On Board Athena


Onboard Athena

Sun 30 Mar 2014

Arrange with the Lodge office to cancel the taxi. Some more lodgers arrived last night. One family spending time around the pool. Ta’eva (pron Teeva) announces he’s ready to go and helps me carry my bag down to the van. Another young man from the Lodge climbs into the back for the ride and off we go. Large groups of people standing around all along the road waving large flags basically blue or orange colours. Ta’eva tells me over and over that blue is for Independents – good, and orange is for French – bad. In between this constant explanation he says today is for voting and first mentions the Mayor then mentions the President. So I don’t actually know which. In any case there’s no apparent animosity between the groups with many of them mingling side by side.

At another point he tells me again, “Independents – free! Can go to car yard, pick car, free! Get TV, free!” He continues on several more times like this until the young man in the back who still goes to school says simply and somewhat forcefully, “Dreaming!”  Silently concur with this but it doesn’t seem to put Ta’eva off. And all this to the accompaniment of electronic disco music obviously best played at full volume. Was glad when we finally arrive at the Carrafour Supermarket at Taravao and can climb out of that van.

Andrew soon turns up. Easy enough to recognise from the photograph he’d sent, just an older version. Sit down for a coffee to quickly get acquainted, then do a little shopping for supper tonight. Walk about 800 metres or so down to a dirt landing where I wait while Andrew goes out to another yacht to borrow their larger dinghy. Andrew’s dinghy is small and can only carry two people and then only in calm water. It can’t carry my baggage as well. A young American man named Mike appears rowing a black painted dinghy. He’d volunteered to collect me and rows me out to Athena. Mike strikes me as a very nice chap, friendly and obviously helpful. He’d come out to Tahiti just to mind one of the yachts while the owner returned to the United States for a wedding.

Thomas the cat is standing by the cap-shrouds to see what’s happening. Proves to be quite friendly and ever ready for a pat so it looks like we’ll be friends. Climb aboard Athena and carry my gear down below and immediately my anxiety levels blow out. I’m getting hand tremors, heart racing and shortness of breath with no explainable cause. Inside the boat is quite cramped. Not much room to move about and there’s a shortage of storage space.

Interior of Athena looking from companionway toward V Berth Looking forward from cockpit.

Spend the rest of the day and evening settling in, stowing gear and chatting with Andrew, who does most of the talking I think. He stands a little shorter than me, has thinning grey hair and a white beard, is quite intelligent and describes himself as a vagabond seaman. As the evening draws on we play a movie on the laptop computer before getting to bed.

Mon 31 Mar 2014

Toss and turn all night unable to shake the anxiety despite using the breathing exercises I’d been taught. Spend an uneasy day aboard catching up on sleep and reading. Thomas spends most of his time sleeping or moving from place to place and plopping himself anywhere. Nothing escapes his notice. Andrew attends to a few jobs up on deck. Later he shows me around up topsides and I’m a bit taken aback at the poor condition of a portion of headsail I can see under the covers and lashed to the bow rails. It’s actually rotten and unlikely to stand any strain from the wind without ripping. Begin to wonder what else is not up to scratch and it adds to whatever it is that’s concerning me.

Later we spend more time chatting or at least Andrew does most of it. Andrew was a Sociologist but spent most of his working life as a lawyer, quite successfully by the sounds of it. He’s also spent most of his adult life sailing and has extensive experience. It’s evident that is true just by listening to him recount some of his voyages and experiences, including that of a being a yacht delivery skipper. It’s easy for me to see he’s quite the accomplished seaman. Watch another movie before bed.

Tue 1 Apr 2014

Another restless night waking up feeling quite dull and still anxious. Light showers and drizzle outside. Break the news to Andrew that I cannot continue with this trip. That kind gentle man just says, “What’s wrong Russ?” I show him my still shaking hands and tell him how I’d had a mental collapse in 2004, three relapses since and earlier this year diagnosed with PTSD as well. He asks about my symptoms. I think he has a right to know so explain them, then finish by telling him that I think if I ignore it and push things then it will probably get worse.

Andrew agrees.

I also mention my concern about the condition of the genoa headsail – the primary one to use in lighter winds. He assures me it’s actually a yankee jib – a smaller sail for heavier winds which is high cut so that waves can pass more easily underneath as the yacht leans over. The genoa is in good condition and lashed underneath. I’m also told there’s a spare headsail and mainsail both in good condition and that another yankee headsail is being delivered at Samoa. It’s not coming here because of the additional hefty expense in bringing it into French Polynesia. I’m relieved on hearing this and my estimation of the man rises. Note that the yacht is actually quite well equipped for ocean travel, although I would have liked to see a dedicated GPS unit rather than rely on a laptop computer and USB GPS devices.

Andrew surprises me by saying he really does understand my situation, and says he’d once had very similar symptoms 30 years ago but is now cured. He’d been lucky enough to get the services of a world class psychologist who gained his experience by treating victims of the Rhodesian war and was well regarded. This man taught Andrew a system of physical and mental exercises, ordered him to give up drinking and smoking, avoid any stressful activity including watching television and practice the exercises twice a day.

Andrew equates anxiety and I think depression would probably fit in here too, as a lack of mental energy. He likened it to a cell-phone battery. If you are running at about 10% then you don’t have the energy – mental or physical to do anything. You just can’t function properly and your mental defences are very weak. And unless your battery levels are at least up to 50% you are going to quickly run out of energy if you try to do anything stressful. As a result you go through life in a series of small highs and lows.

I can relate exactly to that . Andrew gives me a verbal overview of what these physical and mental exercises entail, and promises to write it out and email them to me. I knew of similar exercises before and had tried them, but didn’t get any benefit so stopped doing them. He tells me it will take between 4 to 6 months before seeing any improvements, but after that things should get better much more quickly.

I say that I feel bad about having to leave him on his own like this, but he assures me it’s not much of a problem. He’s done a lot of solo sailing before. In fact he said he’d probably go it alone from here on anyway. I assume he means all the way to South Africa.

Later that afternoon we go ashore to the supermarket which has a wifi hotspot and I’m able to find accommodation in Papeete for tomorrow. Once I’m back in Papeete in the hotel, I’ll set about booking flights back home to Darwin.

Weds 2 Apr 2014

Raining off an on. Pack up but find out later I’d left my toilet bag behind on the boat. Andrew demurs when I give him the $500 he’d mentioned in an much earlier email to me as the amount needed when we planned to go to Darwin. My position on this is that if you leave a boat of your own choice you lose your contribution and I knew he needed it. Also gave him some new marine charts covering the area from Fiji to Timor and Torres Strait.

Mike comes over once again and rows me ashore followed in close order by Andrew. We wait about 40 minutes or so before the bus to Papeete shows up. There’s no real timetable here. Cost 450 Swiss Francs – approx just over $5.00. Bid farewell to Andrew. Wish him good luck and say goodbye.

The trip into town is uneventful. Interesting to watch the locals come and go. There’s a huge cruise ship and a United States warship docked at separate wharves nearby. Takes about 40 minutes before a taxi pulls up at one of the main taxi ranks and takes me to the Sarah Nui hotel. Takes the receptionists a while to find the booking and an even longer while to process it, but eventually manage to get into my room and take a long, hot shower. Thankfully there’s soap here unlike the other place. Spend the rest of the day looking for and booking flights home to Darwin.

Dinner back down at the PlaceVaiete at the harbour. Have a television in the room but it’s all in French. Watch a movie on the laptop instead.

Tomorrow I’ll spend the day waiting around for my flight to Auckland, thence to Brisbane and finally Darwin. I know I’m going to have regrets about not going on the voyage with Andrew but it can’t be helped. I’ve always enjoyed a challenge and I don’t like it one little bit when I can’t rise to meet it. I’m used to meeting them but perhaps I just set my goals too high this time.  I’d thought things would be okay because I wasn’t sailing solo on my own boat.  And I’d sailed as crew on another boat previously from Turkey to Oman in 2009. No hint of problem there. And I’d sailed from Cairns to Innisfail in Queensland and back with one crewman in 2012 and never had a problem there either. Why should this one have been any different? I don’t know.

But if anything there is one aspect to this trip that is markedly significant. And that was meeting a true gentleman and getting advice which may lead to improving the rest of my life.  If that happens then I’ll be forever grateful to Andrew.



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