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Downwind to Oz

A girl sunday as Freddy and Patty bubble up in the rubber tub.

It is a beautiful day and the wind is kind, blowing from the Northeast at 15 knots. We glide along the coast of Guadalcanal until late afternoon and decide to anchor behind Bara Island for the night.

Towering black thunderheads build up over the lush green Guadalcanal mountains behind the picturesque little anchorage. They sail ponderously down the mountain slopes, over the luminous green mangroves bordering the anchorage and advance out over us. They burst. A waterfall from the sky.

We hoot and holler in the rain, gasping for breath. "Woweeeee! A man could DROWN in this!" Lowell blurbles. Freddy and Patty, in bikinis, plug up the deck drains and the decks fill with water. It pours out of the after port hawsepipe and into the Avon tethered alongside.

I start to move it but Freddy, hair plastered down her face in the skyriver, stops me. "No, let it fill up. We want to take a bath."

"A bubble bath!" Patty scampers below to bring up a box of little round transparent red and yellow eggs filled with bubble bath soap.

The rain fills the dinghy quickly and they throw in about a half dozen gelatinous eggs which burst into a big white cloud of bubbles. "Hey, this is Super!" Patty and Freddy climb down into the foam and doff their bikinis. Naked, the two girls cavort in the Avon as it fills to overflowing with the rainwater from Moira's deck. White foam is thrown here and there with great abandon while Lowell and I thud around in the rain on the deck, cheering them on.

The rain quits. Pop! It shuts off. Warm evening sunlight floods over us, spotlighting the bay, catching us all, naked and sparkling clean. Moira, the mangroves, the sea, the girls and Lowell and me; all of us. The girls, buried in suds in the Avon, are adorable. "What a great photograph".

I dry off and go below to get out my camera. Lowell sticks his head down the hatch and directs me to his camera, too. Back on deck Lowell and I take pictures of the girls in their inflatable bubble-bath. Click, click, "Hey, great, hold it," click, click. They cavort for the camera, playing with the foam.

"Wow!" Says Lowell, "I'll call this here photo, Luscious Girl Sunday with Whipped Cream."

A whole canoe load of Solomon Islanders arrive from nowhere, rounding Moira's bow expecting to trade and be sociable. They are as surprised as we are. The canoe glides by, paddles halted in various stages of propulsion, faces frozen in a mixture of dazed expressions.

The spectacle of Lowell, still buck naked, must be pretty hard on them. The girls, more or less covered with bubbles in the dinghy, are prettier but probably one of the most rare sights imaginable in these parts. A lump of gleaming white, perfumed foam rafts off, spinning slowly away from the Avon - the only movement in the tableau.

As one, all the heads in the canoe turn straight ahead and the paddles resume earnest propulsion, taking the occupants out of sight of these unseeable things.

"My God, what will the coconut grapevine make of this?" Freddy throws a big snowball of foam at me and the war begins.

Living Love at Tavanipupu Island

A perfect paradise beach. One imagines these are everywhere in the South Pacific but actually they are quite rare.

Myfanwy Humphreys, Freddy and Patty collect the dinner dishes while Charles Humphreys, Lowell and I move into the big chairs in the center of their spacious lodge.

Tavanapupu is on Cimiruka Island. The anchorage is 4 to 5 meters deep in sand.

Charles was a government employee here for years with the British Colonial Service. He retired about three years ago and built this lovely little resort on the 40 acre island of Tavanipupu in Marau Sound, on the Southeastern tip of Guadalcanal. So far, they've finished three small cottages, each with its own kitchenette, and the big lodge. All are island style thatched A-frames designed and built by Charles and Myfanwy.

We sit and admire their handiwork; especially the details, like the little cowrie shells used as knobs for the sliding cabinet doors.

"You built this all by yourselves, just the two of you?" Lowell asks.

"Oh no, the locals helped," Charles hands Lowell a small glass of brandy. "But only with the big jobs; raising the A-frames, laying on the thatch, pouring the cement floor. Things like that."

Thunder rumbles through the comfortable room. It's getting dark outside. Voices of the jungle begin singing - clicks, tweets and ratchets of insect and amphibian love. Myfanwy has a book called Handbook to Higher Consciousness on one of the coffee tables. Naturally, I pick it up and page through it. It is from the Living Love Center in Berkely California. By Keys Jr.

Abandon Fear is its message. Love one another.

There are seven levels of consciousness according to Mr. Keys Jr. The first three are life addictions; The centers for Security (addicted to possessions), Sensory (addicted to physical sensations), and Power (addicted to wealth and pride).

The 4th center is Love. Abandonment of fear.

Level 5 is the Cornucopia stage; reaching a perfect world without addictions.

Level 6 is the conscious-awareness center. The inner voice not interested in judgements.

Level 7 is cosmic consciousness, where you get to be at one with everything.

I'm into 10 practical tips for managing this as Charles and Lowell discuss the Solomon Islands independence and how it might effect things.

Myfanwy brings in the cake Freddy and Patty baked today and dishes it out. "Oh, don't crumple the aluminum foil," Myfanwy snatches it. Must be hard to get supplies out here. I munch the fluffy Banana cake and resume reading about "getting there". If I hurry I might get through the book before we have to go. It's short.

It starts to rain. Heavy. I emerge from my anti-social reading about love. Charles is in mid-story about his colonial service in Africa. The story is not about love. It's about fear. Death. They have seen some pretty terrible things during various revolutions and wars in Africa. No wonder they view the Solomon's independence as a pleasant, almost inconsequential event.

"Doesn't sound like you'll be leaving for Australia soon," muses Charles as the rain picks up.

"No, we'll just wait for the weather to clear. Maybe in a few days this will pass by. But meanwhile, it's really nice here." I chase the remaining crumbs of cake around my plate.

Freddy takes the plate away from me and quips, "Except for the flies."

"This is true," Lowell agrees. "The Moira has so many dead flies it's like a black crunchy carpet on the deck."

"Oh, eeech, Lowell!" Patty grimaces.

"They are truly a problem here this time of year," Myfanwy agrees. Freddy says nothing. She really hates flies and they were so thick thick today it was almost impossible to breathe.

"We keep the screens in most of the time. It's not too bad." I open the book on love again.

"It's miserable," pouts Freddy quietly. "Come on you guys, it's going to really pour in a minute. We'd better get back while we can still find the boat."

We file out into the night, thanking the Humphries for a really pleasant dinner and evening. It is black on black outside. The rain is falling in slow, heavy warm drops. We forgot to bring a flashlight and the Humphries are out of batteries for theirs so we move along the path single file, me first, feeling the path with my toes as I goes. It is turning to a slick mud and we move slowly, carefully. "A blind, 8-legged nocturnal hominiderpillar cucarachating through the Tavanipupu Jungle in the tropical rain." I jingle and the girls giggle. Lowell does not hear. From the end of the line he hollers, "What's that you say?"

The rain increases. The black gets blacker. The mud gets slipperier.

Ahead, I see a curious blue glow.

The whole lagoon glowed with the light of the spawning palolo worms

"What's that glow up ahead?" I stop. The rain is now thwacking loudly on the thick jungle leaves. Freddy, her arm around my waist, peers past me into the darkness at the eerie glow.

"It's the beach." She decides. We slither down a root-snared mud slope towards the glowing beach.

"I've always loved phosphorescent colors," I moon, still wrapped up in the book on love.

Emerging from the trees we come upon a glorious scene. The beach is a stunning blue-green glowing crescent. The erie, beautiful phosphorescene extends into the diamond clear water; the luminous sand glows mystic blue everywhere in the pass. I can see the bottom clearly even in 10 meters of water.

"What in hell's name is going on?" Lowell whispers, his face illuminated by the brightly glowing beach.

"I don't know, but it is really something," I whisper back.

Freddy nudges me towards the dinghy. "Lets get back to Moira while we can see it." Moira is clearly visible in the glowing anchorage. A ghost ship suspended in blackness, lit from below.

The outboard weaves a blazing comet trail of phosphorescence as we race across to Moira. Once aboard we stand on the deck and look out at the wonderland of light.

"I have never ever seen anything like this," I say in bewilderment. The whole sea floor glows, illuminating the entire sub-sea world of the lagoon. Moira hangs suspended above a dreamscape where fish are sinuous glowing tracks in the otherwise transparent sea. I look up. There is no world there, just blackness fringed with coconut palm fronds lit from below.

About four meters from Moira, in mid water, an explosion of light novas a major event in the marine milkyway.

"Wow!" Patty breathes, "Look at that!" And there is another burst, and another. Blue-green luminous blossoms sparkle in the harbor, an eerie fire-works display by the sea spirits. We gawk at Moira and the trees and each other in wonder.

"I think those are palolo worms spawning," I venture. "Long skinny sea worms. They normally live in the coral. For a few nights of the year they spawn by sticking their tails out of the rocks and twisting them off. The tail segments are loaded with gametes. In some species there are male tails and female tails. They swim towards the surface. The anus of the female tail becomes a mouth and when it comes upon a male tail the female engulfs the male and the whole thing explodes. I think that's what we're seeing. Look there, see the little comet trail? Watch it. There's another. Sure, they are everywhere. There, another explosion right where all the squiggly comets come together."

I go below and get a flashlight. In it's beam we see the water is filled with tiny, skinny, highly motivated segmented worms. They ribbon towards the light and soon we have a huge ball of yellow, brown, maroon, and blue worms slither-jiggling off Moira's side. I switch off the light.

"Wooooweeee!" Lowell sighs. The massed worm segments form an enormous burst of phosphorescence.

"I think the sand and the beach are aglow from their eggs." I whisper.

We stand there looking at the blue-green Sea-cathedral for a long time.

Downwind to Oz

The wind vane is holding us on course for a change. Patty has made a rare appearance on deck, joining us in the cockpit for lunch. I don't know why but lunch always seems to be a dangerous part of any voyage. If something is going to go wrong it happens just after the food is served.

The wind is exactly abeam and is a steady, smooth 20 knots. The clouds parted nicely for my noon shot so we know exactly where we are. Moira is sailing in the troughs of the waves, steady and easy. Lowell and I set a double reef in the main and the 110 lapper is full out. The knotmeter shows a hot 7.5 knots. All is well with the world.

Freddy passes up the food. I look around nervously. Everything is OK, the only thing in sight is a small brown sea-turn which must have flitted down from Tagula to wing us on. It dips down into the trough of a wave and one tiny wingtip seems to skim the surface of Sea. Lowell is on watch.

We start in on the big bowls of steaming hot Chili.

"See how she likes that?" Lowell asks, referring to his latest effort to trim Moira's sails to perfection. "You got to ease off just enough so the leach just begins to stutter. That's where you get maximum power out of the main."

"Mmmmph," I reply around the big mouthful of bread-dipped chili.

"Too right, little buddy." He grins.

Patty is glowering at her chili like it was poison. Nobody says anything for a time, then Freddy asks, "Can I get you something else?" Patty shakes her head, looks more than slightly green and vanishes below.

"She hasn't eaten anything for two days," I say to Lowell. "Are you sure she won't take any sea sick pills?"

He looks up from his almost clean bowl and shakes his head.

Freddy takes the bowls below while I sip my cold glass of water. I would really like to help Lowell and Patty if I could but Freddy has already told me to stay out of it and Lowell has not said anything at all about the obvious tension between them. Sometimes, at night, I hear their muffled voices above the slosh of Moira's passage. Arguing. Patty sounding like she is crying. It's not just sea sickness, but being sea sick sure as hell doesn't help.

I am sitting next to the companionway looking aft. Lowell is sitting on the starboard cockpit seat looking into space. Freddy and Patty are down below. I look out to starboard, past Lowell, at the gently curving horizon.

"YOW!" The big white bow of a ship slices off my view. It is right next to us! I leap up to grab the wheel when I realize it is too late to do anything. And anyway the ship has already missed us, passing to starboard by maybe 30 meters.

This is not a recommended view of a ship at sea.

"Holy Sweet Mother of Christ!" Lowell gasps, staring bug-eyed as the huge ship thrums by, a wall of steel. I duck under the awning and look up and up and up towards the bridge of the ship. There is nobody up there looking down. I don't think they saw us.

If we didn't see THEM, it is not likely they saw us. Had either of us been a few meters off our headings Moira would no longer exist.

Freddy is on deck beside me, watching as the wake of the ship rolls towards us. We roll in the surge, all of us standing there, limp with shock, watching the stern of the ship dwindle into the distance. We were very very close to death while we sat and idled away the time.

Freddy turns on Lowell and growls, "It was your watch! It was your duty to look around the horizon every twenty minutes! You damn near killed us all!"

Lowell's face is white. So is mine. I should have realized Lowell was not watching. We are all tired. There had been nothing visible on the horizon when we started lunch. But it only takes twenty minutes for a ship to appear from behind the horizon and reach a point of collision.


The Australian Customs patrol boat Vigilante intercepts us close abeam Green Island. It roars past, throwing a huge wake, spins around behind us and neatly nips off the fishing line we have been trailing astern. She settles down in the water about 20 meters astern.

"What's going on?" I call. No answer. They don't hail us, just tail us. We are sailing along nicely, doing a trim 7 knots.

"Maybe they are just on a joy ride," Freddy suggests. "If they want us to stop they'll tell us so."

We keep sailing and they keep almost exactly 20 meters behind us, right behind us. "Nice of them to welcome us," Lowell observes.

"That was a $20 lure they cut with their prop," I grumble, but landfall after a long passage is always such a good feeling I am soon happy again.

It has been an excellent passage, the wind right on the beam or slightly aft of the beam. We've averaged 6.8 knots. As we tie up at the yacht clearance wharf in Cairns, I say, "Thanks Daniel. The winds were just perfect." We have, except for the morning after we left Buma, had perfect sailing conditions since our evil spirit was exorcised.

The Customs boat ties up directly astern of us. Nobody gets off. They just sit there watching. I go aft and ask what the procedure is for clearing in and an officer tells me, "Wait." So we wait. Finally the yacht clearance crew shows up; quarantine, customs and immigration troop aboard.

Quarantine is interested in Walter the Cat and our Aloe vera plant. We sign a bond assuring Walter will not go ashore in Australia. There is a $500 fine if he does. No problem. Walter is happy aboard. Alina, our plant, however must be confiscated.

"Fine," Freddy snaps, "When it gets off the vessel by itself you can confiscate it. Until then it is part of the official medical supply cabinet and stays exactly where it is."

If I said that there would be hell to pay. But Freddy pulls it off without a hitch. Everyone is polite and the formalities are over quickly.

Exactly one hour and thirty two minutes later Patty is off the Moira. Lowell follows close behind. For most of the crossing she stayed locked in the forward cabin. Their relationship went from bad to worse to terminal. Not much fun for Patty but Lowell maintained his casual good humor through it all and Patty kept to herself and did not make life terrible for the rest of us. We never inquired and were never told what the problem was.

And now, here we are. Alone. In Australia. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no plans, no ideas, nothing. Just here. Reinhard and Arlene on Ganesh are anchored just next to us and Maxene and Patrick Price on Rozinante are just a bit further inside the harbor. They also have nothing to do, nowhere to go, no plans. While this may be normal for Yachties, it isn't normal for me. Here I am, Ph.D. and all, and if I'm not DOING a project I feel like I'm wasting time. Something will come up.

Something does. From left to right, Maxene, Reinhard (holding Kiki), Arnene, Freddy (holding Walter), Reinhard's friend, and Patrick, looking at me.

The Yachties are aboard for a party only minutes after we are anchored. Reinhard and Arlene bring their cat Kiki with them, which Walter thinks is terrific. Maxine tells us that she is working on one of the sport fishing boats. Nobody else is doing much yet.

We head ashore to see the town, get acquainted with Australia, look around. One of the first things I do is buy a newspaper. On the front cover is a picture of the bow of a gigantic supertanker tied up to a wharf in Japan. There is the mast and standing rigging of a yacht, about our size, hanging from the anchor. The captain of the supertanker never knew he hit anything until someone pointed it out to him on arrival in Japan. Somewhere, out there in mid Pacific, a yacht not too unlike Moira wasn't keeping watch. No doubt everyone aboard died as a result.

I am in culture shock, seeing all those white Anglo-Saxon skins everywhere, all around, filling the stores and streets. After a year and a half in countries where white skins were few and far between, the feeling of being hidden in the crowd is a novel relief. To be with your own kind was something I had not missed until we came here.


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