Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An Adventure Tale: Ice and The Coconut Milk Run

In 1990 I sailed from Hawaii to the South Pacific with my husband Jim and two crazier friends:  Eric, owner of The (Mighty) Sea Dragon, and his landlubber brother Mike. Our 40 ft. Brown Trimaran was well-outfitted for fishing and we had Costco-sized provisions.  Nearly $2000 dollars worth.  Eric had a gimballed stove and stovetop Coleman oven..he liked to bake.  People gifted us pineapples, mangos, papaya and other fruits from their gardens and farms. I dehydrated all of the fruits and vegetables I could get my hands on. I jerked tons of beef.  I read up on how to cook at sea.  Then I made it my job to organize the galley so that our stores were safely stowed.  The brothers were, to put it honestly, disorganized slobs.

We had very little electrical equipment on board.  There was no refrigeration except for our three medium sized coolers.  The radio didn't work, there were no GPS or computer gadgets available to the AVERAGE sailor back then.  All we had was a small generator to charge the car battery, a depth sounder, automatic pilot, and EPERB.  Oh, and there was NO toilet.  The guys threw it overboard the first day out because "those things stink". 

All the ice in the coolers melted within five days at sea.  Our beverages soon rose to the ambient temperature of about 100°F as we sailed toward and beyond the equator.  Thanks to seasick Mike's miscalculations on the navigation, the sun and star sights Jim and Eric painstakingly took with the sextant were not telling us our true location and we got lost.

We missed our first planned landfall, Palmyra Island by a large margin.  We were supposed to replenish our fresh water supply there, we only had five 30 gallon jugs.  But it was impossible to beat our way back, so we sailed on southward with the prevailing winds.  We were supposed to be on the Coconut Milk Run, so called because it is all downwind all the way, an 'easy sail' (non-existent) with the tradewinds pushing you forward.  

It was the 14th day when we first spotted land.  Swains Island, claimed by American Samoa and Tokelau, was inhabited by a family of 10 caretakers. We weren't able to restock our water jugs there, but they offered us freshly caught rainwater showers and gifted us a boat load of coconuts for drinking.  We enjoyed three amazing days exploring the island with our guides, enjoying the feasts of blue coconut crab and breadfruit, Spam and cold FrancoAmerican Spaghetti. They didn't speak English and we didn't speak Samoan, other than our hello, thank you, and 1-10....but we had an amazing time at an atoll very few people have ever visited. 

The family caretakers of Swains Island, American Samoa.

On day 18 of our adventure we pulled anchor.  After an easy two day sail we docked at Apia, Western Samoa.  We hadn't consumed a COLD beverage in fifteen days (15) when we fruitlessly tried to speed up the customs and arrival procedures so we could go out for ICE, cold beer and Coca Cola. Once we got through the deratification certification Jim and Eric were OFF on a mission in a taxi... We stayed three weeks in Apia Harbor and ice was the luxury I indulged in daily while in port. 

Anxiously awaiting the officials dressed in skirts(lava lavas), pithe helmets and sandals to let us go for ice....coolers at the ready at Apia Harbor, Western Samoa.

From Western Samoa we sailed to Tonga, where we anchored for weeks in a remote lagoon in the Niua island group of Northernmost Tonga.  Niuatoputapu was paradise.  We caught fish from our anchorage every day, fired up the grill, and ate fresh papio (a type of jack fish) PLUS the lobsters, giant clams, fish and coconuts the locals gifted us.  Every day our tongue-clicking friend Ipeni would row his canoe out to our boat and leave piles of fresh seafood...once he brought a black coral tree....on our deck for us to find. He would come back later to visit and cluck over the fishing lures.  It was a beautiful island, but there was not a cold beverage to be had.  There were no Cokes, no sodas, no beers.  Sailing friends we'd met up with along the way hired a plane to fly in a case of Cokes...the wife was needing a fix. And the plane came with a case of Fanta Orange Soda.  Not the caffeine fix she was hoping for, but they happened to have a refrigerator and she shared a couple cold sodas with me. Wow! I realized how much I missed cold beverages on a hot day.  Every day on our three month sail trip to the South Pacific was a hot day!

We eventually sailed south to the Vava'u Group of Tonga, and spent what might have been a month in Neiafu.  We anchored in the harbor at first, but later won dock rights since Eric and the guys threw a huge BBQ party inviting everyone they'd met.......every day.  Their aunt had wired them money and they spent it all throwing parties. The beer is really tasty in Tonga, and we had a great time. I have a lifetime membership to the Neiafu Club...that should explain how crazy that part of the trip was. 

We did finally make it to Fiji, our planned destination. Once we were on land, it was still a bit of a challenge to have iced cold beverages, but it was possible.  Jim and I jumped ship and landed a job managing a resort on an outlying exclusive resort island called Qamea...several hours and various means of transportation away from the main two islands of Fiji.  It was a job to procure FOOD let alone ICE, and so the ice deprivation went on for another several months.  Our lifetime adventure to the South Pacific lasted a year before Jim was offered a job he'd been waiting for and we returned to Hawaii.

All this rambling just to tell you about my obsession with ICE COLD ICE!  There have been other instances along my life's journey when ice cold beverages would have been MOST appreciated, but the sail trip won out when I reviewed my ice deprivation experiences.  The Lacandón Jungle trip would be a close second...but really, this is already the longest blog ever written.


Over a month ago, I was going to write a short blog about not having a problem keeping enough ice in the freezer.  I had a system of making several trays in the morning, and once again in the evening and that was working.   The original idea was to show these cool ice cube trays (above and below)  I found at the kitchen store on 64th and 65th Streets.  The trays caught my eye because they are so colorful, but the cube size and ease of stackability turn out to be their best features. They're EXCELLENT ice cube trays. They are flexible but stack without mashing the tray below, aren't too long but have a nice sized cube.  I'm not a big fan of plastic, but as you now know, I am obsessed with ice cubes.

This month there are 10 hot and thirsty people in the house, and I last week I failed to have cubes available for myself at noon.  It turns out the five guys were using all the morning trays to take to the worksite, and that meant no ice for me.  Eventually they figured out THEY needed to buy AT LEAST one bag to take to the worksite (¡!) in their cooler.....so we are back in the cubes again on 75th street.  With these new trays sometimes I can get three batches of ice in a day. That means a lot to someone obsessed about having ice around.  In Mérida, on a day like today, a glass of ice cubes has a shelf life of approximately fifteen minutes.  Seems like much ado about nothing, but I am happy each time this dilemma is solved and maintaining enough ice becomes a workable science.


Merida Mikey said...

Wow! What an adventure, what a story! The only thing lacking was being boarded by a pirate ship captained by Johnny Depp! :-)

Although long, I see the necessity of the verbiage and it makes for a wonderful "South Sea Island" adventure story.

Great job!

Linda Dorton said...

I was testing the waters a little with my sail story..having a hard time finding the right voice to tell the story.......thanks for the comment. Others are welcomed.

Islagringo said...

What a fascinating life you have led. And to now be reduced to worrying about ice cubes. For some reason, I am the same way about butter. I MUST have a supply on hand at all times. I hopoe you do something more with the tales of the south pacific. Pick an area and spend more time and detail on it. The stories you could tell, my girl!

Linda Dorton said...

Isla Gringo,
My goal IS to tell the stories. I have different ideas every day, thus so many notes and notebooks I dont know where to start!...problem #1 identified!

A cold coke is just not a cold coke without a glass-glass full of ice! Ice water loses its appeal without the cubes. Beer sucks at 100°. Hot tang on the other hand is surprisingly refreshing, like children's cold medicine.

I admit to the butter supply too. I buy Anchor NZ butter...keep two in the freezer. At all times. Can't live without it!

Thanks for the encouragement.