4,680-nautical miles (Hawaii-Australia via Tonga):
…”To the Seawolf Class attack submarine off my port bow this is sailing vessel “Froia 2” bound Honolulu to Tonga, would you like us to alter course – over?” “ROGER – MAINTAIN YOUR RANGE & TAKE OUR STERN…” And so went my first and probably last dialogue with a submarine on the first evening out of Hawaii aboard “Froia 2”. It’s EXTREMELY rare to be close to one on the surface at sea, let alone on a collision course, to talk to them on the VHF or for it to be the flagship of America’s offensive under-sea arsenal no less! They must have been wondering how I knew exactly what class of sub she was. It was due to a long fascination with technology, design and naval architecture. For me, she was identified by the visually distinctive tapered shape on the base of her ‘sail’/coning tower! We did have their attention as well because we then saw her periscope swivel towards us reflecting the rays of the setting sun like a mirror!
It appeared she was en-route from from Pearl Harbor toward what I’m guessing would be her patrol grounds in the west Pacific while her captain likely enjoyed one last Hawaiian sunset on the bridge-deck smoking a cigar before descending for weeks or perhaps a month without seeing the sky until they’re return to Pearl…I remember well having read “The Hunt for Red October” while cruising and an incident with one of our cruising friends in what had been our first port of call in Nuku-Hiva, French Polynesia after leaving Hawaii in 1985. Here is quote I had written from my book about my circumnavigation that resulted from growing up cruising:
“The real beacons of memory along the way are the friends you make. It can’t be stressed highly enough what truly interesting people you meet that have cast off the trappings of shore life in exchange for the absolute freedom at sea. One such ‘oceanic vagrant’ was a guy rowing past our boat one afternoon in Nuku-Hiva with a beard and straw hat. We said “How are you?” He promptly answered – “I’m just trying to survive!” This was the start of a friendship that would last countless ports of call, anchorages and the six years stretching toward the distant western horizon.
American single-handed sailor Cliff Moore ended up being my dad’s best friend and with whom he enjoyed sharing morning coffee down the yonder blue road on the deck of his then 26ft steel sloop “Fiddler’s Green” (and then a Worm catamaran after Cliff traded boats in an out-right trade at Aitutaki in the Cook Islands). Of particular interest one morning in Nuku-Hiva however, was when we noticed Cliff rowing two guys in black suits out to his boat. Seeing men in black suits wouldn’t be unusual in the least if you were in a big city, but in a remote Marquasan anchorage it was somewhat of an oddity! We couldn’t help notice they stayed a few hours – how else do you entertain yourself in a small anchorage than spy on your neighbors?!
Cliff told us he was devastated by the revelation that his best friend from the Navy during the height of the Cold War – a certain Walker of the Whitworth spy-ring had been selling the highly classified lat and longitude positions of American submarines in the North Atlantic to the Soviet Union! He was devastated, because he never would have guessed his friend was capable of treason and espionage of the highest level. Cliff was evidently as patriotic as they come, so to find out the friend he thought he knew for so long was double-dealing with Mother Russia was something hard to swallow as you can well imagine!
The two guys in the suits had obviously been operatives from some classified branch of services such as the CIA and had come all the way from Washington to interrogate Cliff and give him a lie detector test while aboard the boat! Luckily Cliff was innocent and they didn’t haul him off in shackles for water-boarding interrogations…”
(The picture above illustrates our wind-powered craft “Froia 2’s” game of chicken with the 21st century’s most sophisticated nuclear powered attack submarine 😉
Anyway as illustrated in my prior blog entry describing the passage south on this yacht delivery it was picture perfect post encounter with the sub. And without repeating myself too much IT IS the people you meet along the way that are diamonds along the side of the road or in our case ‘or wake’!
So it was while enjoying our arrival lunch the day we arrived at Mangoes Cafe in Tonga with Adam and Linda, that I noticed an ad on the bulletin board of someone looking for crew from Tonga to New Zealand. What do you know – it was none other than a single-handed sailor I’d met 17-years ago in 1995 at the Cocos Keeling atoll in the Indian Ocean while on my own solo circumnavigation. He was currently nearly finished with another this time ‘wrong-way’ circumnavigation via the US east coast and Cape of Good Hope. Below is the description from that same book about this one particular ‘salt’ whom I’d back then:
“Their drinking buddy – single hander Carl aboard “Tamar”, with his cat San Choko (“Par-boiled Meat”), were anchored off my transom. He was circumnavigating solo on a 35-foot traditional gaffed-rigged schooner, with telephone pole masts to complement…cool. He claimed all the women in the world were in pursuit but that he was happy with his good old cat. Carl looks like he stepped out of some turn of the century hick town in the Midwestern U.S. with his huge bushy beard – however, he is as tough as he looks. Anyone that navigates EVERYWHERE strictly by sextant can be described as tough as nails…He was another disciple of the yacht “Cicada” gang, or maybe their vodka/water tank as was my Korean friend (1st Korean solo circumnavigator) Tony Kang on his Cal 3-30 “Proteus”. They all kept asking Marty if she needed more help offloading their ‘cargo’. I thought – “Why don’t we just hook up an I.V…?”
…It was also in Tonga that we also met the cool South African couple Adrian and Lisa aboard the Wharrm catamaran – “Two-Ticks”. We had a few great nights together including our last one at Port Maurel where they kept the rum flowing long into the night for our grand send-off 🙂 See you guys when I return to Cape Town in a few years!
So other than a big slow down post Equator en-route to Tonga when we nearly out of diesel (I bought some from a Samoan fishing boat named ‘Mid-Point’ I’d sighted at the same time 😉 while between the ‘Puka-Puka’ Islands and American Samoa! The skipper was originally from the North Shore of Hawaii and we had a good mid-ocean chat as fisherman do. Meanwhile, the artistic Renaissance in Tonga with master Tongan artisan Leonati (who’s carved all my signature ivory octopuses I’ve worn thru the years) is still going strong as is the artisan ‘Primrose’ who without fail has beautiful new woven baskets, bone carvings, fresh vegetables and lobster at the open market-place every morning. You can find him on the morning VHF net for the yachties at 8:30 every morning after the segment – “Anything about Anything”?
Pigs, goats and dogs still walk the streets freely as they did back when I was here as a child twenty-three years ago in 1989 with my parents and the customs inspector remembers me from my many arrivals to Tonga in the years since! Amazing, considering that they had FIVE HUNDRED CRUISING BOATS go thru Vavau’ just this past cruising season alone! They also mentioned meeting 16-year-old Dutchwoman Laura Dekker aboard “Guppy” as she passed thru and who’s currently becoming the new youngest solo circumnavigator! Cheers to that & see you soon Meerkat for our arrival celebration home with the ‘usual suspects’ – (Richard & Maree Stainton, Gaz and the ‘barrels’! 😉