Get stoned in Easter Island
When a 2,000 miles long crossing turns out without a hitch, the prudent captain knows that trouble must soon be expected on land. Respecting my ‘crew-hunt’ decalogue, the bible for offshore sailors, when we let go the anchor just off Hanga Roa at 1900 of Christmas Eve, 1999, the boat was shipshape and clean, the crew and Captain shaved, the Port Captain duly radioed and everyone was ready to desembark. Happiness is hard to achieve on an empty stomach, therefore we first concentrated our attention on the menu of a restaurant with a perfect terrace with boat view and lots of beer in the cellars. My own feelings were greatly enhanced by the succesful crossing and its pleasing effect on my ego could hardly be spoilt by any troubles the crew could raise in the land of Moais. I had already learnt that when unleashed, crew who have been forced to bahave for weeks in a boat can attain enviable levels ashore. But, I foolishly said to myself, problems ashore are someone else’s trouble. It was thus with a light state of mind, greatly enhanced by Chilean lager, that I waved the eager gang off to the local disco and went back aboard in the rolly anchorage. When, the following morning, my private band of hangover hooligans emerged from the bunks with no hands missing, I knew that all was well, for nothing is as dangerous as the first night out. Anyway, when I sensed that mostly everyone was willing and able, I radioed the Port Captain for instructions about where to go. I knew that the small haven of Hanga Piko had been closed after a gale some years before had nearly washed all the boats away, so we were all more or less ready to a series of watches and rolly nights out in the roads.
‘Good morning Sir, yo usaid you wanted to speak to me this morning’
‘Yes Captain, I was worried for the problems you have aboard’
The crossing, as I said before, had been perfect so I could not understand what problems the Port Captain was talking about, and I said so,
‘Captain, you haven’t understood well. You have to tell me what problems you have with the boat’
‘But I have none…’ I was nonplussed.
‘Yes you do. You must have a problem’
‘But we don’t’
‘Listen to me Captain, you must have a problem, you see?’
‘No, I cannot understand’ I felt an idiot.
‘Ok, let’s put it this way. You know that we have a very sheltered harbour called Hanga Piko, right?’
‘Yes, and you closed it some years ago, right?’
‘Corecto, you are well informed. What you might not know is that we cannot deny its use to vessels in distress’
I saw the light. Even my hangover fog was not thick enough to hide that precious clue.
‘Well, sir, you are very kind to ask, in effect we have a problem with the radio’. Why of all things I said the problems were in the instrument I was using is a matter of conjecture… advanced senility, alcoholic numbness or sheer stupidity?
‘Yes I can hear it does not work very well. Anyway, if you want, in this case of emergency, you can enter Hanga Piko. We’ll send a pilot out, whose cost is 100 US dollars’
A pilot! I mean, I was to use a pilot! Like a real ship… I was liking this chap more ad more… We didn’t see much of the Island apart from a line of very large and apparently extremely heavy statues staring stupidly inland, but I was already loving it… I imagined a wise old salt with a pipe and a cool air asking us about our crossings to his beloved island, where we were welcome, was it not for the fact that we were the only vessel around, probably for more than a 1,000 miles, being Easter Island the most geographically isolated place on the planet. The emotion was even able to distract me from the question I should have asked: why a pilot?
After an hour an easy going chap came out from behind the point: curiosity, words and comradeship were utterly absent from his Polynesian face. He moved the left arm in what could be suspected to be a ‘follow me’ gesture and turned around, as soon as our iron was up. Well, I said, as long as he knows where to go… So we started to follow him. It was soon after we turned the point that we could see clearly two things: first the reason why we needed a pilot; second: horror. The launch was pointing straight to a rocky shore where surf was battering heavily, raising vast breakers along an apparently unbroken line. Soon afterwards we saw that there was a small section of the shore where breakers were lighter and towards this point the launch was headed. My first inkling that while closing in the passage would have looked bigger was greatly affected by optimism. Same for the height of the rollers, that continued happily to hide the launch completely at our view.
Time is tricky at times. We eagerly waited for a harbour for 12 days, and now we were closing in too fast. In a matter of seconds the launch dissappeared again behind a roller and after few seconds she was flat inside the harbour and turning left. Before I could realize it, a wave began to raise Cadeau and surf her right in the middle of two dilapidated walls, the depth gauge falling and my knees rocking. In a matter of instants I was in a pond-like surface and turning left into a small basin with just a small bunch of local launches lazily moored. A light surge could be felt and all was calm and slow, apart from the swiftness a 100-buck note changed hands. We were moored at Easter Island, and now could leisurely explore it and enjoy a Christmas lunch. We were moored at Easter Island. All was well. Apart from the radio of course…
Apart from the fact that you are in the most isolated place on earth and forgetting the presence of hundreds of massive stone statues looking towards a fine green island with the most perfect blue sea behind, Easter Island is not much to speak about. I mean, let’s not forget the impressive volcanic crater and the green meadows overlooking the ocean. What is really remarkable is that it’s a perfect place to provision for a blue-water crossing. I know, there’s nothing there, but somehow all you need can be found. It’s a perfect introduction to south America. But let’s move with order. Once into the harbour we went to pay our hommage to the Port Captain, Fabian Aravena. A young and very pleasant chap, who soon invited us for dinner, a dinner that proved interesting and very agreeable. We returned the invitation and he dined on Cadeau, and a nice friendship was soon born. So it was with a certain degree of surprise that I received an official invitation to show up at the Port Offices for official matters.
‘Marco, mi amigo, sorry to disturb you, but there is a small matter I have to discuss with you’
‘Be my guest, Fabian, fire off…’
‘Well, we received an official report that you arrived here a crew of six and you might leave in seven’
‘It looks that one of your lads got… let’s see… acquaitened with a subject who is considered persona non grata. We got a file from the Interpol’…
‘Don’t you have something to tell me?’
‘It’s a long story’
‘We’ve been here 4 days, shouldn’t take more, and we risk to stay here forever…’
‘Well, you know the first night out, some of the locals got a little excited’
‘I was wondering how come nothing happened’
‘Well, it was nothing much, really. They wanted to get my cap, and you know I am attached to my cap, the dates of my friends who died and all that… Could not possibly let it go’
‘I see that, but when does the girl come in?’
‘She was very effective in calming the place down, man, things were a step away from mayhem, these polynesians are tough nuts’
‘Yeah, don’t tell the rugby players… the girl, chaz…’
‘But man, she is not involved, you know?’
‘Involved in what?’
‘In the interpol business, it’s a case of mistaken person. It’s not her’
‘You mean that there are two loose, 7-months pregnant american women in Easter Island?’
‘Must be so, sir, I also called Interpol to check’
‘You did WHAT?’
‘She saved my cap dude…’
‘So who is she?’
‘She is a widow, man, the father of the creature just died falling with his Porscha from the Key West causeway, taking most of his dough with him, so she’s left alone and penniless’
‘Chaz?’ Andrea said
‘Did you really spend six years in the Navy?’
‘You know I did’
‘What did you learn then?’
‘Chaz, I mean, it looks a trifle strange, you must admit that’
‘I know, man, but she’s so sweet and gentle’
‘Anyway, you must know that we are not taking her with us’
‘But no one planned to’
‘She did, apparently, and the voice went around, man… Tell her to shut up, or even better tell her to buzz off’
So that’s why when we left Easter Island everyone, included all the seven carabineros and every single uniform around the island was there to see us out. Not before Fabian could make some nice jokes about the Us navy, of course.
If Fabian was the highest political authority of the Island, his practical counterpart was a large dude whose name is Juan Edmunds Paoa, proud owner of the only easter island service station. Now, what you can have, even in modern service stations, is rather well renowned. But not here. In Juan Edmund’s Easter Island Service Station you could get… everything.
‘What do you mean with everything? Ther’s nothing here’
‘I mean everything, Marco. Write a list’
‘A list of what I need? But I need tons of things’
‘And I need to rent a car’ said Nick
‘Can I have a horse? Added Paola
‘To rent, eat or ride?
‘What about girls?’ Nick again…
‘No problem’ that was the standard answer. Anything could be had, and he was the man to find it. Juan ‘Nick Holden’ Edmunds. So we did challenge him:
The list: 5 frozen chickens, 60 litres of red wine, 30 kgs of potatoes, 30 kgs of flour, 10 litres of tomato sauce, salt and pepper, 6 sausages, 2 big boxes of Mars, chocolate, tea and coffee, 15 kgs of pasta, 10 kgs of rice (1 of Basmati), batteries (normal and for Nikon cameras), a portable floppy disk reader, 180 eggs, 5 kgs of sugar, 10 jugs of water, 400 litres of fresh water, 60 bottles of beer, baking powder, maple syrup, 2 kgs of butter, olive and suflower seed oil, a car to rent, a horse to ride, and a lost lens for Andrea’s camera (that was not found). Girls Nick found by himself, as usual.
On December 31st, one of the planes flying from Santiago bound to Papeete unloaded a bunch of tourists AND all our provisions, except the frozen chickens…
‘You know, Marco, I knew you were leaving the 2nd, they would be unfrozen by then, so I arranged for a separate delivery’
The chickens were promptly delivered directly to the boat in the morning of the 2nd.
Also present at our departure a bunch of local fishermen very happy we were leaving the harbour, the chick Nick finds in every port and deeply falls in love with for 34 hours, two Italians who were having their holidays at the beach by Andrea’s, various tourists, cats and dogs.
Not far away the Moais were disdainfully giving their shoulders to us, watching silently the land they were carved from.
All dreamers have this exact word in their heart, mind and soul. Dreams begin in books and I was sure a mayor departure would have open my wings wide and spun my ego up to heaven, considering all the poetry and prose singing the deep significance of leaving. Cadeau and her captain’s mood ware quite different on January 2nd, 2000. There was a small crowd standing around the tiny pool of the haven at hanga Piko, Easter island, middle of nowhere. They were cheerin’up a bunch of six sardined in a plastic box leaving for the end of the world, no stops in between. The crew laboriously cast off a web of lines tangled up by days of struggles with crazy local fishermen, hoisted an anchor set on a breakwater, slowly followed a local “pilot” launch in the nightmarish access path in between 2-metre breaking surf, waved hands to the rather astonished by-standers, entered the swell and turn SSE.
What the fuck am I doing? “Caution: the data for the area S of 40° and W od 80° is relatively sparse and very few vessels usually sail these waters”… “ The area covered by this volume is exposed to an almost unbroken series of depressions and troughs that move e across the area. The weather in all seasons is predominantly wet and stormy, with cloudy skies and poor visibilities”. We were leaving for 20 days of this stuff. Unfortunately, Easter Island is rather short of yacht brokers, let alone of port services, and one is basically forced to leave sooner or later. Fortunately, moral was high aboard, spirits light and happy, excitement soaring, new year’s hangover not totally swept off, and, last but not least, galley well filled. All feelings that, considered from a navigation point of view, might lead an unexperienced crew to disaster. Our only advantage was that we did not think much about it.
We were going to enter soon the realm of westerlies, running around the world from the 35th parallel to South. This is what everyone knows, and we did too. What was not clear is the way these are blowing. If one expects something similar to the trades, just stronger and more boisterous, he will soon be disappointed. The same feeling of deception will be perceived with those tales of large, incredibly large waves rolling fast and in good organization. Again, if one wants to find some reassurement in statistics, especially those saying that average wind speeds in the trades are not much different than those in the roaring forties, he will soon send to hell the concept of average, which implies that 20 and 20 and 0 and 40 have the same average value.
While the climates in the latituedes between the parallels 30 S and N are controlled by two very large anti-cyclonic systems, blowing steady and moderate winds, the southern sea weather patters is different. It looks more like, when seen on the chart, a competition of Turkish Dervish dancers seen from the second floor, each of them spinning fast and faster, holding a silk stripe in each hand, a rush of whirling red and blue lines running E. Each dancer is a depressionary system and the silk stripes the warm and cold fronts. In between, calms prevail.
So while the easterlies kicked our ass badly, pushing Cadeau on a perfect S course closehauled and banging in jumps from a wave to another, for the best confort of those trying to sleep in the forecastle, the 40th parallel S, which I was expecting more or less as a defined gate with girls and beaches to the N and a frightful arena full of wild beasts to the S, welcomed us with 2 days of perfectly calm seas and winds.
The second evening spent chatting and smoking on the deck, we have a wind dance: longer delays will be heavy on our food supplies. Wooden and stone Moais are set on deck, anyone shows off his own personal good luck idol, and a moderate westerly called for.
The next afternoon, 17th of January, 15 days out, a halo forms around the sun. The Nw is warmly blowing stronger and stronger. The air is humid, milky and heavy. Clouds puff in all greys possible patterns, running east and shadowing blue islands of sun between greenish ambiguous squadrons. The darvish is approaching, ready to blow his warm red stripe on us, dancing there in the middle of the ocean. Waves are coming from every possible westerly point. While we enjoy the freshly raised, short and steep waves of the NW warm front, the long and oldish SW swell, running fast and announcing the blue stripe of the cold front, blowing some hundred miles W right now, are rapidly increasing.
On the 18th of January the West Symphony is singing in its full harmony. This is what one sails for. Blue squadrons of two-storey semi-detached houses are rushing towards South America, definitely Not long enough, when compared to their heigth, to make for sweet inclinations. White roofs follow each other at distressing closeness, lifting the poop at the very last second in a sound of spring waterfall. The hull behaves like a downhill skier jumping out of the gate at Kitzbuhel, quickly positioning herself on that unnatural inclination that points the bow right into the blue abyss. Speed raises fast and white mustaches of foam are sprayed out from the bow, now completely into the wave, sometimes just the pulpit out of the greenness. The surf ends miraculously when the wave is under the keel, the hull breathing and the white wings now filling with faster air, all ready for the next. It goes on and on and on. Cadeau flies on the water, a jib boomed to starboard, the strain on those well known sheets suspended on the blue, a three-reefed mainsail well open to port, the boom like a powerful crane pulling hard forward. It is simply perfect. Time flies. Land is closing. Albatrosses glide. Crepes and bechamel sauce are dished out of the kitchen, spirits are at the highest, speed values shouted proudly by helmsmen looking for a new speed record, all the rigging moving as one.
When night came in, not a single solid noise was perceivable. No lines pulling, no squeaks of metal. All the components of the boat were running as one, well trimmed and set. The sound was just fluid. The water rushing under the hull, the wind whistling in the shrouds. Nothing else. Perfect sailing, that is all.
Morning was marvellous. Sky was dark but alight, low but clear, full of clouds of any kind and in the same time with blue shining patches in between at rare intervals.
Water changed colour in the 40s. No more deep tonalities of wonderful but banal blue. The boat was now sailing on a sea of sage, all leaves turned upside down and sprayed with morning dew, a field alive in the wind, with patches of silver shining where the leaves were hit and distracted by the sun. This greenish brilliancy never left the waters on the Pacific side of the continent.
The system progresses as we approach South America. The air freshens at the Turkish dancer gets ready to whimp us with the blue stripe, the cold front, now closer when looking at those rollers from WSW, higher and steeper. The afternoon in again under the control of grey.
Land fall in the morning.
On the 20th of January we spot land at 5 in the morning. Blowing 30 and more, stronger gusts. The sky in ready for war: regiments of clouds in endless forces shoot acute lights, enchant and illude with brief rainbows, confound throwing black curtains of sleeting rain, roll ahead like crazy and excited mongol horsemen shouting terrifying howls of war, sure to win against those black shadows ahead. The contrasts of lights, the speed of clouds and the frequency of the changes in the fluidy world around us, mixed with the constant shriek of the wind, looks close to an idea of apocalypse.
The northern shores of Isla Wager now shine wet in the brilliant light of the blue clouds, now simply lay black and sad while the squall approaches, now disappear under the hit of the squall. The swell now feels the land and the top of the waves sometimes break sooner than one could possibly desire. The horizon is white and Cadeau is running towards it well above her theorical speed, surfing on the streaks of foam designed by the gales.
“Marco man, have a look there, I see breakers right ahead”.
“Chaz, there should be a group of rocks around but it is supposed to be 2 miles to the S, keep going”.