Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More Pearls

Pahua is the name of the giant clam and we ate it in curry and coconut sauce last night at Francky’s with his family. Then we traded for another 200+ pearls! I love this place. No tourists, because there are no hotels, or motels, or bed & breakfasts or even youth hostels. Not one single restaurant or bar. If you don’t sail here, you will never see this place. The moon over the lagoon with that gin colored water is utterly astonishing. This one fringed atoll has made the whole trip a jackpot.

Todd G never thought I’d leave San Diego. Belinda S thought I’d last 18 months. I won the second bet 25 days ago. I can’t imagine ever living in one place again.

Your fan,

Bobby (it’s just oyster snot) Friedman

Monday, June 25, 2007


My first atoll – Kauehi in the Tuamotu archipelago. There is only one pass into the lagoon and the currents can run up to 8 knots. It’s only 100 yards across so there isn’t much room for mistakes. We obviously made it and then rhumb lined it for the village, being careful to miss the coral heads. The clarity of the water makes spotting them easy as long as the sun is over head or behind. Hence, timing any passage now involves: the position of the sun, the cycle of the tide, and the wind direction (because waves will break if the tide and wind direction are opposing). These used to be called “The Danger Islands”. It’s better now with the advent of GPS, but some of my charts haven’t been updated since 1839 and coral heads can grow a foot a decade. The pucker factor still exists.

Here’s the scoop on the pearls: it’s completely illegal for anyone to take them out of French waters without the proper paperwork that you can only get from an “authorized dealer”. It’s like the Debeers family trying to control the diamond trade. “Authorized dealer” means that everyone got rich on the sale since these things sell for up to $300,000 US. Boy did I short circuit the system! – I traded 7 tiny drill bits for 24 pearls (Yes Colin – you get a cut of the booty). I threw in a plastic storage box with dividers, and he gave Suzi 2 extra necklaces. I wish all transactions were so generously concluded. Actually, I was so overly pleased with the experience that I went back and gave him a bag full of limes (they won’t grow here with their thin soil and salted water table). The most interesting facet of our negotiation was that we couldn’t speak one word of a common language. I keep trying to speak Spanish with a generic accent in hope that it will have a few words in common with French, while he grunts vowels in his low island dialect. It was a perfect human experience. We’re going to go back today and fly kites with his retarded son.

After scouring the boat for articles of trade and a new strategy for pearl acquisition, I went in search of the owner of the pearl farm that is visible from my anchorage. It’s a series of houses on stilts built on the edge of the reef as it drops into the azure blue waters of the lagoon. His name is Francky and he was at work removing a pearl from a “nack” when we met. We exchanged pleasantries and arranged a time for me to return the next day with my precious belongings. I traded a bottle of rum, a jar of hot sauce, a can of hairspray, a Donald Duck clock, some scented vermiculite, and 2 of Suzi’s worn out bikinis for 302 of the most gorgeous pearls you have ever seen! We are stinking rich with pearls! We look at them before we go to bed. We look at them when we awake. We pause at midday just to run our fingers through their gun metal gray and black metallic hues. I chose each one individually and as silly as it seems, I think I can now understand how women are fixated on baubles. What is happening to me? Today I will return with a hammock, a flashlight, a broken headlamp, and more booze. I am a pearl whore.

Also – I’ve now eaten the giant coconut crab and turtle. Turtle is absolutely gourmet. Tastes like venison with the softness of tender brisket. I love turtle, but coconut crab. . . . eh, not so much. You gotta boil it for an hour (I hate burning that much propane) and it’s a ton of work for meat that doesn’t even approach Snow crab let alone Alaskan King.

Best to horde pearls and ask around for anyone having turtle tonight.


(I sent all the pearls home with my mom in Feb of 2008 so if you’re a thief – forget about them. She’s got them in a safe deposit box back in the USA)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tattoos & Pamplemousse

I jumped off the boat and paddled in. It was every surf enabled cruiser’s dream. The swell comes into this bay and breaks right on the rocks. However, there is a secondary wave that’s formed when the big stuff bounces off the jetty. This wave runs perpendicular to the beach so when you take the left you are actually going away from the beach, back into the bay. First time I’ve ever seen that, and probably a contributing factor for what happened next. I broke another board. I snapped it right in half. I gave it to some kid who didn’t have one. I was strangely philosophical about it. Boards are born to break, and besides, I’m only here to create stories. If some kid thinks he just won the lotto cuz of my bad luck, then I can ride that karma boost for the rest of the day. Besides, at dusk his family drove him out in a boat and they gave me a huge potato sack full of pamplemousse, and a stalk of bananas as an extra bonus.

Captain Cook was here in 1769, and his men must have been terrified by how these natives appeared with their tattooed faces and huge powerful bodies. I have a tattoo on my right ankle that says “USA” in red, white, and blue. Before I was a dirty sailor, I took a turn as a filthy biker, and one summer, at the tender age of 19, I drove a motorcycle around the States with my friend Mark. I guess the similarities between sailing and cycling are readily apparent; the sense of freedom, the wind in your hair, etc. The tattoo seemed like the right thing to do, and here I am in the place where it all began. However, the engravings here, are monochromatic with highly stylized tiki-like designs. On an island of only 2,500 people I’ve already seen a few with face tattoos. Think; Mike Tyson, but with more ink, and on bigger men.

These people are behemoths. The first characteristic you notice are their feet (since everyone is barefoot). They are utterly huge. Like Hobbits, but with bodies to match. Then you notice the calves (30 lbs), and so on, up to the shoulders. You could put an oxen yoke on these men and it would fit. Most of the women look the same. They smile all the time and are so eager to converse, I hope they never see a Western fashion magazine.

I’ve anchored in some of the same bays The Endeavour did (I wish I had a metal detector), and tried to imagine what it must have been like for Cook and his sailors to discover this place. The direct translation for the Marquesan word for white man is, “long white pig.” They ate us, even though our calves are so small. We were the other white meat. The sense of wonder is still astounding 200+ years later. There’s no industry here. No resorts. No tourists. It’s so very inaccessible, that it’s remained unspoiled. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands LESS people now, due to the diseases that the European explorers brought. The population still hasn’t recovered more than 2 centuries later. You can’t say that about the rest of French Polynesia. It makes hiking a ghostly experience when one discovers an entire city that’s been left crumbling. So in a distorted way, the Marquesas Islands are even more untouched by man now, than they were.

These people are inherently kind. They take care of their appearance and property (rarely do I see litter), and the flowers in their hair are very charming. Have I witnessed drunks on the street or loud aggressive teenagers? – I’ve never seen even one. Anyone would be happy to have them as neighbors. The only problem I have with them is their infatuation with vowels. Just look at the names of their islands: Fatu Hiva, Tahuata, Nuku Hiva & my favorite, Oa Pou. Then there are the unpronounceable: Taioa, Meituua, Vaiehu, and of course; Taaoa. It sounds like Navajo, with the endless glottal stops. I can’t understand or be understood. Who cares? I smile and smile. These Marquesas Islands are utterly wonderful.

And now we are leaving them. French Polynesia is made up of 3 completely different island chains: The Marquesas, the Tuamotus, and the Society Islands. We’ve just began a 5 day sail to the Tuamotus. I love these long passages. They’re so exciting. I think I’ll grow my sideburns out.

P.S. / The finger healed on its own. Crooked and weak, it gets in the way of typing and knot tying. The doctor told me that I needed to have x-rays and a specialist look it over. Odds are I’ll need surgery, which means it will need to stay immobile for 6 weeks. I think I’ll leave it until I get to Australia, where I plan to wait out the cyclone season. Let’s hope I can get by with this goofy paw until then.

I remain,
Salty Bobby


When you drive around Europe, you begin to see a pattern: Hard scrabble peasants colonized by the civilized Romans. From England to Spain, F...