Never Ending Story

The Tuamotus Diaries #27, Day 57 – July 24th 2016


Back when I was a kid, a long, very long time ago, I was idling at home during school’s summer break when I saw a program on the television with a review of the “movies of the season”, one of the films in focus being the “Never Ending Story”. The theme song of the movie captivated me, and something in the review drew my attention, for I kept a faint but enduring interest to watch it. Many decades later, finally, while here in Makemo, a friend from another yacht gracefully lent her copy of the Never Ending Story to us. I was thrilled. That evening I prepared biscuits and sat on our main salon’s settee in between Paulo and Raquel, ready to watch a movie that had been on my list since I was their age (it was just the three of us onboard for Adriana was back in the US on a work-related trip). It turns out that either the “movies of the season” TV program grossly misrepresented it, or I totally didn’t get the review, for the movie is bad. But, like, REALLY BAD. So bad that even the kids concurred that they felt like having lost two hours of their lives to it. The story has legs, but the director let it fall through every possible crack – from terrible actors to wasted characters and a shallow and uninteresting plot development. Anyway, as we watched it, it did feel like it was a Never Ending Pain of a story.

And that brings me to the main theme of this post.

Adriana’s return voyage from the US back to us here in Makemo has been developing into quite an exercise in patience. A shit-show in some sense. A Never Ending Story.

It started on Thursday last week (that was 10 days ago), when she took her first flight from somewhere in the Central US to the West Coast, from where she would catch the overnight flight to Tahiti, and finally the last, short leg to Makemo. By Sunday morning (7 days ago) she should have arrived, and we took Pesto to the village’s treacherous anchorage to wait her up.

It so happens, though, that two of her three bags got lost on that first flight: while Adriana landed on San Francisco with one of the bags, another one was disoriented in Denver and the other hopelessly being offloaded in Salt Lake City – without us knowing that as of yet, obviously. Those bags contained precious items to us – from Raquel’s upcoming birthday present to our engine’s raw water pump and vacuum-bagged coffee. If not for their cost, the items in those bags are items that we can’t find here in the Tuamotus and are badly needed. So, she waited, keeping her two remaining flight reservations, and us, in suspense.

We sailed back to the safety of our anchorage in Punakura in waiting news from her. Our new countdown now was the flight departing for Tahiti on Wednesday. The first bag to be located was the one in Denver, and by Monday end-of-day Adriana already had it. The suspense remained for the last one. Was it worth it for her to keep on delaying her return (and incurring costs while waiting in San Francisco), or should she just call it quits, let go of the precious 3rd bag and come back? The answer came in a phone call on Tuesday, when the Salt Lake City final member of the troupe was located. It reached Adriana on Wednesday still on time for her to catch the flight to Papeete in Tahiti. There she waited for another two days, for flights to Makemo are quite sparse, finally boarding at the earliest hours of Saturday (that would be yesterday).

Again we raised our anchor in Punakura, and headed back to the village to finally reunite with Adriana. It was windy, and from the “wrong” direction, but it was a detail that we didn’t pay attention to as we motored mightily towards our reunion point.

But what was supposed to be a happy return nearly turned into a rescue operation.

Upon boarding in Papeete, she was informed that only one of her three bags would be boarded, for the plane was full with other important deliveries to Makemo – including baguettes. For the second time on this trip she was being parted with her luggage. There would be another flight the next day (that would be today, Sunday), and the bags might come then, so it was said. But they might not come either, so it was reiterated to her. Adriana texted the news to me, but the message never came through (on the meantime, our lovely satphone received 3 messages from friends scattered around the globe, and many others from Adri, but not the one which mentioned the missing bags).

We arrived to the village and the anchorage looked like a washing machine. The brisk 25kt SE breeze was raising 0.5 to 1mt wind waves which entered the anchorage totally free of obstructions. That, coupled with the anchorage’s bottom which is composed of a thin layer of sand over a hard bottom, made up for a tricky place. In fact, for the first time ever our anchor couldn’t hold Pesto, and we dragged dangerously to the toothy reefs just a few yards to the lee of us. I repositioned the boat, but it was clear I could not leave it alone. Instead, I kept the engine on, stood watch at the bow looking at fixed visual references on land – to check whether we were dragging again – and the kids had to go alone in the dinghy to collect Adriana on shore.

It may have taken them just a few minutes to return, but it felt like an eternity to me, roasting under the strong late-morning sun at the bow, and taken by the double anxiety of the kids on the dinghy and Pesto’s impending dragging onto the reefs again. But back they came, and my sudden relief was quickly rebuffed with the news that the bags hadn’t arrived. Worse, Makemo’s airport is in fact more akin to a regular street’s bus stop (note, I said bus STOP, not a Station), having nowhere to store anything. In other words, if Adriana wasn’t there when the bags arrived, they would probably be boarded again on the airplane and taken to some other atoll in the Tuamotus – an even worse outcome. The next flight’s arrival would be within 24 hours – today.

On normal circumstances, it shouldn’t be a drama at all. Adriana would come onboard, we would reacquaint ourselves of all that happened during the 50+ days we were on opposite sides of the world, share a nice meal, and wake up early the next day to go collect the missing bags at the airport. There was just one detail: the anchorage off the village was super dangerous on those conditions, and it was impossible for us to overnight there. We would have to sail back to Punakura, 16 miles up NW in the Atoll and then back again the next day. On the other hand, Adriana would HAVE to be at the Bus Stop, err Airport, by 10am the next day – that is Sunday, today – in order to receive the bags, should they come on this flight.

Poor Adriana had not even entered her home’s cabin yet when we made the uncomfortable decision that she would have to stay at the village for the night, whereas I took Pesto back to safety (weather is so fickle here that we couldn’t guarantee that we would be back the next day in time for her to be at the airport upon the airplane’s arrival). It was agreed that Paulo would stay with her, while Raquel would come with me.

Ok, now we needed to get Adriana back on shore. And I couldn’t leave Pesto alone on those conditions – the anchor could let go again at any moment, leaving us just under two minutes to react and take Pesto out of danger. Since the kids had gone once by themselves on the dinghy, we thought Raquel would be able to bring the dinghy by herself after dropping Paulo and Adri back on land. She agreed, and off they went. Standing at Pesto’s bow, slightly nauseated by the incessant pitching, checking our position against the makers on land, I watched the dinghy’s slow progress to shore, slow as it was to prevent the wind waves from splashing the crew. They finally made it into the protected boat basin, Adriana and Paulo went out, and Raquel started her return. But as soon as she made it into the open anchorage, the dinghy seemed to have stalled. I could see Adriana and Paulo talking to Raquel from the wall. She turned around and returned to the boat basin. I radioed Adri, and she told me Raquel couldn’t steer the dinghy on that wind. In hindsight, with less load, the dinghy got much more susceptible to the wind , and acquired a different driving attitude. Raquel is much too young to understand this and, as she noticed the difference in handling, she panicked and made it back to the basin.

So, here we were. Me, onboard a boat that was on the brink of being thrown on the rocks at any moment, and thus unable to leave her. Adri, Paulo and Raquel stranded on land, less than 300 meters away from me. For a moment I considered leaving the three of them on land, keeping the dinghy in the boat basin for the night. However, by then Adriana still had hopes she could find someone to take her, the missing two bags and Paulo back to Punakura on a powerboat – thus saving us to do yet another trip back to the village (it would be the third trip. In addition to the dangers of the anchorage, the motoring up and down the atoll was using up more of our precious fuel than we are comfortable to afford). Moreover, the weather is so fickle here that we didn’t know if I would be able to return the next morning – today – or not. Anyway, leaving the dinghy with them would totally exclude the Powerboat Option, making the third trip into the village a must.

Being a die-hard and resourceful as she is, Adriana quickly coaxed someone at the village to help out. Someone knew someone else that owned a small powerboat there. A few call outs later the powerboat owner showed up ready to help, a broad friendly smile on his face, and towed Adriana, the Dinghy and a frustrated Raquel back to Pesto. The launch took Adriana back to shore, Raquel helped me raise the anchor amidst the watery and windy mayhem, and off we went back to the safety of Punakura.

Gosh, reading back at this story, it is so long already – 3 pages on MS Word ! But that’s how the real story it covers has been. A constant Gerund, a sequence of uncertain events. A story that seems to never end.

Well, back to it, exchanging messages over last evening, we learned that Adriana couldn’t find a transportation back to Punakura today, so we go to the village’s wicked anchorage again.

At least it is not as windy as yesterday. It’s raining instead.

The airplane shall arrive at 10:30am. Or it shall not.

Adriana’s missing bags may be in it. Or they may not.

And this story may end today. Or it may not.

4 Replies to “Never Ending Story”

  1. hahahahahahaha oops, not, but! that’s a story isn’t it, fun writing er reading it for sure Alex, reminds me of a trip from Christchurch to Auckland on a 36 Ft Piver Tri, quite a few yrs ago. We had a Ford 10 petrol engine the owner of the boat had installed with it’s car gear box included, real magic bit of engineering – the guy was a mechanic – well it popped a valve and we needed the think to ‘drive’ around the East cape of the Nth Island of NZ, tri’s were not designed to do windward stuff see, well, not this one anyway. We decided to pop into Tokomaru Bay just Sth of that East cape, beautiful small bay with one big building to be seen from where we were coming from, “bet that’s a pub” it was. I decided I needed a shower (probably was the other 5 guys really, but hay…) To get to the local motor camp directly from the fishing boat wharf was either a long walk or quicker tender & 3 HP Seagull outboard motor trip which I favored, another of the crew came along – this boat trip to Auck was his first ever coastal sail, so was the tender trip.
    Off we went the tender sounding like a sparrow farting and all clothes in trash bags to stay dry. As I came up to shore (the beach) i found out the ‘beach’ wasn’t really, well it looked like a beach from where I was coming from….!
    The ‘beach’ sand, but 50 deg slope with dumpers to show, ah chit.
    “OK Brian, sit in the middle hands on both rails and DONT LOOK BACK”
    Brian was sitting in front, me rear on the throttle, way we went at right angles to those dumpsters, we’d surf in.
    Well, those dumpsters do make a noise, and they do always seem like they want to hop aboard when motoring in from the ‘beach’ but never seem to in my experience all those years as a kid on the beaches we lived near.
    I powered up, aimed for the ‘beach’ looking for a quiet ‘gap’ in the surf, found it! WooHoo weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…..
    And then Brian looked behind…… NO DON’T TURN AROUND…. too late lol.
    Tender cruised to starb’d, did a few barrel rolls and we were on the beach.
    Brian wasn’t impressed, I slipped off to have a shower, Brian sulked lol, couldn’t see the funny side of it all hahahaha I still have a laugh as I write this, poor bugger, (he was building a Ed Horseman 44 Ft Tri back home wanted the experience…..)
    Alex, we had to get back to the boat, walk, na, the tender needs to come back some how….
    “OK Brian, you sit, I push off the beach through to the rear breakers then you paddle until we can start the Seagull ok.”
    That done, I hop aboard and start the out board, Prrrrrrrrrrr, Prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, Prrrrrrrrrrrr……… Mmmmmmmm, “maybe she got a little drowned Brian, we’ll paddle a bit give her time to dry off a little” – all 3 parts that make up a Seagull outboard…..
    That didn’t work.
    So a 1 hr paddle back to the fisherman’s wharf only to find out that ol chessnut….. the gas had been turned off on the beach….. ah chit I knew that!
    Never heard back from Brian after that trip, wonder if he finished the boat?

  2. Hi Ed – good story. If Brian did finish his boat, after all this, he probably completed a circumnavigation by now 🙂
    Beach landings can be scary and filled with tension. We did barrel once in the Caribbean, many years ago. Dead outboard with bent shaft and all. Lesson learned.
    Nowadays we are much more conservative. But even then, it is impossible to always mitigate risks on dinghy landings. Earlier this year, while back in Mexico, we bent the outboard’s propeller while “forcing” our way into a river mouth. It was only last week that I replaced it with a brand new one. And, guess what, I just hit it on a coral head YESTERDAY !!!
    Oh well …

  3. Hi Hortensia,
    Early the following morning Raquel and I had to depart the safe anchorage without knowing whether the bags would arrive or not. It took 3 hours to get from the anchorage to the village, and another 3 to return. So, we simply couldn’t wait for the airplane to arrive, and took the risk instead.
    Adding to the suspense, the distance between the village and the anchorage was beyond our radios’ reach (no cell phone reception either), so we would only know any news – good or bad – as we got closer.
    But this story was meant to come to an end this time. And a positive one.
    As we approached the village, we found a happy Adriana and Paulo awaiting us with the remaining 2 bags 🙂
    It was still windy, though, and we had to replicate a similar operation to retrieve them. But this time, leveraging on the previous day’s learnings, we did it different. We anchored behind a concrete pier, much closer to the village’s landing place. Not feasible to stay there, but the best place for a stop-and-go exercise. Again, I kept Pesto’s engine running while the anchor kept us in place. And Raquel had a second chance to dinghy up to the village by herself – which she did flawlessly this time, thus cancelling the trauma of the previous day’s failed attempt.
    Within a few minutes all was back on board – Raquel, Adriana, Paulo and the 2 bags, and Pesto was steaming happily back to Punakura, our safe anchorage in Makemo.

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