Drip, drip, drip…
We make Hapatoni Bay, Tahuata Island late in the afternoon. There is still enough light to swim with mask and snorkel to look at the fish and check on the anchor. The anchor is buried nicely in a sandy spot, but there are some big rocks I’m worried about. If the boat swings, maybe the chain would get wrapped around them. Nope, I think we’re OK. Back aboard I hear a strange noise at the bow of the boat. It’s Max. He’s climbing aboard the using the anchor chain, rather than the ladder. He says “Sharks!, lots of them. I’m getting out of the water.” OK, Max. How many? What kind? How big? Maybe 6, silver tips, 4 feet. Max knows his fish. He reads everything he can find on them. Silver tip sharks grow to 10 ft and the book says that they are, “considered dangerous.”
I didn’t see them and they weren’t that large and they were just swimming, not acting aggressively. So we get the camera and go back in the water to look for them. Sure enough, a half dozen silver tip sharks, just swimming lazily around. We try unsuccessfully to get a good picture. It’s close to dusk now.
Later that evening, Max tells me that it’s going to rain. He has a million-dollar weather predicting titanium wrist which hurts when there’s rain coming. This is my chance. I usually sleep outside on the poop deck, but I make my bed below, hoping for rain.
Sound asleep in my bunk, I’m awakened. Drip, drip, drip. Confused at first, “Where am I? What’s going on?” I turn on the light and then I hear it. Rain pattering on the roof. It was coming in through an open window and dripping on me. Perfect! Rain! I close all the windows and change from my PJs into my swim suit. This is my chance. With a flashlight, I look out the window to see clear water running off overboard the deck through the scuppers. It had already rained enough to clean the boat. I throw open the doors and dash outside, open the water tank fittings on the deck, and plug up the scuppers with towels. Now this water is running from the deck directly into our tanks, which are nearly empty. I have been waiting for this for a week now. The two tanks hold 100 gallon apiece, so it may take a while to fill them. It’s a steady rain.
It’s interesting how we think differently when we need to collect or make everything. At home, water just comes out the tap. It’s measured in acre-feet, which is the amount of water that would flood an acre of land by 1 foot. Power simply comes into the house, allowing lights to stay on all night and the refrigerator making as much cold as you want. Even boating in Mexico, we could go to a dock and get water and fuel from hoses pumped directly into our tanks. We could plug in an extension cord and have virtually unlimited electrical power. Not anymore.
We’re very close to our resources and we watch them closely. We have a 12V DC system and we measure electrical power in amps (1 Amp is equivalent with 12 Watts). Lights take 0.2 to 2 amps, depending on the type. The refrigerator and watermaker each take about 5 amps when they’re running. Charging my laptop takes 2.5 amps. Hal takes 2 -10 amps, depending on conditions and Bill doesn’t take any power at all! We can store power in 4 big golf cart batteries that combined give about 200 amp-hours between fully charged and discharged to a level that doesn’t limit their life. We watch the voltage and current constantly. The batteries haven’t been fully charged since we left San Diego. We make power with 4 different systems. The engine alternator generates 60 amps when the batteries are low, but this falls off to 10 amps as they are getting full. We have 3 remaining solar panels that generate 3 amps apiece if they are fully illuminated and pointed at the sun. But with motion of the boat and arc of the sun, we only get a total of about 30 amp-hours per day. The wind generator, which I call the head chopper, puts out 5 amps in an 18 knot breeze, but this drops to zero in 10 knots. Our last anchorage was windy, but this one is calm. We also have a towing generator that drags a propeller on a rope behind the boat when we’re sailing. The propeller spins the rope, which spins a generator. We made it ourselves. But this only works when underway, and a giant fish ate our propeller on the first night we used it. (Actually, I think the shackle worked its way off.)
With all this, we never seem to have enough power. We always run the refrigerator compressor or the watermaker when we have power, like when we’re motoring anyway or if we have a steady wind in the head chopper. The refrigerator doesn’t work like the one at home. I built this myself. It uses a compressor to pump seawater cooled refrigerant to a 2.5 gallon cold plate that’s in the icebox. The cold plate is filled with a special solution that freezes nicely as it cools, then melts nicely as it warms up, cooling the icebox. It takes a few hours to cool and freeze the cold plate, but it stays cold for a whole day. This way, I can run the system twice per day and keep it cold. The icebox is only 2 cubic feet and it’s heavily insulated. In it, we keep a dwindling supply of fresh dairy and meat, cool drinks, leftovers, and fresh fish. We have no freezer. Our refrigerator at home is much larger, includes a freezer, probably cycles 100 times per day, requiring a steady source of power.
The reverse osmosis watermaker converts saltwater to freshwater. This is slow and power-hungry. The system creates about 1 gallon per hour and puts it into a 20-gallon drinking water tank. Recently, before the rain, we have also been using this water for washing since the big water tanks were low. We make and use a few gallons per day from this system, but we have been slowly emptying the big tanks for washing dishes, clothes, and ourselves. We will not have access to a dock with a hose on it until we get to Tahiti in 2 months. So we conserve and we try to collect the rain.
We carry 60 gallons of diesel fuel in the belly tank under the floor and we have two 20-gallon drums on deck. We burn about a gallon per hour underway, so we left San Diego able to motor for 100 hrs. We have already burned about 20 gallons of fuel for propulsion charging the batteries when the other systems couldn’t keep up. We can get fuel and water several places, but it’s not convenient. We need to take jugs or drums ashore in our dinghy and carry them to the water source or gas station. After filling, we carry them back to the dinghy, row them to Akela, load them onto the boat, and dump them into the tanks. You can see why I’m so happy about the rain!
We have plenty of food. We originally provisioned with 3 weeks fresh food and 3 months canned and dried food. In 5 weeks aboard, we have barely touched the dry goods. We got fresh eggs and sterilized milk in Atuona and Max has provided a steady supply of fresh fish. We have so much fresh fruit we can’t eat it fast enough. Ori gave us 2 bunches of bananas, a few dozen limes, 4 big avocados, 4 giant papayas, a dozen mangoes, a dozen guava, and a breadfruit. I should comment on the bananas. They come in bunches, and the bananas here are smaller than those in the grocery stores at home. They’re about 4” long, but still 1” diameter. The bunches were green, but the bananas ripen progressively. As long as we eat a few bananas per day, none go bad. And they have a fantastic, tart, savory flavor in addition to the pulpy sweetness that we expect. I love ‘em.
We got one coconut at Hanamoenoa Bay and used its shredded meat with fish. Why only one coconut? While we were ashore we picked one up on the beach and shook it. If there is still water in the coconut, then it’s good. We were carrying it back to the dinghy, wondering how we were going to get the husk off when a man of about 30 with fierce dark eyes came out of the jungle with a machete and demanded in broken English, “Who told you to take coconut?” We had been warned that there is a man named Steven who lives here and that he is crazy. I offered that we picked the coconut up on the beach and that if it’s his coconut, we’re sorry and we’ll leave it. He was adamant and very threatening. I set the coconut down and tried to smile, saying that we don’t want any problems. He continued, asking “Would you like if I come aboard your boat and take something?” “No,” I responded, again apologizing. He said, pointing out to the bay, “See this, sometimes there are 30 boats here. For 3 months, people come and people come. What if everybody come ashore and take coconut without ask?” He put down the machete and I breathed easier. He asked where we are from and why we are in the Marquesas. It didn’t seem to make sense to him that we would leave a comfortable house and that we simply enjoy being in a place this beautiful. He made it clear that we are visitors and that we must ask permission to take anything, even a single coconut. He then picked up his machete, and holding the coconut with one bare foot against the sand, cut through the husk with a few expert and forceful blows. He gave us the open coconut.
Back on Akela reflecting on this, Max and I wanted to follow up. We put a nice big filet of fish in the empty coconut shell and returned to the beach to give it to Steven in exchange for the coconut. But in the end, he would not accept the fish. He said that he already had fish and absolutely refused to take it. He took the opportunity to further lecture us about respecting the Marquesan people, but he commended us for the offer and for the smile. He gave us a small glimpse of his life. We went only 20 feet into the jungle, and he showed a small pig that he had just caught. He said that he will raise it and eat it, and that he keeps it here because its mother will come for it and he can eat her. He told us that there are octopus in this bay and that a family came and caught some of them. No problem. But if they came back the next day, he would send them away and tell them to come back in a month.
Steven may be crazy and scary, but this idea of stewardship of the natural resources keeps this place nice for everybody. I had witnessed the opposite in the Sea of Cortez where local fisherman would come through the bays and take everything. Several times, I had some favorite dive spots that teemed with schools of small bait fish swimming as a giant mass, bright and ornate aquarium fish floating easily around the reef, and spiny lobsters hiding in the crevices. I returned later to see a dead zone with no sign of life. It was tragic. I’m sure that the fishermen were just trying to provide for their family, but if nobody takes stewardship seriously, then this is what happens. In the US, the passenger pigeons went from being so plentiful that the flocks looked like dark clouds, to being outright extinct in a few generations.
In these islands, food comes easily. Plants grow everywhere and with a little encouragement, the plant selection is rich with diverse fruits. The seas are teeming with fish, crabs, and shellfish. But before their societies were ruined by white man diseases, plantations, and religion, the Polynesians had a stable, easy life and a rich culture. Since they weren’t limited by food, the Polynesians maintained sustainable communities with a few checks on the population. Primarily, social pressure discouraged having many children. Since they didn’t have birth control, the implementation relied on infanticide. They also had ritualistic “human sacrifice,” which was really used as a mechanism to get rid of a few bad apples. There were sensible decisions on which babies and which people were killed, and they were done quickly without suffering. These practices are abhorred by civilization, but they enable a sustainable community where all of the participants have an easy life.
Our model of a slash and burn rampage that requires ever expanding resources just won’t work on an island. Our willingness to leave segments of the population without ever really having access to our fruits of education, nutrition, and health care also doesn’t seem quite humane. But we don’t need human sacrifice to provide the feedback for a sustainable civilization. We just need an honest assessment of how our activities affect the future and we need social pressure to take this seriously and make changes where necessary. But honestly, I see no indication that we can do either of these. The same people who benefit from slash and burn control the message. Ignorance is strength. Since we don’t feel any effects today, we have little social feedback to protect our reef for the next generation. I’m not bitter about this, but mostly just sad.
It’s 1:15 am and the rain has stopped. The tanks remain less than ¼ full. I’ll go close the tanks off and go back to bed. We’ll get rain again. Until then, we’ll get better and better at conserving.