Adventures with the pirate.
Posted: Jun 03 2011
I wrote the last blog post while floating on the sublime lagoon of Raiatea, the birthplace of Polynesian culture. The hazy but majestic crag of Bora Bora sat on the horizon behind me while verdant Mount Temehani rose up in front of where my father's boat was tied up to a mooring. Blue skies revealed the colors of the land and water that make Polynesia such a consistent draw for honeymooners. A 20 knot trade wind tore down off the mountain keeping things blissfully cool in the shade of the cockpit.
My father and his friend Alain had just arrived after an eventful crossing from New Zealand, complete with near hurricane strength winds and equipment failure that forced them to limp into port for repairs in Rarotonga. The low pressure system that did the damage was so vast and powerful that the 747 that brought me to Tahiti from California tacked on more than two hours to avoid the worst part.
My father, Patrick Humbert will be 70 in less than two months. I can't exactly say that he is slowing down though. A few years ago he encountered a storm so violent between New Zealand and New Caledonia, he lost all navigation control and had to call out an S.O.S. that was picked up by a military ship. The massive rescue ship offloaded his shaken crew but in the rough conditions came terrifyingly close to shredding the boat with it's giant propellor that was churning, half out the water. In a scene straight out of a real life James Bond movie, he cut the rope that tied him to the behemoth just in time, saving himself and his boat. He declined further help then drifted happily alone on ocean currents for several days until finally being close enough to New Caledonia to call a friend for a tow in to safety.
I was alone because I had flown in to visit with him but as my plane was touching down I saw the boat headed toward the anchorage and still a little ways off. When I got my luggage, he was nowhere to be seen so I asked a friend I happened to meet at the airport for a ride to the anchorage, in hopes of catching him before he headed off to get me. I hitched a ride in a dinghy with a yachty, hoping to surprise them on the boat but when I got there they had gone to pick me up.
An exhausting but awesome week of harvesting pearls and accumulating sleep deprivation had me nodding off after an hour of reading and writing. I awoke to a clang and a jerk that can only be described as feeling wrong. I jumped up and noticed straight off that the two spear-like hulls of the catamaran were no longer pointed at the mountain and into the whipping trades. In a mounting panic I ran to the front of the boat to have my fears confirmed. The mooring had broken and we were now headed backwards towards an expensive charter catamaran with no one on board. I yelled out lamely for help but only one person was watching and he called out for me to drop the anchor. Right. Easy. But how? I figured that the controls would be in the cabin so I rushed in to find nothing, cursing myself for not being able to remember from the last time, ten years earlier, I had been aboard. Just as we started to get perilously close to the charter boat, the wind shifted, turned and started pushing us forward now towards a freshly painted yellow,racing catamaran. This time the business end of the boat was headed like two massive javelins unavoidably, certainly towards disaster.
I hurried onto one of the hulls and shimmied, monkey style forward on the slick aluminum, focusing hard to not fall off. I reached the front just before impact and made a bridge with my body, Wiley Coyete-esque, that got accordioned together until I couldn't take it any longer. The second hull slowed dramatically and ended up giving the hull of the yellow catamaran the tiniest kiss as the back of the boat was now getting caught by the wind, whipping our boat out to clear water.
A second, less hurried look at the anchor revealed how to get it down so I finally dropped it in over 30 meters of depth and breathed one massive sigh of relief. My father and Alain got back about 20 minutes later. In
French, "you little $h!t, we've been looking all over for you!" was the affectionate greeting I was treated to. "Wow, sorry. By the way, is this where you anchored?" We all laughed about it later over some good French wine and fresh fish.