The Lobster and the Dairy Queen

A couple of weeks of perfect weather and plenty of action for the crew of Pura Vida.

Thanks to me and my big mouth, we had our hands full working for Gaston and Valentine.
If you ever offer your services to a Tuamotan, bear in mind that these people work harder than anyone you have ever met. Hunter and I helped around the compound, we swept and raked and baked and cleaned, we did laundry, fed the pigs and chickens, while Jon and Kai helped build fish traps and hunted and painted and sanded and built stuff with Gaston.

No matter how hard we worked, our hosts did double time.

Gaston and Valentine as photographed by crew of SV Malachi (2008)
In return, they fed us amazing meals of fish cooked every possible way and endless arrays of incredible cakes and breads that Valentine concocts in her tiny kitchen, and we learned tons of things about surviving off the land here.

They also showered us with love and treated us like family.

We hosted Valentine and Gaston on our boat, a few times and introduced them to "Thai" cooking and my general love of all things spicy. We also invited two of the young people who live and work for them here, Teno and Maiti who speak no English at all but with food and music and lots of laughs at our baby French, we had a great time.

I also celebrated my birthday in the most epic way I could possibly dream up.

A stunning atoll, perfect weather, a scuba dive with grey sharks and white tips, and afterwards a well kept secret bottle of champagne and smoked salmon and crackers that Jon had stashed away...
and then, that night, an incredible party, put on for me by our hosts.

They decorated me with flowered leis and head wreaths, Gaston caught a huge Wahoo and I made some of it into sushi and Valentine and Hunter made FOUR cakes! Our friends Linda and Jon from Nakia gave me a bottle of good rum from Mexico which they had doctored for a few weeks with vanilla beans, Valentine and Hunter and Maiti made me a necklace and earrings from large black pearls gathered from Valentine's farm.

It was all so incredible, I had to pinch myself over and over to see if I'd wake up--I'm still dreaming, I guess.

One night, Jon was invited to go out on a Lobster hunt with Gaston and Teno,
Kai was desperate to go along but Gaston was adamant;
it was far, far, too dangerous.
Jon was actually the first cruiser invited to go to their secret spot and hunt lobster, in 22 years!
It is done in their traditional way and it was no small thing to undertake.

The men leave at dusk and travel by speed boat
(a home made, plywood,  flat-bottom affair with no seats, cushions, electronics, safety gear, only a giant outboard strapped to the back)
They zoom at breakneck speed over choppy, spine-crushing waves, to the other side of the atoll where the reef is submerged.
There is NO land anywhere in sight.
Then, they wait for dark.
The men sit in silence, sleep on the floor of the boat, listen to Gaston's small, portable radio; Tahitian music or news, broadcast from Papeete.

Under an impossible sky of stars (the hunt is best on a night with no moon) Gaston will stare into the black night and determine by listening to the sound of the waves crashing somewhere in that dark void that the tide is at last beginning to go out and the waves are not too big, in case they will sweep them off of that perilously narrow reef and into the dark sea around them.

Then, they pray...for a REALLY long time. Jon told me later, it was this moment, it dawned on him, he was in for more than he imagined when the subject of LOBSTER HUNT came up and there was a distinct possibility that a person could DIE out here--or get badly injured.

Meanwhile, back on the boat, through some trick of marital ESP, it was simultaneously dawning on ME that this was a ridiculous thing to have let my husband go do. As I stared out into that inky night, with the sounds of waves crashing on the razor-sharp reef, I thought... "what the hell am I gonna do if anything happens to him out there?" If he gets hurt, there aren't medical facilities, except for the tiny emergency kit I keep on the boat, there's no Coast Guard or help available if their boat breaks down ..and I'm still out here in the middle of nowhere here,  with two little kids, our bowsprit lying in pieces on the beach, and a 2600 mile sail to Hawaii...

Suddenly, paying 15 bucks a Kilo for lobster doesn't seem like such a big deal!

Back to the boys, praying with Gaston out there on the reef...

Gaston (a seriously bad-ass Ironman) looks at Teno (muscle-bound, twenty-year old, Tuamotan, who's spent his whole life on the reefs of these atolls) and Jon (out of work actor), with tear-shining eyes and says in the most sincere, intense voice ever...

"Bon courage..."

Then he jumps out of the boat--and disappears into the swirling night.

All Jon could think was "Oh, my god, I'm gonna die."

Now, you have to remember, Jon speaks hardly any French and Gaston and Teno have even less English--so there wasn't a whole lot of explicit instruction going on before this adventure.

While they were waiting for the tide, so they could jump out of the boat and walk the reef in the pitch black, and search for the lobsters that they will grab with their bare hands and throw into large plastic buckets they have strapped on their backs, Jon casually asked Gaston;
"Moray? C'est dangereux?"

(There are Morays EVERYWHERE you look on these reefs.)

" OUI!" shouts Gaston, in his super-animated voice.

He says everything like its the most urgent thing in the whole world and he can't believe you did not already know whatever it is you are asking about.

"Moray, he SWIM?...NO PROBLEM! STEP, him? RAH! HE BITE YOU!"

Gaston nods like mad and points to Teno's foot, where a nasty red scar crisscrosses his Achilles tendon.

(Turns out, Teno got this brutal little injury three weeks ago, on the previous lobster hunt.)

"Okkie-Dokkie, NO stepping on the eels..." says Jon, thankful he is wearing socks and running shoes and not the clear plastic jelly shoes the other men are rocking.

The lobsters have come in with the high tide to feed on the reefs and are momentarily trapped while waiting for the waves to carry them back out to the safety of the deep ocean.

The object of the hunt my good captain Jon is on, is to try not to get lost out there in the dark reef (the men all split up and hunt on their own) cover as much ground as possible (many kilometers), spot a lobster (not at all easy as it turns out), grab it with your bare hands, toss in your bucket-backpack, while avoiding sharks and eels and being swept off the reef by breaking waves or slicing yourself to ribbons on the spiky coral and attracting even more sharks and then after about 2 or three hours of this, find your way back in the pitch dark, to the tiny boat anchored on the reef (which can only be found by the solar light they have stuck to the bow) and then grab a few hours of sleep (in the bottom of the boat, with two other dudes and all the spiny, squeaking lobsters you have just abducted) and then, after a two hour nap, do the whole thing again--for another three hours.

The next day, Jon told me that if the Navy Seals ever want to up the stakes on night four of "Hell week", where they try and "break" the last of their recruits... they should send them lobster hunting with Gaston.

He said it was as ass-kicking as a marathon and as disorienting and terrifying as anything you can imagine.

To spot the lobsters and light their way along the reef, the men carry huge Coleman lanterns (weighing about 35 pounds each) so that they can find the impossible to see, camoflauged lobsters in the darkness. The lamps are also kerosene so--yes--they will go out if you slip in the water or are knocked over by a wave (the waves are crashing around you the whole time) and if this happens you are essentially doomed.

The reef is, of course, also teeming with feeding sharks and at night, the same, placid, reef sharks we swim with all day, become entirely different creatures. Their eyes turn white, covered by a thin protective skin and their pectoral fins drop from their lateral position and their backs arch and they swim in this crazy, jerking motion and are hell bent on attacking absolutely anything that sounds like a stranded lobster.

Which is interesting when you have a bucket of them on your back and you are in hip-deep water.

Jon said the dawn-round was actually the wildest. After the dark version of the hunt, the sunrise brought full reckoning of the crazy thing they had been doing all night. Our raised-in-Brooklyn Jon found himself standing in thigh-high water, in the middle of an ocean, with no land anywhere in sight, and frenzied sharks, on the tail end of the long night's feeding-bender, charging at his calves and buttocks,  while his back was bent under the weight of a dozen, clacking, furious lobsters...

And Jon, having no clue what one does to dissuade a charging shark, resorted to stomping and shouting threats and every four letter word in the book.

He said it was surreal and a huge rush and that he loved every minute-well, not EVERY minute, maybe but overall, it was a once in a lifetime (for him, anyway) experience.

I was watching though the binoculars at first light and when the little yellow boat finally appeared on the horizon just before 8 am, I took the kids to shore, where Valentine and Maiti (Teno's girl) had laid out a huge breakfast for everyone. We all hugged and kissed (neither of the other ladies had slept that night either) and marveled at the three huge wire baskets of 150 huge, feisty lobsters that the guys had brought home.

We got four to take back to the boat (they were delicious!) and the rest they will sell to the visiting cruisers.

Everyone ate fried fish and leftover coconut cake and drank strong coffee and then, after breakfast, Gaston, without a moments pause, took another group of cruisers to a nearby atoll to hunt for Varo (a weird squid thing that lives here).

Gaston with Parrotfish. Photo from SV Malachi (2008)

These people never stop. Its incredible.

Jon had a short nap and then spent the afternoon finishing up our bowsprit repair and the next day, with Gaston and another friends' help, we put Pura Vida back together.

Considering where we are, he did an amazing job with our repair and at the moment things look solid enough that we shouldn't have to do a darn thing (at least to the bowpulpit) when we get to Hawaii.

Having our old girl back in one piece was a huge relief to all aboard and as much as we have come to love this place and its people, it is time to move on again.

Hurricane season in the North Pacific is finally winding down and the weather gribs show a slight break in the trend of the prevailing trades, so it looks like a good a time to make our Easting before we head for Hawaii.

So, its back to work: many preparations to boat and crew to ready for our NEXT big crossing but
it looks like this Sunday will be the day we set off.

Jon and I figure it will be about 2500 miles, give or take...
some of this route is "uphill" (into the wind and waves and current) and there's that tricky ICTZ bit as well, so its hard to say, but we think it should take us between 22-25 days or so.

Unlike the last time, we are starting  without having been to a store in four weeks.

We have gathered coconuts and hunted and fished and worked for wages in bread and other goodies.

The bilges are certainly not as stocked as they were once but I feel certain we have enough for the journey and for the first time in two years... we will be arriving in a home country and speaking our own language again.

Also, for the first time in a long, long, time... we have an agenda.

A certain, small crew member aboard our fair ship, has her 9th birthday coming up on November 14th,
and she has decided what she wants for her big day...

Dairy Queen.

(I hear they just happen to have one in Hilo:))


  1. `A`ohe loa i ka hana a ke aloha ... since all other words fail me.

  2. We could write about kaigaboons and hunjelades licking lobster-cones under Kilauea but ... Buon viaggio!

  3. A fantail udderlytastic, tolefullwunderlee.

  4. Jerry G the Jelly GronkOctober 11, 2013 at 3:33 PM

    High praise, babe! Joyce James ... I love her work!