Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Stars Scattered Across the Pacific

Every day -- now twice a day -- Don Quixote warms up the SSB and dials in a frequency to participate in a cruiser net. During the net, boats which are underway call in and report their position, weather conditions, and status of the crew and boat. After the boats underway check in, often boats at anchor will announce their positions and offer information on services and conditions at various anchorages. The net serves as a social connection with other cruisers, source of valuable information about anchorages and weather, as well as a source of safety in the form of getting the news out when a boat is disabled, requiring assistance, or simply lost.

It will surprise no one that very early on we volunteered to be net control for the Pacific Puddle Jump Net. And of course, in this context of chatting up fellow cruisers, "we" actually means Toast. Having said that, DrC takes net controller responsibilities very seriously. When on passage, the net is often during the middle of my off watch so DrC does the net, either reports or control. He is highly competent at the job, and I only wish he would take it more often. I think he puts on his doctor voice; he sounds so firm, confident, and reassuring on the net. In this respect, he's a considerably better net control than I am as his voice is more clear over the radio.

Early on, we got in the habit of adding way point markers on our laptop charting software for the boats we track. During the Puddle Jump when we were net control every night, we tracked the progress of roughly a dozen boats in addition to our buddy Loose Pointer. We use a star marker and the boat name to mark their position each day. During the passage, the boats were strung like a string of Christmas lights from the Marquesas to points along the Mexican coastline. A few started farther north, more came from the direction of Panama or the Galapagos, but by the time the boats reached mid-crossing, the stars formed a clear pattern coelescing on Nuka Hiva and Hiva Oa.

We don't track all the boats on the net any longer. There are simply too many, and I confess that we don't actually care about all of them. Sure we maintain a record of the boat positions when we are on net control to pass on to future nets if there is an emergncy or lost boat. But now our charts are studded with stars only for those boats with whom we have a personal connection. Given the sociability of the girls and myself, it's not surprising that this still amounts to a whole lot of boats. But they are no longer linked in a chain from any clear source or destined for any specific location. Instead it looks like someone up ended a box of jacks over the entire central South Pacific. We have friends stretching from Pago Pago to Roratonga, Bora Bora to Tonga. There are boats on Aitutaki, Suvurrow, and Palmerston. To see them all, we have to zoom out basically from the Tuamotus to Australia.

This scattering trend is only going to continue, our relationships dissolving into the Pacific like blue dye in a glass of water. Some of these boats are the homes of acquaintances with whom we've merely spent an enjoyable day. Others, however, hold in their hulls people we have come to care about deeply. It's both exciting and a little painful hearing them report in from places so very far away. We change their coordinates, check their progress, listen eagerly for details on their activities. After the net, we zoom out and contemplate our celestial landscape whose horoscope changes daily with the winds and whims of the people we love.

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