Sunday, September 13, 2009

92 Day Bill

Ninety-two-day Bill. We met him in Uturoa, the largest town in the Marquesas where 90% of cruisers go to check in. The weather was miserable, the anchorage crowded and we just wanted to get the official paperwork over and leave. But, as I said, the anchorage was crowded. There was only one boat pitching violently outside of the breakwater and we decided to anchor next to him rather than risk getting our anchor fouled inside where the boats were packed like sardines in a can.
We got the anchor down and by the time we'd gotten the dinghy in the water, I was feeling green. We took off toward the dock at full speed and were passing our 32-foot neighbor when Bill hailed us. He was talking a mile a minute before we even reached the edge of his boat. He had the same kind of boat as we do (that's what he said, at least) and he was going in to town soon too, and he was trying to work on his engine which was not working too well, and …. We extricated ourselves and zipped to town, found the gendarmerie, and satisfied the officials within a couple of hours. On our walk back to the anchorage, we passed Bill sitting in a café nursing a Hinano beer. We walked the 2 miles together back to our dinghies and we heard many stories of his life.

Bill's single-handed passage from Panama to the Marquesas took him 92 days. One witty cruiser calculated that in that time he could have NEVER put up sail and never turned on the engine, simply drifting the distance with the prevailing currents as his only locomotion. In truth, that was part of the story. In order to sleep, Bill took down his sails and drifted through the nights. Neither of his two self-steering devices were functioning and so, in the mornings, he often found he'd lost a few miles, 10 miles, or 30 miles towards his goal. The doldrums also featured in the 92 day journey. With a non-functioning motor, when the wind stopped, so did Kymika, Bill's boat, unless a beneficial current picked her up.

We heard about his 70th birthday which passed during those 92 days. He had one beer, and one can of soup remaining. He fired up his refrigerator (quite a splurge on a boat with no engine to charge batteries) cooled his beer and heated his soup on his propane stove.
We heard about his life working the aluminum mines in Western Australia; we learned of his 22 year girlfriend who left him and married another man when Bill started planning to sail away in Kymika with her.
We heard about the year during his circumnavigation which he spent in Conway, Wales, his birthplace.

We met Bill again in Raiatea. He'd been there a few weeks hunched for hours in his engine room working on his seized up motor. I brought him some of our 150 bananas. We had him to dinner at our boat. He brought a box of wine,"biscuits," and the same 4 lines of a Fred Astaire song to sing over and over to us. The next day, we assisted when he moved Kymika (uncertain of her half-repaired motor) from anchor to a mooring ball. Though it was a joy for us to have something to do, he insisted on thanking us by taking us out to dinner. He and I rode bikes and Brian skateboarded.
At the restaurant (a Black and white converted van with cash register, fridge, and cookstoves inside and a huge grill outside next to the 3 covered plastic tables) he spoke only a long string of English to the amused waitress who smiled along as if she understood. At the end of our meal, Bill regaled the chef behind the grill with his Fred Astaire song.

A couple more evenings together, and we heard stories of a huge waterspout that swept over Kymika, of hauling anchor in the middle of a gale, of fun times at the pub in Conway. He brought 4 tidy haphazardly arranged photo albums, a newspaper clipping about Kymika's arrival in Conway, and a Conway calendar featuring Kymika tied up at the stone quay with a castle in the background.

Almost at the end of his voyage which began in Fremantle, Australia Bill hopes to replace (for the 2nd time) his motor in New Zealand. If he leaves Raiatea and makes no stops as he's planned, he should be to Whangerei NZ before we get there. He has 60 days to cover the distance we've allotted 25 days to cover. We'll see who gets there first!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bill made it to australia but unfortunately when traversing torres Strait Kymika struck a reef bill is ok and kymika is believed to maybe still floating.

Bill has made it back to mandura in West Australia and acquired a camper van