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Poverty and the Radar Screen of Life

A funny thing happened to me recently: I had too much money! I know, I know, this is the least likely ‘bad’ thing which you’d expect to happen to a penniless sea gypsy such as myself… but that’s how life is, always throwing curves. And it wasn’t that I earned more money, just that I spent less.

You see, Micronesia doesn’t offer much in the way of shopping opportunities. They are, truly, micro. Yes, micro is the operative word here: they have micro-muscles, exert micro-efforts…all planned with their micro-brains. So there isn’t much to buy. And people will give you anything you point at—even their spouses—so spending becomes somewhat of a challenge.

Mostly what they have here in the nor’-west Pacific is stuff left over from WWII which, alas, doesn’t include ATM machines. (What were the Allies thinking—not bringing ATM machines…stupid, eh?)

Anyway, after three months of cruising Micronesia, we pulled into a port with an Internet connection and (as soon as I got up-to-speed on porn) I checked my bank accounts…wow, I was rich!

Immediately, I sensed a problem. You see, my wife likes to see a dentist once a year, wear shoes, buy soap…in essence, I realized that if I didn’t loot my bank account, she certainly would…on useless stuff like prescription eyeglasses, food, and…well, female stuff!

The problem isn’t so much that she spends money but rather that she’s addicted to it. I mean, she is insatiable! Take food, for example: if you feed her breakfast, she wants lunch. You give THAT meal to her, damn—she’s already planning on eating dinner… and this is all-in-the-same-day!

Now, in Micronesia there are (sort of) USPS post offices. I mean, they’re pretty good… only about half the stuff gets stolen as it passes through Guam. So I figured this was a good place to have stuff shipped in. So I went to the post office and began to copy down the address written in large, two-feet high letters on its entrance… when the clerk at the front window rushed out to caution me…as the some the sorters from the backroom did too.

“So sorry,” said the clerk, “but address is wrong!”

“The address on the post office is wrong,” I said in amazement and, perhaps, didn’t hide my incredulity too well.

The people of Micronesia are, like everywhere else, somewhat micro-proud. So the clerk defended his country’s honor by saying, “…not all wrong! For instance, Zip Code of 96943 is right, and the word ‘Yap’ is spelled correct… so, mostly, it’s right, sir… it’s just the other numbers and words… well, there’s a problem!”

“…then why not change the sign,” I asked.

“…only sign we have,” was the answer, “and, besides, everyone here knows it’s wrong… we sent ‘em a letter and told ‘em!”

I decided to FedEx.

Then I called up Defender Industries in New Jersey and said, “I have too much money and want to have some fun!”

The tele-jockey at the other end wasn’t stupid. “Fun?” he asked. “Fun… hmmm… fun… furn… FURUNO!”

Thus I end up buying a Furuno 1623 radar for Wild Card.

Of course, there were some technical issues I hadn’t considered. For instant, radars require electric power. This was a problem. Between my wife’s vibrator and me (adoringly) staring into my high-wattage light-bulb-ringed make-up mirror…well, we don’t have a lot of 12 volts left over.

“What should I do?” I asked my wife. Alas, she was in no mood to help. She obviously wasn’t terribly pleased with my recent purchase and wasn’t too subtle hiding her disgust. “Kiss off!” she snarled.

Well, it WAS an idea. I mean, I’d been to Trinidad many times and had drunkenly stumbled passed the little store-front window where they assembled the units… and, wasn’t it the only Caribbean company with enough balls to brazenly put the word ‘stupid’ right in their name? …Yes, I’d order a KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) wind generator from Doug Billings at Kiss Energy Systems in Chaguaramas, Trinidad—and solve my electrical needs forever!

Needless to say, the installations of both of these units weren’t easy.

I’m sort of clumsy.

The only tool I regularly play with is my own.

The radar was the worst. The axe I used to chop a hole in my aluminum mast kept getting dull. The electric cable was too short—so I had to run it efficiently…directly through the main cabin to the nav station…yes, I put a ‘Duck!’ sign on it so really dumb people wouldn’t think it was a sort of electro-handrail.  

Now this is a modern radar. I grew up aboard in the 1950s with an old-fashioned one… with a long black hood to block out light. Yes, they were huge and cumbersome… but, hey, they were way-cool, too! I mean, put a certain type of cigarette in one of ‘em and, hey, you could see actual vivid colors on a b&w screen!

And, it was a convenient place to throw-up into… if you didn’t like the guy on the following watch!

But this new unit is as small as my talent…or, very small as my wife likes to point out.

The main reason I wanted it was because of its ‘watchmen’ and ‘guard’ features. Basically, the unit mostly sleeps (like me) but occasionally wakes up and peeks (unlike me). This gives me a lot of confidence…so much so, in fact, that when a recent passing freighter hailed me on Channel 16 and said frantically, “We’re about to collide!” I just glanced at my blank radar screen and said smugly, “No, we’re not…in fact, you’re not even there!” (Newbie hint: never set the gain to zero!)

I was amazed how sensitive the Furuno 1623 was… once you find the proper settings and adjustments. I can watch my wife row ashore (alas, we can’t afford dinghy gas) to weed her taro patch—yes, she has desperate hopes of eating in the distant future!

The wind generator was a lot more fun to install. Obviously the installation manual was written by a Trini: “Put in wind,” it read, “Connect. Drink cold Caribe beer!”

Well, it wasn’t quite that simple.

I think the main mistake I made was installing it on such a windy day. I mean, bolting those blades on while the hub spun faster and faster… wasn’t easy, I’ll tell ya!

…but soon we had more volts and amps than we knew what to do with… and, so I had to buy one of those ‘e-meters’ as well… just to tell how wonderfully the wind generator pumped out the mega-juice. “…What’s it say?” I asked my wife as I connected the meter. “You’re right,” she said in techno-amazement, “it does say watts!”

So there you have it: Wild Card, pathetic little world-weary yacht that she is…has a new radar and a new Kiss wind generator to power it. And we’re dead broke.

In essence, things are back to normal.

Of course, we’re still basically the same. All this ‘electro-convenience’ doesn’t make us better people. We still bicker.

“…stop interrupting & distracting me,” I recently yelled at my wife when she asked me…as I peered into our shiny new radar…if I saw any ‘famine relief’ ships on the screen.

Editor’s note: Wild Card’s next stop is the Philippines—where Fatty and crew hope to resume their normal cruising diet of ‘dead fish & plastic-tasting water & not much else!’

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