July 10, 2006
As tourists visiting all of these foreign locations, we are
constantly observing the people and activities around us, watching and
waiting for something exciting to happen. We try to be discreet about
studying the people and their habits,
hoping to learn something about their culture. We wait until we are
back in the safety and solitude of the boat before we discuss what we
may have observed during our investigations. Lately, however, the
tables have been turned, and we now find ourselves to be the ones under
For the past week we have been tied up alongside a cement dock
built to accommodate a cargo ship that stops in every couple of weeks
to deliver supplies to the island. The island isn’t much more than a
pile of sand with a few palm trees in the middle, but is home to a
couple hundred people. Obviously, not much happens on an island of
this size, so when a sailboat full of white people and strange bags full of surfboards arrives at their wharf, it's a pretty big deal. Our little home has
supplied the people with 24 hours of entertainment a day.
Before the sun even rises, we are awakened by the youngest of
the spectators, as they get an early start to the summer days.
High-pitched cries of “good morning” penetrate my dreams, and welcome
me to the dawn. Unfortunately, “good morning” is the extent of the
English spoken on this island. We can’t even ask the kids politely to
disappear and come back at a more civilized time of day. Instead, we
are stuck with them throughout the morning until their replacements
arrive just before noon.
These young ones have the least tact of any of our visitors, and
they see nothing wrong with kneeling down to peer into any of our
windows or open portholes. Each of us has been caught at least once in
a compromising position. These children won’t hesitate to point, laugh
and heckle you for any minor indiscretion. My morning custom of
relieving myself off the side of the boat has been put on indefinite
hold while tied to the wharf. Anytime one of us pokes our head above
deck, the dock erupts in a chorus of young voices all calling out in
the local tongue, even though they know very well we don’t understand a
word of it. Somehow, the little punks never tire of this routine, and
continue to show up each and every morning to spend a full six hours
The changing of the guard usually takes place just before noon,
and the average age of the voyeurs increases by about ten years.
Sometimes, we hardly notice the change, as the younger group is slowly
replaced and sent on their way. A major difference between the two
crowds is that the teenagers bring other forms of entertainment with
them. During long spells of inactivity among us crew, the crowd will
kick a ball around, run each other over on their bicycles, or push each
other off the dock into the water. This is the only part of the day
where we are offered some entertainment by the locals. The other day,
a fight broke out between one of the cross-dressing teens and a surly
looking punk with bleached out hair. In the end, the she-male was
victorious, and the loser left the dock with his tail between his legs,
never to return.
In the late afternoon, we enjoy a slight break from our
audience, as I assume they all go to eat dinner. But, when the meal is
finished, we are quickly descended upon by the adult crowd.
Inevitably, they show up just as we begin preparing our dinner. I am
the one in charge of the grill, and as such, find myself stuck out back
in the cockpit with nowhere to hide. This older crowd brings with it
the most frustration, as it might actually be beneficial to have a
conversation with one of them if we only spoke a common language.
Instead, they will agonizingly spend twenty minutes trying to ask some
unimportant question using only hand signals and gestures. “Where do
you come from?” and “When are you leaving?” are the most popular. I
used to enjoy the half hour I was able to spend by myself while tending
the barbeque, but now it has been tainted and I dread the uncomfortable
stares and silence.
Our obvious defense against the invasion of our privacy has been
to just completely ignore the offenders. I have become almost unaware
of the constant whistles and cat calls from the side of the Van Dieman.
Eventually, our strategy led to a near disaster.
Just past sunset one day, the crowd’s usual banter became a bit
more excited. I continued to ignore them, until they reached a true
frenzy, and I was convinced to finally stick my head up and see what
all the fuss was about. To my shock, the massive cargo ship was
steaming into the pass, headed right for the spot where we had tied up.
The ship showed no signs of slowing down, so we had to get the hell out
of its way, seeing as we were tied up to its dock. We threw off the
dock lines and fought our way against the 5 knot current to free up the
dock space just in the nick of time. The humungous ship came to a stop
with its rusted anchor hanging precariously over the stern of our
little boat, where it spent the night loading fish from the village.
I wish I could say that I had learned an important lesson from
this incident, but I still refuse to pay any attention to the screaming
masses. After all, the cargo ship only comes every other week and we
will be long gone by then.