Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bits and Pieces: Message in a Bottle

10th Day at sea, located approximately 1000 miles south of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.

June 16, 1990

Our 38ft. trimaran planed, skimming the water’s surface; rare brisk winds moved us along at a fast pace.  The guys said we made 200 miles that day.  It was one of our best days yet.  We were in the ‘doldrums’, the area from 5°N across the equator to 5°S.   An area known for its prevailing stillness. 

On that day I decided to cook spaghetti and sauce for dinner.  To cook below decks in a galley where the gimbaled stove swings back and forth, the cook has to stand on bended knees to move with the rhythm of the ocean while keeping his or her balance.  If he fights the movement, he accomplishes no crew dinner and ends up seasick.  It’s important to roll with the flow, to stay loose and think about dancing.  The ingredients slide back and forth on the counter spaces.  It is a patience-requiring, time-consuming task. It’s not so much a multi-task as it is an octopus task, wishing one had more arms to catch the items rolling out of reach.  

I wanted to spiff up the Ragu with not only fresh onions and garlic, but with some of the dried green peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, oregano, etc., that I’d dehydrated for the trip.  Preparing dinner that day was my main project, and merits its own paragraph because it’s a complicated process to complete this important task, one which has to be done two or three times a day.  People often ask, “What do you do all day at sea on a long voyage?”  This is one function landlubbers don’t consider.  We work for our supper at sea.  Cooking meals is just one example of essential tasks that consume time during an ocean crossing.

We decided to drink one of our family-sized bottles of wine with our dinner, but we got carried away celebrating our crossing the equator and zipping through the doldrums.  We ended up drinking both Costco sized wine bottles. That’s when we had the bright idea to send out messages in the bottles.  We were completely toasted so it was a crude operation.  I wrote down who and where we were, the date, including our names and our PO Box in Kona, Hawaii.  In hindsight it would have been smart to empty the bottles, dry them, and then insert notes.  But in our state of inebriation we scrolled our notes and dropped them into the dregs of the red wine.    We corked them, tossed them, and forgot about them; other than the notes I’d documented in my journal. 

We threw our messages in the bottles into the South Pacific ocean approximately 1200 miles south of Hawaii.  Many a sailor before us had followed this age old tradition.  For the most part, once the fun of throwing the bottle into the ocean has passed, it is quickly forgotten, and no results are usually expected.  But many a bottle has been found. 

November 21, 1991
Kona, Hawaii

Sorry for the time jump, but the unexpected happened.  Seventeen months and five days after tossing the bottles in the ocean, over a year and a half later, a letter arrived in the mail from the South Pacific Country of Vanuatu.  Two cousins had found our message in a bottle.

Maybe you have seen Survivor: Vanuatu and have seen how outback it is.  It is located in a cluster of island groups northeast of Australia and New Zealand.  The official language is Bislama, although most people speak some French and/or English.  Rather than do a cultural write-up of the country I'll let the photos below show you what life looks like where one of the bottles washed up.

The letter was from one of two cousins, Patrick and Setla Simon, who found our bottle with the message.  They live in the southernmost part of the country on a small island Named Maskelynes, off the island of Malekula.  Their first letter to us was as follows:

Dear Sir (Hello)

My name is Setla. I live in a very small island. Yes friend I’ve already found the bottle. Inside the bottle there is a piece of paper or a small note.  Inside it you’ve wrote all your names, phone number and box number. I can’t read the whole thing because half of the note has been torn up, but anyway I try my best to read and understand it. There are some names but I cant see clearly so I want you to write back and re-write the whole passage again. I found the bottle with the note on this date. (Tuesday the 5th November 1991)

Write back to me with this address. Never change any spelling.

Mr. Setla Simon
Pelongk Village
Maskelynes Island
South Malekula

Thank you very much for your great attention! Bye, Setla

 We sent them an underwater disposable camera and asked them to take photos of themselves, where they found the bottle, and their family, which happens to also be their village.  They took the pictures and sent back the camera.  We continued to write back and forth until their requests got to be more than we could manage.  When the entire soccer team needed uniforms and shoes, they sort of stopped writing when we sent them a care package but not full of sporting equipment.  It would be incredible to visit them one day.  By now they are grown men with kids of their own, I would imagine.  Fishing and combing the lagoons.  I should write them a letter and see what’s new in Vanuatu.  At last report many yachts were visiting their area, thus they have become more anglicized, but I imagine it is still quite the peaceful little fishing village it always has been.
This is the mangrove where these guys found the bottle. The bottle traveled about 1,000 miles farther than we did on our sail trip.  We only sailed as far as Fiji.

Patrick and Setla, cousins, our new friends in Vanuatu. Yes, they loved the sunglasses and new flip flops.

A photo of their village from out on the boat, taken while fishing. They sent us pics of the fish they caught, the cleaning area, the drying palapa.

The family standing in their village posing for their first ever family photo.


Debi in Merida said...

WOW Lin, what a fabulous story, and experience.
Really enjoyed it!

It's funny how we(Americans) are so perceived as rich by others isn't it. When we sometimes feel we are barely keeping our heads above the water. All a matter of perspective!

Linda Dorton said...

Thank, Debi. It is only a part of the wild sail trip we had, and your comment has inspired me to finish another tale. The trip was full of fun, fear, adventure and learning. I hope to post another chapter soon.

I notice here in Merida that people all think we either have money trees 'back home' or are all trust fund babies. When watching foreigners' behavior though, I can kind of understand. Locals believe what they see on TV for one thing, and they see us buy things that to them are eccentric. Like you say, all a matter of perspective!