“Let our love be a flame, not an ember”
Of great relief to a good majority of our sea-wary passengers from the mainland, the first leg of the journey to Rarotonga would be a short half-day passage from Moorea to Maiao, a small three-square-mile member of the Windward Islands in French Polynesia. We would not completely lose sight of terra firma for very long on this first day out, a reassuring thought for the novice ocean travelers, ditto for the captain and crew of an amateur-built, lashed-together wooden boat on its maiden open-ocean voyage.
Captain Bob had instructed the group to be ready at the dock just after sunrise so that we could get an early start. Surprisingly, all of the cast members were on time and ready to go with no obvious signs of late-night carousing or head-throbbing hangovers. The resort’s service skiff ferried us out to Kalea in two groups. Bob, Lua and I went out first to make sure the decks were clear, the cabins were ready, the boarding ladder was secured in place, and the instructions for using the hand-pump manually operated marine toilet were clearly posted. Marine toilets, or ‘heads,’ are notoriously fussy and unreliable contraptions, and one careless user can quickly disable these most sinister of sanitation systems without much effort, making future ‘head calls’ for all passengers a matter of finding a spare bucket and a private place to do one’s business.
As we approached Kalea, she appeared to be tugging gently on her mooring line, even in the perfectly still wind and wave conditions around the stunning translucent lagoon that morning. It was as if she was telling us she’s been tethered for too long and was losing patience waiting to once again surf those long, smooth, open-ocean swells of the South Pacific.
The skiff dropped the crew off and sped back to the docks to retrieve the others. They motored up twenty minutes later.
With calm conditions that morning, they did not have much trouble boarding Kalea from the small skiff by way of the narrow boarding ladder. Bob and I were ready to help, if asked, but most of the passengers enjoyed the challenge of managing the delicate maneuver themselves. Jan almost took an early spill ‘into the drink’ when she took that first step onto the springy trampoline netting and momentarily lost her balance. I quickly moved in her direction to lend a hand, but Tucker out-quicked me and helped her regain her footing with an arm wrapped tightly around her slender waist. I looked over at Bob and smirked, recalling his own embarrassing dunking at the dock a few days earlier.
Bob had instructed me to familiarize the male cast members with the boat as soon as they came aboard. I was to show them to their cabins and make sure they knew where to find everything, how to use the safety gear and how to conserve water when showering. Also, most importantly, we were to read the instructions together — out loud — on how to properly operate the head. Lua would do the same with the female passengers.
The three men each had their own cabins in the starboard hull. Tucker took the forward single cabin, Paul took one of the doubles, and Jack took the remaining single cabin at the rear. The spare double cabin was used to store tools, repair supplies, life vests, and other maintenance, repair, and safety essentials. It was also available as a secure place for either Bob or me to bug out for a while, if things ever got too stressful.
Julie took one of the double cabins in the port hull, sharing it with extra food stores, towels, and snorkeling equipment. Lua occupied the second double cabin — she also required the extra space to store sealed containers of fresh produce, rice, beans, jerky, nuts, crackers, cereal, flour, spices, potatoes, water, pots, pans and other galley supplies. Clara and Jan each took one of the single cabins at each end of the port hull.
Once the passengers were settled and all equipment stowed away, we motored slowly out through the narrow pass, watching carefully to make sure we didn’t drift sideways onto the jagged and unforgiving shallow reef. After clearing the last coral heads, Bob and I hoisted the twin sails and set the autopilot steering on a southwesterly heading toward tiny Maiao. The winds were moderate and steady and the skies clear. We glided along effortlessly at our anticipated cruising speed of just under 10 knots, propelled forward by the predictable trade winds of the South Pacific.
During the short passage to our first port of call, Captain Bob and I stayed busy trimming sails, tightening lashings, and rearranging items on the deck to ensure our passengers were safe and comfortable, as they slowly developed their sea legs. Bob also made sure the video cameras were all working properly and running continuously to capture any action on the deck that might be of interest to SlimC.
Just after noon, Lua emerged from her cabin with trays of vegetarian sushi and spring roll kits complete with tangy ginger-soy dipping sauce. The sushi rice was rolled around julienned carrots, red bell peppers, celery, and scallions, which made for a very tasty and colorful finger food. She had whisked together some soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, and wasabi paste to make a most delightful dipping sauce for the sushi. With the spring rolls, Lua figured the passengers would have some fun wrapping up the pre-cut red bell peppers, beets, carrots, cucumbers, and radish sprouts in the delicate rice-paper wrappers themselves. The idea was a big hit with the passengers — mostly. Tucker and Clara were a bit confused, thinking these were just appetizers and steaks-on-the-grill would soon follow. But that never happened. And they didn’t make a fuss. This time.
We all sat around the table, just forward of the pilothouse, each of us assembling our own spring rolls, with varying levels of success. After some light prompting from Bob, the passengers opened up a bit and shared personal stories about careers and previous relationships. The contours of their distinct personalities were slowly revealing themselves, and I couldn’t help but imagine what romances and friendships might emerge over the next few days. Or altercations. Who dances? Who disrupts?
I could already sense some sizzle between Tucker and Jan. They were both fiercely attractive and independent and came across as master manipulators. There was an intense drive and underlying volatility in each — typical of fiery fast-laners. Their chemistry together would most likely be short and combustible. One should not be harshly judged, then, for imagining the two of them using each other to explore some zany S&M fantasy, dancing to the Masochism Tango, in a downward spiral of agonizing decadence and debauchery:
Let our love be a flame, not an ember
Say it's me that you want to dismember
Blacken my eye, jab a nail in my thigh
As we dance to the Masochism Tango
Bash in my brain
And make me scream with pain
Then kick me once again
And say we'll never part
I know too well
I'm underneath your spell
So darling, if you smell something
Burning, that's my heart
But what if Clara gets to Tucker first? She also seems to be a virtuoso player and smooth, sexy operator. She had the confidence and gumption of a master politician, though lacked the track record to explain it.
Surely, Paul and Julie could find their way into each other’s embrace, as they both have been through very difficult times and seem to have warm, forgiving hearts and honest expectations. The resonance Paul feels with newly discovered Unitarian Universalist principles and Julie’s strong social consciousness could be the strange attractor in the chaotic universe of human relationships that draws together these two seeking souls.
Now businessman Tucker and science man Jack, they are as different as white is to black.
Jack dreams of unlocking the deep mysteries of Nature and sharing his findings, with little regard for wealth or material comfort. Tucker, on the other hand, values efficiency in human affairs and solely for the purpose of making himself wealthier. To him, business is a ruthless sport of winner-take-all competition. He relishes the idea of crushing and humiliating a competitor and despises ‘win-win’ deals. He thinks of himself primarily as a ‘brand’ in the marketplace and has the narcissistic need to be the only brand on the market – a one-man megabrand.
To Tucker, Nature is nothing more than a vast pool of resources to be harvested and mined from a dead rock spinning around a hellish sun in a cold and meaningless universe, and all for the unimpeded pursuit of his power, pleasure, and privilege. Tucker’s worldview is not uncommon among powerful businessmen, I noted. It seemed a natural outcome of the values, knowledge, social organization, and norms that coevolved with the concentrated energy of fossil fuels and naturally selected for concentrated individualist attitudes and materialist winner-take-all values.
Both Jack and Tucker were each very smart, confident, self-reliant individuals; but with very different goals, motivations, and notions of success. Curious versus conniving. How would these two mavericks get along?
Julie and Lua shared a common interest in the culinary arts, hospitality, and humor. I pictured them enjoying each other’s company while preparing meals, sharing recipes, and speculating about potential relationships: “Did you see the way Captain Bob was staring at Clara?” Julie might say. “He seems to find her very intriguing, but I can’t tell if it is physical attraction or a desire to push her overboard.” “Maybe both!” Lua would respond, jokingly.
And what could be said about Kalea’s crew? The three of us were getting along very well together and enjoying each other’s stories. We were a jazz trio, blending our divergent and distinct skills to improvise novel experiences for ourselves and our passengers, varying tempo and tenor as needed to match the mood, always alert for cues on when to shift modes and when to stay put in the current groove.
By early afternoon, Maiao appeared on the horizon. We zig-zag tacked our way upwind to a pristine isolated patch of shoreline and slowly inched up onto the smooth, sandy beach, being careful not to damage Kalea’s shallow fin keels. With the gentlest of groundings, she kissed the shore.
Bob and I scrambled up onto the forward trampoline. I grabbed the lightweight aluminum Fortress anchor and jumped off of the forward crossbeam into knee-deep water dragging the unspooling anchor line behind me. Walking up the soft, sandy beach to higher ground, I wrapped the anchor line around the base of a palm tree and jammed the anchor’s flukes into the ground. Bob jumped in the water behind me. Lua and Julie handed us the canopy tent, beach chairs, platters of food, beverages, and the requisite supplies for a bonfire that evening, while the others surveyed the gorgeous natural surroundings from Kalea’s deck.
Bob enticed the passengers to forage for firewood by setting up a friendly match between them, exploiting their naturally competitive natures. While they were away, he set up the video camera on a tripod stand a few meters away from where we would erect the large canopy tent for the bonfire that evening. He semi-concealed it behind a clump of palm trees, so that it would not be too distracting. Everyone knew that there would always be cameras filming — that was part of the deal, after all.
The cast returned with an ample amount of firewood. Nature-boy Jack, not surprisingly, was carrying the largest load. They set it down under the canopy and we arranged it into a small mound. We were all set for the evening event.