A Sailor's Patience
12 August 2019
“No problem, I've learned patience. I'm a sailor and sailboats are slow.”
I've used that line a lot when someone apologizes for a delay. Sometimes this goes right over the person's head but most often, it gets a chuckle. Then I follow up saying, “Sailboats go about the same speed as a lawn tractor.” We actually do about 1 ½ times LT speed but it puts it in perspective for non-sailors.
My OFB (old flying buddy) Mirko Bodul would often have little, Styrofoam airplanes to hand out to kids who showed up at our flying sites on Lake Michigan Bluffs. These were perfect spots to fly our slope gliders when the wind blew from the NE. Since they were parks, we often had spectators. Mirko would not just hand out these little planes, he would assemble them and show the kids how to throw them for a good flight.
I buy big bags of these planes to hand out to kids we encounter during our travels. Kids just love to get un petit avion here in French Polynesia. We always get a smile.
Lately I have encountered some fairly long waits in the post office and Air Tahiti office. Nothing passes the time better than to help the kids put together these planes and watch them fly them. The entire office seems to enjoy the show. In the Post Office I overheard one lady telling her friend that I was a gentleman. She must have seen me walk through the door that said so.
Today in the Air Tahiti office, it was a five airplane wait. There were three kids in a family ahead of me. They loved the planes and went zooming around the room with them. Their parents were most appreciative too.
Then two more kids came in before it was my turn. I was just about finished with the last plane when a lady pointed to the desk and said, “Monsieur,” I finished the plane before I took my turn at the counter. Priorities.
Fafa and Angry Birds
05 August 2019
Fafa is Polynesian for Callaloo, the green leaves of the Taro plant. We often ate Callaloo in the Caribbean as a green, similar to Collard Greens. But unlike other greens, Callaloo will burn your throat like ground glass if you eat it raw. Don't try it. I have done that for you and it really burns! But sauteed in duck fat or bacon fat and simmered with onions, red wine and chicken stock for 15 minutes makes one of the best green veggies you can get in the tropics.
We were told that Taro grown in water produces the best leaves for Callaloo. Taro grown in dry ground produces the root bulb eaten as a starch. When I first spotted it growing in French Polynesia, I was excited that I could get one of my favorite, green veggies here. The locals call it Fafa but rarely eat it as a green. They gladly let me cut it and never accept payment. They are careful to warn me not to eat it raw. Oui, je connais!
My bike route in Raiatea often took me by a ditch full of Fafa. I stopped and asked the guy if I could buy some Fafa. He always let me take what I wanted and never accepted payment. I noticed he had a lot of cages off the ground with healthy looking roosters. One day I asked him if the roosters were for competition. Mai oui! He told me where and when they had chicken fights on Raiatea. I googled cock fighting, FP and learned that the original Polynesian voyagers brought fighting cocks from Asia. Cock fighting is the oldest sport know to man according to the article. While it is forbidden, it is still popular in FP. DNA tests have linked these cocks to Asian fighting cocks.
Well, it has been a slow weekend. Lisa has been back in the US visiting friends and family for a month. I moved Uproar to a beautiful Motu on the east side of Raiatea, just adjacent Avera where the combat de cocques is held. Porquoi pas? I dinghied to shore and started walking. I asked several people where I could find the combat de cocques. More directions and I found myself on a lonely road heading inland. I don't mind a hike but we have found locals in these and all islands notoriously bad at directions and distances on foot. They all have cars.
Eventually I heard the shouting and knew I was near. I found the arena, a permanent setup for combat. There was a strong warning sign that no alcohol can be brought in. They sold beer and were pleased to offer Hinano for the lowest prices around. I wandered into the arena area and a guy moved to give me a seat. Sure enough, two roosters were tussling to the delight of all. I was struck by the nude necks and bellies of these birds. Had they plucked each others feathers out? That's enough for details.
After the bout, everyone left their seats and wandered around. There were cocks everywhere with one leg tied to a string, staked to the ground. They were totally docile and their owners were often petting them or holding them. I bought another beer. What else could I do? I asked a few questions and one guy summoned a friend who spoke English. He explained that the trainers pluck the feathers from the neck and belly so the other cock can't get a grip. He said things are quite boring on Raiatea and cock fighting is just a social gathering for the guys (very few ladies) to get together and drink some beer.
Several other local guys approached me with smiles and greetings. I noticed I was the only white boy in sight! There are a lot of French citizens living in FP but none were there. I did notice a lot of Chinese descendants among the Polynesians. Nothing much was happening but one guy mentioned there was a lot of negotiating to find a good match for the next fight. Suddenly, everyone headed for the arena seats.
I entered with a Chinese-looking guy who spoke perfect English. He motioned for me to sit next to him. He said, “The fight is boring unless you bet $10 on the fight.” I readily agreed to take the bird he had bet against. His friend said, “You have a good cock.” I said, “Well, I hope my wife didn't marry me for my money.” I don't think that translated well.
The round began. It was actually more of a wrestling match than blood sport. These two chickens were tenacious! I'll skip to the end. It was quick! I hardly saw it but one cock put his spur through a weak spot in the others head. Down he went, instantly dead! The crowd went wild. My neighbor said, “No problem, you don't have to pay me.” I insisted and gave him the $10 with a smile. We fist-bumped and I headed back to the road.
A departing car gave me a ride to within a kilometer of my dinghy. I'm back on Uproar richer for yet another cultural experience with these gentle people. I'm not a fan of animal cruelty and have mixed feelings about what I witnessed. But I promised to tell all about our voyage, good and bad.
17 July 2019
I'm now alone on Uproar. Lisa is having a long overdue visit with friends and family. I really don't feel alone here in French Polynesia, people are great here. And Uproar is a treasured friend. But let's not get too sappy.
Houdinky took me to shore at Uturora. My bike was not at the light post where I locked it the evening before. I was more puzzled than gripped by panic. It was hard for me to accept someone here would actually steal my bike. The information desk wasn't far away. The nice lady there said I should check at the port office. No one was there. She then directed me to the Gendarmarie.
As I walked out of the harbor area, I saw a bike with just the front wheel locked to a bike rack. I thought, “That's not a safe way to lock a bike.” Upon closer inspection, there was no lock, the cable was just artfully wrapped around the bike rack. And it was my bike! I returned to the information desk to report my find. The lady said there are signs for “no bikes” in the harbor area. I eventually found the sign. My bad.
This bike (Montague folder with 26” wheels) is precious to me. Lisa sure uses hers a lot too. Bikes are wonderful inventions. They open a lot of possibilities to us during our travels. My rented room is 3 miles from the boatyard where Uproar is currently getting a bottom job. I could not walk this commute easily. The bike makes it trivial.
Engineering school factoid: A bike is the most efficient muscle powered form of locomotion, including all animals in nature. Dolphins come in second. I'm pretty sure my salt and sand encrusted beast isn't quite that efficient but it serves me well.
Special thanks to Steve Whitford at South Shore Cyclery in Milwaukee for setting us up with these great bikes. I highly recommend them to cruisers. But have Steve replace the chain with stainless steel!
13 July 2019
Yellow Ducati doesn't have a name yet but it knows what to call me. We have been in a torrid relationship for the five weeks we have lived together in Wisconsin from my sea faring life in French Polynesia. Craigslist provided me the ridiculous notion of buying the Ducati of my dreams for my short visit. I did. Or rather, I coaxed Lisa into giving it to me for my birthday. Pourquoi pas?
Logic played a small part. My Ducati 900SS (1992) was waiting for me with bad tires, oil leak and valve maintenance needed. The battery was quite dead too. The red 900SS was the subject of Hunter S. Thompson's “Song of the Sausage Creature,” a controversial piece on this insane bike that alternately tried to turn him into a Johnsonville Brat and saved his hide at the last minute. My newly acquired Yellow Ducati 748 makes Sausage Creature seem like a nursery rhyme! The 748 is a Ducati Superbike, a step up in performance from the 900SS.
Oh, it did entice! The Metro Museum of Modern Art in NYC has a red one on permanent display as the finest example of moto art. I agree! Never had one and never rode one. But Craigslist provided one and Gary Heinitz checked it out and applied the right amount of proxy Ducati spit on the tank to make it mine.
Twelve hours after landing in MKE, I mounted the beast. Ten miles later, I was ready to sign the divorce papers! It hurt! Gary said, “You know, this is just a race bike with headlights.” No schmidt! This bike is meant for a testosterone fueled 24 year old. I am not. But with FBF bar risers from Ebay, we gained 1 ½ inches of more tolerable riding position. Yellow Ducati was determined to break me in.
The next day was a race at Road America. Doug Guinn rode his Ducati to the Rive Retreat and said, “You know, it is going to rain. Last chance, we can take your Alfa.” “I just bought this bike and I'm going to ride it!” Rain it did and we were cold and soaked all day as we enjoyed the moto racing at our favorite track. Yet another chance for the Yellow Ducati to initiate me to it's world.
A week later the Wisconsin Ducati Owners had a tour through our beautiful Kettle Moraine area. I showed up as the oldest rider and the only one on a superbike Ducati. Others had sensible Multistradas, Monsters or Sts, but Ross did show up on a Streetfighter, naked superbike but with more upright riding position. I was also the only one with a heavy, leather jacket instead of the tech gear others had. Oh well, nostalgia reigns! After the tour of over 200 miles, my neck pain was a dull ache. But my smile overcame it all. I had fallen in “like” with Yellow Ducati.
John Adrian said we should go riding. I told him we always consider the warning, curve speed limits as half what we can really ride. Yellow Ducati showed both of us this is so. It demands full attention and no beer for lunch. No problem.
Today, I rode the Milwaukee River roads with Doug and Roger. Doug really know the hidden treasure roads through this countryside. Yellow Ducati followed Doug's Ducati ST with aplomb. I was just along for the ride, loving it! After lunch, Doug and I switched bikes. Oh, his ST is so smooth and powerful. When we arrived at the River Retreat, Doug said, “I have always wanted one of these!” I said, “I'm leaving it right here with the key in it. Ride it any time.” He will. We leave the keys in all of our vehicles on the River in case a neighbor needs to borrow it.
I have been away from motorcycles for four years. Yellow Ducati has been an inspiration, friend and most importantly, mentor. We enter a corner with a good lean, I get on the throttle and discover we are about 20 mph slower than Yellow Ducati would like me to go. Wimp! I resemble that remark. But thanks to the Yellow Ducati for pulling me through. I'll miss Yellow Ducati. One can't really own such a spirit but being its caretaker is a privileged.
PS. Now I'm back on Uproar. I had a great time back in Milwaukee visiting family and friends. I am truly blessed how many moto friends I was able to see during my visit. You guys (and a few ladies) were everywhere and it was great seeing you. Thanks for all the good vibes and great times.
My decision to ride a motorcycle on this trip wasn't taken lightly. Previous trips I refused to ride as I really needed to prepare my old 900SS properly and get my head around taking the risks inherent with motorcycles. But Anguille got me through and safely back home on Uproar. Anguille is Yellow Ducati's new name (ahn gwee'), or “angry” spoken by Elmer Fudd. Anguille means eel in French. The Polynesians worship eels and their mystical powers. This agility and mystique fits my new bike well.
Tahiti Pearl Regatta
22 May 2019
“The most beautiful regatta in the world.” That's the theme of the Tahiti Pearl Regatta. They sure delivered! The racing was in the beautiful waters around Raiatea, Tahaa and Huhine. These atolls have clear, blue lagoons surrounding lush mountain peaks. None of this compares to the smiles of these Polynesians, the only thing brighter than the Sun.
Jeff and Terry McClellan traveled from frigid Wisconsin to visit us for two weeks and gave up a good chunk of that for the three day regatta. We could have never done it without them. Previously we just asked our cruising friends to race with us. No problem when we return to the same anchorage every night. But TPR involved inter-island racing. Those who crewed, had to stay on board when we raced to Huahine. We were fortunate enough to pick up John and Lorella from Imagination for the last, around-island race on Tahaa.
Registration was a bit strange, we all had to submit medical certificates stating we were physically fit for yacht racing. That's a first. We also had to join the Tahiti Sailing Federation. We paid our $40 each to join but have no idea what rights and privileges we are entitled to. At least show us the handshake. After registration, we asked where we could go for a beer. Nowhere? The nearest place open was the airport. That's another first.
When we registered, we had the option of a racing class or the cruising class. Racing classes needed a measurement certificate which we didn't have. We registered for cruising which was only the longer races each day. Previous year results showed most of the boats were in the cruising class. There was mention of assigning ratings. But at registration, we learned that the cruising class races just on actual time, no handicaps! Sailboats have widely varying performance. It just isn't racing to pit boats against each other with some being twice as fast as others. But we were racing in the most beautiful regatta.....didn't matter.
It turned out that of the 52 boats registered, we had no idea who was in our class or who was in any class. Nothing was posted and there were no class flags. What's more, we learned that all 52 boats would start in one start! The line was short too. Not good! But island manners prevailed and there were no crashes.
The fleet was the most varied ever. There were 55 foot catamarans and monohulls (in our division) as well as 18 foot sport boats and outrigger canoes. The outrigger canoes had a Sunfish size sail with four crew paddling like mad the entire race. Another first! They were fast too, almost as fast as us!
First race started inside the Raiatea lagoon, sailed south two miles to the reef pass, then 22 miles to Huahine. Uproar was on the line at the start in pretty clear air, but light air. It was a close reach. Soon, the boats with code zeros and lighter sport boats started to pass us. The outriggers, paddling, kept them moving well too. The reef pass was surrounded by two motus (small islands). Wind was blanketed which caused a pile-up. We sailed clear and around the pile-up, then settled in for a long beat to Huahine. Wind was about 10 knots and just a light chop and swell on the sea. These are conditions Uproar was quite happy with and we were staying well with the racing boats, about our size.
A few tacks and a few hours later we entered the Huahine lagoon. We had no idea how we finished of course. We were pleased how well Uproar, laden with all of our liveaboard gear (about 2,500 pounds overweight) sailed with the race boats. Our anchor beer taste especially good after a fine sail to Huahine. We swam and dressed in Island dress for the evening's party.
Water taxis were employed to take racers to shore. We had left our dinghy in Raiatea and a local guy promised to take it to Tahaa where the regatta ended. He did and we actually got our dinghy back! The party was a delightful buffet with local dancing and drumming. Crews were invited to take the stage for a Tahitian dance contest. Team Uproar wisely declined.
Day two was a race from Huahine to Tahaa, just north of Raiatea. It was a spinnaker run the entire way. Wind was only about 10 knots and seas again smooth. Uproar again found a clear spot on the line when the gun went off. We stayed with the boats we targeted until the last 5 miles. Wind got light and our asymmetrical spinnaker wasn't as well suited as the symmetrical chutes on the race boats. Everyone anchored just inside the Tahaa pass where we had a good swim and anchor beer. We still had no idea how we were doing but there were a lot of boats behind us.
We opted out of the second night's party and had a relaxing evening in our beautiful anchorage. John and Lorella from Imagination were at the finish to take pictures. John took me in his dinghy to where we hoped to find Houdinky, our dingy. Sure enough, he was sitting at a dock as promised, Thanks Tama!
Day three was the most interesting race of all. The race was inside the Tahaa lagoon, around the island, about 20 miles. The lagoon between the reef and the island was quite narrow after the start which made for some close racing. Uproar again got off to a good start. We sailed high to keep our air clear from faster boats who passed us. This became a mistake as we sailed too close to the wind shadow of the island. We struggled with the spinnaker in light air and watched boats by the reef sail faster.
As we sailed north, wind picked up and became a beat. There were narrow but well marked channels we had to follow per race instructions....and to avoid the rocks! John and Jeff did a great job grinding in the genoa on the 14 tacks it took us to round the north end of Tahaa. During the tacking, we passed a new, Hanse 575 and put some distance between us. We enjoyed our personal races with the boats around us. The finish was back at the Tahaa reef anchorage where we left Houdinky and Imagination's dinghy.
The final night party was on the nearby, private motu. It was perfect Polynesian village set. We were greeted with floral leis and a show of fire dancing. Awards were presented and to our surprise, Uproar took third in the cruising division. The trophy was an intricately carved shell. Up-Roar! Videos played on a large screen of the week's racing. The buffet was local cuisine, done very well. We enjoyed meeting some of the Tahitian racers and swapping stories. Racing was a bit strange but we sure enjoyed being a part of the most beautiful regatta in the world.
02 May 2019
Preface: I have been sitting on this one for awhile. I wrote this some time ago but hesitated about posting it. True to my pledge, I'm going to write the good with the bad. The tipping point for me to post this was when we were anchored in Moorea with Bill and Judy from S/V Whisper, visiting us from the Bahamas. We went ashore and left our dinghy at the prescribed spot in Opunohu Bay. There was an identical dinghy to ours with two French sailors fussing with their non-working motor. We spent the day in a rental car. When we returned, one of our oars was missing! Their dinghy was no longer at the dock either. Twice now I have heard, “British sailors outfit their boats to go sailing, French sailors go sailing to outfit their boats.” Do the math!
I'm a Francophile. I am part French, love their food, wine, culture and beautiful country. They also have some pretty darn, beautiful islands in the Caribbean and South Pacific. I resist the stereotype of the French as arrogant people. I have had some lovely encounters with French people, cruisers and dirt dwellers. I hope my French Canadian and French friends will not take any offense with this blog. In fact, I know some are in complete agreement with what I am going to spew about.
French cruisers have a bad reputation everywhere we have sailed so far! It started in the Bahamas. We were warned that French Canadian cruisers would anchor too close. They did. They also did not mix much with the Americans and Europeans in the crowded Georgetown Anchorage. But that's to be expected with the language barrier.
The Staniel Cay anchorage was another matter. We anchored during a cold front (bad weather) quite a distance from Sea Turtle, a French Trawler. Before we finished anchoring, they were waving their arms and on the radio, warning us that we were too close. That's a big breach of etiquette. When a crew is anchoring, never interrupt. They need to communicate with each other at that moment. We settled back on our anchor and were certain we were well away from ST. Friends in the anchorage called us on the radio and warned us about ST.
The lady on ST sat on her bow, arms folded and just glared at us for an hour. That evening, we were on River Rat having cocktails and ST called Uproar on the radio. The skipper of RR said, “Russ, take this call, this is going to be good.” The skipper ST again berated me for being too close. All on RR were certain that Uproar was well away. I told the skipper on ST, “My responsibility is to keep clear since you were anchored before us. We intend to do so.”
Another boat anchored even closer to ST than we did. That brought the focus and stares of hate from us to the new arrival....who was also French Canadian. The new arrival was eventually chased away from ST and struggled for hours to find a safe place to anchor. It is sad that these people were obsessed with other boats and not enjoying the Bahamas.
But one incident does not a trend make. That would come much later. When we were in Grenada, we were warned that the French sailors at the marina would steal our water and electricity. I thought that would be impossible. The marina actually warned us about the potential problem!
About a year ago, we were in Shelter Bay Marina, Panama. The measurer for the canal authority visited us to measure Uproar and finalize paperwork for our transit. He said we may be rafted against other yachts. His exact words, “It will be a pleasant experience, unless you are rafted to a French boat.” Wow, this is from a Panamanian official for the Canal! Friends of ours were rafted against a French boat and they did have problems!
Now we are in French Polynesia. There are a lot of French boats here. We have made some nice friends with them. But! When we talked with the manager of the Papeete Marina, he, unprovoked by us, went into a rant about how rude and obnoxious the French sailors were. We were just laughing as he continued. He finished by saying, “Now that they have won the World Cup, it is even worse. We are French of course, but we are Polynesian first. Just because they fly the blu, blanc, and rouge, they think they own the place.” We were flying the French flag under our Polynesian flag. We quickly removed the French Flag.
What prompted me to write this blog is an incident here in Gambier, a remote area of French Polynesia. A friends of ours (French boat btw) anchored in an idyllic spot. Soon after, three, French catamarans anchored all around them. And those boats were full of kids who are a little noisy. Our friend moved their boat to a more secluded spot. You would think that would be a hint to the intruders. It gets worse. The storm of the previous week wreaked a lot of havoc on the gardens and orchard of Pauline and Gerrard, the elderly inhabitants of the island. Our friends (French and New Zealanders) spent two days clearing fallen banana trees and other debris. The three French cats came ashore with their kids and filled huge sacks of fruit and vegetables from Pauline and Gerrard's crops, without asking, and carted them off without a word or offer to pay.
I promised to tell all in this blog. There you have it. Sorry to say, the stereotype of French cruisers as bad neighbors has a ring of truth. Again, we have some wonderful French cruiser friends who will readily agree with the above.
PS. A French boat just anchored...pretty close to us. We aren't sensative about that but their screaming kid is pretty annoying. They don't have very nice potty manners either. They just shit in a bucket and throw it overboard. Viva La France!