Trip Reports

Behind Closed Doors (20-Sep-2001-18-00):
6:00 PM local time, Thursday, September 20 (0800 September 20 UTC) 09 27 S 147 09 E. Temp. 86, Humidity 73%, Cloud Cover 60%. In a slip (!) at Port Moresby, Papua, New Guinea.

Warmest greetings from the crew of Maverick.

The President has told Americans to get back to work. We saw the Yankees on CNN the other day saying that, with mixed feelings, they will play, in the hope that their efforts will provide some respite to a nation in need of diversion and something to cheer about. With the exception of the Athletics, I don't think there's anyone I'd rather hear it from. As our particular job is reporting on how things are out here, we will take the President's encouragement to heart and begin once again. The crew of Maverick must, by the nature of our task, be driven by such as the sun, wind, and tides, indifferent and indiscriminating as they are in matters of human strife; and it is by them, and not the forebodings felt by those immersed in this calamity, that we have the good fortune to be surrounded. Those of you who find our stories now even more insignificant and irrelevant than before will not miss much if they pass them up for the nonce. But the Captain, whether through lack of will or lack of talent, will not substantially alter his tone. If these missives seem to be written with a tin ear for the feelings of the day, as one very close to the Captain has suggested, with a resultant frank exchange of ideas, do not spare him your thoughts. Many have written recently, and whether of criticism, support, or simple acknowledgment, words from home now more than ever before are a balm for the lonely sailor, and are greatly appreciated.

We arrived in Port Moresby Friday morning. Ironically, while all hell broke loose at home, this was the first passage of our voyage that was peaceful from beginning to end, with fair winds, never over 20, regular, following seas, and blue skies with nothing other than puffy little clouds and an infrequent hint of a shower. We used some unusual sail configurations. We have mentioned before scandalizing the main while running downwind with poled-out headsails to control the roll, which we are now addicted to as it works so well. We also found a solution to the problem of sailing about 130-150 degrees off the wind in light air. Generally, this is a tough point of sail because the headsail is always on the verge of collapsing. Once it does, you lose boat speed and the vane gets confused and can't find it's way back up. What we've done is pole out the drifter, which is about a 120, -oz. and pretty flat, to windward, and leave the full Genoa to leeward, not on a pole but sheeted in rather tighter than usual when off the wind. It is filled by the exhaust from the drifter and not blanketed by the main. That way we can put up over 1000 square feet of sail, all drawing well, and the combination works like a main with a spinnaker, yet is much more forgiving and easily steered by the vane. I've never heard of this arrangement before, but we couldn't be the first ones to think of it. All of you out there who are better sailors than the Captain--you know who you are (not you, Mead)--may have a reason this is a bad idea, but I can't think of one.

We planned to stay three days here and would have left by now but the winds have strengthened with the passing of a substantial high in the Tasman sea. In the harbor, the resultant williwaws blast down the valleys like cannonballs, gusting over 40 knots, causing Maverick to strain at her lines. With lighter air, we hoped to have less trouble negotiating the shoal waters and reefs of the Torres Strait, a maze of navigational problems 200 miles from here and about 140 miles from entrance to exit. We also know as the days progress we will be further from spring tide, when currents can run up to eight knots in certain sections. We would like to avoid an eight-knot current against twenty- five knots of wind in a shipping lane at night; and as there is no sign of the winds decreasing in the immediate future we'll stay for now.

We have only spoken to one American since we've gotten here and he didn't want to talk about the attack. The native New Guinea people have been quite sympathetic though they are reputed to be anti-American, and a friendly waiter never fails to say with some emotion, shaking his head, that this trouble is "very, very sad." The Aussies and Kiwis have been passionate in their support, one telling me he was ready to get on a plane today, and die, to help defend their "big brother," America. Most seem to think America is too lenient on its enemies, but there are many of the same mind back home.

Port Moresby is pretty crime-ridden. We are staying at the Royal Papua Yacht Club, which has intense security, not so much because we are afraid but because there are no other suitable options. If you go out of the complex, even locals will come up to warn you to be careful of the "raskols," who are mostly pickpockets but it's possible to get mugged. The unemployment rate is, according to the government, 80% in Port Moresby. Some of those who are employed are still searching for unexploded ordnance from WWII (left by you folks, Hank), that they call "goodies," and detonating it. Sorcery has regained its popularity here, and there have been murders of those suspected of being sorcerers. We haven't ventured out at night.

We did go, on Saturday, to an independence day celebration on the beach where we saw traditional boats and traditional dancers and all that implies (Paul can take special note). We were told that last year the girls who work as checkers at a local supermarket, and are all from provincial villages, were competing. After the dancing, they showed up for work and did the checkouts in native costume, which no one, oddly, takes any notice of whatsoever. Except, of course, Europeans. Apparently for the natives, when one is clothed in western dress even a short skirt, say above the knee, is indicative of a loose woman. But for the same person in native dress, a grass skirt with nothing underneath and nothing else at all but beads and a headdress is considered completely proper and chaste attire.

We don't have space to relate the story of that other American skipper and your Captain attempting to commandeer, after a few bottles of rum, a $750,000 motor yacht complete with its paying passengers. Though the plan seemed perfectly logical at the time, it was not successful. Nor will we tell of Mr. Shrode's wild ride, at suicidal speeds, in the former's very fast dinghy later that night trying to awaken the crews of container ships who might want to party. These we must leave for anon, along with our plan for transiting the Torres Strait.

PS to Audie: Thanks for the word on the New Yorkers. How about S. Spinner?

PS to Tom: Glad you're following this. We thought we might have seen your boat on the day we left, and thanks for seeing us off. You should have hailed us on 16!

PS to Jimmie and Jane: Congratulations on getting underway!

PS to Mead: Update, please.

PS to Chris and Kelly, P. Siegel, Kirk and Genevieve, Keith and Nancie, Elizabeth, Tim, Fred, and anyone else I've been tardy in getting back to: Thanks so much for the thoughts. They mean a lot to us.

Next report from this loocation: Mr Shrode's Wild Ride

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