Saturday, January 19, 2008

Right About Now

By now you should be sick of hearing that I have endless ice cubes, air-conditioning, and gallons of surplus rum I smuggled into Fiji. What you don’t know is that due to my brother’s unnatural obsession with protein, I’m also well stocked with canned tuna that he left behind. In addition – you generous readers have fortified me with hundreds of hours of DVDs that weighed in at over 11 pounds (that doesn’t even include the round of silicon that the Dunbars sent direct. Think about that Farber. And yea, I weighed it, so what?) If you’ve done the math, then you can probably visualize the picture that is Barraveigh, on the evening of Jan 19 2008. I sit reclined, fully wacked on Abuelo rum, watching season 1 of Arrested Development (Steve Holt!), dripping mayo and tuna on my sweatshirt, while outside, the cyclone beats the heat down to a paltry 95 degrees.

It was a splendid month of family. In addition to the tuna cans and gray t-shirts he left behind, Skinny also bequeathed me a karaoke machine complete with 2 microphones. Yep – I’ve got a karaoke machine and I live on a boat. That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. But, it makes a great story. You can tell your children about a man the savages called “Guy Smiley” who sailed around the world with a karaoke machine. Am I even spelling that correctly?

My mom was here too. We really should have our own sitcom. She could only get on and off the boat during mid tides and with much assistance. During high and low tides we ferried her from the quay staircase to the port side of Barraveigh using the dinghy of the cement boat next door (who would make a boat out of cement?). She would repeat aloud the process of getting onto my boat as she performed the maritime cirque du soleil. “Face the opening, step on the gray seat, turn around and sit down.” God she’s precious. During her last night, with the coming of the storm, she was sure we were sinking and woke me numerous times. One of my last enduring visions of her was watching her standing tip toed, peering out the window at that dinghy, as I proved to her that we weren’t lower than it. It was a childlike fascination that flooded her face in that gentle light and made her appear to be a kid stealing a hopeful glance at Santa Claus. I love that lady.

The following is her favorite experience while here in Fiji, retold with the magic of the internet. You can’t order this through K-Tel:

She rented a car for her 2 boys and we drove all around for 4 days. At the slightest prospect of picking up a hitchhiker we pulled over. It was our destiny to pick up every and all hitchhikers. In fact, the destination was secondary to the number of hitchhikers we could pick up. Actually – the majority of the people we forced into accepting a ride were never hitchhiking to begin with. We just “smiled” them into that Toyota with 133,000 miles and the steering wheel on the wrong side (every driving session began with mom and I repeating aloud, “drive on the left side, drive on the left side, drive on the left side”. The impulse to migrate onto the right side is overwhelming. You don’t even want to hear about round-abouts). We picked up 3 teenage Fijians with bigger smiles than ours. Upon dropping them off the eldest said, “As a thank you for your kindness for driving us, we would like to invite you to our village tomorrow at noon. We can have lunch on the beach.” His name was “Beese”, and we showed up right on time. He took us to his parents’ house where we presented ½ a kilo of kava, a pineapple, and 2 cartons of cookies. They hacked open coconuts and we passed around the orbs as his father made a prayer in our name. The only word we understood was “America”. Beese’s mother Mary toured us around the village and explained the different bures. Then we sat on a communal mat under some shade and the village youngsters sang us one of their native songs. Mom returned the favor and we left shortly after. It was rich experience and I’m so glad I was able to share it with my brother and mother. She’s right to name that day as a highlight.

Their gone now, and I miss them both severely. I’m going to pour a double, listen to the clink of ice cubes drown out the howling winds, and raise my glass to family. Join me.

Your man on point,

Capt Bob

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Jan 2008

My mom and brother are here visiting me. I’ve told them first hand, the story that I am now going to relate to you. It’s a “big time near miss” and I didn’t want them to hear it from anyone but me.

Suzi and I were in Suva, which is the capital of Fiji and located on the southern coast. It’s an old harbor with dark muddy water, lots of discarded junk laying on the bottom and rather exposed to the southwest winds. The squall showed itself to us before the winds really built. I pointed out the black clouds to Suzi and we prepped the boat for the excitement that was to follow. By 07:30 the winds were up the 25 knots and the anchorage was bouncing us around like we were at sea. By 08:00 the winds had built to 35 knots and the seas were 8 feet and choppy as hell. I started the engine just in case we dragged. We were only about 2 football fields from the huge fishing boats that were hanging on the gigantic mooring ball behind us. The bow was bouncing up and done so violently that it wasn’t safe to go forward. At 08:30 I felt it. Barraveigh’s nose fell off to starboard and she began turning to face the opposite direction. That meant the anchor had broken free from the seabed. I slammed the tranny into forward and at 1800 rpms the nose turned back into the wind. I didn’t want to drive forward; I just wanted to keep up enough power to stop her from falling backwards. During some gusts I really lost ground and had to gun her to get her back to where we started. Those big fishing boats were looming just behind me and I could see them pounding up and down in these rough conditions. If I hadn’t got Barraveigh pointed forward and revved up enough to stop our slippage over ground we would be hammered in half and sunk by those monstrous ships. And if they didn’t end us, the reef just behind them would have. Thank god I have a good strong engine.

Just then – the engine hesitated, and quit. I thought I was going to puke. “How could this be? What would stop my beloved Perkins?” Then it came to me all at once. I had a nuisance fuel leak at the throttle that I planned on fixing when we got to the marina. Since we planned on sitting at anchor for a week, I shut off the fuel line from the tank to the Perkins to reduce the drip. This whole time I was running her on borrowed minutes. The wind was now down to only 25 knots but we started drifting backwards again.

“This is it. This is the day I lose it all.”
Suzi popped her head up, “Why’d you shut the engine off?”
“I didn’t. It died.”
“Oh my god!”
She took the wheel and I dove below to open the shut off valve and bleed the air from the system.
“How are we doing?” I screamed, the vomit rising in my throat.
“Still drifting. You gotta do something.”

I tried everything but nothing worked. We got within 30 feet of the boat smashing fishing fleet when the anchor finally caught and took hold. The stern swung around and the anchor held as she straightened out. It was pure luck. We were 30 feet from the end of my dream. Just pure dumb luck.

I was panting and trying not to throw up. It really rattled me, but it wasn’t over. I knew I needed to get that engine running again before the squall clocked around and hit me from another direction. I knew that anchor wasn’t properly set and if there was a wind shift I could drag out to deep water and then unto the entrance reef. I tried for an hour to bleed the air. No luck. I got my friend Ken on Spray to come over and we were once again defeated. I had one more idea. I called my friend Dan who lives on shore and has a car. “Dan – I’m in a serious situation and I need a diesel mechanic immediately. Can you get me one and bring him to the Royal Suva Yacht Club please?” What a star Dan is. He found Tesi and drove him to the yacht club ad I put that monster of a man in the dinghy and got him out to Barraveigh as fast as I could. It took a couple hours and 6 hands but we got it done. I could barely drink my celebratory beer. I over paid him and thanked him numerous times. We reset the anchor and were asleep as soon as the sun set.

What a nightmare.

That was over 2 months ago and I still cringe when I think about it.

Captain Bob