The View from Rarotonga (Another Delayed Post)


Thanksgiving was a rich time, all of us at our grand-daughter Emily’s and Alex’s house. Noah who is just two loved the blinking glasses we brought him from Holland America. We remembered people far away, and talked of beloved people gone: Harve Bellos, Eileen Allen, Fred Goode. Below the picture is another post from the South Seas that didn’t make it through during the trip.


A new friend named David Brunk may post on his Facebook page something that will include our blog.

The clouds are the shifting beauty as you come toward these islands. This one, Rarotonga, is mountainous, and when the sun is partly behind clouds, you get dramatic patterns. We’re right below the equator and right next to the meridian exactly opposite to Greenwich, coming into the Cook Islands and French Polynesia.

A huge screech announced the opening of the roof over the pool as I was drawing the Bears about six this morning.

image1 (4)An interesting interview with the captain, Arjen van der Loo (Aryen van der low) yesterday. At some ports when we’re lying off but don’t put down our anchor, he says, it’s because the shelf  where the depth would be right to anchor is so narrow, it’s safer not to try, but just to use our thrusters to maintain position. The weight of the anchor plus its chain is so great, you couldn’t get it aboard again if the whole thing had paid out. He is wonderful, good sense of humor and very articulate. We’ve known him before on another cruise.

Now we begin to see the opening to the harbor. VERY narrow. Turns out the U.S. is the only country that observes “Red Right Returning” with buoys. The rest of the world does the opposite! Seems ornery of us. I wonder when that was set up…1776?

We’re sending in our launch to clear with port authorities.

And now we’ve stopped, swung our stern toward shore, and will not go in to the inner harbor. Tom really can’t manage getting into a tender, and today would be even harder than usual since there’s enough swell to make it very up and down at the boarding platform. We have plenty to do though, with my singing group (small but fun) at two, various projects during the morning. Found a table where I could spread out book making stuff. Used paper from the FedEx packing material to cover the table (which was a bridge table) to protect it. We made masks for tomorrow’s dinner.

You can see what skill it takes for the tender drivers to maneuver. The ship is being held in such a way that it creates a lee for their arrival and letting off passengers.

The talks we’ve had daily, given by Kainoa, by Mel Foster and by Sadie and Charlie Urbanowicz, mean that we come in to these ports having a new sense of the islands’ cultures and of their place in the world: rather “how they are connected by the ocean” than “how they are separated by the ocean.”

Jim Boring, in Writing Group, made a nice parallel between that and our lives, our coming together for this short time, and the intensity of these relationships. I hope he may put on here the poem he wrote last week, encapsulating that experience.

We always look forward to Nancy and Kirk Taft’s photos when we arrive at supper. They’ve usually hiked, and they take wonderful pictures. We are at separate tables for two, but right next to each other.

Halloween Aboard Ship (A Belated Post)

[This post was resurrected from my Outbox on Thanksgiving morning, a sunny one in Portland. Just now, sitting in our kitchen, I looked out and saw what Tom had done with the blue glass head who lives in the claw-footed bathtub on the porch.

image1 (2)That’s probably one reason it’s so hard to describe our house or his work to people who haven’t seen it. Home after that long journey, we look with new eyes, too. Tom and Mary, Hester and Len, did wonderful clearings-out, rearranging, so that spaces which were crowded and almost unusable are now new and roomy. What a gift that has been!]

We are in the midst of Halloween. Tom was hailed as a wizard by the young musician who was playing as we left the Crows’ Nest to go to dinner. And with good reason. We made our masks yesterday. It’s a little hard to see, if you have them all the way on. But we have learned we can wear them with our glasses on.

We almost had our cocktails with another couple we’ve recently met, but realized we just wanted to be the two of us so we could talk of you children, grandchildren, of Noah’s first Halloween as a dragon, of other dragons we have known.

image3 (1)There were escargots for a first course at dinner. Tom is wearing the shoes I bought for him in London forty-five or so years ago, finding them in a cobbler’s front window next to Brown’s hotel. They had apparently been returned, unwanted, and were a little dusty. But they had his initials on them, albeit in the wrong order. That didn’t matter. The coincidence was too extraordinary. They enhance his costume as Wizard wonderfully.

Now, All Saints Day, we are anchored off Bora Bora. And we have had times ashore. Coming in this morning at 5:30, the sun was rising behind the island.

I felt sorry for those anchored in the shade of the island as we came in so huge and intrusive. But the woman who later sold me some lovely shell crowns did not seem to resent me. We spoke in French as we negotiated the price and how they would be wrapped.

image4When I went to church this morning, I expected to hear the service in French, but it was in Tahitian, much of it inaudible, during which people would start up conversations. But the singing was tremendous. The church was full. Most of the women wore very straight-brimmed straw hats. More men then women.

I speak only French ashore and admit to trying to distance myself from my compatriots. That may not be just or important but it is to me. There is a weightiness, a boasting quality and crassness in overheard conversation that is shocking.

We think of Walt Walkinshaw and of the wonderful documentary Jeanie is making of his life in the U.S. Navy in WWII. There are pictures of Walt here in Bora Bora when it had not even yet been made a base. He and his group were reconnoitering it. And she quotes from his letters in which he tries to explain to his mother and father his awareness of how what he and these others are doing will change this tiny (at least in terms of numbers) culture forever.

It is still vastly beautiful. We stay here another day. Then on to Pape’ete, Raiatea, Rangiroa, and Nukuhiva , before our long haul to San Diego.


On Dry Land – Disembarking in San Diego

image1 (1)Just walking out the door into the garden, from a silent house, this morning early, was such a pleasure, I thought of Amsterdam and all her workings, realizing that it was just the right time to get off and be on land again. You are never in silence on a great ship, although there are places where the hum of the engines and the air-conditioning are less than in others.

We’ve had very little sense of the ground moving under us as you do when you’re just off a small boat. There was a storm that last night, the first we’d had in all our seven weeks. But we were snug in bed and didn’t get thrown around. And the wind was still blowing almost a gale as we disembarked into the sunshine of San Diego, to be picked up by our friends Everett Peirce and Susan Welsch. They had braved the traffic on the pier between taxis and shuttles to find us. “Keep moving! Just keep moving!” they were told. “But how are we supposed to find them then?” But they did find us, one of those times you thank goodness for cell phones.

It was into their garden in La Jolla that I walked this morning, before anyone else was up. It’s inevitable that scenes from the ship pervade our thoughts, and that’s both pleasant and healthy. Vivid pictures of individuals, people in writing group, the library, at meals, at talks in the Queen’s Lounge, all are part of us now. Scenes from all the islands, mountains and reefs, faces of people in the street. The shifting colors of the water under cloud and sun, over deep or shallow water.

Things we won’t miss are there too, like the blasting whistle and penetrating voice of the announcements about crew Emergency drills. They seemed always to interrupt crucial conversations in writing group. Just when you’d settle down somewhere to read, a few people nearby would start a conversation you didn’t want to hear but couldn’t avoid without moving…and Gene, the Cruise director, announcing Tender departures, “Groups Blue 2, Blue 3 and Blue 4, please go to….” Merely being able to be on wifi without difficulty and without paying for it remind us of being glad to be on our own again.

What a time it has been! And having it come toward the end of our lives somehow makes it doubly special.

Steaming Home

image1 (8)The two guest speakers we had for the first month left us in Pape’ete, and we now have another, an astronomer. The plan was that he’d meet people up on the forward top deck at 9:00 last night to see what we could see. We go to bed so early, I wondered whether I could change my pattern enough to do that, but managed to save enough energy and will to get there. Clad in coat and pajamas and scarf I got to the sky deck on deck nine by elevator and then out into the warm night and wind. We travel at between 16 and 19 knots, and there was a headwind of probably about 20 knots, so as I climbed the stairs to the very top deck, it was all I could do to hang on to railings and stay upright.

I was a little early, but there were already two people there, and they had a little computer with the night sky mapped out on its app. We were all the way forward, close behind the wind-shield that at least gave us a partial protection from the main force of the wind. But they didn’t seem to know much more than I did. We were heading NE, some clouds cleared away, I lay flat on a deck chair, the whole sky was clear, and there were two old friends, the Pleiades and Casseopeia.

OutriggerMy Gran, Clara Strong, had taught my Dad the silly name for the Pleiades, making it sound Greek, Tesphorisite, or “Test for Eyesight'” and he handed it on to me. So there they were, up there amid the stars with me.

When the astronomer did arrive, just as I was leaving, he said we were going to wait for a night when we might have a tail wind, and try again.
We cross the equator in an hour or so, and I’ll go and watch the navigation screen in the library with others who want to get a picture as it reads 00.00.00. We’ve been below it for some weeks and are now heading back to San Diego where we’re due in six days. (See ROUTE MAP.)

Sextants in use on Bermuda-Ireland sail 1976 by Messrs. Hoyt & Buell
Sextants in use on Bermuda-Ireland sail 1976 by Messrs. Hoyt & B. Buell

We had an interesting response from Captain van der Loo when he was being interviewed and he was asked a question about celestial navigation and Internet navigation. Apparently there is enough concern about the possibility of hacking to cause the maritime training schools to re-institute the teaching of celestial navigation as a requirement. I’ve always admired anyone who could use a sextant, specially in a pitching, rolling sail boat. On Tom’s Atlantic crossings, he says, there were often two taking sights to see how close they came to each other’s calculations. I can hear Bill Buell and Norrie Hoyt laughing but seriously differing.

Leaving our last landfall, two days ago, on Nukuhiva, was poignant. For many of us, the varied beauty of these islands has been a revelation. This last one, in a group most of us had never even heard of, was geologically so new and curious, it was a final hurrah.

image2 (5)We had come in past very dry, high slopes, and finally into this harbor with orchards, green forests above the town. Young men followed the tenders all day in outrigger kayaks, riding the slope in the wake as though they were surfing. By the end of the afternoon, they we’re taking their kayaks out and heading home.

Tahiti – In the Footsteps of Melville and Gauguin

image1 (7)Pape’ete is a big city! It sprawls along the shore of the island of Tahiti whose center is high, trailing off to the south with a long ridge. We came in past the island of Mo’orea where we’ll go for a day, leaving here at 5 AM tomorrow morning. We back in to our pier, right across from the Aremiti Ferry.

Several conversations overheard this morning as I sat in the Crow’s Nest watching us approach. One centered on what the speakers view as a stupid rule: the restriction that these vessels must touch in a foreign country once during a cruise, thereby prohibiting, for instance, cruises up and down the East coast.

image2 (4)Am re-reading Kinds of Love by May Sarton. I know I’ve mentioned it before but I’m struck again at how well she gets the coming on of age, the shifting of tides within a long marriage, the strengths that come to light as weakness invades. You hear pieces of Sarton’s poetry in the descriptions. Christina, a Boston “summer person” in the small New Hampshire town of the book, is a journal keeper like myself, and there are wonderful passages in which she reflects on the different reasons she keeps a journal. Tom has just begun the book.

The clouds move fast on and off these islands. As we left Mo’orea last night right before sundown, without a camera in hand, there were spires of rock much like those in Torres del Paine that revealed themselves. Tom wishes he were still 6704teaching Melville. We realize Omoo is not as we always thought it, but rather Omo’o. And you understand why Melville and Stevenson and Gauguin were so enthralled by the ocean and the land here.

We are sad to know of the death of our dear friend, Fred Goode. Sad for us, but we know he was ready and had been waiting for a long time.

[Editor’s Note: Posts have been sporadic due to transmission problems from the high seas. – TCB Jr., whose family nickname, Tommo, also comes from Melville. ]