Answering the question, “do you like cruising?”, is not a simple yes or no.
The “good” of the cruising life is extraordinary. For instance, our Thanksgiving day on Pohnpei is priceless. We leave Laysan anchored in a picture postcard lagoon and dinghy to catch a taxi for our 9:30 excursion to Nan Madol. Brian and Jenny go separately, hoping for one last bargaining session on a hand carved whale. Our taxi is already occupied by two diminutive, elderly Pohnpeians who look at us quizzically as we load our gear and jam our bodies into the small, unairconditioned car. The old man politely asks us if we are “visitors” and they listen with much interest as we tell our story. Dropping them off at a simple house in the jungle, they positively beam when we say their home is very cute, very nice. They stand and wave good bye as the driver whips the car around to head to our destination. On the six mile drive to The Village, our driver talks and gestures with much enthusiasm. However, we understand essentially nothing since his mouth is full of dripping, red beetle nut, an organic sedative that “calms” him. He spits occasionally into his Coke can and continues his indecipherable monologue.
At The Village, we meet our Pohnpeian guides for the day, Jay and Bernard, as well as our fellow passengers, Brian and Jenny, a Japanese couple, and newlyweds from San Francisco. The vehicle for the day is a 25’ foot flat bottomed skiff powered by twin 60 hp outboards. Jay, a handsome local boy that Jenny and I have a few girly giggles over, literally sits astride the two twin outboards like a mariner cowboy screaming over the coral shoals at 30 knots. First stop is Manta Ray Alley. Jay spots a ray at the surface, a big fellow at least 5’ across. We all drop over into water that is so deep, we cannot see the bottom. John grabs me and points out a reef shark gliding immediately below me. Eerie. The rays are harder to find, but we see schools of large fish and a fine coral cliff with loads of tropical fish. As we are about to leave, Jay finds us the elusive ray, and we see it flying through the deep water below.
As we hold on for another roaring ride through a driving rain squall, we slow to pass mere feet from a low coral atoll inhabited by a sole old man, brown as shoe leather, standing on his shore watching our passing. The atoll is only about 10’ wide by 50’ with one thatch lean to; a real life castaway scene. Jay takes us to a deserted island for our lunch, unloading our chairs so that have a comfortable respite, sitting with our feet in the lapping water. No time for lounging, we load up and head to Nan Madol.
Nan Madol, a future World Heritage site, is comprised of 92 small rectangular man-made islets joined by a system of Venice-like canals. Constructed on a reef in the eleventh century, the sites most impressive structure is Nan Douwas, a double walled fortress protecting stone burial vaults. The walls are over twenty five feet high, made of stacked basalt columns, and stone pathways lead around the perimeter. Jay, stands solemnly in front of our group and tells us tales of the brothers who sailed to Pohnpei to oversee the two hundred year construction of Nan Madol, “Places in Between”. His story is that the two ton basalt pillars were moved by levitation from Sokehs Rock, 25 miles away. Wandering through Nan Douwas, light rain misting down on the black basalt, magic feels like a fine explanation for the existence of the massive walls. Scrambling into kayaks, we set off along the ancient canals, marveling at the remnants of the lost civilization. A spotted ray about four feet across glides under the kayaks, mangrove forests hang over the waterways, and the waves pound against the outer walls of the ruin. Reassembling in the long skiff, Jay guns the twin engines and we embark on a hair raising ride through mangrove tunnels and then out through the coral reef. Our final stop is Kepirohi Waterfall, a 100’ cascade of fresh water that refreshes and chills us all. After such a day, the answer to a cruising life is a resounding “yes”.
However, with “the good”, there is also “the bad”. Our passage from Pohnpei to Majuro is a grueling endurance test with challenges of 15’ waves, 40 knot winds, and grey rain. The constant rumbling of the diesel Iveco, on one hand comforting on the other an incessant drone, fills every waking and sleeping hour. Constant motion makes for an exciting ride, “like at Disney”, Brian says; only I can’t get off for eight days. No energy to make food or eat food, no power to do anything other than the most essential tasks. We spend our hours at watch, chatting, sleeping, reading, and playing solitaire. I cannot say that I like the passage making.
And with “the bad” comes “the ugly”. Not naming names but in our days at sea, I have identified one familiar blue striped shirt worn day in and day out for the past eight days. Someone has not brushed their hair in a very, very long time. Yet another is committing a fashion faux pas combining a blue dolphin print skirt with a mismatched aqua floral top. A good day is getting teeth brushed by noon. Beds haven’t been made since Subic Bay. Hairy legs, sweaty backs, vomiting out the window, yikes we need a Glamour magazine makeover!
Yet, when all is said and done, cruising is a journey, an experience, moments of time to be cherished and re-lived with a smile and a laugh.
December 2, 2011
Local time 17:08
07 04.97 N 169 10.34 E
One day from Majuro