“Where’s the best place you’ve ever sailed to?” is a frequent question that we circumnavigators get—especially during our fourth circ. The problem is that the question itself is too broad.
Let’s narrow it down so the answer has some merit.
My favorite ocean is the Indian because, one, it has lots of wind (the Tradewinds reached gale-force every afternoon of our 3,000-mile passage between Cocos Keeling and Reunion). And, two, because it has so few people.
Most circumnavigators love the Pacific, dig New Zealand, and have a blast with the decadence and moral vacuum of Thailand—but then storms and pirates? No, thanks!
I, of course, like storms. If not for storms, all the rummies lying about the bars of Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean would be out there floundering in deep ocean—instead of diligently working on their cirrhosis psychosis. Storm management is dead simple—and if you can’t figure it out, you’re dead.
Ocean storms are what separate the real men and their sturdy craft from the boys and their plastic toys.
I know one billionaire with two huge satellite domes on his mizzen who frantically pushes away the approaching storms on his computer screen with his cursor! Is that crazy or crazy? Instead, I tell myself the truth, I love the sailing life and have for the last 63 years of living aboard and ocean sailing. And, since storms are an integral part of my lifestyle, I love storms too.
Few people have seen a mature full gale from the deck of a small boat—and very very very few for a second time. That’s why we circumnavigators have that demented gleam in our eye—who wouldn’t have after witnessing so much massive power so indifferently applied?
The Pacific, however, contains my favorite people—the sensuous Polynesians. Both the men and the women are utterly beautiful. In their laidback culture, children are sort of demigods. Yes, Poly kids have genetic parents—not to teach them so much as act as support crew. The kids, being half gods, get to pick and choose their everyday parents and the most respected adults in the village live in a hut with the most children.
After all, if the gods like it there—that’s a pretty powerful review, right?
Now Polynesian houses are one room, open-air affairs—and children are cherished. And, rightly so, the adults aren’t ashamed that they reproduce—especially while surrounded by the lovely, joyous results of their sexual labors. Thus, the children see their parents have sex almost daily.
So, a playground in Polynesian has kids pretending to be Spiderman, pretending to drive a car, pretending to shoot a gun—and, just as naturally, pretending to have sex.
Yes, it is a bit of a shock to repressed, guilt-ridden Westerners with puritanically trained eyes.
The most beautiful island/harbor in the world is Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas. My favorite anchorage is the Bay of Penises where boiling and cooling lava re-erupting caused giant, slightly-curved phallic-shaped rock columns to jut up from the harbor bottom. Some are so large that they have exclusive resorts on them. Amazing! (Hint: the people of Fatu Hiva are friendly if you don’t mess with their graves like young Thor Heyerdahl did.)
My favorite gravesite is nearby on Hiva Oa. I shoved a note between the crumbling rocks covering Paul Gaugin—reassuring him that the names of the religious fanatics persecuting him were now long forgotten, while he and his art will live forever. (His erotic carving on the walls of his hut are still faintly visible.)
New Zealand is one of the three places where I’d consider living that speaks English—Singapore and St. John USVI being the other two.
Certainly, in terms of engineering marvels, the Panama Canal takes the cake. Yes, a thirsty Paul Gaugin commanded a shovel here for a few months. At one point the malaria was so bad that no matter how many folks they hired to bury the mountains of dead—they’d die too.
Madagascar is stranger than strange. Even the Baobab trees look like tormented souls screaming at the heavens. The residents talk to their dead all the time—and various relatives follow them around whenever they leave their hut. Yes, the dead are, like big in Madagascar.
For example, a family came down and asked us if we could give them a cassette tape. I said, “Sure! What kind of music do you like?” They seemed puzzled. They didn’t have a cassette player and weren’t going to listen to it—they were going to use the tape for decoration.
Oh, and did we have any old tooth brushes we didn’t need?
In a few days, because of a flat tire on the eldest son’s bike, they were having a family reunion. Did we want to come?
Flat tire? Yes, one son had had a flat tire and this younger brother had broken the strap on his flip-flops—so, of course, something must be done to stop the bad luck, right?
The family party was almost exactly like a Fourth of July party in the US. Only after the BBQ, they dug up all their dead relatives from behind their house, cleaned the mud off the bones with tooth brushes, and, finally, tied the unspooled cassette tapes in bows to decorate the bones in a very festive manner—well, to their eye, anyway.
In a different nearby village, we found all mud huts—with one guy building a cement block structure. I was impressed and started helping him and lending him tools.
“This is going to be a great place for you and your family to live,” I said one day.
He looked at me like I was nuts. “Are you crazy?” he asked me. “This isn’t my house! I’m only going to be alive for another ten years at most. This is my grave, Fatty. I’m going be in here forever. Of course, I want it nice!”
That makes sense… I guess.
Our favorite headhunters are the Dayaks of Borneo. The village that we anchored off had nine heads. The village across the way had (sadly) only three. Headhunting is now illegal, of course, but it is amazing how imaginative the city fathers are at dreaming up various reasons why so many local corpses lack anything above the shoulders. “Oh, he must have stupidly stood up while zooming under a bridge,” applies to almost every dead, headless fisherman they find floating.
Here’s how, FYI, to shrink a head. Carefully cut it away from the skull with a sharpened seashell, then sew the eyes and mouth closed. Next heat up some smooth rocks and coarse sand—not too hot, but hot enough—and pour in through the neck. Then immediately begin turning the head over in your hands—never stopping or the stationary heat will deform the facial features. Repeat many times over the course of the week or two.
The three keys—low heat, constant turning, and different-sized grains of sand.
The result is a perfect miniature face—with what appears to be artist’s paint brushes sticking out the nose. (Nostril hair doesn’t shrink, only the skin.)
Damn, you can’t say circumnavigating isn’t educational!
These head hunters were totally shocked that I wasn’t impressed with their hunting skills.
“That’s because you don’t understand the rules,” the chief of the village told me.
Huh? There are rules for headhunting?
1. You can’t headhunt a crazy person.
2. You can’t headhunt a pregnant lady.
3. You can’t headhunt a sleeping person—however, you can
gather around him with machetes, wake him up, and once
he confirms that he’s awake, CHOP OFF HIS HEAD!
“Oh,” I said contritely, “that does sound quite reasonable!” (Hint: never piss off a dozen cannibal warriors in the middle of a jungle in Borneo!)
Papua New Guinea is almost as cool. If a stranger kills your father, you have a year to stage his funeral and then another year to kill a random member of the tribe that killed your father. (Don’t believe me? Just ask that dead Rockefeller boy—oh, wait, you can’t!)
Southeast Asia is currently my favorite cruising ground. It’s deserted, totally safe, and they have a reverence for the elderly. Everyone calls me uncle in respect—often touching their heart as they do so.
I currently live in a city of six million people called Singapore where I don’t lock my moored boat, my dinghy, or my expensive and computer-laden bike. Lunch costs $2.50 here and the food courts are bustling. Finding a communal table with an open seat isn’t easy. If you do find one, ladies leave their purse or gentleman their iPhones—before wandering through the crowd for five to ten minutes to find their food.
The last thing which might have been stolen at the Changi Sailing Club was in the early fifties—but was more likely the cockpit cushion being blown overboard in a squall, not stolen. (Nothing else has ‘gone missing’ in the ensuring 70 years or so.)
Of course, I dearly love St. Barth’s and Bequia too. And my finest carnival experience took place in Trinidad nearly 40 years ago. San Blas is out of this world as is the Galapagos. It’s impossible to exaggerate the tranquility of the Greek isles. Suakin, Sudan, in the Red Sea is like cruising aboard a time-machine. You can’t take a photograph that doesn’t look like it was taken in Biblical times.
Africa, of course, has a powerful allure—it is, after all, all our ancestral home.
St. Helena is amazing. Where else can you grab the guy from the French Embassy and end up bouncing on Napoleon’s death bed as he watches in abhorrence? (The bed is about four feet short!)
Sadly, I’ve never anchored off Pitcairn—which is something I look forward to during circ #5.
Actually, what is always my favorite port? The next one I’m sailing to—be it Pitcairn or Fiddler’s Green.
Editor’s note: this week Fatty gave an SRO $100/seat lecture in Bukit Batok to solicit charitable donations for the Singapore Sailability program, a program that allows wheelchair-bound sailors to sail/race together each weekend in the waters off Pulau Ubin.