Sharing an Anchorage, Divvying up the World

When Alvah Simon encounters Cap'n Fatty Goodlander in Micronesia, these two kindred spirits and CW contributors agree to mind one another's geo-editorial turf. From "The Roger Henry File" January 3, 2008

Alvah headshot 368

Billy Black

Landfall in Kosrae through a rainswept channel tested our reserves. After a long passage, the hard spots appear just when you are most fatigued and prone to poor judgment. Many the wrecked vessel let its guard down a moment too soon.

No sooner had the anchor hit bottom than Cap'n Fatty Goodlander, dressed in a lap-lap (Polynesian waist wrap) and jaunty beret, raced over in his dingy to present us with a welcome package. Whatever Fatty's sins in his wild past, his place in heaven is assured, for inside the bag was ice-cold beer and sweet rolls.

Kosrae is the easternmost of the Federated States of Micronesia. It is a mountainous island, 42 square miles, fringed by a reef creating extensive inland lagoons and mangrove swamps. It is perhaps the least visited of the four Micronesian states because it does not have the famous wreck dives of Chuuk, the mysterious Nan Madol Ruins of Pohnpei, nor the colorful culture of Yap. However, it is an attractive island with warm and welcoming people.

Modern squalor would best describe the architecture, as thatching has long been abandoned for corrugated tin roofs and unpainted cinder-block walls. Cars with windshields so smashed the driver must use the side window to see rattle down the potholed roads. The island's readiness for an anticipated tourism explosion is best illustrated by the only bank's refusal to exchange foreign currency or cough up any US dollars via ATM, credit card, or even wire transfer. Fortunately, I am a financial Neanderthal and had some greenbacks stashed in a sock.

If we measured personality by caliber, Fatty would be a 44...Magnum...with pearl handles. We immediately hit it off together as we share so much in common. Most obviously, we both married above ourselves. In Diana and Carolyn we have beautiful and capable women who clearly could have had their pick of the best and the brightest, yet inexplicably chose two boat bums indifferent to material security, obsessed with sailboats, and pledged to personal freedom. Sorry girls.

Soulmate or not, sitting across the cockpit from me was "The Competition," for Fatty can spin a tale as adroitly as he can set a sail, and the moss does not grow under his keel. In the end we decided to follow the historic example of the Spaniards and Portuguese by simply dividing the world up for our purposes. I left Wild Card with the distinct impression that Fatty is a better businessman than I, for he reserved the rights to all tropical isles with white beaches and bare-breasted maidens, while I got Siberia and the sub-Antarctic islands.

We were befriended by the Sigrah family, as every yachtie who has entered Kosrae for 30 years has been. We used their dock, tapped their fresh water tank, and left our garbage at their Ace Hardware Store. The brothers, Smith and John, made us promise we would not miss the traditional feast they were preparing for the yachties.

They would not accept a cent for this sumptuous repast, which included a massive roast pig and traditional yam, tapioca, breadfruit, and coconut dishes. They explained that yachties had helped their father build the family home. To honor his memory and fondness for sailors, they continue the tradition of acting as the official host to any sailor who takes the trouble to visit their small island nation.

We were asked to introduce ourselves and say a small something. I noted that for decades, if not centuries, sailors have been arriving on foreign shores unannounced and uninvited. We presumptuously rely on the goodwill of the native people for our safety and the viability of our voyages. Incredibly, this goodwill has seldom been denied, and I thanked this family, direct descendents of the ancient kings of Kosrae, for continuing and enhancing that tradition.

While Fatty and Carolyn treated the crowd to an hour of spirited blues (the Fat Man can wail), I browsed nostalgically through the Sigrahs' visitors books dating back to 1980, finding many old friends who had earlier ferreted out this little island gem.

We spent an active week, refreshing the ships supplies, repairing the carnage of ocean passage, and hiking the jungle. Hamilson, our local guide, was a walking encyclopedia of historical, mythological, and botanical information. He demonstrated how to set a pig snare, which tropical nuts can be made into bottom paint, and other such useful tidbits.

For me, the highlight was exploring the tunnel systems dug by the occupying Japanese Army. The entire island is riddled with tunnels, and in that twisting darkness I never felt closer to the harsh realities of a world at war.

Fatty and Carolyn slipped the hook one morning, beating me to the rest of the world. I hope our paths will cross again, but Fatty was clear on this-- it won't happen until I am cured of this compulsion to wander the world's frosty edges. I assume lap-laps are subject to up-drafts.

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