Pactor Babe's Got Her Ears On
Yes, the modern world of marine communications is a truly wondrous thing. I never thought that a modest vessel like Wild Card, with our tiny cruising pocketbook, would be in almost continuous e-mail and radio contact with the rest of the world. Or that I'd be able to exchange text, pictures, software, MP3s, and graphics with other distant vessels, completely free of charge, thanks to our Pactor modem and free Easy Transfer software.
Wasn't it only yesterday that a whaler would convey news of a death aboard by painting a blue stripe around his vessel? Or fly a long red 'homeward bound' pennant to signal his willingness to carry mail home? Why, a whaler's wife might be reading today's letter within the year!
If all this radio "busy-ness" wasn't enough, we also listened to the Pacific Report from distant Radio New Zealand for its comprehensive roundup of local Tonga/Fiji/Samoa news. Simultaneously-at one point, Carolyn and I had on three radios at the same time-we checked into our local VHF Vava'u cruisers net on Channel 06 during its Treasures of the Bilge segment, hoping to trade our heavy 17-foot-six-inch whisker pole for a lighter 14-footer; it's something we've been trying to do for, oh, five or six years now.
Mostly, while waiting for news of Elysium, we thought back on dozens of other "SSB rescues" we'd been involved with over the years. (Log on to www.cruisingworld.com/0308seastories to read more rescue tales from Fatty.)
Our SSB suddenly exploded with activity: Four sailors had swum ashore on a small island, Futuna, which lies just east of Tanna. It was officially confirmed: They'd been sighted on the beach by a French SAR plane. One crewmember was reported to have severe coral cuts, but the others were basically OK-rather shaken from their ordeal, sure, but OK. The boat, alas, was a total loss.
Carolyn and I didn't talk about it. Not then. It was too early. All the facts weren't in. And we hadn't processed it mentally. We've spent our whole watery lives a tack or two from catastrophe, and we don't relish hearing such hard-luck news about other sailors. Instead, we shut off the cabin lights and crawled into our bunk.
I was dead-dog tired. Hell, I'd communicated with half the world even if I hadn't gotten off the boat. My mind was spinning. I could tell Carolyn was awake, too: after 38 years in the same small, toe-touching V-berth, our sleepy consciousnesses have almost melded.
"You never got to your writing today," she mused quietly into her pillow.
"Mañana's fine," I yawed. "No problem."
"What's the writing assignment about?"
"Tribal communications," I said. "How certain groups of nomadic Pacific residents-specifically, we far-flung sea gypsies-communicate."
"So today you lived it," she began. And I concluded, "And tomorrow I'll write it."
Neither of us said anything for a while. The tropical-night air felt delicious on our naked skin. There were a million/billion stars crowding the open forehatch above. Tiny waves lullabied our hull. Finally I whispered, "And how's my Pactor Babe?"
"Needy," she said.
Aboard Wild Card, Carolyn and Cap'n Fatty are sailing-and chatting-their way through Micronesia.