and our sore fannies reminded us of our horseback riding days in the Marquesas – but we had a ball and as you know, time heals all wounds, thank God!
Scott and I have each written up our impressions of our next sea passage from Bora Bora to Rarotonga, and with only a few spelling corrections to protect the ignorant, I mean innocent, I’ll re-iterate his word for word:
We left Bora Bora at 0930, Sunday August 6, bound for Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, only 560 miles away. It was another race in the series we have been having with our Canadian friends on "Kuan Yin" and the New Zealand couple on their 29 foot ketch "Black Rose". The night before we had all made guesses on the time it would take each of us to make the trip. We estimated 4 days 8 ours, while Roger was the most pessimistic at 6 days 6 hours. Little did we know, as we hoisted anchors that beautiful morning and scurried out the pass into a smooth sea and fair winds, that even Roger had been too confident – Father Neptune had other ideas. Just when a sailor gets complacent over making a short 500 mile passage the great Lord of the Sea decides it is time to test his mettle. And he sure tested ours!
Outside the pass the wind was out of the NW at 15 knots and our course was SW. Perfect. All sails up, wind vanes set and expectations high. But…what’s this?? The wind slowly dies down to about 8 knots. Well, no matter, because with our big genoa up we start to slowly pull away from the other two boats and by nightfall they were well down on the horizon behind us. The going was slow but pleasant and by noon Monday we had done 70 miles.
The day before we left, Bruce and I had put together a jury-rigged antenna for our radio telephone as our good one has to be assembled each time we want to transmit and taken down afterwards; a real pain in the neck for social calls but excellent if we should ever lose our masts, God forbid! Each day we had morning, noon and evening schedules for contact with Bruce and gave our weather and position reports, and much idle chatter. These daily calls proved to be more than just the highlight of the days, when the blow hit they were a comfort in the wilderness.
Tuesday arrived and still no wind. In fact, we were still going so slowly that when we sailed through a school of tuna, our lures were sagging behind us and failed to entice the fish to bite. A couple of shots from the bow with my spear gun ALMOST provided us with dinner and did provide fun for an hour. Our noon position confirmed what the log had already flaunted at us…only another 75 miles good. We felt a little better after a chat with Bruce showed us to be about 70 miles ahead of the other two, who were still lolling around together on a calm sea.
Right after our evening broadcast, the wind died completely and soon we took off all sail to alleviate the annoying sound of slating sails. About 0400 I stuck my head out the hatch and found that the wind had started to come up, so I went on deck and hoisted the main and genny again. Soon we were off and running before a 20 kt southeaster. By noon it was 30 kts and we were now down to working jib and mizzen, beating slowly but surely into big seas.
By dinner time we were under working jib alone and at midnight I had to get up and put on the storm jib. I snapped on my harness as I always do at night, regardless of the weather (which was rough now, winds 40-45 kts), and worked my way forward. First the working jib had to come down; as soon as I had the halyard and Kitty had let the sheet go, I dove into the sail and pulled it down as fast as possible because it would have ripped to shreds if allowed to flap in the wind for over a few seconds. As I worked to unhank it from the forestay, the bow periodically buried itself and me under the 15 foot seas. Even though I had my foul weather gear on, I was completely drenched throughout with the ice cold Southern Ocean water.
It seemed to take ages to get the jib off and into its sail-bag. Next the storm jib had to be hanked on and set. This took another fifteen minutes as I could only get one hank on before I had to grab hold and wait for another wave to crash over the bow. Each time the bow rose out of the water, I managed to get another hank on. Finally the jib was set but was too small to drive us thru the big seas, so we hove-to to get some sleep (When the boat is hove-to, the jib is back-winded making the bow fall off the wind and the tiller is lashed to leeward making the boat turn back into the wind; the result being that the boat rides more comfortably but goes nowhere. If we had simply removed all sail, we would have rolled violently in the waves; the force of wind in the jib keeps the boat more upright.)
"Bebinka" now set to take care of herself, I went below and put the weather boards in the companionway so that we were completely closed in and bobbed around as if we were a light bulb. But it was near impossible to get any sleep. Waves kept banging into the side of the boat every couple of minutes and it sounded as though ten men with sledge hammers were trying their darnedest to pound in the side of our small ship. Every once in a while we would fall off of an exceptionally steep wave and the boat would shudder from masthead to keelson. But she took it well and I am sure the crew would give in long before "Bebinka" did.
In fact, Kitty had already given in and retired to her bunk, where she stayed for the next three days. Conversation had reverted to only a one-sided monologue as Kitty’s replies to my questions was "Uaghh…" and then splush! as it hit the bucket. We have yet to meet a yacht that is completely dry under these conditions and ours is no exception. When one is pounding into the water with that much force and being lashed for endless hours by violent driving rain, water seems to come from everywhere and the only dry places by morning were our bunks. For the next two days, food consisted of cans of Nutrament, spaghetti and a stale loaf of bread. Of course, neither of us even thought of turning the stove on!
During our morning radio contact with Bruce, we learned that he was just beginning to get it 80 miles north of us, but because of our warning he was prepared for the worst. Right after our broadcast, the winds moderated to 35 knots, enough for us to start sailing again under storm jib and mizzen. The sun briefly stuck its head out and I got a quick shot with the sextant, no easy matter trying to hold on, adjust the sextant and take the time, while rocking frantically in that awful sea. The sun line put us about 100 miles NE of a group of islands that lay in our direct path to Rarotonga. Afraid of a possible west setting current and certain leeway wee were suffering, I laid a course as far south as possible that would bring us past the islands with 40 miles to spare.
Just when we had thought the worst must be over, the whine of the wind in our rigging turned into a roar once again and the wind speed indicator registered 45-50 kts. So, down with the mizzen and we hove-to once again. The seas became even more violent than before and we got completely pooped about five times (that is when a wave crashes over us and completely fills the cockpit). We thought of turning and running before it, which would have meant that the waves would not crash into us as much, but by now we were just east of the low islands we had to skirt before heading direct to Raro. So we endured ‘til morning when we could see. At dawn we headed off the wind on a SW course and began sailing again.
Midmorning the wind began to moderate to 30-35 kts and up went the mizzen again. By this time we had been in the storm for about 52 hours and fatigue was catching up on me. But it looked like it was letting up and I was able to get a position by an at last cooperative sun and found we were SE of the islands and could turn and had directly west for Rarotonga. The wind continued to die and by nightfall we had a comfy 12 knots out of the SSW, giving us a good night’s sleep long deserved.
Our Saturday morning contact with Bruce raised fresh anxieties as he relayed that he had heard another gale warning on Raro radio that would hit us within 24 hours. But it never materialized and we raised the light off Raro late that night and hove-to so as not to arrive in the dark. Early Sunday morning we sailed into the harbor, exactly 7 days out of Bora Bora, and breathed a sigh of relief. Bruce arrived at nightfall and Roger at dawn the following morning.
PROSTRATE TO PARADISE - Memories of our Voyage to Raro as Witnessed from Supine Position on Leeward Bunk:
Sailors supposedly get "sea legs" once they’re used to the motion of their craft at sea, but after sailing some 8,000 miles at sea I still haven’t found mine. This passage was another horizontal holocaust for me and even though I’ll spare you all of the gory details, I have some comments regarding it.
As Scott mentioned, the trip began serenely enough with no wind. So we floundered about for two days (of course the engine had packed up so there was no powering out of the doldrums). One night we finally reached the point where it was necessary to remove all sails as it is bad for both sails and rigging to be flapping frantically with each big roller that hit us. Having no wind to propel her along, "Bebinka" fell 45 degrees to leeward and then to starboard as each sloppy sea hit her. By the time the storm hit us near dawn, I had already retired to my bunk (as Scott so kindly put it) with the good old yellow bucket close at hand. The wind went from 0 to 25 kts and for almost 3 days climbed continually until it reached a peak at 50 kts and even then did not let up for a long, long while. I was unbearably seasick, the worst yet, and didn’t even turn on the stove during this period because every time I got up, I threw up. So Scott drank Nutrament and ate such delicacies as baked beans and spaghetti cold out of the can. I kept remembering an old fiend’s unusual seasickness one summer and her finding out after their cruise that she was pregnant – I wished fervently that I was too, any excuse to get off this damn boat forever!
At any rate, the two nights of the storm were spent hove-to and "Bebinka" took incredible bashings, with the shudders resounding through her fiberglass hull and I asked myself over and over if they do, in fact, put 1 inch thick glass in this hull. Waves broke over the cabin top and into the cockpit, where the water gushed through our engine gear shift fitting and poured like Niagara Falls into our tiny bilge, which consequently overflowed into the cabin. In my frame of mind a little water on the cabin sole seemed like 6 inches! The second night (and remember how much scarier things are at night) Scott casually mentioned that we may have to turn and run with it dragging warps (long ropes to slow the boat’s forward motion) as he was afraid of getting battered. Hearing the word battered with regard to our boat was quite enough for me and I laid all night listening to the 50 kt winds whistle through the rigging, praying for it to just easy off 10 kts or so. Although the wind paid no heed, the seas did diminish slightly and we were able to carry on as we were, such as it was.
Thank goodness for 1) a good self steering mechanism and 2) most important, Scott’s amazing ability to carry on through thick and thin. The poor guy spent what seemed like hours changing sails on the foredeck while I laid on my bunk listening for his footsteps, my only consolation knowing that he had his safety harness on. He rose and fell about 20 feet with each wave we bashed into and huge, freezing cold Southern Ocean seas literally poured over him. In the front cabin he had a big pile of wet, mildewy clothes which had been soaked, even through foul weather gear, each time he ventured out of the cabin. Getting sights was near impossible, but perseverance usually pays off and after much cursing and talking to the sun and seas, he managed one when it was necessary.
Finally the winds and waves calmed and I arose from my bunk to survey the disaster. During the storm the lee rail had been constantly buried and sea water had seeped through faulty seam work where the hull joins the deck and dribbled down behind clothes lockers and food bins. I found our camera case wet, but thank goodness for the aluminum case was watertight and the camera itself was fine, as well as the hand-bearing compass and several other miscellaneous items. When I opened the pot and pan locker, everything was covered with a gucky film and liquid rust. Every bit of clothing in the fore-cabin and hanging locker were wet and smelly – no one was ever so glad to find a cheap laundry in Raro, $3 to wash, press & fold all the clothes we own!
The only fun on the trip was talking to Bruce on the radio telephone. They have a 2 ½ year old son on board who was not in the least laid low by the weather and continued his never ending destruction of their boat, bit by bit. We felt sorry for Anne and Bruce, but I must admit got a good laugh over some of David’s antics!
Roger and Sheila also had a miserable time. One night they were in the midst of an electrical storm so intense they were forced to wear sunglasses while on watch, even though it was in the middle of the night. We all bitched and complained but it was a good test of our boat’s (and ours, which I failed!) endurance and ability to take conditions like that.
Rarotonga was worth every minute of suffering to get there. The island is the typically beautiful volcano type with high mountain tops enshrouded in clouds and green valleys smothered with bright colored hibiscus and tiares, encircled with a fringing reef. The best part is the Maoris (local natives) speak English, the island being some sort of a New Zealand protectorate, and finally we could communicate. Although the people are not as attractive as the Tahitians, they couldn’t be more friendly or helpful.
And the price was right, at long last. Supplies were from N.Z. and cheap, eating out was an incredible bargain. One evening ten of us went to the local coffee house for steak and the trimmings, wine, pineapple fritters and ice cream for the astounding total of $1.85 each! Delicious N.Z. mutton and lamb chops are 30 cents a pound. 50 cents is the movie admission so we all went one night to see "The Adventurers." The movie was a disaster but the audience participation hysterical. They almost died laughing at the corny Woody Woodpecker cartoon (how long has it been since you’ve seen a cartoon with a feature movie?) and every time a little fleshy scene came on, most of which were cut, they giggled like kids. At the climax, what little there was, a pack of cats got into a screeching and howling fight on the tin roof over us and we broke up, but the locals didn’t seem to notice it or the dogs which wandered down the aisles and among the seats.
A traveling Tahitian dance troupe performed one night during our stay and all of Raro turned out and we packed in like cattle in a shed on the wharf, sitting on stacked copra bags, and the Maori audience went wild when the dancing started. We’ve never seen such marvelous dancing (in Tahiti we would have paid 300 francs each, here it was only 40 cents) or so many bottoms wiggling so fast. One of the fellows was gyrating so furiously it made your eyes cross to watch and the whistles and cheers for him echoed from wall to wall. Then the lights went out and the torches were lit; three young boys did a magnificent job twirling the flaming batons while they performed gymnastic feats – amazing.
About midnight we returned to the boats, which were tied stern-to the dock about 3 feet from each other in the tiny harbor, and we all fell into an exhausted sleep. At 3:00 AM I heard a loud crunch next to my head and we leapt out the hatch to see what was up. What was up was the wind, blowing right down on us from the north and creating a huge swell in the unprotected harbor. The northernmost boat had drug anchor and was pushing the rest of us; we fell like dominoes one into the next. Several people were about, but none seemed to have any ideas on what to do. Scott had a lot of ideas and got everyone organized, calling for spare lines and anchors, and jumped into "Clear Skies" (the dragging yacht) dinghy to row a second anchor out for them. Unfortunately they didn’t have enough chain and the second anchor didn’t hold either. So we dug out our spare line and borrowed a Danforth from a neighbor and Scott roared out again to the middle of the harbor. As he leaned over to drop the anchor, the dinghy capsized. Poor Scott went into the cold, dirty water with the dinghy and oars being pushed away by wind, and he swam frantically after them. But the anchor did set and we were able to pull the yacht off the rest of us. However, our problems weren’t over. The swell created by the wind caused all the boats to roll violently from one side to the other and we were all so close that cross trees and shrouds were catching and we were all in danger of losing our rigging. No one could up anchor and pull out because in the dark it would have been impossible to find the right stern lines to free and our anchors were almost surely entangled. So we sat it out, trying to keep our boats from suffering too much damage but we weren’t entirely successful. At one point "Bebinka’s" starboard rail came high out of the water in a swell, the boat next to us slipped too close and our rail came down with a crunch (the noise I had originally heard) on theirs causing about 10 feet of our two rail to be raised right out of the fiberglass deck. Luckily it didn’t rip apart and shouldn’t be too hard to repair. Masts were flailing wildly and ours caught in the rigging of the boat next door, ripping off our anemometer from the very top; the boy alongside caught it on the way down. Being in a harbor is so much more dangerous for a boat than being at sea! At dawn we got some help to move to another section of the anchorage. What a night it was though, all of us out on deck freezing (you wouldn’t believe how cold it was there at night, we slept with 2 blankets) in our nightgowns or underwear, dispensing with all formalities re: clothing to save the boats. Scott was absolutely soaked clear through and the women were trying to hold 8 tons of boat each apart while the men secured lines and anchors.
One Sunday morning Sheila, Anne and I put on our best frocks and went off to thee Cook Islands Christian Church, where the entire service was in Maori. Everyone was all dressed up in their Sunday best wearing either the traditional woven straw hat or the newest far in hats, dyed chicken feathers. The church was well over 150 years old, plan and simple inside. We were escorted ceremoniously to special seats and noticed that as the congregation entered they seemed to know exactly where to sit. When the singing started we learned why. You are seated according to your voice and when a hymn is sung (belted out, really) the harmonizing is fantastic. Even the Tahitians were there, dressed all in white with gorgeous straw hats, seated in the center and at one point they sang along and it was no less than inspiring. Afterwards we looked at some of the graves outside and found one that read as follows:
"In Sacred Memory of Rev. Williams of the London
Missionary Society who, with his friend Mr. Harris, was massacred
by deluded natives at Evenange while attempting to convey to them
The blessings of Salvation, November 20, 1830"
There are a lot of complaints about the mess the missionaries have made of many of these islands, but possibly if it weren’t for them all of us voyagers would suffer the same fate as Rev. Williams and his friend!
During part of the time we were in Raro a Russian scientific ship was anchored offshore while one of its crew underwent surgery to remove his appendix. The rest of the crew was allowed ashore and thus we had the privilege of getting to know quite a few of them. Each and every one was so friendly and warm, we just couldn’t get over it, especially since most of us are brainwashed about "Red Commies" and barely think of them as human beings. One morning eight of them stopped to say goodbye and we all crowded below to have a look at the boat and chat. Through the English speaking member of the group we learned something about Moscow, their families, homes, jobs, but didn’t get a chance to venture into politics! When ashore they stay in groups of 4 or so, never alone, with at least one man or woman who speaks English well and who is in charge of keeping track of everyone and stopping possible defectors, which seemed unlikely as they appear to be an exceptionally happy and satisfied group.
On August 23 we left Rarotonga along with "Kuan Yin" and "Black Rose" and headed due west for the 600 mile passage to Niue, which is a long & incredibly flat island only 200 feet high. On a moonless night 4 ½ days later we sighted the island, which appeared as an eerie dark smudge on the horizon only 5 miles distant. We hove-to and sailed around to the harbor the following morning. There was no real anchorage there, just a bay wide open to the west and southwest, so we secured to the ship’s mooring buoy and K.Y. and B.R. tied in a line behind us.
The visibility in the water around Niue was the best we’ve seen yet, about 200 feet! The area swarmed with little sea snakes, who were quite friendly and inquisitive and practically harmless because of their tiny mouths, which could only take hold of you between your fingers. The shelling was average but diving in the numerous caves about the island was fascinating.
Niue is governed by New Zealand and has quite a population of Europeans living there. Because of the isolation of the island, and the relatively few yachts that stop there, everyone wanted to have us for meals ashore and we ate like kings, rarely dining aboard.
Early in September we set off for Tonga, 250 miles west. This area is well known for its bad weather and lousy visibility and we made our anchorage in VaVa’u just ahead of a bad storm which lasted three days. Several steamers came in unscheduled for refuge from the storm and it was sure nice to be in a cozy harbor instead of out wallowing around in it! The VaVa’u group is gorgeous and reminds me of the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River; the waterways are dotted with steep-to islands covered with an odd mixture of some sort of tropical fir and coconut trees.
One evening Scott and I were invited for chicken dinner by a family we had met ashore. They greeted us at the beach and escorted us proudly to their home, where we sat on woven mats in a room which served them as a dining/sleeping/play room. It is not the custom to eat with their guests and so with what seemed like the whole village peering in every door and window, we self consciously partook of the rather bland chicken and yam dinner. We figured the kava drinking ceremony (kava is drunk by the natives throughout this part of the Pacific) would come after dinner and we were a little anxious as we had heard the Tongans still made it in the traditional manner, i.e. chewing the root themselves and spitting the liquid into a bowl. We also thought it was alcoholic, so devised a plan to tell them we were Mormons hoping to be able to avoid it. But the man next to Scott informed him he was a Mormon too and it was okay, so Scott was stuck. I lucked out though as the young girls around me had explained that traditionally only the men drink it and I sure wasn’t going to scream for Women’s Lib!
All the men, numbering about 15 or so by then, sat in a circle with one of them pounding the root to a pulp. It was then given to a young girl who squeezed the crushed kava with some water through a cheesecloth. The first bowl was then given to Scott, who drank it down in one gulp as you’re supposed to. Before long the natives were looking a little numb, which is apparently the only effect of the stuff. Later they began to sing some Tongan chants, so different from the lively Tahitian music, but just as beautiful. It was a fascinating evening learning more about them and their way of life; one of those that will stand out forever in our memories.
On 12 September we set sail for Fiji. We really were excited about Fiui as my parents were coming from St. Louis to visit and we just couldn’t wait to get there! We arrived on the 16th, in time to clean up the boat, see Suva and sail the 60 miles around to the anchorage in front of their hotel, where we spent a fantastically fun week with them. More on Fiji next newsletter.
In the meantime, please write to us c/o Star Travel (American Express) 95queen Street, Auckland, New Zealand. We expect to arrive there about November 10 for several weeks and will arrange to have any mail forwarded to our other stopping points in NZ. So no excuses for not writing, your mail will get to us and we love hearing from home!
The Voyage of the Bebinka Part V
Fiji to New Zealand
Late Saturday afternoon, 16 September, we entered busy Suva Harbor maneuvering through a series of small boat races, most on their downwind leg with brightly colored spinnakers billowing in the breeze. "Black Rose" and "Kuan Yin" were close behind and that night we all celebrated Bruce’s circumnavigation – completed on arriving in Suva again 6 years after his entry in the Auckland to Suva Yacht Race in 1966.
After the usual rigamarole with customs, Monday morning we walked the long, uninteresting trek into town through the industrial section. Things improve as you get into the main part of Suva though and we were fascinated especially by the market, bustling with Indians and Fijians. The Indian men are such aggressive salesmen, luring you over to their stalls to persuade you to buy some of the incredible variety of fresh, crisp vegetables and fruits. The women lend a little class to the atmosphere, with their more demure approach and long, colorful sarees. Woven baskets, all sorts of shells, woodcarvings, trinkets, exotic curries and buckets of fresh clams and just-caught fish are also offered. As we elbowed our way through the crowds, we had to smile at the big sign in the center advertising the local Family Planning Center, which no one seems to pay much heed!
Suva is a friendly (because of the Fijians) and casual town, offering duty free goods galore, cheap restaurants, beautiful old ex-British government buildings (Fiji won her independence 2 years ago) and a gorgeous botanical garden watered almost continually by the consistent Suva rains.
My parents were to arrive in Fiji soon, so after a week’s time we left with Roger and Sheila to sail 60 miles around the coast and anchor off the Fijian Hotel. The morning we wanted to leave, it poured rain and blew like hell in the harbor. In the big seas outside it was near impossible to spot the passage into the intended first night’s anchorage, which in fact we missed, but finally spotted a stake marking Rovondra Reef’s end so we slipped in for the night. The water poured over the reef at high tide, creating big seas inside and as the wind still howled, we had a very hairy row in our little dinghy over to the K.Y. for dinner.
The weather deteriorated even further during thee night and at 5:30 am we debated on whether to go on that day or not. But we did, all swearing that only for parents would we go out under those conditions. We were now heading down Mbenga Passage, separating south Viti Levu, Fiji’s main & largest island, from Mbenga. The passage is often quite narrow and over a 7 mile course only has 3 stakes marking the reef’s ends. We screamed along at 6 ½ kts with the wind behind us, the visibility periodically reduced to almost nil by black rain squalls. Scott was in the rigging the whole time trying to spot each reef as we passed. Most of the time that day we couldn’t see land to tell us where we were because of poor visibility, even though we were only 2 miles off the fringing reefs. We often lost sight of KY only a ¼ mile away. The rains poured down and the wind steadily increased. About 2:30 that afternoon our mileage log showed that we should be near a wreck marked on the chart, the only distinguishing feature on these reefs for miles, which was 4 miles before the Fijian pass. The visibility was dangerously bad, but we headed in close to get our bearings – and just in time too, for we were right off the ominous wreck and in another hour were safely in. The bay is horseshoe shaped facing the ocean, open to the SSW which could create a very bad swell but fortunately we had easterly winds and it proved to be a good anchorage.
Monday morning I got a ride up to the airport in Nandi to meet Mom and Dad. The 45 mile trip is fascinating. The western section of Fiji is not so mountainous, nor quite so lush, being in the dry belt. But it is just as beautiful. Gently rolling hills dotted with cattle and sugar cane fields slope down to quiet streams. Here and there quaint bures (the local grass huts) cluster together to form tiny villages with happy, smiling inhabitants.
We all loved the Fijian Hotel with its pure white beach running the length around the bay, friendly native staff and beautiful reef. Much to our great pleasure we, and often Roger and Sheila, ate many meals in the hotel’s main dining room overlooking the sea to one side and "Bebinka" bobbing about in the bay on the other. One day we had Mom and Dad out to the boat for supper; fresh fish Scott has speared that afternoon steamed in foil with vegetables and spices.
After a week’s stay, my parents left for N.Z. and Australia for ten days and would return after that to meet us in Suva. We weren’t looking forward to the 60 mile beat back into the strong ESE trade winds and big seas. After spending another day or so at the hotel hoping for a change in wind, we finally had to put to sea in order to make our haul out schedule with a local shipyard. We sailed during daylight hours for 3 days – sailing well over the 60 miles and tacking back and forth in ferocious headwinds.
The engine was on the fritz and Scott & Roger spent hours pulling the head and then we had the valves reground and Scott reset them. The prop seemed to be too powerful for the engine, so we had the pitch reduced also. The bottom got another scrub and coat of antifouling and finally the rudder, that had give us trouble just outside of Panama, was fixed for good. It was safe enough but the banging was a nagging irritation, so Scott had bronze bushings made to slip in and stop the movement. The bill for all the engineering work came to only $71 – I’d hate to think what it would have cost in NYC.
While all this work was in progress, my parents returned and had the questionable pleasure of supervising much of it! October 13 had to come sometime though and we were really sorry to see them leave. Cathee Adderton, a friend from St. Louis, came the same day and the excitement of here arrival helped to cushion the sadness we felt at seeing Mom and Dad go.
Unfortunately we still had a lot of work to do and that kept all 3 of us occupied a week longer. On October 21 we began to hear storm warnings for the area near Rotuma, 250 miles north and started thinking over what procedure we would follow if she turned into a hurricane and hit Suva.
On this bright sunny Saturday we were anchored outside the Tradewinds Hotel where we had gone to have our picture taken alongside "Miss Fancy V", another Seawind ketch, owned by Ray Rawls of Stamford, Connecticut. On Sunday morning the 22nd boats from the yacht club invaded the protected little bay and by nightfall there were over 20 yachts, launches and fishing boats anchored in an area not much greater than a football field. Weather reports from Nandi indicated the storm had reached hurricane force and had been named Bebe.
Sunday night we experienced high winds and heavy rain and the following morning Bebe was ravaging Rotuma with winds gusting to 180 miles per hour. We knew we had at least 30 hours to wait as the storm was moving SSW at about 8 kts but we went straight away to get settled in the official hurricane anchorage across the bay. Although the Tradewinds Hotel marina was protected, it was dangerously crowded and it seemed foolish to remain there. We dropped our big plow and all 300 feet of chain and Scott rowed out the big Danforth with 130 feet of line, struggling to make headway in the 40 mph winds. There were several government vessels and barges nearby and when the harbor pilot came alongside to check on us all, Cathee got cold feet, and I sure couldn’t blame her, and leapt aboard his tug to be taken back to Suva.
Soon our German friends, Bobby and Karla on "Thalassa", came over and anchored several hundred feet to port of us. Scott rowed over to discuss the situation with Bobby and after looking over the Pilot Charts for the South Pacific Ocean (indicating almost nil chance of hurricane force winds until January) and the Fiji Tide Tables (predicting that even if a storm hit Rotuma, Fiji only stood a 10% chance of being in its path) and knowing that Fiji had not had a severe hurricane for twenty years, they were somewhat pacified and we all tried to relax and wait.
We were really worried about Roger and Sheila, who had left for Sydney six days earlier, until the path switched to SSE and we knew there was not a chance of us avoiding it now. About 4 pm that Monday afternoon Bruce came by to say he had sounded out the river behind us and he was going to take "Black Rose" up at high tide. After much debate over how safe it was now in the hurricane anchorage as many more boats & barges had come and we were almost encircled, we chose to follow B.R. It was a monumental task just to get the anchors up and an hour later we fell in line with Bruce and several other yachts and picked our way gingerly up the river. Bobby and Karla, on the other hand, elected to stay in the anchorage because, as he informed us, he had laid out two anchors with over 250 feet of chain and line for each one. He felt he was secure and it wasn’t worth the hassle to retrieve all that anchor chain. Leaving Thalassa behind, the rest of us proceeded single file twisting along with the river until we came to a small estuary on the left, which we turned in to. Here began the first super colossal traffic jam ever witnessed on a 40 foot wide river estuary!
None of us realized the strength of the current going into the estuary and before word could be spread down the line, we were all caught in it. Bruce had managed to get settled 60 yards in (the furthest any of us could penetrate with our 5 foot drafts). The next yacht got too close to one side trying to turn around and got hopelessly tangled in the mangroves – he had to ax down trees to get out. Then us…we had just begun to realize the strength of the flow and dropped our hook mid stream, letting "Bebinka" swing around with only 5 feet to spare either side, also throwing a line to a trimaran who had arrived before any of us.
Then came the N.Z. yacht "Clear Skies" (whose dragging anchor had caused so many problems one night in Rarotonga), the biggest of the lot at 38 feet and completely out of control. As she sped by us, we grabbed her bowsprit and her stern bumpkin literally obliterated mangroves as she swung around. Before we could even secure "Clear Skies" behind us, a hoarde of small sailing craft and some decent sized motor launches from the Suva YC rounded the bend with the current. They were not happy to see all the overseas yachts in their private little hurricane harbor and we had several people ask, vaguely maliciously, how we’d found this spot. The confusion that ensued was a delightfully hysterical scene – everyone yelling instructions, boats crashing into each other, anchors frantically being dropped too late, lines tangling in props. Finally after 1½ hours darkness fell and all of us were secured, most with 8 lines to individual mangrove trees crisscrossing the estuary. Although the wind blew like hell over the tops of the trees, the boats sat quietly in the still water and we pooled the alcoholic resources of the yachts for some semblance of a party.
After our hurricane party, we went back to Bebinka. We climbed back onto our little ship, totally exhausted from the effort of the day and the exhilaration of feeling totally secure. Even though the wind was howling; Bebinka hardly moved. We changed into our pajamas, collapsed into our bunks and fell sound asleep while listening to the wind screaming over the tops of our masts and the mangroves yet knowing we were totally safe and secure.
Tuesday morning we were awakened by a bang on the hull. Still half asleep, we opened the hatch to see Bobby from Thalassa, soaked clear through and exhausted, climbing aboard. When he saw us rubbing sleep out of our eyes and still in our night clothes, he yelled, "Pajamas! Pajamas! You are in pajamas and I ma fitting for my life!!!"
My first horrible thought was that he’d lost the boat and had come up the river by dinghy. When he finally caught his breath and had calmed down a bit, he told us that he had remained at anchor back in the bay and had been up all night fending off a huge barge which had dragged back into him. At dawn the wind let up for an instant and he was able to get one of his anchors up. He had to sacrifice the other by throwing the bitter end of the anchor line off the boat. He then headed up the river mouth. The winds blew him forward, mostly out of control with little steerage, but he knew he would be safer aground in the mangroves than in the open harbor. Finally he was able to drop a hook at the estuary entrance and ended up half in and half out of the estuary, only about 50 feet from us. That is when he climbed into his dinghy to come and get Scott to help him secure Thalassa to the mangroves.
The rain and wind howled, blowing water in sheets up the river and big seas (for a river that is!) developed. But even in this, Bobby and Karla claimed it was "a holiday" compared to the mess in the outer harbor. As we sat motionless in that beautiful spot, listening to wind and rain and lousy weather reports, I mentally thanked Bruce and God over and over for getting us in there!
About 4 pm Tuesday, hurricane Bebe was packing 180 kts of winds on the northwestern part of Viti Levu (we incorrectly refer to this island as "Fiji" since it is the largest and most populated, but in fact there are over 300 Fijian islands), not far from us in Suva. We really worried about "Skylark", our San Franciscan friends, who we knew were stuck at the Fijian Hotel anchorage and in a very dangerous position. By 6 pm Suva was getting 90 knot winds and inland towns reported serious flooding, damage and deaths.
We had a nice dinner with Bruce and Anne over on Black Rose, with not one, but two cakes (Anne & I had both been ambitious that day) and returned to "Bebinka" about 8:00 as the storm seemed to be hitting its peak. Getting back to the boat, only 60 feet away, was in itself a feat. The wind roared and rain blinded us and in the pitch dark we handed ourselves among the mass of lines, following them from yacht out to mangrove and grabbing the next one to take us forward.
Back on board we decided to listen to 2182 (the emergency frequency on a radio telephone) and tuned in to find two yachts conversing, one already high and dry on the harbor entrance reef. Pat and Polly, on an American schooner "Whistler", had dragged from the YC anchorage and were pounding with each wave that came over the reef. Ross Norgrove (owner of the well known Caribbean charter schooner "White Squall II") tried frantically and persistently to contact someone by radio to get a tug out to them and even volunteered to take his own boat out to save them. But Pat adamantly said no, as he didn’t feel their lives were in danger. Ross also tried to get someone to find "Optiki", a brand new Cheoy Lee Offshore 36 just delivered from Hong Kong, with 4 novice sailors aboard, which he had seen drifting helplessly toward the reefs. Ross was furious with Radio Suva, who seemed to be playing dumb to his requests.
The eye of the hurricane passed about 11 pm – among the mangroves it was an eerie calm with only a sprinkle of rain. Heads began popping out of hatches and the strange sound of silence brought each of us up on deck, almost afraid to speak above a whisper. After a short while, we retired for a good night’s sleep knowing that even when the rest of the storm came by, the winds wouldn’t be so strong and even so, our snug little hurricane hole had proved itself.
We woke up Wednesday morning, October 25, thinking about "Whistler" and "Optiki" and switched on 2182 to find out about them. Apparently "Optiki" had been dragging towards the harbor entrance reef too and in a valiant, last resort effort to save the boat, they put up the mizzen and actually sailed off the reef! By doing so they risked losing their masts with the force of 100 mph winds in the sail, but in their naiveté they succeeded. During the eye, their anchors caught on something and held, so the crew began cooking a steak dinner only to have it interrupted by a salvage tug insisting they tow them to a safer place. This same tug got "Whistler" free with very little damage during the morning. Unfortunately, both yachts are involved in a legal dispute with the tug company as by international law the tug has a right to claim, as salvage rights, 10% (sometimes much more) of the value of the boat for aiding them in distress. It seems so unfair to us cruising people, none of whom could amass 10% of the value of their boats, especially in "Optiki"s place as they had only taken the tow line at the demand of the tug.
Late Wednesday morning we went by motor launch down the river to the Tradewinds Hotel and found all reasonably well there. That gang was damn lucky the wind never switched with any intensity after the eye. On the way across the hurricane anchorage we saw a large trading schooner, supposedly belonging to the Queen of Tonga, aground on her beam and many boats washed up into the flexible mangrove trees lining the bay. But none of the boats suffered severe damage. Here was much damage inland caused by flooding mainly; ruined crops, little or no potable wager and of course the wind took its toll on the fragile bures.
We were so worried about "Skylark" by this time and tried all sorts of means to contact the Fijian, to no avail. Finally on Friday night Bob and Kristi and crew showed up at the Suva YC with an incredible story to tell. I described earlier the vulnerability of the anchorage there. They had enjoyed ten days of sun and fun and although they were anxious to return to Suva to prepare for the passage to N.Z., the SE trades had blown so strongly for the last week that they felt they couldn’t possibly beat into the big seas. It wasn’t until Sunday morning that they first heard of Hurricane Bebe and they could never make it to Suva, or any hurricane anchorage, before she hit. To they set out 4 anchors hoping to accommodate the winds from the east and finally W or NW after the storm’s eye passed.
Monday afternoon Bob sent Kristi and the crew ashore, along with the yacht’s electrical equipment and the crew’s valuables and official papers. Hoping he could help "Skylark" if she got into trouble, he spent the night aboard and very much alone, listening to every noise as the yacht listed in high gusts and plunged up and down in growing swells. Weather reports made it increasingly clear that this bay was going to be among the hardest hit.
At dawn Tuesday their small boat came out and Jim (crew member and good friend from home) volunteered his help and climbed aboard. The two of them thought then that they would stay aboard during the storm. By 4 pm the wind was a steady 80-90 mph with gusts approaching 100 on their anemometer. Around dinner time they were monitoring a radio telephone call between the Fijian Hotel and one of its fishing fleet in Lautoka, on the northwest coast. The boat there reported devastating winds in escess of 160 mph and suggested that the people on the yacht in front of the hotel get off their boat. They didn’t see how anything was going to stand up successfully to the force of those winds.
Bob now faced a difficult decision and after much thought decided he and Jim would get off’ "Skylark" could be replaced, but not two lives. Robby and Pete (crew members, Kristi & Bob’s brothers, respectively) launched the small boat to come get them. It was a fearsome job to get their 12 foot small boat out to "Skylark" and bring her alongside with both boats crashing crazily in the high seas. The boat couldn’t be steadied, so Bob and Jim took a deep breath and a flying 8 foot leap making the launch by the skin of their teeth.
Now to get ashore, facing a gale and foaming breakers, with an overloaded dinghy. The driving rain and spray obliterated the hotel lights at times, although only 100 yards away. The little 9 ½ horse Evinrude motor took white water valiantly trying to carry them on, but not powerful enough to deal with what nature now dispensed. The 120 mph winds pushed the launch off course and there was no alternative but to run with the seas on the quarter to the lee shore. Suddenly the boat was hoisted up by the waves and began a wild surf ride to the beach; the bow submerged and the boat capsized, luckily in waist deep water. Somehow the boys got the boat lashed to a tree ashore and began a difficult walk, blasted by flying sand and debris, to the hotel.
In their present position the four guys were separated from the hotel grounds by a small tidal stream, normally you can walk across it, even at high tide. Robby and Jim got ashore safely but Pete and Bob got caught in a freak current and were swept away. Strong swimming was nigh impossible in their bulky lifejackets, but they finally scrambled ashore many yards away, badly shaken. Not knowing Robby had been watching them, they figured everyone would be worried sick, so they made their way as quickly as possible, grasping one solid object after another to pull themselves along to the low bridge spanning the tidal lagoon. With the wind now behind them, they made good progress back to the hotel.
They arrived exhausted and worried sick about "Skylark", but realized there was nothing more they could do. So after a quick dip in the pool (all water and electricity was out at the hotel) to clean off engrained salt and sand, they gathered with a few guests and staff members for a hurricane party. It helped take their minds off the ordeal, but not a moment passed without one or another of the crew looking out the window to see the yacht’s masthead light. With first light they all went out to survey the damage: sail covers ripped to shreds even though they were lashed down, their 3/8 inch anchor chain snapped, as did their 1 inch nylon anchor rode (the two other remaining anchors held), the raging winds ripped paint right off the sides and the mast, but all in all, nothing serious. Thanks to the two remaining anchors "Skylark" had miraculously survived Hurricane Bebe with very little damage.
We got Cathee back on board and had planned to leave Saturday morning for NZ but Bobby and Karla were having a sort of dinner party at the yacht club, so we stayed over, mainly because we won’t see them until April as they are sitting out the hurricane season in Fiji. We thoroughly enjoyed the party, but Cathee, Scott and I were very careful not to drink much as there is nothing like going to sea with a hangover.
Early the next day, October 29, we upped anchor for the last time in Suva and after many goodbyes, sailed out the harbor behind "Black Rose" in a blustering SE wind. Our course was about due south and thus we had a very uncomfortable time at first. Poor Cathee was green and quite sick, but a great sport. Having all our electronics go out on us at once didn’t improve our dispositions: the Simex time check, Zenith Transoceanic receiver and radio telephone took to the sick bed with Cathee. Luckily we could get a time tone from Fiji radio for three mornings before we got too far away and were able to establish Scott’s watch’s rate of error, which we needed in order to determine our position with the sextant. Under working jib alone we covered 270 miles in those first two days.
The weather then turned absolutely gorgeous – we hadn’t had such magnificent sailing since the trip to the Marquesas; moderate seas off the beam or quarter, 15-20 mph breeze and SUN, the first we’d seen offshore since Tahiti! The days passed quickly with Cathee and I constantly soaking up the rays in the cockpit, lying low as the wind was cold, and all of us engrossed in good books. It was pleasant to be making good time too; our best day’s run on the trip was 160 miles and we averaged about 135 per day.
About midnight one night the smell of smoke brought me flying from our bunk and out into the cockpit, where sparks seemed to be shooting about like a mini 4th of July. Instinctively I opened the port sail locker and Scott spotted the problem immediately – the wiring for the diesel instrument panel had somehow shorted and turning the battery off solved the problem temporarily. The next morning Scott repaired the wires and luckily no damage was caused. Although we have dry chemical extinguishers especially made for electrical fires, as well as CO2, I still wouldn’t want a fire on board out at sea – it would be terrifying.
On Monday, November 6, we sighted the NE tip of New Zealand just before dusk (and only 20 minutes after Scott’s predicted sighting) and as darkness fell, we picked up the flasher at its end and laid a course for Cape Brett, 85 miles south. We kept full watches that night, 2 hours on 4 off, and had an exhilarating sail under a star-filled sky, all of us bundled in our warmest woolies with foul weather gear to keep the wind out. At dawn the wind failed us, so we powered through glassy seas, broken only by playful porpoises, for another 25 miles down the coast.
With enormous Cape Brett to port, we entered the Bay of Islands, summer playground of beaches and boating for Kiwis (New Zealanders are often referred to as Kiwis, after their national bird, the flightless noctgurnal Kiwi). But summer quite definitely hadn’t arrived yet and except for ferries and a few fishing boats, we seemed to have the whole area to ourselves. We’d finally made it to "the land of milk and honey" and no sooner did we drop our hook off Russell when someone hailed us from the dock with a gift of fresh milk, butter and bread! Only Scott could go ashore there until we entered customs officially, but we enjoyed just basking in the warm spring sun, gazing at the peaceful little town with its multicolored houses & rolling hills and inhaling the clean, fragrant air.
Anxious to get ashore for some exercise, we all set off early the next morning for a hike to the top of Flagstaff Hill, just outside of Russell. An older man insisted on driving us up the steep, dusty road to the top where we picnicked and were awed by the marvelous view of the town, the sea and the surrounding islands. The gentleman, Mr. McCarthy, had asked us to stop by his newly finished house on the point several miles down the road. We spent the afternoon with this fascinating guy, relaxing in his retirement home with a panoramic view of open sea, picturesque islands, breaking surf, cliffs and green hills. Later that afternoon he led us to the top of Tapeka Point, a narrow peninsula rising 300 feet above the sea. We climbed several steep hills covered with knee deep grass hiding beautiful cock pheasants, which scattered frantically as we clamored past; groves of old gnarled trees obstructed the pat. At the top we had the treat of a lifetime – an absolutely staggeringly magnificent view.
After another day of sightseeing with Mr. McCarthy, we sailed for Motuarohia, a beautiful island about 15 miles distant. While ashore, we met the lonely old caretaker who took a fancy to Cathee and invited her for dinner; she accepted the invitation with some trepidation, only to give us our first evening alone for many weeks. However, the evening ended disastrously as we had a fire on board that night. Scot went to light the stove and accidentally put more alcohol in to prime it while there was a small flame burning, which he couldn’t see. The flames leapt back along the alcohol container in his hand and splashed all over his chest, which caught on fire. He didn’t realize he was on fire right away, until we smelled singeing hair, but meanwhile the whole wastebasket and several other items were on fire. After he patted himself out, he grabbed the dry chemical extinguisher and sprayed the boat. It sure put the fire out instantly but the powder was about ¼ inch thick over everything in the cabin. It scared me to death to see his chest, but we quickly put Vaseline gauze over the area and he laid down. After reading about burns in our "Ship Captain’s Medical Guide", I was afraid he might go into shock. But an hour later he felt better and when no serious blisters developed the next morning, we decided to carry on towards Whangarei, where we planned to re-rig the boat.
On the way to Whangaruru, our next night’s anchorage, we actually caught a fish off the boat – our first one after trailing a line almost all the way from New York! Scott was just tickled but Cathee and I turned a little pale watching him beat the fish to death in the cockpit, spurting blood and depositing scales over everything in sight. We thought he was some sort of a mackerel and our book on fishes confirmed that he was a King Mackarel and excellent eating. That night, anchored in a little bay surrounded by grassy hills dotted with sheep and cattle and a charming little red barn, we enjoyed helping after helping of mackerel steaks, fried to a turn in batter. Once again we yearned for the good old days in the Galapagos, where each night we gorged ourselves on such scrumptious fresh-caught meals with Roger & Sheila.
On the 13th of November we powered 15 miles up river to Whangarei, where we slipped into a berth at Oram’s Marina under the watchful eye of Eric and Susan Hiscock, famous cruising yachtsmen, he the author of five excellent "text" books for us world voyagers. In fact, right after we were married Scott presented me with one of their books about an earlier circumnavigation in a 30 footer, hoping to prove to his Midwestern wife that couples could go to sea in small boats. I ended up reading all of the Hiscock books, which were very educational, & combined with Scott’s patient encouragement, I decided that he and I probably could go cruising.
Mid-January through April 1 our address will be: us, c/o Yacht "Bebinka", American Express, 47 York St, Sydney, Australia. In the meantime it is still c/o Am. Ex., 95 Queen St, Auckland. And remember No News (from you all) is NOT Good News (to us)!
The Voyage of the Bebinka Part VI
New Zealand and Australia
Has it really been six months since we’ve been able to discipline ourselves enough to sit down and get a newsletter out?
Whangarei, where we left off last November, is not exactly the garden city of N.Z., but it is an excellent place to work on a boat. So for three solid weeks that’s what we did. Good old "Bebinka" got a complete refit from new galvanized rigging to a new mizzen sail, numerous other sail repairs, new stern pulpit and a myriad of other maintenance tasks performed, including picking up the entire tow rail and re-caulking the hull to deck seam.
As a reward for our work, we decided to take a vacation from the boat and see a bit of N.Z., especially the beautiful south Island. But, even though labor there is cheap and we did what we could ourselves, we were broke as usual when the planned time of departure rolled around. We had a financial meeting and realized that if we were to get around at all, it had to be by hitchhiking and accommodations must be at youth hostels. So we borrowed back packs and a tent (in case we got stuck out at night) and set off in early December, excited as two newlyweds going on a honeymoon.
And in fact we almost were. It was exhilarating to be away from the boat for a change; we really felt as if we were on holiday! Auckland was our first stop and we spent an enjoyable afternoon prowling around the beautiful university grounds high above the city and looking in shop windows at things we won’t be able to buy for another few years. My Uncle Peter had introduced us to a fantastic couple there, Mark & Lindsay Kirby, and after a fun evening with them and a good sleep in their home, Mark drove us the next morning to a junction about 20 miles south of the city. We donned our foul weather gear and set off in a cold downpour in the direction of Wellington, 430 miles south. A little later a big, fully loaded CO2 truck came to a grinding halt a few yards up the road and its driver beckoned us aboard. This was the first ride I had ever hitched and it proved to be a memorable one. Unfortunately, both us and our huge packs wouldn’t fit in the cabin, so we had to tie the packs outside and consequently all the gear got soaked. But no matter, it was to be a 300 mile ride & we settled back to enjoy the view and our host, Chips. About lunch time we were passing through his hometown, so he invited us in for tea and to meet his mum, a real entertaining character. About 6:00 that afternoon, Chips turned off the main road and let us off to fend for ourselves. Several short rides later it was 7:30, growing dark and we still had about 70 miles to go. When a big bus coach came over the horizon, we hailed it because we had hoped to get to Wellington in time for the late ferry to South Island. The driver kindly took us past his depot so we could catch the 10:40 to Picton, on the northern tip of South Island. There were only 8 or 10 of us on the crossing and since it was the last ferry, it would remain at Picton all night until it sailed the next morning & they let us sleep for free on couches in the lounge. The stewards were great – they showed us around and helped select the best resting spot. We were so exhausted that we didn’t even notice our wet sleeping bags or the rolling of the ship as we crossed Cook Strait.
At 5:45 am the stewards woke us up and soon after we found ourselves in the middle of Picton, where not a creature was stirring. On the ferry we had met a fellow from the California Merchant Marine Academy and so the three of us set off together. It’s next to impossible for two people with packs to get a ride, let alone three, especially since the traffic is so sparse and the vehicles Kiwi’s drive are so small. After a few miles of walking down a real country road, Erroll went off on his own and we let him get a ways down the road (any excuse for a rest on my part) before we trudged on. We passed each other several times with different rides and once, when we had hopped aboard a milk truck for a ¼ mile ride we passed two other hitchhikers and got let off right in front of them.
This meant we were third in line for a ride on a very deserted road! Not funny at all! It was beaut tramping along this road though: about every ½ mile there was a little farmhouse set back among a grove of trees and the ever present sheep grazed all around us, bleating and scampering off as we approached too close. After what seemed like an eternity to my feet (at that point I was wearing my Tahiti see-through plastic sandals), we saw Erroll coming along in the front of a little mini pick up truck. The old farmer stopped to offer us a ride and Erroll gentlemanly got out and rode in the back with Scott. While I sat in the cozy front seat chatting with Dave, the poor boys almost froze in the cold wind. We were driving along the east coast of the island, heading for Christchurch, about 175 miles away. The surf was big and pounding into the black boulder strewn beach and although it wasn’t quite as rough as the Maine coast, it was certainly as beautiful. Part of the time the road veered inland and we wove our way up and down gorges on roads that not so long ago were only one way and not paved. We had to laugh when at one point we rounded a hairpin curve to find some poor soul painting the white line in the center by hand and Dave commented that the stripe painters were at least using rollers now instead of a brush. If that isn’t the absolute epitome of New Zealand!
In Christchurch one sees a strong British influence, in architecture and speech and manner. It’s located next to the ocean on part of huge Canterbury Plain and thus is a flat city, which I think makes it less interesting aesthetically than Auckland. We stayed with another delightful friend of my uncle’s there and after a delicious steak and beer at his pub, Ivan took us for a drive around the outskirts of the city. Even within a few miles the area becomes mountainous and is indented with finger-like bays.
On Friday morning Ivan got us on the road to Dunedin, another 200 miles further south. We lucked into one of our most delightful rides that day; a couple from a small town called Waimate picked us up and along the way asked if we’d like to stop for tea. We went into a roadside restaurant and Bob ordered "afternoon tea for four" and I thought why doesn’t he just say "4 cups of tea" but fifteen minutes later I saw why. Out from the kitchen came a tray with plates of sandwiches of all varieties, scones with butter, whip cream and jam, cakes and cookies and last but not least, a teapot complete with tea cozy and 4 cups. What a east! Afterwards they wouldn’t let us out of the car without showing us their town and so we witnessed our first game of bowls (men and women dressed in white pitching little bowling type balls down lawn courts, it’s very popular in Australia too) and saw their beautiful park and small zoo. Although they couldn’t understand why we had to go on, they took us back to the main road late in the afternoon and reluctantly let us out to continue down to Dunedin, still 100 miles away.
In Dunedin we joined the Youth Hostel Association, which cost NZ 8.50 each, but in the end proved worth the expenditure as beds in the hostels are only 80 cents per night, with showering, laundry and cooking facilities available. Dunedin is situated on steep ills which come right to the sea and is considered the Scottish district of South Island. It’s one of the few places we found much interesting architecture and in fact, here you could get a taste of all the British Isles in some of the old homes and universities.
By now my feet were in bad shape, so we gave in and took the bus across the island to Te Anau. Although we had an awfully pleasant and informative driver it was boring as heck because all you could do is sit and watch; you don’t meet the locals or get that feeling of being part of it all like you do when you’re hitchhiking.
Te Anau, the last town before Milford Sound, is a small, quiet resort town backed on the west by its beautiful lake ane stupendous mountains which lead to the fjords. The hostel there was particularly friendly and we stayed up late lounging around in the boys’ dorm chatting about places some of us had been or were going. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting people who have nothing to do with boats and some of the stories of hitching through India, Afghanistan, Nepal, etc., were fascinating.
That night we met an American who had bought an old beaten up van/wagon and he decided to take us and three others up to Milford Sound. The 75 mile trip (which is almost impossible to hitch up as most cars going that way are full) was unforgettably beautiful: the river beds that aren’t flowing are covered knee deep in purple heather and yellow gorse, river rapids splash along filled with trout, the road weaves up and down and around gorges with spectacular views of surrounding snow-capped mountains and icy cold looking blue glaciers and lush green valleys. The Sound is as beautiful as we anticipated. We all took a 2 hour launch ride through the fjord out to the Tasman Sea and it was really thrilling. The mountains drop right into the sea (1,400 feet being the average depth in the Sound) and we went almost directly under 560 foot high Bowen Falls, where the water was being whipped right off the falls in high winds and along sheer faces. Because our time was limited to a few weeks on the Island, we had to choose one thing we really wanted to see and that was the Milford fjords; after 1,200 miles of hitching we made it and it was sure worth it!
Because getting rides was easier on the east coast, we decided to go partway back up that way again. We had heard about a nifty little hostel at Shag’s Point, about 26 miles north of Dunedin, and we were determined to stop on the way back. Our ride 9in a van with a local rock n’ roll band) let us off at the front door of an old white frame farm house displaying a weather beaten triangular Youth Hostel symbol and we went in to find only one other pack around. I was hoping that whoever it was would be a nice guy because with only 3 of us there you don’t have much choice on who you converse with. As I was oohing and aahing over the big old fireplace in the kitchen, the back door opened and lo and behold…it’s an old yachtie friend who we hadn’t seen since Tahiti! Between the three of us our total cache of food consisted of 2 cans of spaghetti, a small tin of tomato soup and some coffee – the closest store was 6 miles away so we decided to let our stomachs suffer. We had such a pleasant evening in front of the fire catching up on 6 months of sea stories, playing cards and writing aerogrammes home. The cottage was on a low cliff right over the sea and we fell asleep to the sound of pounding surf.
Several days later we headed out from Christchurch to try to get through Arthur’s Pass, which is in approximately the middle of South Island, to reach the west coast. It’s always difficult to get out of the city limits hitching, so we took a local bus about ten miles out of town and four short rides after that we were in the last "town" before the pass and stood in absolutely freezing cold sleeting rain, literally praying that someone would pick us up. The traffic was almost nil so we finally dragged our gear and ourselves into a barn across the road to get out of the wind and Scott kept his head poked out looking for cars. One or two went by and in desperation he leapt out into the path of the next car. The poor bewildered fellow stopped (what else would you do if you saw a red bearded, yellow jacketed oaf stumbling over a barbwire fence, frantically trying to attract your attention?) and Scott asked if he was going over the Pass. Of course, what else would he be doing out here in the middle of nowhere. When he saw me drag the two big packs over, I think he realized he’d made a mistake. In the pouring rain he and Scott repacked their trunk so our gear could fit in while I tried to make friends with his wife. It turned out they were honeymooners, just married the day before, and dairy farmers from South Australia. We really enjoyed them, and I think they us, probably because we took their minds off the shocking, day-after realization, that they really had done it, gotten married that is! The country was barren on the east side as we headed up to about 2,500 feet and suddenly we were on the rainy side of the mountains and the landscape was transformed to green grass, trees, waterfalls and snow capped mountains. The route down, only just recently paved, was one car wide, very steep and narrow, nervewracking and breathtaking at the same time.
Thursday morning we it the road early to try and make it from Greymouth to Nelson, about 200 miles away, via a stretch of the west coast beach road. There just weren’t many cars going by and we were strolling along, if you can call walking with a 30 or 40 lb backpack strolling) when we were confronted with a psychedelically painted car about 100 yards up the road. As we approached a hairy, bearded, ape-man type guy came bursting out of the bush and said he’d give us a ride 3 miles up the road. Just to get the car started was a half hour long ordeal, but finally we were off and running with Scott excitedly at the wheel of what he guessed was about a 1948 DeSoto. He invited us in to see his house, which at that point consisted of the framework only, situated on a cliff overlooking the beach, on a plot which he leased from the NZ government for only $10 a year! Explaining that cars on this road were few and far between, he extended an invitation to come back to his rented house down the road if we couldn’t get a lift. It’s that old Kiwi hospitality again.
About an hour later we managed a ride with a Christchurch business man who stopped to show us the sights along the way. We stopped at Pancake Rocks to see the blowholes among the layers of thin rock and at Charleston, once a prosperous gold mining town with over 80 hotels and now nothing more than a lone pub, where our driver shouted a round of beer. On the walls inside the pub there were some very old photos of the town before it hit the dust and it was interesting to see the similarity between these old mining towns and the US’s wild west.
Four miles out of a town called Westport (yep, there’s one in NZ too) we were let off at the turnoff to Nelson with about 140 miles to go. We trapsed along the incredibly desolate road for almost an hour and suddenly noticed that not one car had passed. So as not to get too far from a town (since we had discovered through dual errors we had left all our foot at the last hostel and therefore couldn’t stomach being left out overnight) we stopped along the road to do some serious hitching. Six cars and 1 ½ hours later, a car (about the first that wasn’t a tiny Mini Minor) pulled over and we had a gorgeous drive through the Great Buller Gorge, where an earthquake in 1968 had caused serious damage and huge faults in the surrounding mountains. A last lucky break and we had a ride all the way into Nelson, but poor Scott was really suffering through our first religious fanatic’s lecture in the front seat.
The next day brought us back to the Picton ferry and our last leg home. As I wasn’t feeling too well (the result of a typical greasy fish and chips dinner the night before), we splurged and rode the train from Wellington to Auckland, taking longer than it had for us to hitch on the way down.
Back in Whangarei we had a fun Christmas, but there is still nothing like home for the holidays, and soon after took the boat to Auckland and tied up next to Bob and Kristi on "Skylark" to await Scott’s father’s arrival from the States. He was going to sail with Scott to Sydney while I flew over, got a job and waited on "Kuan Yin" for their arrival. The best way to describe that passage is to quote
The Last Voyage of the Ancient Mariner (?) by Russ Kuhner, "The Admiral"
The morning of January 1, 1973, might have been a thick-headed New Years Day to most people, but to me it was "V" (voyage) day. I was standing in the middle of a long line with my wife Betty at the entrance gate of Flight 930 for L.A., the first leg of my flight to Auckland, NZ, where at the not so old age of 64 I was to meet my son & sail on his 30 foot ketch "Bebinka" 1200 miles across the Tasman Sea to Australia. The rest of the family rushed up, five minutes before boarding time, to wish the "Admiral" a happy trip. In two minutes a very loud "pop" startled everyone and all heads spun around toward our group thinking "My God, a shoot out!". It was only my daughter’s boy friend John opening a large bottle of champagne. A very auspicious start. Betty cried.
There was a terrible layover in L.A. (9 hours) until the flight to Auckland. Never having been to L.A., I decided to see something. Having heard of Sunset Strip, I chose that as the direction. After an evidently rip-snorting New Year’s Eve, the Strip was completely closed and not a soul was on the street. It even took 20 minutes to hail a cab to go back to the airport. While waiting for my flight I read all the L.A. papers and tried to snooze on terribly hard benches with no backs and felt more and more like an arthritic pretzel.
The flight to Auckland seemed forever. It was only broken by an hour stop for refueling in Tahiti during which time my sea bag was broken into and twelve rolls of Kodachrome were stolen. By the time we landed, I was sure that my knees and back had fused in a sitting position permanently and I would finish my sailing adventure with bent knees.
Fortunately Scott and Kitty are both tall, for there, waving frantically above the crowd as I cleared customs was that big red beard and Kitty’s flashing smile. This was the first time in a year that I had seen Scott and his wife, during which time they had sailed a third of the way around the world.
This was to be my adventure, sailing the passage with Scott from Auckland to Sydney. Kitty would fly over and meet us there. But there was one condition: since Scott was losing his cook, I had to agree to do all the cooking.
Scott and Kitty were driven to the airport by Ivan Beckbessinger, a native of Christchurch, and a business contact of one of Kitty’s uncles, who, true to the incredible warmth and friendliness of the Kiwis, took us on a tour of Auckland and environs for the rest of the day. The tour ended at West Haven, a municipal marina. There, sitting at the slip, was "Bebinka", looking every inch a world traveler. Though shipshape and tidy and clean, she somehow showed her 14,000 miles from Westport, Connecticut. Something, an aura, a sense of adventure, or a charisma sets the cruising boat apart from the class boat, or the racer, or the bright weekender. After a stiff drink and early dinner, groggy me was ready for the sack.
The three of us went into Auckland the next morning. Scott to get things for the boat and Kitty & I to get stores for the trip and mail at American Express. During our shopping expedition we found a very nice, modern, though small, art museum. It has an excellent permanent collection of large, very graphic and descriptive paintings of early Maori natives and native life. It gave a very realistic impression of the early island life. There was also a traveling show of contemporary Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera and several Orozcos. It total it was surprisingly good. The architecture of Auckland center is mostly bad to medium 1890 U.S. mid-west with a few modern buildings and several new high rises being built. The suburban houses are mostly Midwest, New England and Oak Bluffs gingerbread, but distinctly in its own flavor.
That night we entertained on "Bebinka": Bob & Kristi, a great young couple from San Francisco on "Skylark" and Bruce & Anne, on "Black Rose" sailed from Tahiti in company with Scott and Kitty. They are native Aucklanders and have just completed a six year circumnavigation, during which time, in South Africa, a son was born. They had already sold the boat, bought a house and are now earthbound Kiwis. All of these young people have great personalities, are very bright, and have amazing stories to tell. It was an extremely entertaining evening.
After breakfast, hot showers and goodbyes, we cast off from West Haven Marina about 0900, January 5. As we were motoring out of Auckland Harbor it finally it home to me that I was "down under" as we spotted a penguin swimming 30 feet to starboard. For the next few days we coast hopped up to the Bay of Islands, our jumping off point for Sydney. I spent this short time learning from Kitty where everything was, how to use the kerosene stove, and what meals to make in rough weather. In fine weather I was determined to show Scott the Ancient Mariner could practice the fine art of gourmet cooking even at sea.
Our immediate destination was a point of land about 25 miles north where friends of Kitty & Scott’s, the Kirbys, had a summer home. They owned the whole point of land and their house was on the inner, protected beach. The land rises straight out of the sea and was once a Maori village. The old protection ditches and fortifications are still evident. The beach on the other side from the house was once the scene of a Maori massacre and while walking on the beach, Scott kicked up a human scull. One incongruous note in the house, which was furnished in old comfortable but not opulent style, was a full size slate and heavy walnut pool table in perfect condition with new green felt and lively cushions. How they ever got it there is a mystery.
January 6. We hauled anchor about 0830 and our destination was an anchorage further north, near the entrance to the Whangarei River. However when the wind failed us and we finally got near, it was almost dark and we could see no land marks nor navigation lights, so Scott decided to sail all night to the Bay of Islands. We at once stowed everything, closed the hatch and settled down for the night. Scott took the 8 to 12 watch, I took the 12 to 4 and Kitty the 4 to daylight. There was a fair breeze and good navigation lights to follow. At daybreak we were almost to Cape Brett, where the Bay of Islands snuggled in behind. This was some of the most majestic scenery I hve ever send. "Bebinka" was dwarfed and we felt equally insignificant, passing through the narrow channel between the Cape, a sheer cliff 1200 feet high, and an equally sheer and high head just offshore. This outdoes the Gaspe Peninsula or Capri. Mid-morning we dropped the anchor in Russell, a small summer resort town on the bay and one of the first good ports of entry for boats coming from the north, thus there were many boats there that Kitty and Scott knew. There were reunions and incredible stories to tell about the Fiji hurricane. We spent most of the day in town stopping for final stores, which included two bottles of Scotch for me. As a final celebration, I took us all to dinner in the only hotel in town.
January 9 we were up early for we had to go across the bay to Opua, where we had a date with the customs officer, who had motored up from Whangarei, to give us clearance at 0900. At 1010 we cast off from the dock leaving a very forlorn looking Kitty waving us Bon Voyage from the dock. We powered out of the bay into headwinds and when we could head more NW raised the sails and were off. The wind was fair and the sailing good.
The fishing line with a white lure was let out and after trolling for a short time, the reel screeched and we had a hit. Scott reeled in a 6 to 8 lb Yellow Tail. Fried fresh fish with parsleyed potatoes and cole slaw was a delicious dinner. At dusk the sails were set, windvane adjusted and we turned in for the night; every few minutes one of us would pop up to check our course and watch for ships. The wind was not great and we cruised at 3 ½ kts all night.
In the morning we were off North Cape, the northernmost tip of NZ. Mid-morning we were entertained by a ballet company of 30 to 40 porpoises. They are very fast and put on an incredible and beautiful show of swimming across and over and under with very quick turns, all close together and at high speed. They criss-crossed the bow, evidently scratching their backs on the prow. Considering that yesterday’s dinner was provided by the sea, we felt we could splurge tonight and have a great delicacy called Spam. With canned fruit cocktail first, Spam fried in brown sugar, potatoes and peas, followed by cake and coffee, we dined well. By evening the Three Kings, uninhabited islands about 30 miles off North Cape, were visible in front of us. They have no navigational lights and at night the only way to be safe from them is to keep far enough offshore. With this in mind, we set the vane and went below for the night, taking our usual "watches".
The morning greeted us with a nice fresh breeze and a fairly nice day We sailed with the genoa, main and mizzen and expectations for a great day. The wind came up very fast though and about 0930 we took down the genny and working jib. The next day the wind and seas continued to build and very shortly we were making 6 ½ knots with just jib and mizzen. The seas kept getting angrier and the wind kept blowing harder and soon we were sailing with storm jib and reefed mizzen. Of course Scott was hungry as usual and I took another unmerciful beating being thrown around the galley trying to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. After our gourmet meal, seasoned with saltwater spray (when was I going to get to show my skills in the galley??), we took down the mizzen and ran with storm jib only. To an old salt who has sailed only in Westport harbor and Long Island Sound, it seemed like 60 mph winds (our anemometer was broken in the hurricane in Fiji) but actually they might have been only about 58 and it was getting a little hairy!
SCOTT INSERT EGGS DOWN LEGS STORY somewhere in here.
The next step was to sheet the storm jib to windward and lash the tiller to leeward (called "heaving to"), go below, close the hatch and ride it out. During the afternoon the wind subsided enough to again ruin with jib and mizzen, but as the seas were still very high we had only a can of spaghetti for dinner. Doing 6 knots this way we went to our bunks, with Scott checking every once in a while to see if we were okay and on course. We logged only 50 miles for the day (the ship’s worst daily run for the entire trip from NY).
When dawn started to lighten the eastern horizon, the wind had died down enough to raise the main and for the rest of the day we had a great sail with the wind on our quarter. As mid-day approached, we were hungry enough to start thinking about dinner. We both thought of fresh fish and no sooner than we could trail the lure, "whang" went the reel. This time the Tasman gave us a great prize, a large dolphin fish (not to be confused with the mammal of the same name), one of the finest eating fish on the sea. With a good cole slaw it was delicious and we had enough for fish sandwiches for lunch the next day too. Now this was more like it!
By morning, January 13, the wind worked around to our stern and the twin jibs were set. The clouds started to change rapidly. Scott gave me a jolt. "Pop, we are in for some very bad weather. This is the worst sky I have ever seen." This was very reassuring as we were in the middle of the Tasman Sea, or the "Bloody Tasman" as Scott says it is justly called. Even though land is 550 miles west and 700 miles to the east, it is comforting to know that there is ground only 3 miles straight down. We secured everything, wrapped my cameras in waterproof bags and prepared to button up and ride it out. I must say the sky did look very evil, but the barometer didn’t fall and except for the wind freshening up even a little more, and the sea building up some, nothing happened except a great show from the clouds. Toward evening, as the wind calmed and we slowed considerably, there were three large shark fins in the crest of one of the waves following us. Not a friendly sight.
We were in for another few cloudy, grey days, with no sun and about a 20 knot wind, which is evidently average for the Tasman. When the wind is strong we sail with reduced sail of jib and mizzen and when it slackens a little, we raise the main, always averaging 6 knots. For three days there was not enough sun to get a sun shot with the sextant, so we could not pinpoint our location, but did keep our courses due west.
Another sunless day broke but with considerably reduced wind. We were making only about 2 knots and about noon the wind gave out entirely and we just drifted. Our course was due west and we drifted east with no control. Our sails were up but only functioned to keep us steady in the swell. At a time like this, Scott usually cranks up the "iron jib" and goes under power for an hour or two. For one thing the batteries have to be charged and there is no use in standing still. However, one of the minor troubles the boat had developed was a leak in the fresh water cooling system. If the engine ran over an extended period of time, it would overheat. So we sat with sails flapping until almost dark. I was in the cockpit and Scott below, both reading, when I heard a loud "Ptoo"; we were in the middle of a pod of whales. Two surfaced about 50 feet off our starboard beam and blew. One was off our port and I could see two ahead. After the porpoise ballet and the sharks, I thought this was just another interesting scene. When I called to Scott he dashed up, alarmed as hell. If they get frightened, annoyed or just curious and decided to attack they could easily crush the hull. There have been cruising boats lost from attacks by whales and Scott has a friend who lost his off the Galapagos. Remembering the advice of fisherman in the Galapagos, we poured the contents of an extra five gallon can of diesel fuel around the boat hoping it would act as a repellant. Evidently it worked, for in about a very long 30 minutes they were about two hundred yards ahead of us. It was nerve chilling to see one surface, blow and dive, going away from you, only to have him change direction under water and surface again much closer and coming in our direction. When the closest one was finally about four or five hundred feet from us we started the diesel and went in the opposite direction for about ten miles, continually watching the fresh water cooling system. By this time it was dark and we hoped they did not navigate by radar.
We have a very accurate fresh water gauge aboard. It is the fathometer, which is the most impressive looking instrument aboard. It has not worked as a fathometer in years. There are two cords, one tied and hanging from each side of the mounting bracket. The immediate supply of fresh water is pumped into a plastic jug, each time the jug is filled (one half gallon), a knot is tied in the left hand cord. After nine knots have been tied, the tenth time the jug is filled all nine knots are untied and one knot is tied in the right cord. Thus the knots in the right hand cord show how many five gallons have been taken from the total supply. "Bebinka" has two new 30 gallon stainless steel water tanks and on our 11 day passage we used only 8 gallons of fresh water; we drank as much as we wanted, but washed ourselves and all dishes in sea water and whenever possible cooked with all or part sea water.
Just before it got too dark to see, a large Yellow Fin tuna jumped clear out of the water. Scott asked, "What the hell else is around and what is so big that it could chase a large tuna right out of the water?" By this time a slight breeze had come up and we raised sail again and cruised at 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 knots all night. Before dinner I had two Scotches.
We finally got a day when the sun broke out enough for Scott to get a sun shot. We found our position to be 485 miles from Sydney and slightly north of our calculated position. That night the moon came out and was a beautiful sight, almost full, reflecting on the water.
We awoke to an absolutely perfect day. This was to be the day of days. The sun shone brilliantly and the sky was full of post card type clouds. We both felt great. Breakfast was our favorite, large bowls of cream of wheat with powdered whole milk. It was a perfect sailing day. The lure was put out and in about 20 minutes we had a strike. Immediately the sea birds started attacking our fish. Scott reeled in like mad and when it was close enough found we had a tuna. When gaffed aboard we had a beautiful, fat (about 18 lbs) albacore. I have never seen Scott get so excited; it was truly a prize. Of course it had to have its portrait taken. It was still early in the morning and as "Bebinka" has no ice or refrigeration, Scott put a line through its mouth and gill and trailed it in the water right next to the boat, the same as he had done with other fish, until it was time to clean it for lunch. I would fry a few fillets for lunch, with coleslaw (we still had fresh cabbage), and for dinner I would bake a large section in tomato sauce with diced onion and seasoning. If I made extra potatoes at night, we could have fish and potato salad for next lunch. But it came time to clean the fish and ---- tragedy of tragedies, calamity of calamaties, blow of blows ---- we hauled up an empty line! Either a shark had gotten it, or more probably, the weight of the fish and speed we were traveling tore the jaw bone from the head and it just slipped through the loop. I have never seen a more frustrated, angry, disappointed guy. He kept beating his head against the mizzen mast and screaming – "Why didn’t I clean him at once?" Before we caught the tine I had planned to have a canned tuna fish casserole for dinner. At this point I thought it best to change the menu.
Later in the day we took a sun shot and located us 350 miles from Sydney Harbor. After both of us making mental calculations, we made a bet as to when we would clear the heads into the harbor. If we cleared before noon, January 20, Scott would win and his prize would be me taking he and Kitty to a steak dinner. If I won, my prize would be a bottle of Scotch – kind of a one-sided deal now that I think of it.
The morning of Friday, January 19, we awoke to an absolutely beautiful daybreak. We had breakfast of an omelet of eggs, onion, tomatoes and left over Spam. Late in the morning Scott yelled "Land Ho!" From our chart we made it out to be a mountain range well inland from the coast. We pinpointed our position just north of Sydney, which was perfect as we would ride the southerly current down (Scott trying not to think of the time, in 3 months or so, when they would have to sail up the coast against the same current) and hit Sydney harbor entrance right on the nose. By nightfall we were still quite a distance from shore. The lights from great Sydney were beautiful, the moon was very bright and soon we could make out the heads on either side of the entrance. We entered the harbor under power. The navigation lights were very easy to read and at 4:00 am, on Saturday the 20th, we dropped the hook in the bay off Vacluse, a residential suburb, to await dawn and Quarantine and Customs officials. We had taken exactly 10 days, 18 hours to sail the 1,243 miles.
Quarantine came out early in the morning, but Customs did not show up until well after noon. Being Saturday everyone was out sailing and "Bebinka" being a small yacht displaying the American flag, caused quite a bit of interest. By noon we had three invitations to lunch ashore, one from a great old character who said that he was the oldest sailor, in the oldest boat, in the harbor, both being 67, only two years older than me.
We went up one of the fingers of the harbor north of the city where Roger & Sheila on "Kuan Yin" had saved an anchorage for us. There, standing on the dock, screaming and waving was Kitty, looking surprised (and aghast at first) as she got a closer view of Scott, who had shaved his beard off during the passage.
For me it was a fantastic trip! The only uncomfortable or frustrating times were spent in the galley. I was thrown about so much that there was hardly an area on my body and legs, below my armpits, that at some time did not have a black and blue mark or bruise. It was maddening, at times, to have a pan of pancake batter, or beaten eggs, fly off the counter, run down my leg and fill my shoe. It was the first time that I had ever made an ocean passage in so small a boat. I must say that the excitement, the fun and beauty of the sea was far more rewarding than the misery of the galley, but at my age, with stiffening knees and an aching back, it probably will be my last… unless the damn boat will be two feet longer, all used in an extension of the galley.
I must comment that I’ve never seen this "old Guy" with "stiffening knees and an aching back" in more agile physical condition or in better spirits. I know Scott enjoyed their adventure together as much as Pop did – it must have been a nice change for Scott to have someone along who doesn’t just take the whole mess, i.e. an offshore passage, for granted.
Sydney at last! Originally it was to be the final destination of our voyage, when we naively thought we could sail only half way around the world and then sell our "Bebinka" and settle down! One day that marvelous city maybe a final destination, if anything in our lives will ever again be considered final. Port Jackson (as the Admiralty charts label the harbor) is Sydney – it must be one of the most beautiful waterways in the world and the city is built around it.
We were berthed on the north shore on one of the seemingly endless fingers of the harbor and each day going to work (I as a temporary secretary and Scott doing an analysis of a mining company for First National City Bank) the bus crossed the Harbor Bridge and we looked down on gorgeous waterfront homes, sailboats, ferries and hydrofoils scooting across the glistening waves, bright clean tugs escorting ships to their berths, acres of green park descending to the water’s edge, and of course, the infamous but architecturally fascinating "Opera House", which has cost the city so much embarrassment (due to lack of planning), not to mention $300 million. So, when we disembarked amidst Sydney’s towering skyscrapers, many bearing the symbols of American companies, we were at least in a good frame of mind to jostle our way through the crowds. Besides being a pretty city, nicely combining old mansion house buildings with new glass and chrome construction, it has good theater (where we saw the not so good "Jesus Christ Superstar") movies, restaurants at ½ NYC prices, a Chinatown, a huge old market place selling everything from used clothes to custard apples (fantastic), and an historically interesting section called The Rocks, which contains the oldest pub in Sydney and that is saying something. The suburbs spread endlessly as Aussies still insist on their own fenced in home (yet still want to be part of the city) and while the waterview Eastern Suburbs and areas like Paddington (where young couples are buying and refurbishing charming New Orleans style townhouses) are stupendous, the suburbs packed with tiny brick homes and red tile roofs are not as attractive.
In Sydney we were normal citizens again, working, showering daily, eating fresh food, socializing both with yachties and the "real" world. Everyone was great and we were sure sorry to leave. After 3 ½ months we’d made a lot of good friends, Aussies, Pommies (Prisoners of Mother
England) and Yanks (as we are not so graciously called, you just have to live it down!) and the farewell parties could have continued forever. Finally, on May 2 (already two weeks behind schedule) we had to leave or we might never go, and so began the 800 mile bash against that naughty current. We are just now (May 20) entering the Great Barrier Reef area, where we plan to spend another 5 weeks and then head out to New Guinea, and later come back across to Northern Australia, then the trek across the Indian Ocean. Because of weather, we must be in Durban by mid to end November this year.
Feasible mailing addresses are as follows:
Great Barrier Reef, Australia to Christmas Island, Indian Ocean
In mid-May we met up with Roger and Sheila in Gladstone for the beginning of our cruise up the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, the Reef cruising did not live up to its descriptive adjective. Generally speaking the water was murky and poor for diving, most of the sailing was in rough conditions and the anchorages were rolly. Our plan was to travel with the Kuan Yin for the 500 miles up to Cairns, then sail alone over to New Guinea and meet them again in Thursday Island for the trek across the Indian Ocean.
The Great Barrier Reef is actually a group of thousands of reefs extending over 1,000 miles from the northern tip of Australia south to Gladstone. On the southern end the reef itself lies almost 100 miles offshore and slowly gets closer to the coast until it is only 10 miles offshore at the northern end. Cruising up the Barrier Reef is somewhat of a misnomer because until one gets well above Cairns the reef itself is too far away to it and back again all in the same day. By the time one reaches Gladstone you are in the tradewind belt and the constant winds of 20-25 kts day in and day out while we were wending our way up the reef made it too dangerous to try to anchor for the night some 40-50 miles from any protection. Also, since most of the area in the vicinity of the reef itself is uncharted and covered with coral heads, it is necessary to have a local fisherman as a guide to any anchorage out on the reef.
Therefore we never actually went out to the Reef itself. Instead we sailed up the recommended track near the mainland, anchoring every night off one of the thousands of islands lying between the coast and the reef itself. Night sailing was almost impossible except for a few stretches that were dotted with enough lights to accurately navigate through the many "bombers", as the Aussies call the rocks and small islets that lay waiting in the middle of the night to gobble up the unwary yacht or 40,000 ton tanker. The strong currents of up to 2-3 kts, resulting from tides ranging up to 20 feet, helped make night navigation almost impossible. When the tides turned against the trades the seas inside the Reef were as bad as any we have had at sea. They were only 4-6 feet tall but very steep and short and we even had a few break right over the stern and flood the cockpit.
Every day we would get up before dawn, pick an anchorage for the night about 45-60 miles away and set sail about 6 am hoping that maybe this night’s anchorage would be less rolly than the last and mostly ending up disappointed. Consequently we only spent time at two places.
The first was Island Head Creek, just north of Gladstone, where we found a calm anchorage and stayed for two days collecting the hugest oysters you’ll ever lay eyes on. Some of the steaks were 4 inches long – magnificent tasting too! After we were sort of oystered out, we decided to vary our diet and look for mud crabs, which are of course found in the mud. We rowed out to the mud flats astern of us, but all Sheila and I needed was about ten steps knee deep in muck to realize this was one adventure we would forfeit. We really got harassed by thee guys for chickening out, but when we heard a piercing scream while rowing off, we knew we’d made the right decision. We turned to see Roger & Scott floundering at top speed toward the dinghy, looking like two escapees from the local paraplegic center, trying to make their way out of the quagmire. It turned out that "something" had bitten Roger’s toe, then about two feet below the surface, and our two brave leaders didn’t want to wait around to find out what it was.
Another spot we enjoyed was Hinchinbrooke Island, north of Townsville. We anchored on the windward side for an afternoon of beachcombing along a wide golden beach which ended abruptly at the foot of a 3,000 foot cloud-enshrouded mountain peak. In the mangrove swamp behind the beach the boys caught a glimpse of a baby crocodile, but we never saw any of the reputed 20 foot pythons that roam the island’s dense jungle. We spent about five days in various anchorages around the island snorkeling, oystering, bathing in a secluded fresh water creek and spear-fishing – that’s the life.
By the time we got to Cairns, we had had enough of the Reef and were looking forward to the lush tropical islands and primitive peoples of the Samarai area of New Guinea. The trip to Samarai was HELL. We upped anchor in Cairns on June 21 and had to motorsail on a very close beat to the beginning of the Grafton Passage, our gateway out through the Reef. This 12 miles was so rough that another yacht, who also had cleared for Samarai with us, turned back after a few miles.
To get out the 8 miles of the passage itself, we lined up the 700 foot Fitzroy Island with our stern and took a heading of 60 degrees magnetic.
The wind up to now has been southerly, but as soon as we started through the passage it went to ESE and again, we were hard on the wind. Not only was the wind personally against us, but as soon as we were inside the passage, rain squalls started completely obliterating Fitzroy Island. A constant vigil saw us being swept by the current toward the reef and from then on, navigation consisted of motor sailing about 200 yards off the breakers until at last we made the light beacon at the seaward entrance to the passage.
Once outside the seas were terrible and again the wind headed against us. We laid a course of 30 degrees for Samarai and the wind backed to ENE and so it stayed for our 500 mile beat to New Guinea. That first night out we called Roger and Sheila on the radio telephone and told them of the wise decision they had made in not coming with us. Right after the conversation, Scott manned the rail for only the second time since leaving New York.
We made the trip pounding into the rough seas under working jib and mizzen and somehow averaged 115 miles per day. We were periodically bashed by big waves, unable to cook except for one pot slop, and rarely ventured out on deck (for my part at least) for fear of being swept overboard. Everything below was wet, mostly because we hadn’t been able to find the plug for the anchor chain hawser and so carried on without, thus shipping gallons of water aboard and an occasional freak wave would come down the companionway and land kerplop in the galley or on Scott’s bunk. It wasn’t long before we simply had to batten down the hatches, which made it an unbearably hot, muggy, claustrophobic atmosphere. I had foolishly stowed several dozen eggs in a pretty much inaccessible spot, some broke and it was sheer nausea cleaning it up when I couldn’t even see what I was in for. Ever tried sponging up broken eggs?
At that point I b itched to Scott, with genuine tears in my eyes, "There is absolutely NOTHING I like about sailing." But as usual, when we were finally motoring up to the islands off Samarai the beauty of the place was overwhelming and I threw my arms around Scott’s neck, gave him a big kiss and sighed, "It really was worth it!"
There was one happy moment on the trip though – we were going to try to rendezvous with Skylark in New Guinea and had arranged by mail a radio schedule. Our second night out we managed to make contact, brief tho it was, with Bob in the Solomon Islands almost 700 miles away. It must have just been favorable flukey weather conditions as we continued to twice daily monitor 2638, but weren’t able to bet in touch again until we were actually in Samarai and they were only about 50 miles away.
After a horrendous passage, you appreciate your first stop all that much more. We dropped our anchor about 100 feet from shore amongst colorful little fishing boats and spent several hours in deck watching the goings-on: hoards of people fishing from the steamer wharf, little gaff rigged cutters loaded with people sailing off to nearby islands, men loading supplies on interisland boats, palm trees swaying, crystal clear water, fishermen cooking a meal on an open fire on deck, everyone laughing and singing, some coming shyly over to say hello. It was such a pleasure to be in a native culture again, I think we really missed that aspect of cruising for the last 6 months or so, although we loved both Australia and New Zealand.
The morning after we arrived in Samarai, we contacted Bob on the 0800 radio sched. Skylark was in the Solomon Sea approaching New Guinea, so we arranged to meet them at Normandy Islands, 40 miles from us, late the following afternoon. So on the Wednesday we left Samarai at dawn to catch the tide through the China Straits, where the current runs from 3-6 kts, creating incredible tide rips and swirling eddies where it meets with other waters coming into the Straits. We sailed past the wide opening to Milne Bay, which the Japanese had occupied part of, heading for East Cape where we would go through a very narrow pass and finally reach Normandy Island. As we came up on East Cape, we were alternately bathed in sunlight and cool rain and began to worry that a rainsquall might hinder locating the pass. About a half mile out everything cleared and we screamed through the pass watching the bottom, dotted here and there with multicolored reefs, fly by 20 feet below us.
A few hours later we were in Sewa Bay, N.I., Bebinka with her bow anchor out and a stern line to a coconut tree, and Scott and I ashore enjoying the hospitality of Jack Wilkinson, an Aussie who runs a small cocoa plantation there. Finally we saw Skylark enter the narrow, steep-to pass and we rowed out to take her lines. We hadn’t seen Skylark since leaving Auckland 6 months ago, so we had a joyful reunion with Bob, Kristi and her brother Robbie, each having one beer too many in honor of Bob’s 32nd birthday. We also initiated their new Kisi crewmember, Grant, to Scott and Bob’s rather unwholesome joke telling sessions.
About two miles from Jack’s was a mission school, run by locals, which we all wanted to visit. Along the way we met men coming home from the fields with their huge machetes, delightful young children, little girls walking with tin plates on their heads precariously balancing a pile of various fruits and vegetables and bare breasted women in grass skirts nursing their babies as they amble along (there was a rather startling common denominator among the bare breasted women which was somewhat disconcerting, especially to the guys, and that was that the left breast always hung distinctly lower than the right – we learned later that they suckle their children on the right breast and baby pigs on the left!) The school’s headmaster asked us to come back after the weekend to give a speech to the kids to help improve their English, but we had to leave the next day. We stayed and chatted with the students for a good deal of time and were amused by their habit of shaking their heads sideways and replying "tsk, tsk"
whenever they were amazed by what we said. The tsks and head shaking became more emphatic depending on the magnitude of whatever particular feat one was describing.
Jack’s wife and daughter were in Sydney, so we ate ashore every night to keep him company; Kristi and I doing the cooking and jack supplying the beer. One night it poured and for some reason brought forth swarms of flying ants, jillions making their way into Jack’s dining room Scott was seated at the head of the table directly under the fly papers, which if they landed on they proceeded to die and fall right onto Scott’s plate. He didn’t want to be rude to jack about all the bugs in the house, so he spent the evening discreetly sorting out the long winged ants from his Chicken Friccassee!
We were dying to stop at East Cape as the little village appeared intriguing, not to mention good diving potential of the clear waters around the pass. Skylark had to continue on to Samarai and since Scott had really wrenched his back hauling up the anchor a few days back, we asked if we could borrow Grant for 2 days so we could stop at the Cape. Scott was okay in the water, but he wore a back brace to sit up and literally couldn’t and shouldn’t have lifted anything, so Grant was a real help besides being a pleasure to have along. Not many boats stop there so we were instantly surrounded by outrigger canoes, some of the crews being only a year or so old. Ashore we met Eileen and Dave Golding, who is a printer by trade and trying to train the locals there to run the primitive presses and they immediately opened their house to us for hot showers and all meals while we were there. They showed us around the school there and we saw the boys building their bamboo cooking hut; both the boys and girls must do all the gathering and cooking of food. Except for books and actual lessons, the children are completely self sufficient. They are sent to school at age 7 from surrounding islands and arrive with only a sulu (cloth the boys wear around their waste) or a dress and a bush knife. They build their own sleeping huts, weave mattresses to sleep on, eat off big leaves and drink out of coconut shells, plant and harvest vegetables and catch fish. They are incredibly capable and independent. Can you imagine the typical 7 year old American fending for himself like that?
We met up with Skylark again to spend a couple of days at Kana Kopi Bay, just near the entrance to Milne Bay, which was a major PT base during the war and supposedly the setting for the television series "McHale’s Navy."
Alas, time in paradise always passes too fast and soon we had to begin the 250 mile trip NW to Port Moresby. We stopped at several anchorages along the way and during a hike to a small village with Bob and Kristi we came across a group of locals heading home after a day working in their gardens. On a stick carried on the shoulders of two men hung a scorched barbecued black animal with its entrails stringing out below him. In his best pidgin English, Bob asked "What name belung um that?" With a big beetlenut red grin the fellow answered "Name belong um that dog – good kai (food)". Ugh.
The locals in Moresby are not as friendly, intelligent or ambitious as they are further south and I imagine this has something to do with the influence of 80,000 Europeans living in the area and how they treat them. But we didn’t spend much time there except to take on supplies, as both Skylark and Bebinka were anxious to get the treacherous Torres Straits behind us. If you look at a chart you’ll see why: it’s a 150 mile maze of unmarked reefs, small atolls with scrub and low trees, sand cays which rise only two or three feet out of the water, and unknown freaky currents. So at 11:30 pm, 17 July, we upped anchor in P.M. in company with Skylark and set sail under a full moon for Bramble Cay, 180 miles west, which marks the entrance to the Straits. It is very important to pick up the beacon on the Cay before continuing on in the area, so we calculated a speed of just over 5 kts, with Skylark under reduced sail in order to stay in sight of each other. Our ETA at the Cay was about 10 am on the 19th. Sure enough, both Scott & Bob’s navigation was spot on and the small beacon could be seen in the haze about 3 miles NW of us.
Luckily we had excellent sun and star sights and knew every minute where we were; another friend of ours didn’t have the same luck. The Dutch yacht Rik was making the same trip about 3 weeks ahead of us in very bad weather and couldn’t get any sights at all, so were only basing their position on dead reckoning. Unfortunately they experienced a heavy current which set them 20 miles south in a period of only 4 hours. Claes stepped below to take a short breather from the gale force winds and rain and then a loud CRASH and the whole boat seemed to explode – the galley fell apart, the engine toppled off its mounting, both he & his wife were thrown forward into broken glass and other paraphernalia. Several huge waves carried them further and further onto the reef and at low tide there they lay at a 40 degree heel, high and dry, in the middle of nowhere. The batteries ofr his ham radio were luckily in tact and he immediately made contact with another ham in Australia who called for help and by the time the search plane found them, they had literally bashed their way across two miles of reef, being surged forward with the incoming tide, and were floating at anchor on the other side. They assessed the damage and decided they could make it 40 miles to a port for repairs. All turned out well for Rik and it was most likely thanks to the material his hull is made of…steel.
We stopped at a couple of anchorages in the Straits, but we knew Kuan Yin was waiting at Thursday Island as we’d been able to contact them on a prearranged radio sched from Moresby, so we didn’t dilly dally.
In T.I. we had a decision to make: to go to Bali or not go to Bali? Officially you are supposed to have personal visas and a sailing permit for the yacht to visit Bali & neither us or KY had either papers. We had heard so many stories of crews being thrown in jail and yachts confiscated in Indonesian waters because they didn’t have the right papers, so we were leery. But Skylark would be there and several other boats we knew and if anything happened they could at least be there for moral support. So on July 24 we left T.I. for Bali along with Skylark, KY, Thalassa (the German yacht, Bobby and Karla aboard) and Trollop (a huge trimaran with 3 super nice American guys), although the last two were going to Dilhi, Portuguese Timor, first and then on to Bali. Sunset that evening was spectacular, Trollop with her yellow downwind sails and red & white mizzen spinnaker flying, seemingly sailing right into the golden orange sun. The rest of us spread out behind bathed in the sun’s warm glow. It was a special sort of camaraderie when we all said goodnight on the 1800 radio sched and settled down in calm seas and light breezes for a peaceful night.
The 1,650 mile trip was all in all really pleasant. We kept contact with Skylark and KY the whole way, played a lot of Scrabble, made lots of gourmet goodies in the galley, read a few books. One night, about 4 days out of Bali, we looked out about 8pm and saw a fiery red light right in front of us, which I at first thought was a ship, but it appeared so close that if it was a ship’s mast light we would have already hit it. Scott had a look, rushed frantically down to put his pants on (I guess a guy never likes to get caught with his pants down) and roared back out on deck only to find the light gone. I was quite excited because I figure if you gotta go, you might as well go in style, like in a Martian’s spaceship. Scott didn’t take it quite so humorously and raced to the Almanac to find out if it could be a star – sure enough, it was Venus or one of those planets which always appear so big and bright.
Just after dinner on August 6, Scott figured we were nearing Lombok, a large island just before Bali, so of course we steered ourselves all night. We were about 5 miles offshore all night and it was really eerie – moonless, pitch dark with a black smudge on the starboard horizon, a motionless rain cloud hanging over it. You were just never absolutely sure land was there, but you knew better than to go any closer to find out. Only last watch, from 4-6 am, I spotted a light ahead and as it drew closer noticed it was still bearing the same degree on the compass from us, which means you’re on a collision course. I couldn’t go to starboard because of that smudge overe there, nor did I want to go to port because I knew eventually the ship would turn that way to avoid Lombok too – so I sweated it out a few more minutes and breathed a sigh of relief when his red (port) light only was in sight and I knew he’d turned to the south. Being so close to land I was sure he had someone on the bridge and unless the guy was blind, he couldn’t possibly miss seeing our masthead light, which other yachts claim to be able to see from 3-5 miles away.
When dawn broke we were in an excellent position to make the run across Lombok strait where the current runs up to 8 kts. Later we heard of a few yachts that had been set too far south by the current and had to spend an extra day trying to get back up to Benoa, the port of entry in Bali.
As we sailed through the pass there was no question that we were in a place very different from any we had yet seen. The harbor was filled with thousands of colorful open boats with bright yellow, blue or red sails as brilliant as afleet of racing yachts under spinnakers. On one bank stood a four or five tiered pagoda type temple, while the other side opened up into a snug anchorage where a few yachts, including Skylark & Kuan Yin, were already resting. We found a place for Bebinka, dropped our hook and started wondering would confront us at the customs office.
To obtain the proper papers for the boat, one has to send all the yacht particulars and crew information to the US Embassy in Djarkata and wait five or six weeks while the proper forms are made up and signed by the Head of maritime Services in Indonesia. Thee Head of the Secret Police, the Head of Customs and finally the Head of Immigration. Then when this document is sent back you take it together with passports to the proper consulate for a persona lvisa. Quite a rigamarole. While in Port Moresby we had sent the required information to our embassy and asked that the yacht sailing permit be sent to us c/o GPO Denpasar, the main town in Bali. But because we did not have any papers yet, we were a bit apprehensive as wee rowed ashore to find customs.
Our reception could not have been better – all we heard from the neatly uniformed officials was "Welcome to Bali!" The harbor master even apologized for having to charge us $1.60 harbor fees and brought out the directive to show us it was not his idea. This then was the fearsome Indonesia.
To get into Denpasar you simply hop on a bemo, which is a three wheeled mini delivery truck; it’s supposed to seat four but carries twelve, often including chickens, turtles and pigs along with the rest of us. It’s a hair-raising trip into town, squealing around corners (in fact we saw one capsize coming around a corner but everyone takes it in their stride), honking and beeping at the teeming throngs of people on motorbikes, bicycles, pony carts, not to mention the hoards on foot. The women wear towels wrapped around their heads and on top of that balance a huge woven basket filled with fruit, rice, batik material, carvings or whatever. They wear colorful, ankle length sarongs with bright contrasting cummerbunds and over that a sort of blazer type long sleeved jacket.
We wandered through the market in town and if it wasn’t the Casaba, it was the closest thing to it. Stalls and stalls of everything from fruit to tobacco to roasted dogs and the masses of people everywhere were incredible. The narrow aisles seemed to wend their way down and down into the bowels of the earth. For lunch we stopped in a little native eating place and sat down, immediately they brought out four bowls of rice, four glasses of tea and four fingerbowls. Then came about eight saucers of various delicacies such as brains, dried intestines and curried cow’s stomach. The curried chicken and fish were the only immediately recognizable dishes and the only ones Sheila and I are. But Roger and Scott tried everything and upon finishing Scott found he really enjoyed the dried intestines. The total bill came to about 35 cents each.
We ate few meals on board because it was more expensive to open a can of corned beef for two than to feed four at a restaurant. The cheapest and most convenient restaurant was the brothel/delicatessen/bar right in front of where we tied our dinghies up. And every afternoon after we came back from town or wherever, the group congregated with the "girls" for a bowl of nasi gurang, a local rice dish, and a few beers and some corny jokes.
Our Easy Riders, Scott & Roger, rented motorbikes for a week (about 20 Australian dollars including insurance) and that afternoon we buzzed along wet rice paddies and watched the women harvest the rice into round wheat-like bales, load incredible amounts on their heads and peddle bikes and go off to beat it. The women are also carpenters, brick layers and asphalt shoeless, in other words they are the manual laborers while the men whittle away their time making woodcarvings, silver jewelry and painting traditional Balinese paintings, which are all fantastic. Women’s libbers would have a lot to say though.
Along with Roger and Sheila we took a two day trip up into the mountains. On the Honda 100 we squeezed our sleeping bag, camera, personal stuff and a bag of trading clothes, as well as the two of us. Just out of town there are rice paddies everywhere – some full of water ready for planting, some being plowed with two big bulls, others lush and green, beautifully tiered on the sides of steep hills and gorges. Every village has its intricately executed carved stone temple and there was always a colorful procession or ceremony to be found nearby.
Bartering and trading for carvings and paintings was an unforgettable experience. Undoubtedly the first English words the locals learn are "OK. For you last price…" After that remark, you know that a few more minutes of haggling will bring the price down to reason and you’ll have a lovely piece of art to remember Bali forever.
Going to the mountains, you climb about 3,000 feet and at the top are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the crater lake – but you freeze your derriere off in the process. I had on a flannel turtleneck and lumber jacket, both of which the villagers were dying to trade bone carvings for. One young fellow approached me and gave me a long song and dance about why he needed my turtleneck and finally I agreed to trade it for a bone candlestick carving. I was in a sort of local gathering place and at the side of the room was an enclosed area with a bed, which seemed to be the only semi-private spot to change into one of the ratty old shirts I had in my trading bag. A young girl came with me and I no sooner got my shirt off and two men were standing looking in the door, chatting nonchalantly with the girl, who is practically ripping my bra off trying to get me to trade it to her instead. Meanwhile, the other two were rummaging through my trading clothes and I’m sitting there in my bra trying to get them to give me something to put on!
The Balinese are an incredibly creative lot, not only in things they make with their hands. Their dances and dramas are exceptional and almost always reflect traditional religious beliefs, which include innumerable spirits and mystical creatures, and their costumes are ornate and detailed. The performances are lively and very charming. Of course they also have the typical Asiatic type dances where delicate finger movements help convey the meaning.
Our two and a half weeks in Bali were so action packed that we were almost happy when it came time to put to sea for Christmas Island – at least we could get some rest! In the straits just east of Bali we encountered the incredible tide rips created by a 6 knot current, and heavy seas but by dusk we were settled down and had an uneventful 500 mile trip…except for the last day. My navigator made his very first mistake! We had been experiencing 40 miles of current most days and on the day we were to arrive at Christmas Island, Scott went through the usual navigation procedures, took a morning longitudinal position and at noon brought it forward to cross with our latitude for an exact position. This showed we were well south of where we should be, but it was still a feasible idea as the sort of currents we’d had could easily have put us off course. At the 2pm radio sched we mentioned we were changing to a northwesterly course as we’d been set south and expected to make landfall just before midnight. Late in the afternoon Scott went out to check everything over before it turned dark and lo and behold! But there’s an island looming on the horizon to the south and it could be none other than Xmas Island. We changed course and Scott began pouring over the days fixes and calculations and after several minutes discovered he’d used the tables for the following day, which logically put us 30 miles off. But the ironic thing was that one of the boats on our sched (Canadians Maurice & Katy on Nanook of the North) could receive us but didn’t have a transmitter and by sheer coincidence had us in sight at noon that day but had no way to tell us that we were actually right on course!
Christmas Island. is run by the British Phosphate Company and phosphate is its sold reason for existence; in fact you can’t even live on the island unless you work for the company. Unfortunately, the anchorage is an open roadstead and the swells pitched and rolled us so badly that at night we had to sleep with our canvas lee cloths up so as not to fall out of bed; tins were crashing together in the lockers, the gimbaled stove squeaked frantically as it moved, anything loose on deck had to be tied down. Consequently, we spent as little time as possible on the boat and each morning rowed ashore about 7, taking along a sandwich for breakfast as the rolling made it too much work to cook on board. We spent the whole day ashore sightseeing, shopping or socializing at the yacht club. The club had barbecue pits so each night we treated ourselves to steak or chops, roasted corn on the cob and potatoes, and cold beer – a real treat for us mariners. Liquor is duty free there so we splurged with one of our birthday checks and bought a case of assorted booze. How can you pass up gin at $1.14 a bottle? We really don’t drink much and probably have had a total of a half dozen bottles on board up to now, but it’s fun to throw a sundowner party now and then.
We left X.I. the end of August for Cocos Keeling, then the dreaded Indian Ocean crossing and now, on October 1 are in fabulous Mauritius. But we’ll leave you at X.I. for now.
About October 15 0r 20 we will leave direct for Durban, a trip neither of us is looking forward to as we’ll be out of the tradewind belt and anything goes as far as wind speed or direction. Our address there from November 1 – January 1, l974 will be:
Mr. & Mrs. Scott Kuhner
40 Gardiner Street
Durban, South Africa.
Our plans are a bit uncertain after that, but we will no doubt be in Cape Town until mid-January; also American Express, Greenmarket Place, Cape Town, South Africa.
Rolling Down to Durban by Maurice Cloughley of "Nanook of the North"
Now Tryste with sails unfurled
Is very well manned and girled
Said Ernest "Look
I’ll write a book
Called Three Times Round the World"
Chorus: Rolling down to Durban,
Rolling down to Durban,
Rolling down to Durban,
Across the Indian Sea.
Now Karma’s owned by Leon
And when he puts the tea on
He bakes a bun
For only one
What a funny boat to be on.
Chorus after each stanza.
Bebinka’s mate is Kitty
So sweet, demure and pretty
"Oh Scott" said she
I like the sea
But Christ it can be shitty"
Now if there’s a party foil it
For Scott’ll come and spoil it
He’ll come aboard
And then good Lord
He’ll bugger up your toilet.
Poor Bob did not feel steady
Lock up the toilet said he
When that guy craps
He shits iron scraps
He’s done it twice already.
Now I always like to look in
When Skylark’s cook is cooking
The other three
Don’t appeal to me
But Kristi’s so good looking.
Now Roger with his schooner
Brought Sheila along to spoon her
They have separate heads
And single beds
Cause otherwise he might ruin her.
Now I do think it’s fantastic
That Mauna Kea’s plastic
Cause Pete I feel
Is a man of steel
And Beate’s so elastic.
If I was only smarter
I’d offer Nanook for charter
I’d put to sea
Just only me
And hopefully Beate.
Now Bali booze is dandy
But the girls prefer French Brandy
Cause Double Hart
Just makes ‘em fart
Bug Napoleon makes ‘em randy.
Now the ladies of Mauritius
Are certainly delicious
But it’s a nark
When they giggle in the dark
Cause it’s making my wife suspicious.
Now if you don’t enjoy my verses
And think they’re nothing worse is
Don’t sit and groan
Make up your own
Instead of muttering curses.
VOYAGE OF THE BEBINKA * PART VIII
The Indian Ocean…Cocos Keeling to Cape Town, South Africa
It’s about time Scott got a word in edgewise, so I’ll act as his typist only and let him describe the trip from Christmas Island to Mauritius:
An unsettled dawn rose over the fidgety ocean on the third of September and the first rays of light illuminated the tops of the palm trees on the atoll of Cocos Keeling, only five miles off our bow. No matter how many landfalls we make, the same good feeling always spreads through our weary souls; another leg successfully completed and a long uninterrupted sleep awaits us in a snug anchorage. Then the bullying Indian Ocean winds can blow all they want. Two hours later we were safely in that secure harbor.
Cocos Keeling is a small atoll about 1,000 miles off the NW tip of Australia. Although it is officially under Aussie rule, it is owned by Scotsman John Clunies-Ross and is his personal kingdom. When his great grandfather settled the islands some one hundred years ago with his wife, family, mother in law and 8 sailors, they found Alexander Hare and his harem of Malay women already there. It wasn’t long before the sailors encouraged Hare to emigrate to Batavia leaving his harem behind. Today the island is populated by the descendents of those 8 Scottish sailors and is still governed by that benevolent despot, Clunies-Ross. The population is housed, fed and clothed by CR and they in turn work the copra and do any of the other work necessary on the island for which they are paid in plastic money which can only be spent in the company store. Almost no communication is allowed with the outside world; even to the extent that once a man leaves the islands, which he is free to do, he is not allowed to come back. To insure their isolation from the few yachties that stop each year, CR forbids the yachts to come to Home Island, that part of the atoll where his community is. Some of the islanders had relatives on Christmas Island and we had been given packages to bring to Cocos from them. But when the Customs officials came to clear us (yes, even in as remote a place as this you’ll find officials ready to check your papers) they asked for the mail and packages and delivered them themselves. We were not allowed to do even that.
Luckily the best anchorage in the large lagoon is behind Direction Island, about two miles from Home Island, and as we pulled in there were two other yachts already lazing on their anchors, their crews resting and preparing for the 2,400 mile battle to Mauritius or the 1,800 mile run just south of the equator to the Seychelles. Within a few days there were eleven yachts at this remotest of outposts and it began to look like Marina Del Ray. According to the customs officials we were the fifth yacht to enter this year and by the time we left the seventeenth had already arrived.
Every morning was spent working on Bebinka doing such necessary maintenance as checking all sails for chafe, making any necessary repairs, servicing the engine, going over the galvanized rigging with boiled linseed oil to prevent rust, splicing new lines onto the self steering gear and checking all fittings and gear. Every afternoon Roger and I would go diving in the crystal clear water with spear guns in hand to provide something for dinner, which frequently took the form of a fish fry on the beach with the other yachties, preceded by a few sundowners from our stores of duty free liquor taken on at Christmas Island.
The skin-diving was fantastic. The fish were plentiful and big! Unfortunately the sharks were just as plentiful and even bigger! Roger and I have been used to diving with one or two sharks lazily swimming around but never before had they been so aggressive (they didn’t seem afraid of us at all), so big (up to 10 feet) or so many (5-7 at once). Therefore we had to arrange a system whereby one guy would go down with the spear-gun after a fish while the other stood shark watch. At a time when no sharks were in sight, we would no sooner spear a fish and two or three would appear out of the depths. After a couple of days of this, Grant, one of the crewmembers on Skylark, exasperatedly exclaimed "why the hell can’t they get their own dinner????" Once a 5 lb grouper had the fleeting luck to wiggle off my spear before I could get him into the dinghy, but his freedom was short-lived as he only got about 25 yards before he became dinner for one of the grey monsters.
After a week our work on Bebinka was complete and we had no further excuses for putting off tackling the Indian Ocean. So, on the 11th, ourselves, Kuan Yin, Skylark & Mauna Kea (a German yacht whose skipper we have named Bismarck because his boat is always in perfect condition) made our way out through the pass in a big convoy and headed into the rough seas whipped up by at least a week of unrelenting Force 6 & 7 winds. The four of us had a daily natter hour on the radio telephones at 0815 and 1415 when we would give our positions.
WE had just finished photographing each other raising sail, rounded the northern edge of the island, and reeled off the first few miles towards Mauritius when BANG! And down came the twin headsails without their halyard. While in Cocos I had replaced the rusting galvanized shackle with a bronze one and that was what had snapped. How frustrating it was to see the island so close and not be able to punch back into the winds and seas to the tranquility of the lagoon we had just left.
We were still somewhat in the lee of the atolls and the seas were only 3 – 4 feet so I felt I should have a try at scaling the mast right there. With Kitty on the winch and me in the bosun’s chair hanging on for dear life to the mast, I was able to get up just past the spreaders with only about 6 feet to go. But it was no use, the motion was too violent and I had to come down before I was catapulted into the sea. Thank goodness we had rigged a spare halyard on the spinnaker block before we left NYC. I had envisioned the possibility of just such an emergency and although it was a very old halyard, it would have to do.
For the next fourteen days we kept very little sail up. For one stretch we had only a storm jib and storm trysail up (about 60 square feet of sail as opposed to our normal 500 square feet) and during that time we did 143 miles per day.
Once we had solved the problem of the broken halyard, we tried to settle down to our normal sailing routine of reading, eating and sleeping. The only interlude during the day was our twice daily radio schedule when we would have a ten minute gossip session with the other boats. Grant began making up limericks about the other boats and before you knew it, we were all spending hours at it.
About the third day out, Peter (alias Bismarck) told us he was having smoked oysters for lunch. A few minutes later he mentioned he was sleeping much better because he had put the dinette down into a double bunk; and when he mentioned he was heading more west at first to make the motion on the boat more comfortable, he began taking a lot of grief about what might be happening on that dinette/double bunk. Finally, exasperated, he made the pronouncement "When the anchor comes up, the libido goes down!" Very true!
Even though the wind was constantly blowing Force 6 & 7 (25-38 mph), it was not as bad a trip as we had anticipated. With our reduced sail we were moving along very well even in "moderate gales", as Bowditch classifies Force 7 winds. It would have even been relatively comfortable if it had not been for the cross swell caused by Hurricane Alice, about 800 miles NW of us.
Other than the original loss of the halyard, the other problem was that the stove developed a nasty habit of sticking all the way down as we rolled heavily. It just wasn’t gimbaling properly and when it stuck, the food would fly all over (either into the pot & pan locker or down onto the floor) as the boat came back to level. Boy has Kitty learned a new vocabulary!
About 800 miles out of Mauritius, the winds went to the south and began to pipe up again to about Force 8 (38-46 mph, fresh gale). The seas built up rapidly and became confused because of the remaining ESE swell. We took many waves over the deck and one ripped away our weather cloths and bent the frame of the dodger. The rigging started moaning and when the 55kt gusts came through they shriekedd like two alley cats in a fight. The crashing of the waves against the hull made sleeping about as easy as one might imagine it to be inside the bass drum of a marching band.
By the next morning it had moderated back to Force 7. At 0815 we had all checked in by radio amongst curses and brick bats for the weather gods. Roger and Sheila, who had gotten about 70 miles in front of us, reported that the mast fitting holding up their lower shrouds had broken and they almost lost their mast. He had finally managed to secure it with a number of odd lines and halyards, but could only keep a storm jib and double reefed foresail up. Roger said he was going to try and limp into Rodriguez, a small island only 400 miles away and almost on the rumb line to Mauritius. Luckily wind and seas had died down enough, three days later, to enable Roger to spend 4 hours up his mast making repairs and they ended up getting to Mauritius only 36 hours after we did.
By the time the wind had moderated to a decent Force 4 we were two days out of Mauritius, 300 miles. I had promised Kitty that we would be there by 3:30 Friday afternoon in time to get our mail. So to make my promise good I finally handed the storm trys’l off the main mast and put up the main, mizzen and big genoa and Bebinka made for Mauritius like a milk horse for its stable after it had passed the last stop on its route.
And Scott was true to his promise, in fact we had the customs, immigration and health officials on board in Port Louis by 9:30 AM that Friday, 17 days to the hour out of Cocos-Keeling. The officials were very prompt, courteous, friendly and impressive looking in their crisp uniforms – they were a pleasant introduction to their island.
Port Louis is the main town in Mauritius and it bustles with life. The Indian market offers an amazing variety of colorful fruits and veggies, mysterious mixes of curry powders, woven baskets, cheap clothing items and stalls and stalls of fresh, golden-crusted bread in every size and shape. The center of town is the European business area on the island, so one finds well suited men and sophisticated women mixing with Indians in their festive saris, blacks & Chinese. The Chinese are excellent tailors (Scott had a suit made for $16 Australian) and leather workers (Scott drew out a design of a pair of Gucci type loafers and he made them up for $9 Aussie; I had a beautiful soft brown leather shoulder bag done for $9 and boots for $12) and they operate all the restaurants of Port Louis, where you get a scrumptious meal, in entirety, for well under $1.
After getting mail and doing some resupplying, we had a nice sail back up the island 12 miles to Grand Baie, where we would anchor off the yacht club for a delightful 3 ½ week stay.
That very day the hospitality and friendliness began. Barbecues, dinner parties, meals out at excellent restaurants, picnics, tours, horseback rides on the beach, evening sails, chauffeur driven cars to run errands. But mostly we loved just being with the people, mostly French speaking, some British, who were warm, friendly and extremely interesting – just the kind you want to be friends with at home.
The time came for us to leave for South Africa and the whole group from the last passage left within a day of each other. I know we all had knots in our stomachs as sails were hoisted and self-steering gear set on course for Durban, 1700 miles away. The following incidents and quotes will give you a better idea why.
From Sailing Alone Around the World by Capt. Joshua Slocum aboard the 37 foot sloop ‘Spray’ 1895-1898 (dates of voyage):
"On October 31 a light east-northeast breeze sprang up and the sloop passed Cape St. Mary, Madagascar, about noon. On the 6th, 7th, 8th & 9th of November, in the Mozambique Channel she experienced a hard gale of wind from the southwest. Here the Spray suffered as much as she did anywhere, except off Cape Horn. From this point until the sloop arrived of the coast of Africa she encountered a succession of gales of wind which drove her about in many directions…"
From Dove by Robin Lee Graham, the young Californian who began his voyage around the world at the age of 16, alone, first in a 24 footer but completed in a 33 footer made by the company who built our boat. Parts of his story were serialized in National Geographic:
"At the southern point of Madagascar I had expected rougher weather from seas sweeping down through the Mozambique Channel. These seas have sent many ships to the bottom. Up to now in my voyage I had wrestled with the wind. Now I began to worry about the sea. That night the wind reached Force 9. Huge swells kept banging into the stern. I had experienced nothing like this before. The crests of the swells were curling into combers and often smashed into my back.
Next morning the storm was worse. ‘Dove’ wallowed in mountainous seas. There was now a real danger of pitch-poling. I was unsafe on deck because a comber could throw me over and I was miserable below. But I went below and tried to read. That was when a huge sea crashed into Dove.
A little later I taped: I really thought she was capsizing. Flying objects hit me. When she righted herself I found everything forward had been thrown aft and everything aft had been thrown forward. The sea broke a porthole and green water poured into the cabin.
I had to get that porthole fixed in a hurry. I don’t’ know how long the task took me, perhaps 10 minutes, but it seemed like an hour. The biggest swells of fifty feet or more came at ‘Dove’ in a series of three or seven and they were followed by lesser swells of 20 feet.
In a sea like this the real danger was not so much that the boat would be swamped, but that after sliding down a sea her bow would plow into the bottom of the trough. The boat would then pitch-poll and corkscrew under the water. Although it is a terrifying experience, yachts can often survive a corkscrew. The yacht ‘Ohra’, which had left Reunion with me, managed to do so, perhaps in the same storm which was now battering ‘Dove".
From Around the World in Wanderer III by Eric Hiscock (this is an older guy, who with his wife Susan, has circumnavigated twice in a yacht our size and now lives in N.Z. on a 48 footer where we met them last year:
"Several times the wind reached gale force for a day or more and out little trysail came into use again. But sometimes we could carry only the 43 square foot storm staysail and on two occasions the gales were of such strength that even that tiny sail was more than the yacht could carry safely, and we stripped her to bare poles for a total of fifty five hours.
As we approached the African coast we encountered yet another gale, which was accompanied by rain reducing visibility to about a mile, and by a very severe thunderstorm. We were reaching under the trysail only at the time and we experienced the strongest squall either of us can remember. I do not wish to exaggerate, but I judged it to be in excess of 80 knots."
We knew of a boat the year before that had pitch-poled in huge seas off the Madagascar coast, killing one crewmember. This season 3 weeks after us, Ray Rawls, the single-hander on the Seawind ketch ‘Miss Fancy V’, took a knockdown in the same area. Unfortunately Ray was on deck at the time, without a harness and was thrown off the boat but managed to grab the boom and haul himself slightly out of the water, when he witnessed his mast still submerged several feet under him. His companionway boards were not in and after the yacht righted herself he found water flooded in the cabin up past his bunks, which were afloat. It took him one hour with 3 bilge pumps going to empty the boat out. But he managed to make it to Durban with only water damage to some electrical equipment, a bent stanchion or two and some damage to the self steering (which was disastrous fro Ray as he had to hand steer the last 1,000 miles to Durban). Apparently the wind wasn’t very strong but he must have experienced the freak seas that often come off southern Madagascar due to the meeting of adverse currents on the continental shelf, especially the very strong southerly running Mozambique Current.
All these terror stories are only to give you the gist of why we were all a little apprehensive!
The first three days or our trip were uneventful, by then we were coming up on that treacherous tip of Madagascar and the barometer dropped right out. The guys discussed the possibilities and alternatives on the radio sched and everyone was quite nervous, but nothing at all happened. Nevertheless, Scott prepared the boat for the worst, a possible pitch-poling, by stowing anything loose in the cockpit in the sail lockers and making doubly sure they wouldn’t fly open by tying lines across to secure them. I was a nervous wreck.
The following day dawned brightly in spite of the still low barometer and about noon a sail appeared on the horizon, so we hove-to and waited to see who would turn up. An hour later ‘Skylark’ was alongside! The subject of our fun in Mauritius came up and bob decided we should toast our friends there with some of their local beer. Great…but we didn’t have any on board. No problem, they’d pass some over. But we couldn’t come close enough to reach in those seas. So Scott formulated one of his great plans and we were to carry it off as follows: Tie all the ropes we have together with a string bag at the end, sail past Skylark, cross her bow, they pick up the bag with a boat hook, fill it with cold beer, close it up and drop it back in the water. We would pull it in and voila! Toast Mauritius. Only it wasn’t that simple. Bob is filming the whole episode with his movie camera and as we’re passing well underneath the 53 footers lurching bowsprit, only a few feet away, he runs out of film. So as if it wasn’t bad enough having to do this once, Kristi and I had to bring the boats into position, with much "advice" from the captains, a second time for the sake of everlasting fame on film, and this time Grant & Robbie (their two crewmembers) get all butterfingery and it seems to take forever to get out from under Skylark’s bow, which is backed up by 23 tons of crunching power. All was well in the end though and we sailed along together the rest of the afternoon, all wishing we were back at the Grand Baie Y.C. enjoying our beer instead of 700 miles at sea.
There followed 36 hours or so of oily calm, there literally were globs of oil in the water, disgusting, and Scott swam out with the Nikonos about fifty yards off the boat to take a picture of Bebinka, lowered twin jibs slapping lightly, gently rolling in the swell. At the same time I snapped a picture of him and the click echoed through the water to him, breaking an eerie silence and scaring the hell out of him until he realized what it was. Didn’t take him long to get back on board!
At just about dusk one night as I was washing up after dinner, I thought I heard an engine & ran up on deck to see, forgetting that I only had bikini underpants on. Sure enough, about 100 feet abeam of us was a big Korean fishing boat, all the crewmembers on the foredeck shouting and waving and whistling! I’ve never dived down that companionway so fast. Later on we sailed up on a light right on the water, just a little ways off. We assumed that it was a fishing marker and ghosted on passed, until I started thinking it could be a life raft, so we turned around and sailed back to it. Of course it was a buoy, but I’ve read too many accounts of people in life rafts being passed by because no one was on deck to see them. At least it eased our minds to go back and check.
About four days out of Durban a sail appeared again on the horizon at dawn, just behind us. At the 0815 radio sched we determined it was Kuan Yin! Our boats were about the same speed in those conditions so we stayed within about 20 or 30 feet of each other all day, carrying on conversations across the water as if we were having morning tea together. After dark we began pulling slightly ahead, but morning once again brought calm, rain and overcast conditions, and K.Y. chugging up alongside. Then to the north another sail popped up! But we didn’t get to come close to Mauna Kea, as at that moment we discovered an incredibly black squall coming up from the south, so Scott pulled down all sail and got the boat ready for a blow. K.Y. did the same. A few minutes later was the 0815 sched, at which time Bob informed us that Skylark had been hove-to under bare poles for 3 hours in 50 knots of wind. This was obviously what was coming at us and while on the radio we were hit with about 40 knots, so Peter was warned and jumped up on deck to get Mauna Kea’s sails down.
It didn’t last too long at that strength, but we did have to take the spray dodger down (for one of the few times on this trip, it’s lasted well and really is a godsend) and we had an amazingly rough night with only 150 miles to Durban – we knew the trip so far had been too good to be true. We took RDF fixes on Durban all night and found we had to point 35 degrees north of the city to counteract the strong southerly current and in the end turned up right off the harbor entrance. Because of the Haze and pollution we didn’t se land until about 8 miles off; I was beginning to think that current had made us miss the whole African continent!
Skylark had arrived the day before, Mauna Kea was 6 hours ahead of us and we sailed through the Durban breakwater in nice weather about 1PM on Sunday, Nov. 4. Kuan Yin was about 20 miles up the coast and wouldn’t you know a southerly buster came through, strong winds, rain, no visibility. Being a gaff-rigged schooner she doesn’t beat too well (not that any of us would have been too successful in those conditions) so it took them a while to make the 20 miles in headwinds. They tied up to the quarantine buoy about 7PM that night, in a howling gale, and customs wouldn’t clear them until morning. Back at the yacht club, friends and relatives were anxiously awaiting their homecoming, frustrated to have them so near yet so far. After it was determined for sure they couldn’t come in that night, everyone resolved themselves to the fact and we had a super homecoming party for them in spite of the fact that the honored guests weren’t there!
About a week out of Durban we had all lost contact with another fellow who sailed with us from Mauritius, Leon, a NZ single-hander on a 30 foot yacht named ‘Karma". Even after we were in, we all kept trying to reach him on the regular sched and finally when he was 150 miles out his voice boomed through to inform us he’d lost his rudder! He explained that he wouldn’t need assistance as he had managed to rig a steering oar using the wood part of his wind vane and a pole, but his steerage wasn’t good enough to come through the breakwater so he would need help then. At each sched we all gathered around the radio telephone of one of the yachts to find out how he was and when he was a few miles off the breakwater several of the guys went out in a local yacht to tow him in. Leon was in good shape, fabulous spirits and obviously none the worse off for the experience.
Several days after we arrived in Durban a South African we had met in Bali dropped by and invited us to do a little touring by Land Rover. We were thrilled at the chance to see a little of the country, especially with Alan who knew the land and game reserves well. Leon also came with us and we spent two days at Shushluwe chasing down impala, gnus, zebras, wart hogs, bug buck and even came across a fabulous giraffe, munching on treetops 25 feet above the ground. After that we went across country to the sea, about 25 miles south of the Mozambique border and camped in and around an abandoned shack there. We did a lot of hiking, swimming, spear fishing, generally enjoying life in our isolation (it was completely isolated as we were illegally on a native reserve, no white people for miles and only a handful of natives) and one night were lucky enough to view turtles coming up the beach to next. On the way home we drove the Land Rover along the beach at low tide for over 70 miles – intriguing country, enormous sand dunes rippling in the sun, pounding surf, every so often a native boy surf casting or naked young girls with bodies glistening from swim in the sea, no houses or boardwalks or root beer stands.
Then the work on the boat started again, this time in more serious proportions than ever! Scott lifted the engine up off its blocks and rebuilt the entire engine bed, re-aligned the engine, fiberglassed the bed in and fastened the engine down again. What a backbreaking job – 2 solid weeks, all day, crouched down in the sail lockers. He also installed a 2-1 reduction gear and changed the prop and now we get much better power. Meanwhile, I spent my days with Sheila’s old hand Singer sewing machine putting reef points in the main and making various other sail repairs.
Sheila’s brother and sister-in-law had invited about 9 of us yachties up to the farm they manage in a mountain range about 150 miles from Durban for the Christmas holiday. Scott finished the engine the day before we left, so he was really in need of a rest and some fun. It was great – swimming in fresh water lakes, waterfalls, horseback riding and hiking. I suppose there were two really exceptional happenings while here: one was a long hike, almost straight uphill at times, through canyons, caverns fields and streams to reach some rarely seen bushman paintings in the high cliffs near the farm. The "paintings" were of course on the rocks and in very good condition; one of the men with animal skins over them, one of a buck shooting scene and one a sort of geometrical arrangement of various deer. The second niftiest happening was the roasting of a freshly killed pig, stuffed with everything but the kitchen sink and drowned in beer while roasting over a hot fire for 12 hours. Talk about succulent! That was Christmas Dinner, 1973!
We had planned to leave for Cape Town directly after Christmas and because of the intense shipping between CT and Durban, decided to take a local friend of ours along, a journalist named Peter Mann. We waited over the weekend for good weather and on Monday, December 31, the met office finally gave us the go-ahead. Per usual, they were wrong and 2 hours out the breakwater we were becalmed and not much later had a 20 knot SW headwind to beat into. Bebinka doesn’t go to weather like a racing boat, so we had to use the engine. After that night of sloshing into it, breathing diesel fumes, we were surprised that Pete didn’t get sick and were convinced that if he hadn’t been seasick then, he would be okay for the rest of the time.
The weather remained grubby and we spent the first 300 miles or so tacking out almost to the fast running southwesterly current, where the seas became steep and uncomfortable with the wind blowing against current and then back into shore, where it was surprisingly smooth even with 20-30 knot headwinds. We were standing 3 hour watches, the boys having 3 a day each and me only 2, so we all managed to get enough sleep and life was far more bearable than it would have been with the two of us alone. Besides, Pete was a heckuva interesting guy and excellent company.
I forgot…the first evening out, about 50 miles from Durban, I was coming up to relieve Scott at midnight. There were several ships on the horizon (we were never without 2 or 3 ships at least) and one passing to port about 100 yards away. Suddenly he blew one long blast on his whistle and I panicked thinking he wanted us out of his way. Then Scott looked at his watch and realized it was midnight and he was wishing us a Happy New Year! A not very auspicious way to start the New Year!
Anyway, on Friday morning the weather cleared somewhat and the wind came up behind us for a while and Pete at last had a chance to see what real tradewind sailing is like. We were all on deck and as we gazed across the ocean Scott noticed some frothing and shimmering, it looked like a school of fish, and thousands of birds overhead. Quite unexpectedly it turned out to be a huge school of dolphin, strung out in a line about a mile long, bulleting after something, perhaps anchovies. It was exciting to see them come close by the boat, jumping and diving, all intent on whatever they were chasing. They passed and all was quiet, except to come across the occasional seal lying just under the surface, slippers up, sailing with the wind and current.
Just as we were off Cape St. Francis, about halfway to C.T., the barometer began falling rapidly, so since we were nearby we ducked into the large bay behind the Cape to check it out as a possible anchorage in a strong westerly. A powerboat full of sun burnt fisherman came alongside and asked if we’d like to go up the river to wait out a forecast gale. What river?? It wasn’t even shown as navigable on our charts, but with one of them along as a guide, we surfed over the sandbar entrance at high tide, hearts in our throats. Once the tiller slipped out from under Scott’s foot and we began to broach, heading for some bathers at the edge of the pass who were ankle deep in water, but he caught it in time and with the help of another wave we were picked up off the bottom, which we’d just scraped, and deposited safely in the river.
Ken, our guide, then took us promptly home for much needed showers and a hot lunch. He and his wife had cruised the Med in a boat our size several years ago, so we had much to talk about. We made lots of friends in our too short stay (2 days) and this quaint holiday spot reminded us of Edgartown with its charm, although the homes were of different construction. The developer of the area insisted all the homes be built in the same motif, thatched roofs, whitewashed buildings and the effect is great, especially with them nestled among sand dunes, trees and brush.
Going out of the river was something else again. The owner and developer of the place wanted to take us out and thank goodness he was along. The pass is too long going at 5 or 6 knots to time your exit between the large groups of breakers, but I, for one, did not realize just what force the inevitable breakers would pack into us. I stupidly was sitting on the main boom, Pentax in hand taking pictures and suddenly they yelled from the stern to hang on. I swung around shoving the Pentax under my shirt and a series of waves blottoed me from behind (my back was to the bow). I was hysterical when I realized I had the Pentax, not the underwater camera, doused in salt water, so Scott rinsed it off quickly in plenty of fresh water and removed the lens from the body. Apparently there wasn’t much damage to the body itself. At any rate, Scott was a true gentleman about it but I felt a knot in my stomach over it.
I suppose, all in all, the weather on this trip wasn’t too bad (mostly powering into headwinds or calms). The actual worst part was leaving Roger and Sheila in Durban and I was almost seasick crying over that. Even so we did have one southeast gale just after Cape St. Francis and some of the largest seas we’d seen so far. One breaking monster was at least 35 feet tall with the top 15 feet crashing over in a roaring breaker. It was really amazing – thank goodness it was 150 yards behind us or we would have been in trouble. Pete had been on watch when the gale was developing and hadn’t been able to see the height of the seas in the dark. At dawn he looked behind and in a combination of surprise and fright, puked overboard for the first and only time! This was just off Cape Agulhus (actually the southernmost tip of the continent of Africa) and by the time we neared the Cape of Good Hope we were becalmed again – so we powered around this famed bit of land, preferring that to the traditional SE gales of the area.
As it began to get dark on January 9th, the lights of Cape Town twinkled on and a full moon rose behind Table Mountain, illuminating our path to the city as it moved across the starlit sky. What a sight for sore mariners! Cape Town is a beautiful city, a nice combination of old and new and the countryside surrounding it is fabulous. Two couples that we met in Cape St. Francis when they were on holiday have really taken care of us. Another fellow we met there arranged for us to have a courtesy VW while we’re here so we’ll be taking trips out to the vineyards (C.T. is known for its fabulous wines), down to the Cape of Good Hope and wherever else strikes our fancy. Not much work is being done on Bebinka here and it’s really like being on vacation. As I sit here typing, I can see Table Mountain with its famous white cloud tablecloth on – I wonder if we’ll be so fond of it after climbing it next week!
As they say "it’s all downhill from here, folks", meaning the lousy Indian Ocean through to Cape Town is now behind us and we’re back into the more benevolent Atlantic, which feels like home territory to us. Only 7,000 or so miles to go.
We plan to leave Cape Town about February 1 for St. Helena, Fernando de Noronha (off the coast of Brazil), Grenada, cruise up to St. Thomas, Bermuda, and then home sometime in July. Addresses as follows:
Up to April 1: c/o Stevens & Co., St. George’s Harbor, Grenada, and West Indies
May 15-June 1: General Post Office, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI (actually complete our circumnavigation longitude to longitude in the Virgin Islands)
About June 1-July 1: General Post Office, Hamilton, Bermuda.
After that we’ll use Scott’s parents address for mail until we get sorted out: 16 Juniper Rd, Westport, Connecticut USA
Just because we’re almost home is no excuse for not writing!
Part IX – THE VOYAGE OF THE BEBINKA
Cape Town, South Africa to Westport, Connecticut
The unavoidable, inevitable day of sitting down to write the last newsletter has come. The first 8 parts have been pounded out while Bebinka rode at anchor in some memorable places: St. Thomas, Balboa (Panama), Tahiti, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Mauritius and Cape Town. We’ll see how it goes writing from Westport in an air-conditioned room after a superb steak dinner preceded by a cold gin and tonic and a swim in the pool.
I got a good laugh re-reading the final page of the last newsletter, written just before we set out from Cape Town on the "benevolent Atlantic" commenting that "it’s all downhill from here." We thought the last 7,000 miles at sea would be easy sailing and quite pleasant – we were wrong.
On February 5 we had finally procrastinated long enough and so cast our lines from the Cape Town Yacht Club dock, hoping to get north before a forecast Sou’east blow came through depositing it’s ritual cloth on Table Mountain and thick layer of soot on us from nearby railroad coal lines. We left with a light southwest wind, perfect anti-seasick conditions for a first day at sea in several months. Later in the day the wind came up and the night air was extremely cold, making it even more difficult to alternately pull ourselves out of warm bunks to watch for ships, of which we saw many as we were in between two heavily traveled shipping lanes.
We had thought we’d find the trades a day or two north of C.T., but they managed to elude us for almost the entire 14 day trip to St. Helena, 1700 miles NW of Cape Town. Overcast skies made navigation a chore and frequent squalls from different directions brought rain and made things damp and humid down below. We tried to cheer ourselves up with food – but my effort at strawberry shortcake was disastrous as Scott insisted he needed bolt cutters for it. Many mornings we found some good sized flying fish on deck (and some even scared the hell out of us at night with all their flapping about) 6-8 inches long, fried them whole in a little butter to add zest to breakfast. This was our first encounter with flying fish big enough to bother eating, usually they’re even as small as one inch and you don’t find them until your nose leads you to an unexplainable stench under a cockpit cushion.
Scott was determined to catch a shark before we got home and so he trailed a ½ inch line with a mammoth hook on it, decorated with enticing strips of red plastic bag. He had no luck this passage though and a day out of St. Helena had to bring the line in so we could trail our taff rail log, as the sun refused to come out and we wanted an idea of our mileage. On Monday, February 18, we caught a glimpse of this mysterious island in the early afternoon, just before rain squalls closed in for the rest of the day. By late afternoon we sailed along the eastern shore and got an eerie feeling from the brown lava-like cliffs which rose steeply out of the sea, culminating in pinnacles shrouded in grey clouds. There were no beaches, green trees or fields to be seen and enormous birds flew in and out of nests tucked away in dark caves. No wonder Napoleon cringed at the first sight of his gloomy prison island almost 160 years ago!
Just as the sun touched down and between a series of black squalls, we entered James Bay at the northwest corner and secured to a mooring buoy, dropping a stern anchor out behind to hold us fore and aft to the swell. One of the local boatmen assisted us and while chatting with him, we watched the lights of Jamestown twinkle on in the dusk, running in a serpentine pattern as the town is nestled into a steep-sided valley which wends its way down to the sea.
We were anxious about the anchorage there as it is pretty much open to the sea and although it is on the leeward side, it affords no protection from a big swell that often comes in from the north. Our memories of an uncomfortable stay at Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean were still fresh but during our six day stay we never had any excessive motion to the boat. However, there is quite a surf breaking along the entire shore line and it is necessary to make use of the expert boatmen employed by the St. Helena government to get ashore safely. The only landing place is a series of stone steps at the end of the quay running along the bay. The oarsman rows up to it, deftly swings the stern to the steps, bringing boat as close as possible. The passenger holds onto a sturdy pole that sticks up from the stern and judges the best time to make the leap as the boat rises and falls 6 or 8 feet in the swell. As we let go of the pole on board, we would lunge for the thick rope which hung from a gallows on the stone steps and breathe a huge sigh of relief at arriving ashore safely.
We had no end of invitations for dinner and sightseeing tours about the island – we were delighted to find that all was not so gloomy on St. Helena!
The people, a combination of British colonialists and native islanders of Chinese, East Indian and Malay blood, were vibrant and interesting and the island itself was green and lush, abounding in tropical foliage.
One only ears of this tiny dot in the South Atlantic because of Napoleon and so of course, we had to visit his tomb and very impressive home inland. The British government has restored it recently to be an exact replica and it is a fascinating place, loaded with the egomaniac’s pictures of himself and even including a huge billiard table on which he was laid for the autopsy. The other "tourist attraction" is Jacob’s Ladder: a series of 699 steps which climb vertically up the cliffs at the southern end of James Bay. I got vertigo just looking up and even contemplating the descent, but Scott and some friends raced UP them.
On February 24 friends came to say goodbye and loaded us with fresh squash, mangoes, lettuce, tomatoes, papaya, home-made chutney and fudge, as well as trinket souvenirs of the island. So for the first few days at sea, we had marvelous fruit salads and crisp vegetables.
The next port of call was to be Fernando de Noronha, a small Brazilian island off Recife, Brazil, about 1700 miles NW of St. Helena. By now we should have had the usual tradewind weather: winds 18-20 out of the SE, blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds, slight to moderate seas shimmering blue and raising a whitecap now and then. But no, this passage was another 14 days of unaccountable calms, frequent squalls and when the sun did shine, it was unbearably hot as we drew closer to the Equator. We anticipated this sort of weather in the doldrums, which we expected to find north of Fernando, not on the way there.
During this trip Scott once again dragged his shark line. We had all but forgotten about it until one night after dinner he noticed the boat was yawing a lot, not steering correctly at all. N going out to check the self steering, Scott saw that the line had finally gone taut and was whizzing from side to side in back of us. There was something big on the end and he excitedly began pulling it in, calling for gloves and the big hook. If it was a shark we sure didn’t want it in the cockpit, but we’d deal with killing it when we hauled it in closer. Several minutes later he had it pulled up to the stern. No shark, thank God I thought, but a gigantic yellowfin tuna. It was so heavy we couldn’t get it on board, so Scott dragged it to the bow hoping to use our anchor windlass to pull it aboard. He finally got it hanging by the tail from the bowsprit and tried to pull it on with the boat hook, which promptly bent in half under the weight. Meanwhile, it was about 9 PM and we were doing 6 knots under twins and the poor thing is flapping itself to death, his big eyes wide with fear. My big eyes then got teary and I went into a tirade like Scott has never heard before. Standing on the foredeck in my nightgown, I gave a rather hysterical oration about how we shouldn’t kill that majestic fish because we could only manage to eat a couple of the 150 pounds of him’ and besides, I had decided I wouldn’t cook any of him anyway. Scott reluctantly agreed but wanted to take a picture before letting him go to prove to Roger how big he was. But I was afraid he would die first and demanded the fish be turned loose. In the dark I couldn’t tell if he actually swam away, but I hoped he was still alive.
The night before we hoped to reach Fernando, we were under full sail in light winds and got it by a squall which probably contained 45 knots of wind but luckily it was short lived and Scott got the main down before any damage was done. The next day we had the usual rain and light winds. We knew it would have to be a night arrival but wanted to at least sight the island before dark. About 5 PM it appeared – almost as gloomy looking as St. Helena. We rounded the unlit little islands off her eastern edge about 8PM and powered down to find a spot to anchor. The night couldn’t have been darker and as Bebinka spun around and around on her anchor with frequent sifts of wind, we spent a rather restless night listening to surf pounding on the shore all around us.
After a night arrival, I always look forward to dawn and the first real glimpse of the port. I was particularly anxious to survey Fernando in the daylight and was distraught to find breakers all along the shore line. Since I’m not goo good at "wet landings" in the Avon, I wasn’t looking forward to going ashore. Later in the morning we packed ourselves and several empty water jugs into the dingy and Scott began rowing for the only possible landing place, if you could call it that. As we close in on the shore, I found myself panicking at the sight of breakers with white spume tops blown off by the wind, just where we were supposed to land! Scott timed it as best he could to get ashore between breakers but when he told, I should say ordered, me to "Jump!", I did my usual and turned around to see if there were any waves coming. There were. I got blottoed head to foot with white water but Scott lifted with the dingy and came out half dry.
We finally collected our jugs and our pride out of the surf, with Scott secretly laughing at me for not listening and following orders, and waded ashore to greet onlookers. Not knowing any Portuguese and noen of them speaking Spanish though, there wasn’t much greeting to be done. We finally recognized one word, auto, and realized we were to wait for someone to pick us up. It turned out to be Customs, customs in this little place?? We hadn’t thought to bring our passports ashore and Scott was informed in broken Spanish that he had to go get them. Go get them…in that damn surf??? Never thwart a customs officer, especially one who is head of the Army base, so Scott hopped back in the rubber dingy and somehow made it out to Bebinka. I meanwhile was standing there sopping wet, my underwear sowing through clinging clothes, trying to explain to this guy who we were. The crowd suddenly gasped and I looked out just in time to see Scott and the dingy do a 360 in the huge waves: dingy, Scott and oars all going in different directions. So we lose our passports for this dinky place, I was thinking. Luckily Scott thinks ore than I do and had them in a plastic bag tied around his neck! His dignity somewhat shaken now too, we handed the documents over.
Several people invited us ashore for the evening meal,one who spoke French and thus he and Scott could communicate, but I just couldn’t face trying to get back to the boat in the dark. Launching the dingy was difficult enough as it was and in the late afternoon when it came time to go home, I was instructed to hop in the dingy, not look behind me at the breakers, and when to, row like mad out beyond the surf. Scott had to swim. Can you imagine doing that in the dark – no way!
After doing some sail repairs and a general clean up, even some varnishing, the following day we departed late in the afternoon for Grenada. It was March 12 and the last leg of the endless South Atlantic lay ahead of us. This was where we expected true doldrum conditions, so Scott decided to head north to cut straight rather than diagonally through the doldrum belt. This decision was reached after reading Ocean Passages (the old sailing ship routes) and Voyaging Under Sail, one of Eric Hiscock’s excellent books; the hell with the 203 knot current running NW along the South American coast. The current runs along the 100 fathom line and would have given us a speedy passage, but there would also be a lot of shipping taking advantage of the extra push – we were not anxious to spend our days and nights watching for ships. So we would go north to shorten the doldrums, hopefully, than make our westing. After taking on gallons of extra fuel in Cape Town and Fernando to combat the calms, we only encountered 9 hours in which we had to power. After that we had N/NE winds which put us at an uncomfortable heel for the rest of the trip, but at least we were moving, mostly under working jib, reefed main and mizzen.
Way back in January when Skylark left Cape Town for the West Indies, we made arrangements to try and meet in Grenada the end of March. We worked out a radio sched and a week or so out began listening and calling at 0815 and 1415. Most days, there was nothing but garbled Spanish speaking fisherman clogging the air. When we got closer and still hadn’t made contact, we began to worry that maybe they wouldn’t visit Grenada because of the so-called trouble there. Hey, maybe we should go there either; but there was the same so-called trouble in New Guinea when we were there and it turned out to be the usual case of newspaper exaggeration. We debated for a day on whether to skip and go to St. Vincent and try to reach Bob & Kristi by radio telephone from there. But this would be the very last time we’d meet them cruising and it was so important to try and make the rendezvous. We decided to chance it and continue on to St. George’s, Grenada.
On March 28, 90 miles out, we tuned in at 1415 not really expecting to hear anything and suddenly "Bebinka, Bebinka, Bebinka, this is Skylark calling Bebinka". We scrambled to the radio telephone to turn our transmitter on – oh, to hear Bob’s familiar voice! They were only 9 miles north of the island and would be in before nightfall. We would have coffee on Skylark the next morning after all!
About 11PM we sighted lights from Grenada’s local fishing fleet and finally the island itself. We had a beautiful sail that night: I took a watch from 1-5AM and really grooved on sailing, listening to the tape recorder with all the Ricky Nelson old hits, watching the stars twinkle slowly across the sky and the phosphorescence of Bebinka’s wake as she steadily closed in on the longed-for shore lights. After all, in over 31 days at sea from St. Helena we had only 3 hours ashore and arrival in Grenada meant the long South Atlantic passage was over; naturally we longed for those shore lights!
At 8AM we powered into St. George’s harbor, spotted Skylark’s tall mast at Grenada yacht Services and rafted Bebinka alongside for the final time. After four days of generally lazying around with Bob, Kristi and Robbie, Skylark departed for Curacao. Besides the fact that we’ve been close friends for over 2 years now, I suppose goodbyes with Skylark and her crew were even sadder because both our trips were so close to being over. So we headed up the Antilles alone, sad as we were when we left Roger & Sheila in Durban.
Being as spoiled as we are now, there weren’t too many places we were dying to see in the Caribbean, so we pretty much beat it directly to Tobago Cays, south of Bequia. It two long, obnoxious, on the wind day sails to Tobago and there we found our dream boat: a gorgeous 42 foot Sparkman & Stephens yawl was anchored ahead of us and afer much prodding, I got Scott to row over for a look – if we said enough nice things about the boat maybe they would invite us aboard! We got to be good friends with Gayle & Dick, who retired afloat and in fact we spent a lot of time aboard "Mischief" for the next couple of weeks as we cruised to Bequia, St. Vincent and St. Lucia together. In St. Lucia we had a nice surprise finding a familiar yacht at anchor. It was "Natasha", a 38 foot ketch from Santa Barbara with a family of five on board who we’d known since Fiji! The yachting world is a small one indeed, as here we also ran into two more good friends; one guy we hadn’t seen since the hurricane party the night before Bebe hit in Fiji and the other we had left in Thursday Island (N. Australia) and assumed to be in Singapore.
It was a great pleasure for us to run into old cruising friends from other parts of the world as our friendships often run very deep. In the Caribbean the sailing crowd is different, the atmosphere not so relaxed and friendly as we’re used to – developing close relationships is more difficult and takes infinitely more time. None of this dropping anchor in the Marquesas after 22 days at sea and finding a complete stranger alongside in his dinghy with fresh bread and pamplemousse – instant friendship was the rule rather than the exception everywhere we’ve been. Also, most boats in the Caribbean are charters – both bareboat and with paid skippers or owner/skippers and I suppose these people are just too busy. I don’t mean to sound negative; we do have some very good friends from cruising those islands, both now and 2 ½ years ago, it was just more work to make them!
From St. Lucia we carried on to Martinique, which we really enjoyed. Fort de France is very French, quaint and sophisticated too. We hired a car with several other yachties and drove through the rain forests up to Mt. Pelee. Then we made long day hops to Antigua, stopping at Dominica and Guadeloupe only overnight. Historic English Harbor, Antigua, was the perfect spot to leave me alone with the boat while Scott flew home to take care of some business.
While he was home, Scott had a bothersome mole removed from his back which turned out to be a malignant melanoma. Further surgery, removing his left arm lymph nodes and exploring the area of the mole, was necessary so I flew home to be with him. Thankfully, Jay & Gretchen were anchored nearby on "Natasha" and were immensely helpful, offering to keep an eye on "Bebinka" and they even came with me to the airport, where I was able to get to the front of the standby line & leave the very same day I got the call from Scott.
After six weeks we returned to the boat & got her ready for the last leg of the circumnavigation, which we did as quickly as possible due to the oncoming hurricane season.
When we left in early July, the Southeast trades whisked us along the southern & western edges of St. Thomas and our first day, noon to noon, we covered 131 miles. In his leather bound navigation book Scott not only works out sights, but makes comments on conditions and happenings. His notations often sum things up quite well:
Left St. Thomas July 7, Sunday. Monday, July 8: Wind ENE at 15-18 knots. Seas slight, not bad sailing. Genoa, reefed main and mizzen. Kitty cut my hair as it was getting into my eyes and bugging me. Tues: Sun directly overhead so no latitude. Wed: At 5AM awoke to find us heading east with no wind so started to power – very little sun all day, only hazy sextant shotes. Not bad cuz it wasn’t too hot to be out on deck motoring. Oily calm seas, in fact oil all over. Thin film everywhere and frequently big globs. Still powering at 1500, hazy, no wind. Wish I had more fuel. Feel that sitting here is waiting for a time bomb in the form of a hurricane to go off, so want to keep moving north. Thurs: Stopped motoring at 2300 even though no wind last night. Kitty on wheel again at 0530 this morn. Wind up to 10 kts WSW at noon. Saw two ships. Very hot and sun out. Fri: At 0530 took down genny, put up jib and reefed mizzen and took it up and down all morning in squalls. One hit 40 kts, ran under bare poles to see what’s up. Back to 25 kts WSW later. At 1530 looked around – just off port bow was a waterspout! Couldn’t believe my eyes. Double take. Called Kitty to bring camera, started engine, came about and headed away from it. It was only about 100 yrds away, diameter of swirling water 50-100 feet, several hundred feet high, with its top blown off to the East. After it passed by there was lots of thunder and lightning. More squalls. No change in barometer 30.01, very confused sea. Sat: Jib & mizzen all night, wind W at 20. By mid morning back to squally weather. Bar. 29.98. Wind falling light between squalls. Sun. July 14: More powering during the night. Early afternoon wind up to 10-15 out of NE. Set jib, main & mizzen. Head began filling on this tack due to slight leak in valve, had to pump almost every half hour. What a drag, you just doze off and wonder if Kitty pumped it out or not – we should be taking watches on the head! At 1300 sun out, wind NE at 15, shook the reef out of the main and set the jenny. Tightened head valve, helps. Good sailing, course 345-50. After dinner wind died, ghosting at 1-2 kts. Have that sitting on the time bomb feeling again. This is an exasperating trip. Mon: Wind died out altogether at 2000 last night so powered part of the night. Sat later on with no sails up. Before lunch wind up slightly 6-8 kts out of ESE. There just ain’t no friggin wind. At this rate it will take us another 12 days. Consoling ourselves with good breakfasts, like apple pancakes to ease the pain. Can’t power anymore, have to save fuel for NYC harbor. Tues: Ended up with a decent run last night, comparatively speaking of course. Goddamn Sargasso seaweed fouling up vane rudder periodically. This Tuesday, July 16, turned out to be the day THE TIME BOMB WENT OFF!
(Today is March 5, 1975, and most of you have heard this story by letter or mouth and are no doubt tired of it, so skip it if you want)
On this particular Tuesday, the wind came out of the SW to produce one of our first decent sails and by dinner we were bowling right along. But it was still uneasy sailing as everytime we get out of the trades and into the variables (as we did off Rarotonga and on the way to Durban) we run into trouble. At 9:00 PM (excuse this interchanging of time expressions but it takes me too long to turn it into nautical terminology), Scott went on deck again to flap one of the twins over onto the other, thereby reducing sail with little effort. By 11:00 it was beginning to howl and we were over canvassed, so he took the twins down and put up the storm twins. Two hours later, at 1 AM (now Wed. morn) "Bebinka" was yawing off course too much and the vane couldn’t seem to steer her under the force of increasing wind and mounting seas. We decided to run under bare poles and at that time Scott unhanked the storm sails. When he came back down below we both crowded into my bunk on the leeward side, mostly to try to warm Scott up as it was now very cold outside and in. We lay there without speaking, but both apprehensive, as the boat had her lee rail buried even with no sail up. She’d heel over in a gust or with the force of a wave, right herself, heel over, right herself. I remember thinking that I’d never heard wind like that before and we should really open the hatch and try to record it. Considering the circumstances though, we were quite comfortable. Then suddenly we heeled way over and in our hearts we knew that "Bebinka" had passed the point where she could comfortably right herself. Just as suddenly everything from the high side of the boat, including the companionway ladder, was on top of us and torrents of cold Atlantic Ocean came pouring down on us.
The mast must have been almost vertical in the water as we were rolled well up onto the cabin top and then back down into the bunk, which gravity kept us in for who knows how long before we could pull ourselves up. When we did, we were knee deep in water and the boat was wallowing from gunwhale to gunwhale, the water sloshing up to the windows on one side then the other with each rolling motion. Scott stuck his head out and said, rather calmly, "Well that does it". "Does what" I asked, still refusing to believe that we actually had all this water down below. "Took the hatch off". Shit. Scott leapt up on deck, with his harness on of course, and tried to get "Bebinka" to run off, put warps out (dragged lines behind the boat to try to slow her down and bring her stern more into the seas), steered by hand but the boat was out of control. She would only sit beam to.
Both the mizzen and main came partly unfurled and it took Scott fully ¾ of an hour to get them tied down again, but not before the main managed to tear out a 3 foot square hole. The wind was now at least Force 10, with salt spray whipping everywhere (so much so that it seemed like rain) and Scott found it impossible to look into the wind. Meanwhile, I was bailing gallons at a time out the hatch with our 5 gallon wastebasket; the bilge pump was constantly becoming clogged with debris washed into the bilge and besides, you could see the emptying progress faster with a wastebasket.
The first necessity was to cover that gaping hole where the hatch used to reside (Not only was the hatch gone, but also the wind vane, spray dodger and grab rails, of which only the through bolts remained; the masts were about the only thing still on deck). Luckily Scott had built a table like covering to protect our liferaft, which sits on the cockpit floor & miraculously remained there, so he wrenched off the wood top and it covered almost the entire hatch opening. He called for nails and the hand drill and hammer, intending to drill lead holes for the nails and bang them in to do a jury-rig job until dawn would allow better working conditions. Working from a beam of light coming through the hatch from the only remaining functioning light fixture on the whole boat, he painstakingly drilled and hammered, undaunted by the chilling cold, wet spray and howling wind. Finally he was finished; he’d done the best he could for our safety, so he lashed the tiller and came below to try and get some rest. It was now about 5 AM and the wind was at last beginning to abate. I was so glad to have him below as my two great fears were that 1) before he could get a makeshift hatch on, another wave would knock us down, pouring enough water below to make us flood completely, or 2) even worse, that the very same wave would take Scott overboard with it as how ever could his harness hold in that force if even the grab rails on our cabin top were washed off???
After stacking two wool blankets on Scott’s soaking bunk, we both laid down. Our adrenalin was pumping too much to let us rest, so we talked about what had just happened, trying to piece together the story. The topsy-turviness within the cabin indicated that the mast had been forced well under water. "Bebinka" had been hit by a freak wave on her windward side when she was already well heeled over and therefore vulnerable. The wave must have been incredibly strong, ye the real damage seemed to have been with the impact of dropping off that wave and hitting the bottom of a trough, as everything lost from the deck went off to windward. For instance, when Scott stuck his head out at first, he caught the shredded dodger going off the windward side even though the dodger had even been rolled and lashed down at the time.
At dawn the job of cleaning up began. We both worked down below until I got so uptight I had to go on deck, so we set sail in now 35 kts of wind and stormy conditions. The rest of the trip we had lousy weather, either squalls or no wind and it took us another week to do the last 500 miles. It was most annoying. Everything was damp and moldy and dirty below, all packaged goods were ruined and tossed overboard with rusted tins. All our books were wet and none of the electronics (shortwave radio, AM sideband) were working after their liberal dousing in sea water. So we had to do without BBC as well as our books.
On July 22 we were about 5 miles off the Jersey coast and although we could see the navigation lights ashore, we couldn’t pinpoint our position as we had no chart of NJ except for the closer approaches to NY Harbor. At daylight pleasure and commercial fishing boats dotted thee horizon. I was so anxious to find out exactly where we were (without waiting for a noon sextant shot) that while Scott slept, I grabbed a yellow sheet and flagged down a boat (a procedure no self-respecting sailor would permit, so I just didn’t ask) to find out where we were. Only 20 miles from Sandy Hook, the southern entrance to New York City!! I was ecstatic and so was Scott, who of course heard my conversation with the fisherman from below. When he came on deck the man explained to Scott how he couldn’t believe it when he realized that the girl on the sailboat was actually waving a large yellow cloth at him! And I had hoped Scott would think it was just a casual conversation with a passerby on the Jersey shore. At noon we powered into a marina in Sandy Hook, arriving with just one gallon of diesel. Several hours later we sailed the 15 miles from there to Manhattan and dropped our twin jibs off Governor’s Island for the last time on our circumnavigation – those favorite sails which had carried us for 60 or 70% of our trip.
We were filled with mixed emotion as we powered past the Wall Street skyline, maneuvering amongst tugs, fishing boats, freighters and the Staten Island ferries. Would we be able to make this teeming city hour home again after the isolation of our many days at sea, or the hours spent on the quayside learning Polynesian songs or the intimate evenings spent with cruising friends plotting our courses and adventures??? Should we even try?
After a night in NNYC, we sailed up to Westport, Conn., to bring Bebinka "home" (whatever that means) again. It was mid-week and although a chilling drizzle fell on Long Island Sound, several friends from our old marina came out to meet us, not seeming to notice how beaten up our little craft was. It was a thrill getting back, completing the circumnavigation, seeing old friends…but what now? That was the question we both had in our minds even before we left and as we drew closer to home, many hours at sea were spent mulling over our alternatives.
When we were first in St. Thomas in December, 1971, Scott had been offered a job with a food wholesaling company and it was re-offered upon our arrival back there in July, 1974. It didn’t take us long to realize once home how used to the tropical climate we were, not to mention that Bebinka was our real home and if we went back to the Caribbean we could live aboard, cruise on weekends, still have friends on boats and ashore too. So, we departed Westport again, almost three years to the day of our first departure, heading south along the Inland Waterway and offshore from Charleston to here, Charlotte Amalie, where we have been living since Thanksgiving Day ’74.
You might be interested in knowing:
That we visited 146 different ports/harbors/anchorages, but many of these were returned to more than once.
Our best day’s run was 172 miles, noon to noon, crossing the Caribbean from St. Thomas to the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama, January 1972.
The longest passage was from Floreana, Galapagos to Hiva Oa, Marquesas, where we covered 3.052 miles in 22 days, 6 hours, for 137 mile a day average. This was also our longest time at sea.
The most thrilling event was our first landfall, spot on, after 12 days at sea from Southport, NC, to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
We were gone just over 2 years 9 months, 1008 days and of that we spent 214 days actually at sea on passages over 250 miles for an overall average of 21% of our time at sea.
It took us just about 680 days to go to Bali, exactly half way around the world for us and we spent 106 days at sea (16%) of the total time. The last half of the circumnavigation was covered in 330 days and with 108 of those days underway, it meant 31% of the time we were at sea. So you can see we did a lot of sailing the last 11 months of the trip as compared with leisurely voyaging in the Pacific.
The two most common questions about the trip are 1) do we anchor at night at sea? To which Scott answers, "We always head for the nearest harbor…now it may be 2,000 miles away and take us two week." And 2) how much does it cost (most people are quite forthright enough to ask it outright, but try to get their answer through more subtle questions)? We don’t mind answering honestly:
Briefly, Scott and I got married in May 1969 and began saving for what ws then a pipedream, starting almost from scratch. In September 1970 we bought our used 3 foot fiberglass ketch, Bebinka, for $10,000 and in just over a year outfitted her for cruising, which called for another $10,000 in gear and/or improvements in the boat (replacing our gas engine with a new diesel, stainless steel water tanks, self steering mechanism, charts, sextant and other navigational equipment, changes in layout below decks etc.) In almost 3 years away we spent another $10,000 and approximately half of that went to maintenance of the boat, hauling, rigging, repairs, spare parts (no sir, fiberglass boats are not maintenance free and don’t let any boat broker tell you they are!) and about half of the other half went to devaluation of the dollar, or it sure seemed so anyway. Some of the money we spent was earned along the way, working in St. Thomas and in Sydney, but we feel that it is good to have some savings to begin with in case of an emergency.
Gee, I guess that’s about it, although I can think of about a million other things of interest looking back over it all, but that would take a whole extra newsletter…
Lots of people say they envy us, they’d really like to make a trip like ours but there are X number of reasons they can’t – hogwash, if you REALLY want to do a trip like this, or almost anything else in life, you can, it’s a matter of setting up your prerogatives, saving money & working towards that goal – it just has to be important enough to you.
Please keep in touch with us here in St. Thomas: Scott & Kitty Kuhner
c/o Czukelter, PO Box 4755, St. Thomas USVI, 00801.