Friday, June 8, 2012

Chilly temperatures, snails, and Japanese sailors

It's funny how quickly we adapt to a new climate. Wintering in Baja, Mexico, we rarely saw temperatures above 80 degrees and found the evenings quite comfortable when they dipped into the low 60's. We suffered as we sailed south to the equator and the daily temperatures rose into the 90's, dropping to the mid 80's at night, with higher humidity than we had ever seen in Baja - up to 80 percent. We are now so used to this that when it dropped last night below 80 degrees, I actually put on a night shirt and went searching for a bed sheet!

Yesterday we decided to stay put, rather than sailing north inside the atoll. The forecast showed moderate to strong southerlies and the northern end of the atoll would be at the end of 30 miles of fetch. This could produce waves of 3 or 4 feet - not at all a good place to anchor. So instead we went ashore for a walk and found our way to the most neatly kept Tuamotan home we have yet seen, with manicured shrubs set amongst the field of coral that made up its front yard. Behind the house, which was not occupied, we discovered a path through the palms and shrubs that brought us out onto the outer reef where the wind was much stronger than in our sheltered lagoon. The sea dashed itself on the reef sending small waves across the coral shelf. We waded in the coral pools collecting washed up cowry shells and marvelling at the dozens of shapes that corals form even in the confines of this shallow shelf.

We met a French couple off a cruising catamaran who showed us a bag of sea snails that they had collected from the reef. They told us that they were tasty, though chewy, and explained that they boiled them and then ate them with seasoning. On our way back to the boat, we met Jean, a local who grew up in Tahiti and had worked in the French military as a parachutist in Corsica. He is the brother of the Maheata, the woman whom Rani met a few days ago. He lives a few hundred yards away along the beach in a concrete block house raised off the sand on pilings. Jean demonstrated how to open the snail by smashing the heavy shell with another snail shell. He then cleaned the snail and offered it to me to try 'cru' or uncooked. It was chewy and not particularly flavourful. He told us that you needed good teeth to enjoy a meal of these and I began to regret having collected them! Back at the boat, I elected to steam the rest and, smothered in enough garlic butter, they were edible though very chewy.

We went for a quick swim before supper, finding the visibility here to be lousy compared to that at the pass, probably due to all the sand that has been stirred up by strong winds. Later, we had a Japanese couple from a nearby boat over for drinks and munchies. Despite the language barrier we had a good chat. They told us that although Japan is an island nation, there are few Japanese recreational sailors. They estimate that only 10 Japanese boats are currently out cruising the world. Yoshi and Mayumi told us of their trip to North America - 50 days to Prince Rupert arriving at Dixon entrance in a storm, running under bare poles at 7-8 knots! When they left Japan they had never done any sort of ocean crossing!

From Prince Rupert they sailed down the inside passage to Victoria and wintered over there in front of the Empress hotel. The next year they sailed back up around Vancouver Island and departed for San Fransisco from Ucluelet, as we had done a few years earlier. They cruised down the California coast to Mexico and then crossed to the Marquesas about the same time we did. Quite an adventurous couple, I would say!

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