I would have to say that a fair amount of my life revolves around the wind. So the notion of severing ties with the outside world (even if only for just three weeks) and adopting a lifestyle completely dictated by it didn’t seem to be too big of a stretch for me.
I would also have to say that a fair amount of my life revolves around travel. Therefore the thought of jumping on a plane and flying off to a tiny speck of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean also didn’t seem to be all that intimidating either.
Well, ok… it was kind of intimidating.
I work as an engineer in the wind power industry. My job involves traveling the world and figuring out where the windiest places are, thus facilitating the construction of wind farms to produce clean energy from Chile to Saskatchewan to Scotland to Iowa to South Africa. So when I heard that my friend Alex and his brother Nick were embarking on an adventure to sail from San Francisco and head across the Pacific, it just seemed too fitting to not get in on that.
I first met Alex in the summer of 2005 in pre-revolution Tunisia. We were working for separate companies in Tunis, the capital. In fact, we were the only two Americans out of forty or so foreigners living together in an apartment bloc across from a mosque in the coastal city of La Goulette. Every week brought new adventures exploring northern Africa with people who would become fast friends. Therefore, I had little doubt in my mind that I wasn’t going to have the trip of a lifetime.
I met the Kleemans in Bora Bora. They were hung-over and smelled like they were “well-traveled.” As it turns out, they had spent the previous evening up until the early hours of the morning with a menagerie of young cruisers from coastal countries around the world. Honestly, I was surprised to discover such a familiar, laid-back community hiding amongst the local Polynesians and the jet-setting trust-funders temporarily residing in this resort paradise.
When I first decided to embark on this trip to a tiny atoll, thousands of miles away from any continent, I was completely under the impression that aside from some random encounters with the locals, Alex and Nick would be the entirety of my social life for nearly a month. I was immediately proven wrong and would become quickly thrust in to the cruiser lifestyle, meeting like-minded people along the way.
Whether it was wishing off Saltbreaker’s sister-vessel, Ustupu, on her long voyage to Hawaii, or crashing for a night on a disabled Ardea in Rarotonga before flying on to New Zealand, I was pleasantly surprised to meet so many people I instantly knew I would like. Yet, I shouldn’t have been. That’s because for the exact same reasons that Alex and I became friends back in Tunisia, I was now encountering people who were so automatically similar, we couldn’t help but bond and have fantastic times together.
Here you have a group of kids (read: late 20-, early 30-year-olds), with a flair for adventure and travel, isolated together and out of our element while we all procrastinated “real-life,” even if for just a couple of weeks. There was no way we wouldn’t get along. Sure, the rum helped; but that’s to be expected.
This was all evidenced by my very last night on Saltbreaker in Aitutaki. It was a Sunday and, naturally, everything on the island was closed for business. A call came in on the radio from a boat looking to receive permission from the harbormaster to enter the lagoon and drop anchor. At the time we were tied up to Ruby Soho, a boat of very tan Canadians, and no one from either boat was able to recognize the catamaran on the radio.
After filling in for the absent harbormaster and guiding the vessel in through the shallow passage in the reef, we finally got a good look at the boat. Samson, flagged in Norway, came in to port and we quickly sized up her crew. The two guys we saw tying the boat up seemed young, and cool enough, but we weren’t quite certain. There was only one way to know for sure.
After nearly a week of general merriment on the island, both Ruby Soho and Saltbreaker were running dangerously low on beer. Again, it was Sunday in Aitutaki, where few businesses open out of fear of being shunned and ostracized by the god-fearing populace. So a plan was hatched between both crews to head on over to Samson with half a bottle of Jack Daniels to welcome them to the Cook Islands. If our theory of cruisers proved to be true, we knew that bottle would be gone in minutes and it wouldn’t be long before Samson was offering up its stores of liquor for all to share.
Sure enough, Jens and Morten of Samson did not disappoint. We were treated to White Russians (with ice!), cold beer (a delicacy), and the finest Aquavit Norway had to offer. The night stretched on in to the morning and new friends were made. Having known the crew of Samson for less than six hours, visits to Oslo were offered, and stays in San Francisco, Vancouver and Boston were reciprocated.
My memorable three-week journey on Saltbreaker ended the next day having covered nearly 650 miles of open ocean. I hunted lobster with my bare hands, nearly stumbled on a nine-foot lemon shark in the middle of the night, and ate some of the best, freshly butchered pork I’ve ever had in my life. However, what I will especially remember is the time spent with good friends, both old and new, because you never know when you might need a couch (or berth) to sleep on in the future.