It was “blowing snowballs” as they say in Leadville. Professor F. Boaz was stretched out in an extra-long old-fashioned bathtub on the third floor of the Hotel Delaware on Harrison Avenue in the two-mile-high city. A sign outside advertised accommodations “permanent and transient.”
The water was hot and the professor was drifting in and out of a relaxed state produced by the only position in his personal discipline of bathtub yoga … supine and half-submerged in very hot water. As the water steamed off and slowly cooled, he opened his eyes and began to consider what he was going to say to his class on Mayan Civilization at Colorado Mountain College that evening.
In his heedless pursuit of the mortification of the flesh and the geographical cure for Weltschmerz, Boaz had ended up in Leadville, Colorado, in the wintertime with jobs as underground electrician, mine watchman and lecturer. The mine in question produced high-grade galena, lead-silver ore from above timberline on Mt. Sherman, one of the many “fourteeners” surrounding little Leadville. They don’t call it Leadville for nothing. Mt. Sherman was rich in galena above twelve thousand feet, the portal level. Up in the mine Boaz was getting new perspectives on the concepts of dirty and noisy —dust, diesel fumes, howling fans, occasional explosions — thus his nightly bath ritual. He reached up and with the toes of his left foot opened the hot water tap. As his eyes rolled back, the drone of the water in his ears made him remember Micronesia and the atolls and lagoons of the central Pacific.
Chapter One: STAR OF THE SEA
The brigantine “Star of the Sea” was running under reefed square-topsails on a beam reach for the Lower Mortlock atolls out of Chuuk Lagoon. The Star was a mission ship. She belonged to the Jesuit mission on Lukunor atoll. Her captain was Fr. O’Reilly. The priest had purchased the forty-foot teak two-master in a northern California port and sailed her out to Chuuk ten years before.
That voyage was the stuff of legend. All had gone well across six thousand miles of Pacific Ocean until, approaching the huge Chuk Lagoon atoll at night, the helmsman fell asleep and she sailed smack onto the reef. Fortunately they were well underway and hit at high tide. She survived with two stove-in planks, but it took the local Catholic faithful two months to drag her slowly across the reef into the lagoon. She was that sturdy — two-inch teak planks built in Hong Kong to the specifications of a retired Cunard captain.
Once, she had been plush and elaborately carved below, but all that had been sacrificed to the realities of mission logistics. Her original name was the “Romance,” but Fr. O’Reilly wouldn’t accept that moniker. The brig was bound down and out to the trio of low coconut palm-shaded atolls known as the Lower Mortlocks. The route led across the vagaries of the shifting equatorial counter current which made sailing in the central Pacific so tricky. When a ship crossed the interface of current and counter current, an eddy line as long as the Pacific is wide, she made two to three knots west instead of east or vice versa. A six-knot current change can throw off the best dead-reckoner including the sailing canoe navigators — the best in the business.
Just forward of the mainmast, mid-ships, braced against the southwest heel from the northeast trade wind, three men were sitting in a circle on a pandanus mat. Boaz, like the other two — the bearded one and the man with the acne-scarred face — was wearing tropical “regs,” cut-off khakis, Japanese zoris and a short-sleeved cotton work shirt. His shirt was blue denim with “Queeg, Capt. USN” stenciled above the pocket. The three were picking gingerly at a lump of yellowish goo on a banana leaf.
“So this is preserved breadfruit, eh Professor?” asked the pock-marked man, Frank Denier. “Yuck.”
“Then have some canned mackerel or cold Dinty Moore roast beef hash, Denier,” Boaz responded. "Staples of the Pacific, you know. Actually, preserved breadfruit is rare these days. USDA rice deliveries have put real famine out of style temporarily. When breadfruit is out of season and the high tides salt the taro fields, preserved breadfruit becomes real popular. They bury it for months.”
Chapter Two: TOKYO
The bizarre sights of Shinjuku, Tokyo's coffeehouse district, flickered in Boaz's brain and the gaudy neon of the Ginza still glittered in his eyes as he stalked the passenger concourses of Haneda Airport in search of his amigo, Roger Sartor. Near the international departure lounge, he found Sartor in animated conversation with a grizzled but well-fed old bosun’s mate from the Merchant Marine.
“Turned me out they did!” the man was saying as Boaz came up. “Just for a little heart attack. No more hazardous duty pay. No more war zone pay. No more double overtime. No nothing! Have a cigar, boys. Castro's favorite brand.”
He held out a fistful of Cuban Belvedere “Claros,” in individual glass tubes. Boaz and Sartor each took one and a man with short black hair and an acne-scarred face, who had also been listening to the bosun’s lament, reached for the last one. After they had fired up the contraband tobacco and puffed away furiously for a while, the conversation began again with introductions all around. The bosun resumed his alternate celebration of his sea days and complaint of their passing. The pockmarked man introduced himself as Frank Denier. He made a reference to returning to the U.S. to learn to fly short takeoff and landing aircraft.
Soon the bosun left to catch his flight, and Denier seemed interested in a casual remark by Boaz about outrigger sailing canoes.
“You have a sailing canoe yourself?” he inquired.
“Yes I do,” Boaz said. “Had it built on Moch by Kapier, the last of the master sailing canoe builders in the Mortlocks.”
“I’ll give you a thousand dollars for a trip on your boat.”
“No need to do that,” replied Boaz. (Actually, there was a need as Boaz was deeply in debt to the Chuuk Trading Company.) “You and Sartor come down to the Mortlocks with me and we’ll take her on a shakedown cruise. No native navigator, just us.”
“Wait a minute, Professor,” interjected Sartor, the engineer, “Do you know how to sail that thing? All I know is that it's unlike any other sailing system in the world.”
“Let's just say I'm a novice captain,” answered Boaz. “But I've been on several trips and paid some dues. I think we can do it.”
“Good enough,” Denier exclaimed, shaking his hand. Sartor just grinned and shook his head.
“You got a ticket to Guam, Denier?”
Chapter Three: GUAM
The DC-6B from Tokyo feathered to a shuddering stop in front of the collection of dilapidated quonset huts which comprised Guam International Airport in 1967. It was early morning. The sunrise was only a hint in a brassy sky. Sartor, Denier and Boaz scuttled out of the chill on the tarmac into the quonset marked “Arrival.” There wasn't even a customs check. Guam was the gateway to all of Micronesia, the thousands of atolls, lagoons and volcanic cones which lie in a broad belt on both sides of the equator in the central Pacific.
A curious sight met the eyes of the trio of adventurers as they hustled into the dim light of the quonset hut. On one side of the hut on a low bench which ran its length sat Army recruits fresh out of boot camp in full battle gear waiting for a lift to the bloody war in Vietnam. On an identical bench facing them were young men and women — Peace Corps Volunteers — bound for Micronesian “Paradise.” They were mostly white. The soldiers were mostly not. It was not a comfortable scene.
“Let's get a taxi to Misako's if we can,” muttered Sartor under his breath. “I don't want to be here if these GIs decide to start the war early.”
Misako, a gracious Palauan woman, who had been married to an American lieutenant, was Boaz's and Sartor’s friend and hostess in the local community around Agaña, the only “city” on Guam. She provided them with beds and meals and laughed at their jokes for two days while they waited for the plane to Chuuk. At her suggestion, they decided not to wait for the regularly scheduled DC-3 for the six-hundred-mile flight, but instead booked passage on the SA-16, a twin-engine seaplane left over from World War ll. The flight was uneventful except for the sudden rain squall halfway out. A steady stream of water dropped onto the floor of the plane at Sartor and Denier’s feet.
“A leaky seaplane is not a good thing,” remarked Sartor casually. “Let's hope her bottom is more seaworthy than her top.”
Chapter Four: CHUUK
As the old seaplane circled over the vast Chuuk lagoon, Boaz named the islands and pointed out the ruined Japanese anti-aircraft batteries on the peaks. Dark shapes in the harbors of Moen and DubIon islands were all that remained of the Japanese Imperial fleet sunk one afternoon by the avengers of Pearl Harbor. A debacle in turquoise repose.
“We’ll be landing on Moen, the administrative center of Chuuk District,” Boaz informed Denier.
During the flight, Denier had discussed his work as a contract pilot for the CIA- sponsored Continental Air Service. They were flying into northern Laos — guns and spooks in, opium base out.
“As a dog of war, Denier, you’ll be interested in the infamous ‘Singapore Guns,’” Boaz remarked. “They are in those caves near the top of the mountain on Moen. I’ll take you up there.”
The veteran airboat altered course for the final approach to Moen harbor.
Chapter Five: CHUUK COMMUNITY CLUB
Bob Dylan was wailing out the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” on tape over the loud chatter of a happy-hour crowd at the Chuuk Community Club. The establishment had recently removed to new quarters on the hill overlooking not only the harbor but its old location, the ratty rattan ambience of the tropical Chuuk Hotel.
At the Community Club, every hour was happy hour, since the regular price of drinks was twenty-five cents. Chuukese and American bureaucrats and contract teachers rubbed elbows with Peace Corps-types and the odd traveler.
At a back table near a window overlooking the lagoon, Boaz, Frank Denier, and Roger Sartor were eating tuna sashimi and playing liar's dice for drinks.
“How long until we can get to the Mortlocks and get this sailing canoe trip underway, Professor?” The speaker was the soldier of fortune, Frank Denier.
“There is no such animal as regular sailing schedules in this part of the Pacific, Frank. Capt. Mutt Scuddy will know if anyone does,” Boaz replied.
“Who is Capt. Mutt Scuddy?” Frank asked.
Sartor spoke up, “He’s a ‘lifer’ as they say around here. Been in the Central Pacific since Seabee days in World War ll.”
“Speaking of whom, there he comes now,” Boaz nodded toward the door.
A portly old salt with a two-week stubble was rolling their way like he expected the floor to heave in any direction momentarily.
“Avast and ahoy, lads!” growled the captain as he approached the table and lurched into the fourth chair.
“Ran Anim, Captain,” Sartor and Boaz replied, using the Chuukese greeting. Denier nodded.
“Well met, Captain Scuddy,” Roger said. “We need a lift to the Mortlocks. How is the M/V ‘Four Winds’ these days?”
“Gone! Haven't you heard?” Scuddy bellowed. “Gone to Davy Jones’ Locker she is. Blasted Chamorro pilot put her on a reef in Agana harbor a week ago. All you can see is her smokestack. Some days I wish I was down there with her.”
“What?” Boaz exclaimed. “'We just came back from two weeks R and R in Japan. We must have flown right over the ‘Four Winds’ leaving Guam. Tough luck, Captain.”
Scuddy signaled for another round. “She was a rusty, stinking, hermaphroditic tub,” he said slowly. “But she was my ship.”
Boaz remembered the motor vessel “Four Winds” well and with some fondness for her peculiarities. She was a wooden-hulled three-master converted first to steam, then diesel. Her masts had been cut back to ugly stumps. The hull was black. All in all she was as the captain described her. Boaz had made his first trip to the outer islands on her two years before.
After a double Irish whisky, Capt. Scuddy spoke again.
“The copra trader ‘Chuuk Islander’ was called out to Yap with typhoon relief cargo. If you're desperate enough, you can check on the 'Maria Carmela.’”
Called a “pompom” by the locals from the sound of her three-lung diesel engine, the “Maria Carmela” was a twenty-five foot wooden trader which irregularly dead-reckoned the trip to the Mortlocks. She boasted no frills such as radio, running lights, or toilet.
“Once was enough for me, Captain Scuddy,” replied Boaz. “Thirty men, women and children, several chickens, and a dog. The decks were covered with people and their stuff. We were dead in the water three times during the night. I figured the counter-current pushed us way north. It did too. Nearly sailed right by the Mortlocks to a slow death somewhere west of Ponape. A sharp-eyed Moch sailor finally saw Etal atoll almost astern, and they turned her around. Never again.”
As he finished speaking, they were joined by two young American women in nurse's uniforms. The tall one named Annie greeted them.
“Hi, Professor, hello Roger, Captain Scuddy. Who's your friend?”
“Afternoon ladies,” Boaz said. “This is Frank Denier. Met him in Tokyo. We’re headed to the Mortlocks for a sailing canoe expedition. Know of any boats going down?”
Sartor rose and procured two chairs for Annie and her friend, Julie. Both women were Peace Corps nurses at the district hospital.
“I heard that Father O’Reilly was taking the ‘Star of the Sea’ back to Lukenor next week,” Annie offered. “If you're lucky he'll take you.”
O’Reilly ran the Catholic mission in the Mortlocks. He was tall and lean with a grey brush-cut and beard and was usually smoking an unfiltered Camel cigarette. Boaz knew and liked him.
“What about a place to stay until she sails?” inquired Sartor. “You girls got any hot tips on Peace Corps-style accommodations?”
“There's a tin shanty in Mwan village for rent,” Annie said. “Pretty basic, but cheap. Of course Mwan can be scary; that’s Kalisto’s turf.”
“Kalisto? Is he out? I thought he got six months calaboose time for braining some poor soul with a baseball bat,” Roger remarked.
Six months of cutting grass with a machete during the day and sleeping at the “imwan calaboose” at night seemed to be the direst penalty in the Chuukese criminal justice system.
“He’s out, alright,” Annie said. "Every time I walk through Mwan, he and his j.d. buddies spit at me and make rude suggestions. Speaking of rude suggestions, how is Professor Boaz?"
Denier looked at Boaz.
“Annie’s little joke, Frank. Has to do with some quite legitimate research into Chuukese sexual customs.”
Chapter Six: THE SINGAPORE GUNS
Pitched forward against the steep incline of the rubble slope near the top of Moen's highest mountain, Boaz, Sartor, and Denier scrambled the last few yards up to the portal of a small cave. As they paused to regain their breath, they turned automatically to face the vast Chuk lagoon forty miles across from reef to reef. A fresh northeast breeze cooled
their faces as they gazed outward to the north pass. High cirrus clouds, mare's tails, scudded overhead on a jet stream tack down the southwest Pacific. Dark green island massifs jutted triumphantly out of the blue sea — an ancient prospect and serene.
“Why-yoh!” Boaz and Sartor both exclaimed softly, mimicking the Chuukese exclamation of surprise. Denier gazed silently away.
“The north pass is twenty miles out there, Frank,” Boaz said after a while, “protected by the peashooters behind us in the cave.”
They turned once again to the cave entrance and entered single file, ducking slightly under the arch of the portal. Boaz struck a match against the musty guano-scented gloom. It flickered, sputtered briefly and went out, but before the light died, they all had made out the huge twin barrels more than thirty feet long which loomed the entire length of the cave.
“Whew!” whistled Denier softly, “What are the so-called ‘Singapore Guns’ doing in a cave in the middle of the Pacific?”
“When the Japanese took Singapore from the British early in World War II, they weren't exactly cricket about it,” Boaz answered. "The Brits were having a jolly good time sighting out across the Strait of Singapore with these big boys and drinking gin and tonic at the Raffles Hotel when the Japanese army came to tea through the back door by slogging down the ‘impenetrable’ Malay Peninsula. Then the Japanese brought the guns here and sighted them in on the North Pass. They didn't call it ‘Fortress Chuuk’ for nothing.”
Denier spoke up. “How did the guns perform in the ‘Battle of Chuuk?’”
“Well, as luck would have it, Frank, the Supreme Commander of the Pacific Theater was a gentleman naval genius from Fredericksburg, Texas, named Chester W. Nimitz. He told Admiral ‘Bull’ Halsey to ignore Chuuk and press on to Saipan and the Marianas, and that was where the real battles were fought.”
“What happened here then?” Denier asked.
“The Japanese troops here, and there were a lot of them, went half mad with hunger and frustration. Of course, the Chuukese suffered much worse. The troops took all the food, and to hear some people tell it, were seriously considering putting the Chuukese on the menu when the war ended. By the way, the American aircraft carriers which were spared at Pearl Harbor stood off the lagoon and sent fighters and bombers to finish off the bottled-up and starved-out Japanese fleet. The Singapore Guns never fired a shot in battle.”
Chapter Seven: MWAN
“What a dump,” marveled Sartor as he surveyed the tin shanty they had just rented in Mwan Village for ten dollars a week.
“You’ve had too much colonial living, Roger,” responded Boaz. “Didn’t you say you lived in an old colonial mansion while you were designing roads in Kenya? How bushwa. What do you think, Denier?”
“Beats some hootches I’ve seen,” he answered.
“Yes, man,” Boaz continued. “I’m talking about tin roof and wood floor. Not to mention kerosene cooker. Posh, if you ask me.”
The single-burner kerosene cooker was soon put to use boiling water for Japanese ramen. Repast over, the voyagers sprawled around the floor of the shanty.
Denier had taken some papers out of a Manila envelope and was reading them.
“What are you reading there, Frank?” Sartor asked.
“I want to be a writer. This is a letter I’m writing to my girlfriend in England. Want to hear part of it?”
“Go ahead, Frank,” Boaz said.
“‘As I kicked down the Italian boot, I thought about you …’” he began.
“Wait a minute! Go back there,” Sartor interrupted. “‘As I kicked down the Italian boot, I thought about you?’”
He rolled his eyes at Boaz. They both started to shake in spite of efforts to hold it. Then they were rolling around the floor laughing as hard as they could. Every time things got quiet, one or the other would repeat Frank's unfortunate line and both would give a loud hoot and begin again. Finally, they were exhausted.
They stared shamefaced at Frank, who had by this time stuffed his love letter away. He was quietly indignant. Hurt, but trying not to show it.
“You guys are just cynics,” he said at last. “What do you know about adventure and romance?”
“Let's get this straight, Frank,” answered Boaz, struggling to assume a more dignified demeanor. “You’re the mercenary and we’re the cynics? Well, maybe we are ... we shouldn't have laughed at your writing. By the way, Frank, where were you before Laos?”
“I tried to sign on with a rebel government in the Congo, but by the time I got there, the other side had arrested or killed my side. It looked bad, but I got deported.”
“Well, Denier,” Sartor remarked, curling up on a pandanus mat, “I think I can guarantee you some adventure; the romance will be up to you.”
Chapter Eight: DENIER'S SWIM
“We have to get off this island soon and get on with a sailing-canoe voyage,” Denier said to Sartor and Boaz as they burned the daylight of yet another tropical afternoon playing liar's dice at the Chuuk Community Club .
“How true, Frank,” responded Boaz, dashing the cup of dice against the tabletop and peeking under it: “Three tens and two deuces.” He pushed the cup across to Roger Sartor. “Father O’Reilly says we sail on Monday morning. This is Saturday. By Tuesday evening we should be somewhere off the Lower Mortlocks.”
“Let's hope so,” Denier remarked. “Gin and raw fish will take a man only so far.” He slurped down another piece of tuna sashimi dripping with soy and tabasco. “By the way, where did you guys say Julie Dusty lives?”
“Four tens and an ace,” Sartor said, pushing the dice cup toward Boaz. "She lives on Onu, a small island two miles off Moen. Boats leave from the Catholic mission dock morning and evening. Rots of ruck, chum,” Sartor said, grinning at Boaz.
“You're just the man for the job, Frank,” Boaz said. “But I fear her beauty has made her somewhat shy. However she did rattle Sartor's cage a while back. Cruel to tease an engineer like that.”
“Save your sympathy for yourself,” Sartor responded, “but Boaz has a point, Frank, Dusty is a moody beauty.”
Too late for a ten-cent jitney ride home, Sartor and Boaz were easing down the Moen waterfront toward the shanty in Mwan village which they shared with Frank Denier. They were discussing the evening's happenings at the Community Club.
“Lots of folks under the alkafluence of incohol tonight,” Sartor remarked as they skirted the big dirt yard fronting the cavernous quonset huts of the Chuuk Trading Company.
“Yeah. Flanagan was snockered, as usual. Luckily, he didn't bite anyone. The women are getting fed up. Did you hear that he didn't show at the weather station for four days? Kasper Peter, the radio station manager, got frantic for a forecast so he flagged Flanagan down as he was beating a dusty retreat to the Community Club in his jeep. Kasper says, “Where have you been? What’s the forecast?”
“Flanagan, in his Boston Irish brogue, said ‘Kasper, it’s a monotonous tropical climate ... 88 to 92 degrees ... EVERY DAY … If you want to know if it's raining — LOOK AT THE SKY,’ and roared off.’”
Boaz smiled and shook his head.
As they were passing the main docks, they could see the rusty LST repair barge and the seagoing administration houseboat rolling at their moorings on the slack tide.
“So far no fitigogo with Kalisto. Let’s hope our luck holds,” Sartor remarked as they neared the shanty. The moonlight reflected off the nearby lagoon and the shanty itself, sending moonbeam searchlights through the coconut trees.
“I don't think he'll bother us,” said Boaz. “I caused him a month in the calaboose last year after he scratched his initials in my tan with the tip of his machete.”
“He did that? What happened?”
“There were three of them. They had been spitting through the screens. When I went out to confront them, one had a huge club. After a few words, I turned and walked back into the hut, and as I did, Kalisto let his machete tip drift down my back. I pretended not to notice.”
Sartor laughed softly as they pushed open the door of the shanty and went inside. Before long, their snores mingled with the other sounds of the tropical night.
Dripping blood and seawater, Denier staggered slightly as he pushed open the hut door Sartor and Boaz had entered hours earlier. He collapsed to the floor on his knees with a moan. Snorting out of their dreams, Sartor and Boaz peered sleepily into the predawn dimness at the slumped figure.
“What ho! It's Lothario,” croaked the Professor.
“Where you been, Frank?” Sartor inquired.
“Swam to Onu and back,” Denier whispered, barely able to talk.
“Frank, in your many travels, have you ever heard of boats or sharks?” Sartor asked.
“Too late for a boat,” Denier said. “I didn't think about sharks … I just wanted to see Julie Dusty.”
Boaz slapped his forehead and fell back on his sleeping mat.
“Frank, Dusty is a nurse. You look as if you could use one. What happened?”
“Well,” Denier began, “I got cut up on the coral coming in over the reef ... lots of little scratches, you know ... then, I guess I looked a little strange dripping with seaweed and ocean phosphorescence. Of course, the blood …” he said thoughtfully. He paused.
“Come on, man,” urged Sartor, sitting up.
“Well, Annie told me how to find Dusty's house, and I did. She was asleep. It was pretty late. When I knocked on the shutter, I heard her move around and ask who it was. I told her and she opened the louvers.”
“What did you say to her, Frank?” Boaz also was all ears.
“I didn't have a chance to say anything. She took one look at me and said, ‘Why do I attract such loony tunes?’ and shut the louvers in my face.”
“Good Lord. You didn't even get to plead your case after that lunatic but heroic swim? Say it ain't so, Frank,” Boaz muttered.
“No ... and when I knocked again on the shutter, her landlady set some mongrels on me. I ran back to the beach.”
Sartor and Boaz looked at each other and shrugged.
“Denier,” Boaz said, “You look like you’ve enjoyed about all the romance you can stand for one evening.” He rolled over and pulled the sheet over his head.
Chapter Nine: SAILING TO SATAWAN (part one)
The three adventurers spilled excitedly out of the back of a Datsun pickup, near the small Sapuk dock. The bell in the whitewashed church across the road was pealing ten o’clock. It was a bright and cloudless morning. Constructed in the thirties of two-inch teak, the “Star” had aged to a golden patina from her years of service. During that time, she had done faithful duty to and from the Mortlocks in the cause of the Catholic mission.
For years, she had been the only vessel to call at the Lukunor and Satawan atolls. She was a fair ship and the pride of the central Pacific.
Carrying their possessions wrapped in sleeping mats Chuukese-style, the three voyagers trooped to the dock and pitched their bundles into the waiting dinghy. Soon they were rowed alongside by one of the crew.
“Ahoy and good morning,” Fr. O’Reilly called out.
“Think we can ‘ketch’a ride to the Mortlocks, Father?”
“Yes, Father,” Roger said. “The ‘schooner,’ the better.”
“Just ‘hang on, Sloopy,’” Annie returned with a laugh from on deck.
“‘Yawl just come on board,” the captain called back, “but belay those puns — they're stinko.”
“Stinko” was O’Reilly’s strongest epithet of disapproval. Boaz had heard him apply it to the ancient motion pictures which he screened for his parishioners on Lukunor. It was usually reserved for those with too much ‘mushy stuff.” O’Reilly often solved this by cutting out the offending parts of the rented film and splicing the sanitized portions back together. If this remedy would not suffice because of a plot with too little action, he dubbed it “stinko” and sent it back to the Chuuk Trading Company unshown. He preferred old cowboy films of the Ken Maynard and Tom Mix variety in which the hero kissed his horse if he kissed anything.
Boaz, Denier, and Sartor tossed their bundles over the gunwale and clambered after them. On deck, they shook hands with Father O’Reilly, and Boaz introduced Frank Denier. He gave Annie a little hug.
With little further ado, Father O’Reilly ordered the anchor up and the “Star of the Sea,” under auxiliary power, headed for the south pass of the Chuuk lagoon. The boys found a spot midships where they would be out of the way and lay on the deck supported by their bundles, watching the spray from the brig’s bow grow more impressive as they picked up the whitecaps of the lagoon proper. Soon Annie joined them.
“Annie, I am so glad to see you,” Boaz said.
“Well, I needed a break from the hospital, so I convinced them to let me do a TB survey in ‘the outers.’ It's so peaceful in the Mortlocks, things change so slowly there.
“They sure do,” Boaz agreed. Except for an occasional typhoon, the last big event had been World War Il.
“Annie, do you remember Frank Denier?”
“Hi, Frank, I have a message for you from Dusty.”
Denier tensed. “What is it?” he asked.
“She said to tell you that she was flattered by your bravado but that she didn’t want to meet anyone crazy enough to do what you did to meet her.”
Denier smiled and relaxed a bit. “Well, it's okay. It was the gesture that mattered. Thank you for telling me.”
Annie gazed at him sweetly for an instant, then looked away.
Chapter Ten: SAILING TO SATAWAN (part two)
The lush slopes of Dublon Island and others south of Moen passed in review as the “Star” ran downwind toward the reef. The captain had ordered the square-rigged topsails run up to steady the ship and assist the auxiliary engine. After a short while, Denier spoke again. “Have any of you ever heard of Richard Halliburton?” he asked.
“Wasn't he some kind of adventurer?” asked Sartor.
“I looked at one of his books once, ‘The Royal Road to Romance’ or some such," said Boaz.
“That's right,” said Denier. “He wrote several about his exploits all over the world. Halliburton did the things others only dream of: Swam the Hellespont. Climbed the Matterhorn when that was still a big deal. My favorite was his midnight swim au naturel in the reflecting pool of the Taj Mahal. Instant death was the decreed punishment for that, but he escaped unharmed.”
“Probably bribed the guards,” mused Sartor.
“Sounds like a deluded dilettante with a death-wish to me,” remarked Boaz. “What happened to him, Frank?”
“Perhaps he was. He disappeared in the thirties trying to sail a Chinese junk to San Francisco. To me he is a hero of the possible."
At this moment, a huge burst of spray soaked the little group and ended all conversation. The men huddled around the mainmast as the "Star of the Sea" entered the south pass. The huge Pacific swells broke against her bow unchecked by the reef on either side. Annie gave them a grin and a wave and hurried below to the safety of the cabin. Boaz looked aft to where Father O’Reilly, that stalwart soldier of God turned sailor, stood by the helmsman, smoking his ubiquitous Camel cigarette and gazing toward the Mortlocks.
Chapter Eleven: BARRACUDA
By the next afternoon, the “Star” was cruising off Etal atoll. Two large Mochese sailing canoes were waiting to pick up anyone going across the five-mile channel to Moch, where Boaz had his research base. The guys got off the brigantine and onto one of the canoes. Annie stayed onboard the “Star” to continue her project on Satawan.
Sartor was hung out — way out — on the end of an outrigger boom which rose and fell with the suddenness of a carnival ride. He clung with one hand to the stout line which ran from boom end to masthead of a wildly plunging Mortlockese sailing canoe. Totally exhilarated by his role as ballast for the outrigger, Sartor whooped and roared as the captain hauled in close on the main sheet, sending boom, float and ballast at an almost perpendicular angle to the surging sea below. Frank Denier sat behind the captain in the small box-like platform which extended outboard from midships on the side opposite the outrigger. He was totally absorbed in the activity which swirled around him. Facing aft toward the steersman who sat perched with his rudder paddle on the tip of the stern, Boaz was hunkered down in the hull itself, bailing for all he was worth with a hand-carved wooden scoop which fit the curve of the canoe's bottom.
Sailing canoes are wet boats and must be constantly bailed while underway. Thirty yards away, the other sailing canoe from Moch pulled ahead briefly, then fell back as its heavy, torpedo-shaped outrigger float plunged into an oncoming swell. Both boats were headed downwind on a broad reach for the north pass of the Satawan atoll. Guarding the pass on the left was the mile-long curving shape of Moch Island, fringed by the combing white breakers smashing themselves ceaselessly onto the reef. Across the slickly turbulent water of the pass itself curved the string of uninhabited isles and islets which stretched two-thirds of the way around the atoll reef like a string of irregular emeralds on a lapis bed.
With a burst of wild gesticulating and yelling, the crew of the other canoe indicated a flock of birds barely visible off course to the right, at the same time veering that way in an effort to intercept them. The race suddenly forgotten, Sartor was summoned from his privileged post outboard, and the canoe carrying him, Denier, and Boaz likewise changed course downwind to try for the pwa — birds above, baitfish on the surface, tuna, bonito, barracuda below. The Mochese fishermen were already unrolling their heavy lead-head jigs fletched with chicken feathers from the steel leader which was attached to spools of two- to three-hundred-pound-test monofilament line. No poles, no reels, just bare hands and hard calluses and a loop around the thumb of choice. By the time the lines were deployed from the outrigger platform and captain's basket, both canoes were hard upon the wild scene of flight and feeding frenzy and plunged into it.
The surface of the sea was alive with frantic smaller fish. The seabirds wheeled, screamed and dived repeatedly into the fray. Dark shapes cut through the school from below. No sooner had the trailing jigs reached the pwa than they were struck by unseen predators — the heavy monofilament line whistled and smoked through the hands of the fishermen. Boaz and his companions cringed as, one at a time, the three fishermen struck back as their fish paused in their headlong flight, and then began, hand over hand, to haul them in. The fish made shorter and shorter runs, and the first one, a forty-pound tuna, came over the side. In short order, two large bonito followed.
Dekis, one of the fishermen, handed Boaz his line as it played back out into the teeming tumult. They were almost out on the other side now, and Boaz didn't know whether he wanted a strike or not. He was fond of his fingers, but he had little time to worry. As the tug came, he dropped his thumb from the loop as he had watched the others do. When the line quit whistling across his palms so fast, he struck with both hands, expecting the worst. His fingers were not amputated by the response, and he rapidly gained some ground on whatever was down there. Another short run and the fish tired quickly.
Now they could see it … barracuda, not a big one, maybe fifteen pounds. Boaz said a silent prayer of thanks that he had not hooked a giant tuna — losing a digit or two and the precious gear would have disappointed everyone. The Moch sailors gave a huge "Why-yoh!" of approval, and Sartor and Denier grinned with envy. Dekis grabbed the barracuda as Boaz pulled it alongside, flipping it upside down into his arms. With his knife he slit the belly with one quick stroke and plunged his hand into the body cavity. The hand emerged with the still-beating heart of the vicious-looking fish in his palm. Dekis presented it dramatically to Boaz who stood astonished by the whole procedure. Then he gave a bemused sigh, plucked the palpitating morsel from its place, popped it into his mouth, and swallowed hard.
Chapter Twelve: KISS ME AND LOVE ME
As the sailing canoes passed over the reef on the lagoon side of the island, they dropped sail and coasted silently over the aquamarine gardens of staghorn and brain coral. A crewman on each craft had broken out a long pole, and they poled the boats gracefully along. The entire population of Moch was lined up beachside to see the homecoming. Some sharp-eyed lookout had long since passed the word that three rei-mericans, as Americans were known, were aboard. Boaz, Denier, and Sartor could see the brightly colored dresses and brown skins of the native girls, their long black hair set off by wreaths of multi-hued flowers.
“Every flower tells a story, gentlemen,” remarked Boaz to his observant friends, “but later for that lecture. However, I do know two beautiful young women —sisters— I want to introduce you to here on Moch. I think you will agree that they have unusually beautiful names as well.”
“What are their names?” queried Sartor.
“One is named Kiss Me.” Sartor slapped his forehead.
“What is her sister's name?”
“Her sister? Her name is Love Me.”
Chapter Thirteen: ON BOARD "THE CRESCENT MOON"
The full moon shone like a newly minted silver dollar; Denier imagined he could see Miss Liberty striding across its face. Even this light failed to obscure the starry canopy overhead. To the south, the Southern Cross was tilted over the pole. The sailing canoe “Crescent Moon” ghosted along silently on a southeastern tack from Moch toward the island of Satawan, the largest inhabited island and namesake of the atoll. Boaz, Sartor and Denier had embarked at noon that day, and the winds had been light and variable. Sartor lay on his back on the outrigger staring at the stars and silently puffing a native stogie, a tiny slice of an American cigarette wrapped in a strip of cured breadfruit leaf. The sound of the waves lapping at the outrigger float were hypnotic. The “Crescent Moon” having zigged again, now zagged back northeast on a close reach for the reef nearer Satawan which was visible through the scudding clouds on the eastern horizon. The crew, having slept fitfully through the long night, was surly and out of sorts.
“I wanted to light my stogie for breakfast,” complained Sartor, "but all the matches were too damp to strike.”
“Here's a local trick you should know, Roger.” Boaz broke off three feet of the smaller end of the long pole which he kept for poling over the reef. He broke that into two equal pieces, placed one between his heels and laced the other between his fingers and thumbs. Hunching over his joined hands, stick between his feet, he began to rub a groove in the bottom portion, slowly at first then faster and faster. After two or three minutes, a curl of smoke arose and the intersection of the two sticks darkened with the heat of the friction. Then a brightly glowing coal appeared at the end of the groove. Sartor gave an admiring “why-yoh” as Denier lit their last stogie. They each took several drags. Hunger pangs dulled by the nicotine, they began to adjust to the long day of sailing ahead of them.
“So about daybreak, I was dreaming that we made landfall on one of those uninhabited islands on the reef,” Denier said. He nodded in the direction of the string of islands in the distance. "Guess what?” Boaz and Sartor stared at him blankly. “I could see the golden arches through the palm fronds as we got closer. I was about to order a Big Mac and French fries when I woke up.”
Chapter Fourteen: CASTAWAYS
“I feel as if we are sailing back in time,” Sartor broke the silence.
“The design of these sailing canoes is ancient,” Boaz said. “The islands of the Pacific were populated by people in canoes like this one.”
It was mid-afternoon by the time the canoe “Crescent Moon” neared the end of a long northeastern tack. Tiny islands dotted the reef, some mere rocks with a coconut tree or two. Another tack should bring them very near their goal.
With a freshening breeze that was gusting hard, the crew prepared for yet another tack southeast. Boaz could see the gusts of an approaching squall by the pattern on the sea surface as they approached. He slacked the main sheet to avoid capsizing as the squall came down on them with a fury of wind and rain. The canoe floundered in the suddenly high whitecaps and began to take on water over the gunwales. Frank and Roger bailed as fast as they could. They were too inexperienced to tack again in the teeth of the storm, and a capsize would be disastrous at this point. Boaz reached over and unlashed the halyard to drop the sail.
“Grab those paddles, gentlemen!” he yelled to his soaked and disheveled crew. “Back to the reef. We’ll row her.” The “Crescent Moon” came about under the frenzied efforts of Roger and Frank while Boaz bailed frantically to avoid swamping. Gradually they approached the lee of a small island on the reef.
“Sure hope this is the one with the MacDonald’s on it, Roger,” remarked Denier as they slogged through the surf dragging the rather sad-looking canoe which resembled a large wet bird. They pulled the boat up on the beach. The squall passed as suddenly as it had come. The sun came peeking through the clouds in the west.
“Allow me to welcome you gents back to terra firma,” Boaz said. “We have just been cast ashore on a tiny uninhabited island.”
“Any port in a storm,” Denier said, his rugged face smiling from ear to ear. “This is why I came along in the first place.”
The uninhabited isle on which they had sought refuge that afternoon was not the one in Denier’s dream, that of the world's most remote MacDonald’s, but it was, Boaz had realized quickly, adjacent to the sea turtle fishing grounds which he had visited previously with two men from Moch.
Chapter Fifteen: TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN
The moon was full and the tide was out, perfect conditions for catching a sleeping sea turtle in its briny den.
Now about twenty feet down, Denier rounded a rugged corner and saw what he was after through the carved wooden goggles fitted with bottle glass which he had borrowed from a native of Moch before they sailed — three large sea turtles sleeping in a cavity another ten feet down. In his left hand Denier carried a four-foot-long gaff. A stout cord with a couple of floats ran from the opposite end of Sartor’s tick back to the surface, where it was secured to a belaying thwart on the canoe.
“Sartor must be turning blue, considering the length of his present dive,” Boaz thought. Sartor was turning blue and had been about to ascend for air at the moment he spotted the three sleeping turtles. He knew he must make his move immediately, before his presence awakened them. Suddenly, two of the turtles did wake up and fled so fast they might have been hallucinations, but the third and largest slumbered peacefully on.
Peacefully that is, until Sartor, eyes bulging from lack of oxygen, gaffed it in the fold of skin between the shell and one of the rear flippers. He then shot straight for the surface, which was just as well. The startled beast exploded from the cavity and headed upward in a twisting arc. Barely ahead of its gaping beak, Sartor thrashed like a madman to clear the way. Boaz gave a whoop of excitement and began to haul as fast as he could on the cord attached to the gaff. Momentarily, Sartor was beside him in the shallow water atop the coral head, also hauling at the hundred-pound turtle. They yelled encouragement to each other as they sought to subdue their prey without being bitten or battered by the flailing flippers.
Finally, with a joint effort, they flipped the exhausted turtle over the gunwale of the sailing canoe onto its back. The huge beast continued to snap and struggle until they managed to lash it to the boat. Exhausted by their efforts, the three voyagers floated on the surface next to the hull of the canoe which was tethered to a coral outcropping. The turtle would be presented to the chief of Satawan who would distribute it among the clans according to a well-established protocol.
Over a coconut husk fire, three reef fish wrapped in banana leaves were baking slowly. Sartor laughed as he snatched one of the packages from the coals and gingerly unwrapped the fish inside. Denier was asking about the large monitor lizard he had encountered on a walk around the little island.
“It scared the hell out of me,” he reported. “Are they native to these islands?”
“The Japanese imported them from Java back in the thirties,” Boaz said. “They were supposed to eat the rats which were eating the coconuts. Survivals from the age of dinosaurs all right. Pretty terrifying, eh?”
“Sure put the old lizard fear in me,” Denier admitted. “Did they eat the rats?”
“Some of them. Now they have rats and giant lizards. They eat chickens too, unfortunately.”
“The one I met on my walkabout last night could’ve had me for a snack. I just about sunk into my shoes.”
Boaz and Sartor laughed at the memory of Denier’s stricken face as he stumbled into camp in the moonlight after his jungle encounter with a five-foot monitor lizard.
Chapter Sixteen: SARTOR'S LEAP OF LOVE
Shimmering heat waves rising from the sea made the palm-fringed beaches of Satawan appear to be a mirage. Just offshore and nearly becalmed, the crew was ready for a landfall on an island populated by more than bats, birds, and monitor lizards. From his rudder position aft, Denier asked, “Are we culture heroes?”
“Don't let it go to your head,” Boaz said as they paddled smartly up to the dock. “We’re here in spite of our sailing technique, rather than because of it.”
“So what?” cried Denier, leaping from the bow to the end of the dock directly into the midst of a giggling crowd of native girls who immediately bedecked him with sweet smelling mwaramwar, flower garlands of every hue.
“Oh boy, here comes the perfume,” Sartor said as he attempted to follow Denier’s leap.
Unfortunately for him, Denier's jump had propelled the canoe hull violently sideways and Sartor's leap fell short. He plunged into the water between the canoe and dock. “WHY-YOH! WHY-YOH! WHY-YOH!” came the inevitable explosions of general mirth. As Roger sheepishly pulled himself hand over hand up the side of the coral rubble dock, several men reached down to pull him up. Sopping wet and looking something less than heroic, Sartor shyly accepted his flowery tributes and perfume baptism from the laughing native women.
“This beats the ‘Singapore Guns’ back on Moen.” Frank Denier was examining twin columns of Japanese miniature tanks rusted together near the overgrown Satawan airstrip. Satawan’s length made it suitable for landing aircraft and therefore local headquarters for the Japanese military forces. The two-person tanks were the last stop on the tour of World War II relics which the voyagers had made that afternoon. They had already visited the burned-out hulks of Mitsubishi bombers and Zero fighters in the island interior.
“They say there wasn’t a coconut tree left standing on Satawan after it was strafed and bombed by Navy pilots at the conclusion of the war,” Boaz said.
Chapter Seventeen: ASSIGNATION
“Professor?” As Boaz led a ragtag entourage of island children down the sandy path toward a nearby canoe house, Annie Marchant, looking tropically crisp in her nurse's whites, came dashing out of the island dispensary and threw her arms around him.
“You made it, Boaz,” she said, kissing him on the cheek to the delightedly scandalized amusement of his capering cohorts.
“Stinko — watch the p.d.a., Annie,” he muttered under a screaming cascade of “WHY-YOHS!” from the peanut gallery around them. “This isn't the Chuuk Community Club.” He squeezed her arm affectionately. “How are you, my little hibiscus blossom?”
“Good. Pechacool — as they say around here. Haven't found many new TB cases, thank God. I have a surprise for you.”
“Great. Why don't we rendezvous at the far end of the island about dusk?”
Chapter Eighteen: MERE SERENITY
Dressed island-style in a pale sarong with a brilliant red hibiscus blossom behind her left ear, Annie Marchant faced the darkening waters separating Satawan from the neighboring uninhabited island of Onopoku. The sun had just winked out on the western horizon, and shadows were gathering quickly in the grove of coconut palms where she sat on a small pandanus mat.
“Annie,” Boaz called softly as he approached on the sandy path which led to the island’s far end. Annie turned to look at him. Boaz had gone native himself, wearing only the traditional Morlockese waiwata, a length of red fabric wrapped around the waist and tucked in front. A mwarmwar of fresh flower buds rested lightly on his brow.
“Hello, Professor,” she smiled as he sat down beside her. “How was your voyage?”
“Timeless and dreamlike, Annie, an appropriate prelude to tonight. What is your surprise?”
Annie wordlessly handed him a small package wrapped in soft cotton cloth. He unwrapped it and held up a softly luminous pair of brass binoculars. Turning them over slowly, Boaz noted the beautiful and meticulous workmanship.
“Lazare Fils Paris,” he read in a low voice. “Where did you get these, Annie? They look quite old, but beautifully preserved.”
“The father of a child I treated gave them to me. Did you notice the initials stamped on the right-hand side?”
Boaz turned the binoculars around again and read the initials under his breath, “A.E.” He looked at Annie as a tear trickled down her right cheek.
“Could these have belonged to…?” He left the question on the evening air.
The moon was not yet risen, but the eerie green glow of ocean phosphorescence clung to their bodies as Boaz and Annie swam slowly toward a small inlet on the lagoon side of Onupoku. Swimming side by side they entered the narrow channel which emerged into a tiny palm tree-encircled lagoon. They lay like amorous amphibians, half in and half out of the water. Neither of them spoke as they gazed upward at the Milky Way spread out against the heavens. Mere serenity surrounded them there, the ancient rhythm of Mother Ocean lapped gently at their loins. The joy of starlight shone in their eyes.
H.H. Howze © 2021
Not a boomer. H.H. Howze is a writer/photographer and disruptive political presence in deep red Round Top, Texas.
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