Other Pages & Links
About Brec's Art
About Brec's Reports
List of Reports
Block Island Times articles
17, 2003-front page
New London Day
Links to friends
Link to SV Karma
(a companion vessel during much of Brec's Journey)
for John Morgan
Phone for John Morgan
c/o John R. Morgan
P. O. Box 1982
New London, Conn.
Please use the following AOL account in the
event the e-mails are returned from the above addresses --
Report Eight from the Otter: From the
Marquesas to Tahiti
September 8, 1999
Dear Friends and E-mail family,
The voyage from Ua Pou in the Marquesas to Tahiti is approximately 750
miles; the course is generally southwest.
At about 450 miles out, the Tuamotu island chain runs directly across the
rhumb line at right angles. The Tuamotus are comprised of 78 atolls, which
make them the largest group of coral atolls in the world.
They are known as the Dangerous Archipelago because of variable currents
and the difficulty of seeing many of the islands until you're only a few
miles away. Their land mass is typically very low Ė only five-to-twenty
feet above sea level -- and, where there are coconut trees rising above
that, there may be another forty feet.
The high volcanoes that were in the centers of the coral lagoons have
long since eroded below the surface leaving only rings of coral reef. The
small, sandy islands that dot the reefs are called motus. In some
"islands," such as Rangiroa, the largest, the coral encloses an
inland sea that is over 45 miles wide.
Not all the reefs have motus, which means the only thing a sailor will
see is a white line of breakers ahead -- sometimes too late. Before the
advent of GPS and radar, many boats were lost here.
Because of all the cautions in the cruising guides, I plotted a course
that threaded its way between islands that appeared to be the farthest apart
and still near the rhumb line.
I started on Monday, July 5th and arrived early on Sunday,
July 11th Ė six days sailing. A six-day leg now seems like just
around the corner. Bermuda, the first leg of the trip, was a similar
distance, yet seemed impossibly far.
Tahiti Ė the object of my dreams and fantasies since I can remember.
The far-away archetypal paradise. Now, just around the corner.
The following are excerpts from the Marquesas-to-Tahiti section in the
log of the Otter.
Weíre all on the journey,
Monday, July 5 Ė
6:30 a.m. Up with first light. The giant spires of rock behind
the village are still in cloud.
I fold and lash down Runcible Spoon, the dinghy, on deck. The water
is flat in this protected bay but the wind has been howling for a few days now
and behind me to the southwest Ė in open water, out of the lee -- I can see
Underway by 7:30. With the boat motion I feel tired and nap off and on
during the afternoon. Sometimes it takes me a few days to feel normal.
I see a large-bodied, white bird with a blue bill fly by -- Iíve asked
Sandy to bring a bird book to Tahiti.
I read Postcards by Annie Proulx. The language is addictive, the
characters are isolated and alone, like me.
Evening is very dark. No moon. There are eerie phosphorescent blobs Ė as
large as the boat or larger Ė that flash, light up suddenly, then fade Ė
they donít move. Itís not like a swimming creature. They are all around
the boat. I can see them out in the more distant dark as well as close up
beside the hull. Itís spooky.
8:30 p.m. I remind myself that yesterday was the 4th of
July and I forgot about it. If Iíd remembered, I could have shot off some of
my old flares. Go to sleep early.
Tuesday, July 6 --
The stalk of green bananas I got in Fatu Hiva twelve days ago has turned
yellow, so all at once and I have 40 or 50 bananas to eat before they turn
brown. Iíve tied the stalk to the stern pulpit and twist them off as I need
them. I need to eat eight or so per day to finish them by the time I arrive in
Tahiti Ė they are smaller than the ones in the States, about five or six
inches. I cut up five on my granola.
Today still a little light-headed from the motion. Continue to read Postcards.
Itís like a drug and makes me melancholy.
Wind at 25 knots from the port quarter. There are whitecaps everywhere;
again, they remind me of snow.
Wednesday, July 7 --
Long sleep again last night -- almost 14 hours total. Iím up every few
hours to check horizon and radar alarm. Feel rested and light. Iíve been
dreaming a lot.
Small clouds on the horizon drifting away. I repeat my morning prayer of
gratitude for the new day.
I feel I have a lot to do before Sandy arrives, and my anxiety comes again
to visit. Itís been a long time since Sandy visited me in the Virgin
Islands. This is the longest weíve been apart and I want everything to be
Thursday, July 8 --
6:30 a.m Get up and again I feel the morning sunshine as a
profound gift -- it brings me back to my childhood.
Cereal with six bananas cut up in it. I must be turning yellow. I wonder
how many calories a banana has. I may be taking in triple the standard caloric
The journal is behind and I spend the morning catching up. The afternoon is
spent reading Tahiti guide books, planning Sandyís and my itinerary out to
Bora Bora, and trying to erase my tan lines.
4:30 p.m. I am coming out the companionway into the cockpit and
spot what I think is a large whale directly behind the boat. The wind is still
up and the following seas are seven-to-eight feet high.
The creatureís submarine-colored shape and round form has a large back
with a curved fin on top and is running down the wave just to starboard of our
wake. The adrenaline pumps.
Iím not sure if itís threatening, but whatever it is, it is bigger than
Otter. I think it may be attracted by the rotor on the end of the water
generator line and immediately haul it in. The monster swims back and forth
across the wake as if looking for its missing toy.
Sometimes I hear it blow but I see no water vapor. Sometimes it doesnít
surface but I see a large boil of upward water. I see its shape beside the
boat. It occasionally turns and its underside is white.
After about five or six minutes I have a feeling it is only curious. When
it finally disappears, Iím left with the sense of a special visit from a
large benevolent creature. Someone tells me later that it sounds like a whale
shark Ė a friendly vegetarian that grows up to 40 feet in length.
I realize that so far Iíve not spotted a real whale. Itís okay Ė I
I nap as this evening Iíll enter the Tuamotus. By 10:00 p.m. Iím
between Manihi and Takapoto. I see Manihi 13 miles away on radar. The sky is
pitch black. The Milky Way is bright.
Friday, July 9 --
Bananas, bananas and more bananas.
I catch up in my journal and write about last nightís sunset. Again I was
transfixed for over an hour in the companionway, looking forward at the
white-capped seas, the white ragged edges on torn denim; pink light rays in a
light pastel blue sky, silvery gold edged clouds; orange-topped silent
soldiers marching in ranks down the deepening blue all around, their lavender
bottoms turning gray.
Iím washed with a physical sensation of love. My skin does not separate
me from a vibration that I feel in the pit of my stomach flowing to my neck
and outward into the movement of clouds to the horizon -- all moving together
in rapture, perfect beauty, a perfect deep silent chord keeping a rhythm
beyond time. It goes Ė it goes Ė it goes to lead gray.
I punch the button on the GPS for a reading and go below to plot my
position. I change my course to cut closer to the Arutua atoll. It will be
afternoon when I pass and Iíd like to see at least a glimpse of a Tuamotuan
Weíre making good time -- the days are flying by, my beard is getting
I work on drawing the floor plans of the houses Iíve lived in, starting
with the first -- the apartment in Willimantic where we live when Dad was at
UConn. We moved from there when I was about three or four to LitchfieldĖ
there are definite images of rooms and parts of rooms but a lot of it is
I find it fascinating trying to recall how rooms flowed one to another.
Where did the Christmas tree stand? Where was the Morris chair? Where did the
stove in the kitchen in Litchfield stand? Thereís my brotherís crib in my
parentsí bedroom. Thereís the dresser Mom painted vivid turquoise over the
newspapers on the floor.
Unchecked memories flood back. Uninterrupted, a thread of thought will go
on and on bringing me to places I havenít visited in 40 or 50 years. Iím
surprised at the detail of recall, some bright and shiny as new, some dim and
misty-edged -- tantalizing.
I review my impressions of the Marquesas -- as remote as any place I may
visit. I am eating their grapefruit (and bananas!), drinking their water,
smelling their smells -- I have frangipani blossoms from Ua Pou.
I picture the stunning, dark, smoky beauty of the islands, the strong
separate roles of men and women. Strong sunlight and shadow. Yards and jungles
filled with fruit. Beautiful children. Adults open and generous and welcoming.
Power of ancient Gods still alive in the forests. The piles of burnt coconut
husks along the trails like so many vanquished warriorsí skulls.
Fierceness behind the smiles -- a cannibal culture less than 200 years gone
who couldnít understand why they were asked to give up their rituals when
the new God asked them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. A darkness
fastened at the edge of the beauty giving it great contrast.
1:30 p.m. I spot Arutua off the port bow. At six miles away I see
green palm tree tops pushing out of the blue waves then disappearing below
them again. Such an odd sight Ė a strip of fragile green on the endless
As I get closer, the green stretches up on stalks, then the stalks become
grounded, and finally white sand beaches appear under the brown-green
underbrush. I sail by, the trees lowering into the blue again, like a
cardboard set going back into a slot in the stage.
Cockpit shower and clean clothes. Brilliant clear trade wind sky -- winds
at 18 knots abeam.
Dark night. Squalls start rolling by Ė gusts to 30 knots. Iím putting a
second reef in the main when a few big waves punch up over the bow. Iím
I repeat, "Itís all part of the game," but then realize that Iím
on the losing team, getting hosed. For someone who lives on the sea, I hate
Below I change and sponge off the salt.
Saturday, July 10 --
6:00 a.m. I have been up all night between squalls and fishing
vessels; a heavy rain continues to fall for a long time.
As I doze I think itís October and Iím driving in the rain past the
main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza. The trees toss
their leaves in wet clusters across the windy evening street. A warm yellow
green glow comes from the library windows.
The scene shifts and Iím reading in bed with Sandy next to me and soft
lamplight on the cream pages. The same dark storm is rattling the window. I
hear the pine trees rush in the wind. I am warm and snug. It must be gusting
to 30 outside.
7:30 a.m. The rain squalls pass. Itís extremely dark off the bow.
A complete arc of rainbow, intense as colored fire, directly ahead. Weíre
sailing into its center, the bottoms of the arc touch the water just out of
reach Ė so close, so intense.
Breakfast. Iím getting bananaíd out!
Really muggy and stuffy below with all hatches shut against the rain.
Rain squalls ring the horizon all day.
Time to start napping as ETA at Tahiti is early Sunday morning.
Sunset is another beauty: Paintbrush-daubed sky; light salmony white
stipples. I feel the presence of the grandparents.
7:00 p.m. As I nap a forward locker door slams open and a gift from
Dad drops to the floor. What do things mean? I hope he is all right.
Sunday, July 11 --
Just after midnight I wake and scan the horizon. I see lights of a boat off
the starboard bow just as the guard alarm goes off.
I turn on the VHF and find there are four of us out here approaching
Tahiti. We give our positions to each other.
One, named Lolita, is just out of range for me but I hear one of the
other boats, Innoccenti, speaking to her. It would be great if itís
Pepper and Jody, who rafted with me through the Panama Canal.
Innoccenti and I chat. They are from New Zealand, out six years. They
are closing the circle home and counting the days. They loved the Red Sea and
give me a very different image than the guides Iíve been reading.
I tell them I have a pair of red socks to fly under the New Zealand
courtesy flag, when I clear in there, just in case the immigration officials
On deck I see the loom of the airport lights on the north of the Big
Island. Approaching land is always like Christmas Eve Ė Iíll be up a
3:00 a.m. Graham on Innoccenti calls. Did I get hit by the
big squall? He had gusts to 35 knots and it drove him six miles off course to
the north. I say Iím sorry, but it missed me altogether. But Iím not so
sorry -- my competitive weirdness now puts me in a race to arrive first.
4:30 a.m. Abeam of the light on Point Venus.
5:00 a.m. Lights of Papeete clearly visible.
6:00 a.m. Still extremely dark Ė can barely make out the islandís
outlines. Low clouds running overhead.
6:30 a.m. I see the long breakwater and large gas tanks. Sky just
starting to lighten.
7:00 a.m. Pick up red and green lights of the channel markers in
8:00 a.m. Moorea, the island 12 miles to the west of Tahiti, is
very dramatic in the early light with clouds swirling around its hidden peaks.
Tahiti is starting to change from a gray lump and take on character and
form -- green ridges rising up steeply into now-gold morning.
I furl sails and motor through the pass into Papeete harbor. High speed
ferries rush by. One-hundred-foot catamarans, swarming with tourists, are
raising their sails.
I look around the harber: there's Oystercatcher, and Lolita,
and UFO. Thereís the yacht quay right in downtown. Itís full.
Thereís the Paofai Temple, a pink church with white trim along the black
sand beach lined with trees.
Itís here I lower my anchor and back in. I tie lines ashore to the trees,
which have blue-eyed mourning doves in them.
Beyond my bow I see the protecting reef and beyond it, Moorea, purple now
in the Sunday morning light.
From the glass telephone booth as I call Sandy I look across the harbor and
I feel Otter and I have sailed into a ViewMaster 3-D postcard!
"Sandy?! Iíve made it! Iím calling from Tahiti!"
*** End of Report Eight from the Otter ***