Education of a Falcon
by Mike Riley
A true story of Romance and Adventure
This is the story of my son's rough and ready education
during a double circumnavigation of the world.
A true tale of Adventure, True Love, Excitement,
Horror, and an Everlasting Honeymoon!
Author and Family
A Great Book! 196 pages of Excitement!
Winner of the Boating Adventures, Best Book of the Year
Extreme fishing was a stupid idea, a really bad, really stupid idea. It started with such clarity, such brilliance as we sat around the campfire under the coconut palms that we all looked at each other and said this is the most inventive, fantastic idea ever thought of by the human mind. It is right up there with the invention of the wheel. That is what we said, yeah, we were idiots, I admit it. If one of us men had thought it up, maybe we would have all laughed and gone out and done something sane like juggling nitroglycerin. But my 12 year old son, Falcon, the pride of the island, devised it and we, as father and male role models, wanted to encourage or mold or train him. You know some guy stuff we made up. Whatever we wanted to do, it was not to offer one of our own up to a shark attack.
We were anchored off Bodrum, an island in the Chagos Group, a very small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.An island abandoned by world geo-political treaties that forced its inhabitants to relocate to Mauritius, to leave homes, farms, lives for the betterment of a faraway Britain, cold and distant, all to rent one of it’s distant sisters, Diego Garcia, to America for a military base.The cry ‘No Nukes in Chagos’ would never disturb the nesting birds in its trees or the turtles laying eggs on its beaches.
We, on the other hand, had atolls full of islands to play with; lagoons full of fish for us to catch if we could, coconuts, limes, breadfruit abounded on abandoned farms.There were no rules except don’t sleep on the islands, don’t act like a resident, other than that have fun playing Robinson Crusoe.What a totally fabulous life!
The fishing was first rate.Chagos had never been fished commercially and the inhabitants had been off the islands for decades.The lagoon had tons of fish, enough to feed us forever but like always in Eden, the serpent raised its hoary head and we decided to try for bigger fish.We were intelligent enough not to go diving outside the reef where the tigers and great whites held sway.No, we were smarter than that, a little.
Falcon’s extreme fishing idea was not to go outside the reef but to fish in the deep holes that were too deep to dive; we would bring a hand line with a baited hook.We would drop the weighted line and swim around the surface with our fins and masks on, playing the line till we placed it in front of one of the likely caves 100 feet below.The water clarity exceeded 300 feet in this part of the Indian so it was a little like a video game.We felt distant and separate from the action as we swam around on the surface. The first time we tried it we came back with a decent coral trout, 10 pounds, big enough to be worthy not so big to have ciguatera.
The next time we went out into deeper water at the entrance but still in the lagoon looking for bigger fish.Falcon hooked a nice grouper and was fighting it when a tiger, slumming in shallow water, took notice.It wasn’t big for a tiger shark, 12 to 13 feet but its behavior set it in a different class.Attracted by the fighting fish it came in from the bottom in attack mode.Gill slits flaring, back hunched, there was little doubt it was ready to kill.His skin was black and as we watched the tiger’s characteristic stripes began to appear, vertically along its sides.Falcon resigned himself to the loss of his fishing gear and fish.The shark saw the fishing line as it approached the struggling fish and immediately changed directions, ignored the wounded, bleeding, frantic fish, it swam up the line right at Falcon at full speed.Falcon back peddled, still fighting his grouper.Within seconds the tiger was on my son and he was hitting the shark on the nose with his fins as he continued to retreat, swimming on his back, still pulling in his grouper.The shark had his eyes covered with its protective white lids to protect them while attacking, and its mouth, filled with evil-looking white teeth, gaped wide open as it tried to eat my son.Its tiger stripes were flashing with swiftly changing colors as it attacked.The four of us adults raced in almost without thought.My wife and I screaming in our snorkels to distract the shark, our two buddies from different boats racing in equally determined despite their lack of familiarity with sharks, counter attack from four different directions was too much for the tiger and he turned and sped off after an evil look at me.
Later, when I had time to play what if, my blood turned to ice as I saw my son in my mind half eaten in the middle of nowhere dying in my arms; pieces of him laying around me.The courage of our two cruising buddies who looked on Falcon as somewhere between a mascot and a junior tribe member saved his life.As did my 5’ 5” wife who while familiar with sharks, never had to stare down the dead eyes of a tiger before.That night, sleep was impossible and I remembered again how it all started.It was far better for my mental health, to think about the far past, than the events of the last 12 hours.
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Read on for Chapter Two!
Education of a Falcon is also available as an audio book!
I met Karen, my future bride, in the wilds of Papua New Guinea where she was teaching at a private expatriate grade school.I was cruising through, bound from Hawaii and towards Australia and points west, and in need of some place to hide until the dangerous hurricane season in the Western South Pacific had passed.My last crew had become violently seasick in an unseasonal gale ten degrees above the equator and had jumped ship on the American nerve gas island of Johnston Atoll, leaving me, a reluctant single-hander at the best, all alone.Even with all the allures of Rabaul, East New Britain, queen of the South Pacific ports, I was feeling lonely for more civilized female company, company who might understand my jokes.They say girls are always suckers for a sense of humor and I guess they are right but these local girls had never seen TV, or a McDonald's, or a bus that didn’t have more pigs than people!Joking with them was damn hard work and resulted more often in blank stares than giggles.
I never was much of a single-hander sailor; I had made many voyages alone, mostly because I couldn’t find anyone whom I would enjoy being locked up with in a 24-foot coffin.Wait, let me rephrase that!
To me sailing was the ultimate freedom. I did what I wanted, when I wanted and however I wanted.If to pay for my freedom required living on a 24-foot boat then that was a very small price indeed.I often got into trouble either through ignorance or pigheaded stubbornness but at least it was my decision to do it that way not an order from an arbitrary boss or politician.My costs were minimal.One month of working would set me up for the whole year.In those days the last thing that would have ever entered my mind was getting married and having a child. That would just complicate things.Plus I would have to work way more than one month.
It wasn’t like I wasn’t dating.My social calendar was filled with the immortal pagan song of the South Seas sailor, ‘the search for the wild wahine.’And the girls of Rabaul were definitely wild enough to keep any sailor occupied for months.
A visa was required before one entered New Guinea, a fact that became apparent to me for the first time as I was clearing customs.The law required them to give me 72 hours and then throw me out.However in my case, as I was a single-hander, they ‘managed’ to lose my passport and told me that I would have to stay until they found it!They were hoping I would fall in love with a local girl, take her back to America and then she would send for her relatives to come and live in America, the home of ‘Cargo’.When I finally did want to leave 6 months later they all of a sudden found my passport under the commandant’s desk holding up a short leg!Do I sound like I am recommending the single-handed life?I’m not.It is a sad lonely life, filled with challenges but also filled with a decided lack of any one to share your success with.However I am getting away from Falcon’s story.
Rabaul harbor was the circular caldera of a sunken extinct volcano and was surrounded by seven active volcanoes, any three of which were smoking at any one time.The thing was that the government had set up a threat warning system that told you how many days you had before you must evacuate because of an eminent eruption.While I was there this was always between one to three days.One to three days to pack up all of the possessions you could carry and get on an airplane or a boat and kiss your job and recent life good-bye.As a result, the expatriates, mostly Australians and Kiwis, who chose to work there, were of a carefree nature and were committed to the grasshopper way of life- have fun now, laugh at the ants and if there ever was winter in the tropics, it could take care of itself.After all, sooner or later, Mon, the volcano, she going a blow.As for the wild local girls, they never heard of the free love grasshopper era of the sixties.They didn’t have to, they invented it 10,000 years ago and have been perfecting it ever since.
New Guinea had just discovered extensive gold deposits the year before I arrived and the economy was flying high. The Kina was worth more than the American Dollar and was the last currency in the world to be truly gold backed.Bring a hundred Kina to the bank and you could walk out with a little gold bar.Unfortunately there was nothing to spend your money on.The company you were working for supplied your housing and a cleaning girl. A dollar a day extra got you a cooking girl.The market was fabulous.The biggest, most delicious avocado you ever saw cost five cents, a pound of filet mignon a dollar.The beer came in quart bottles and sold at bars for fifty cents.My month of earnings lasted a long time in a place like this!The only two things in Rabaul that were popular to spend your money on were scuba diving and sailing.And I had a boat!
She wasn’t a big boat.She was a Columbia 24 that I had modified by cutting the cabin top off and reglassing it back together 14 inches lower, to reduce top hamper, and then extended the cabin 2 feet into the cockpit both to reduce the amount of water the cockpit could hold, in case of a knock down, and add to the living space.I sailed her engineless as the boat wasn’t big enough to hold enough fuel to do any good at sea.Engineless, the boat was handy enough to sail into any port and as for calms and doldrums; drop the sails and wait.I named her TOLA, an anagram for Time Out Lives Again.Time Out was a close sister ship, a Columbia Challenger, also 24 feet and engineless, that I had somehow sailed, west about, from San Diego to Africa before I managed to collide with a freighter and smashed up the bow.
It happened in the Mozambique Channel while I was banging down the coast towards South Africa.It was blowing 25 to 30 knots and the seas were easily over 30 feet as I was in the powerful Agulhas current with a contrary wind.This made it very difficult to take any accurate navigational sights, Mozambique was in the middle of its 20 year war, and it was certain death for an American to land.We were coming up to the Zambezi River entrance, which had at times huge islands of grass and trees that swept out to sea, not a good thing to run into on a dark and stormy night.Not knowing exactly where we were, when we spotted a coastal cruiser I foolishly decided to try to speak to him.
It was really great fun to start with.Time Out was a fine sailor and I circled around and around the freighter as we shouted back and forth; me in English, him in Portuguese, my crew in French.One of his men threw out a line and stupidly I tied it onto the bow cleat that was under the dinghy.As we continued to try to communicate an extra large swell pushed us apart, the bowline stretched to almost the breaking limit and then pulled us together like a rubber band.I tried untying the line but it was too tight and as I looked up, there was his hull on top of a swell plunging down upon poor Time Out down in the trough.
It is a miracle that the head stay didn’t break instantly.It lasted the half-second I needed to throw my sorry self back to the mast. I got my knife out and cut the line still holding me to the freighter and stared at what was left of my bow.The pulpit had vanished.The first foot of the bow was gone and the poor head stay, that had held on long enough to save my idiotic life, was dangling merrily from the top of the mast with a couple inches of boat still attached.When I had bought the boat she had single lowers shrouds.I added a baby stay forward to take the place of the missing forward lowers.I am sure that this baby stay saved the mast.
I patched her back together with a lot of duck tape and a few odd pieces of wood and fiberglass and in a daze turned down wind.There was no hope of heading up wind to South Africa.Without a jib she could not point against those seas.
After sailing 500 miles back to Mayotte, the closest civilization down wind in that part of East Africa, and in shock, I sold her to four French Legionaries and flew back to California still in a daze.After a year of feeling regrets for not rebuilding my brave little boat, I bought Tola and set out to try again.More out of stubbornness than intelligence I again decided to sail the boat engineless, to rely only on the sails, to be, as they say, a purist.The boat came with a handy 6 HP outboard that I traded for a good rowing inflatable dinghy.Did I ever regret that trade?Oh, yeah!Only saints are purists and I have walked too often on the dark side to meet the entrance requirements.
I spent 2 years in Mexico and one in Hawaii working on the boat, turning a day sailor into a vessel that could safely cross oceans.It is easy to say that Tola was a Columbia 24 but in reality she was so modified that few could recognize her.Irregardless, I pledged to myself that this boat would make it around the globe.
Anyway, back to Rabaul.I met Karen during a yacht race.This wasn’t your average club race.This was Rabaul after all and everything was done to extremes.We were to race out to a rich dude’s beach house where he would wine and dine us in luxury.He put up 300 Kina in prize money to the winner.Well!The competition was such that it would take a fluke to win.It was first to finish, no handicap. And the local boats, Farrs, Petersons and multihulls, were not going to let an outsider get their Kina! But hey, there was always the outside chance for an outsider!
I had met an Australian fourth grader on the dinghy dock who was an avid fisherman.It was totally logical to a 9 year old that if the fish were big off the dock, then they would be even bigger if one had a small boat to row out deeper. He made it his life’s work to bug me till I let him use my rowing dinghy.I made him jump through hoops before he was allowed to use it in the hopes of discouraging him.Who wanted pieces of bait and dead fish scales all over one’s dinghy? But everything I demanded, Matthew accomplished.Whether it was swimming 100 meters, or tying 5 different knots one handed and blindfolded, or cleaning the dinghy with a scrubbing pad every day; he charged forward with a smile and a cheerful attitude.His parents were as interesting.His father was the coach at the local high school.Part of his duties was to escort the girl’s volleyball team once a month to the mainland on a barge, a three day voyage!His mother was the Secretary of the yacht club and fruitlessly but continually tried to get me to be the collector of yacht fees.I had many interesting nights at their house relating our various tales.
So it seemed logical when the yacht race came up to enlist the whole family as crew. It was the least I could do to pay them back or forward or whatever.Anyway, we were tied up at the club dock loading up with food and drink, when this sexy, brown eyed brunette in a tight denim skirt and a well filled blouse with the top button undone waltzed down the dock and called out,
“Who needs crew?”
Now, Dear Reader and Fellow Adventurer, you can imagine the thoughts that raced through my brain.Sexy girl, liquor, over night on the beach!This was a night for the ‘search for the wild wahine’ if there ever was one!
Instantly my hand went up, but so did Margaret’s and John’s on a slow British 32 footer.The girl picked the wrong boat!She escaped.Damn, foiled again - but we were bound for the same beach!AH-HA!
Well, I soon found out that the escaped wahine was Matthew’s fourth grade teacher, Karen Jakos, born in Connecticut and a dual citizen of New Zealand.She was unmarried and on the rebound from a relationship gone bad.She had sailed dinghies and spent two months as crew on a local fishing research ship and didn’t get seasick.What more was there to know?I found out that it was very useful to have a fourth grader as a spy!
So I ‘bought’ her a beer and gave her my best line with my finest smile.She ended up locking herself in a bedroom for the night!I guess not every girl was a wild one.It seemed my luck was running out.But we did have a grand time dancing on the beach.
Later back in Rabaul the social scene continued.It consisted of a different party at a different club every night.Hey, it was better to be social than to sit at home and watch the volcanoes smoke!Two nights after the race, I was at a club that was showing a movie.The projector looked like one that the teachers used when I was in first grade.No one could get it to work.After a half-hour of struggle, Karen walked up and, I am not exaggerating, had it running within 15 seconds.I stared at her willing her to come over and sit next to me.I mean a girl who sailed, who fixed things, who was as sexy as hell, was single, was white and was sitting not 10 feet away from me.Karen however continued to ignore me.What was it with this girl?
I found out from Matthew where her classroom was and made a point of walking by it every day on the way to the market.I started leaving little presents at the office for her.No name, just signed, ‘Your admirer.’Ha, I could fight fire with napalm!Every time I walked by, Matthew had all of Karen’s students rush over to the window and call out,
“Miss, Miss Jakos, your boyfriend is outside!”Not five days later, she was making her first meal aboard ‘Tola.’But to hear Karen tell it, it was all my fault.
It all started the day before when she came on board for a look see.I was showing her all the bells and whistles including the bilge where she managed to locate a bottle of ‘409’ hidden in a back corner where I had forgotten about it.Instantly she went all girlie.Apparently it was the first bottle of her favorite cleaner she had seen in 5 years.This girl had a bad case of homesickness.Suddenly Tola was the reservoir of all things American, whether it was cleansers or magazines or ketchup.We arranged to have dinner on board the following night and she was going to cook.She made lentil burgers at her home, a recipe she had been experimenting with.They were so dry.A starving man would have turned up his nose but not a man in lust.Karen blamed the dryness on my lack of ketchup which she expected to find on board.I artfully agreed that it was entirely my fault and by sacrificing myself on the altar of love I received my reward.They didn’t even taste all that bad if you looked at Karen while eating them!
Within a couple of days, we hiked into one of the volcanic craters around Rabaul.Sulfur gas was flowing from yawning crevices everywhere.The jagged rock was warm to the point of almost being too hot.Low rumbling sounds reverberated through my feet and ears.Small tremors reverberated around the crater.Holding hands led to kissing which led to this and that, but I was looking around distracted the whole time, watching out for red hot lava!My first impressions were right.I had my hands on a tiger of a wild wahine!
Hurricane season was drawing to a close and I was thinking of moving on to Australia.I had met this nice Flemish girl who was the captain of the Belgium National Sailing Team.I invited her, Karen and another girl to go sailing.Each girl had to steer, reef and winch around the old central basalt cone sticking 100 feet straight out of the middle of the harbor.Karen won hands down mostly because the Flemish girl stepped on my solar panels, Karen laughed harder at my feeble jokes, and Karen was like, way cuter.Two weeks later, we sailed off thru the islands and the Coral Sea bound towards Cairns, Queensland.
The first night we ran out of wind but managed to ghost into what seemed a comfortable roadstead off New Ireland.Two hours later the tide changed, a swell worked its way in, and we were rolling gunnel to gunnel.It was an unbelievable night, pure hell.But in the middle of it all Karen cooked up a three course dinner on a one burner stove!My god.Did I hit the jackpot or what!The next stop was Irish Cove on the bottom of New Ireland.It was a beautiful spot with a white sand beach, a waterfall between a couple of low grassy hills and a little stream where Karen did laundry and then to rinse, she put a rock on a corner of each sheet and let the stream do the work.
A young boy paddled his outrigger into ‘our’ bay and asked if we wanted to buy some lobsters.He had one live and one dead one.
“Sure I’ll take the live one.”
“No, Massa.You must take both,” and mentioned a very high price.I assumed that this was bargaining as usual and got into it.I ended up with both and stupidly threw the dead lobster away in front of the boy as I felt I had paid a bit too much.
The next morning as we were in the channel exiting the bay a flotilla of war canoes was entering.In the first and biggest canoe was our lobster salesman sitting right next to a huge warlike chief who looked just like him.We were in big trouble.The wind was on our quarter which was Tola’s best point of sail but the canoes were making a good 4 knots with all of their oarsmen.I had Karen hand me out my machete and sharpening stone, then with one foot steering, I sharpened the machete while staring at the canoes with my harshest captain look.Inside I was quaking in my boots, or would have been if I were wearing any.I glanced at Karen, down below, with a look of loss and sorrow.
“Keep your head down no matter what happens,” I whispered to her.I headed straight at the chief’s canoe and asked myself, ‘Where is my engine when I need it?’The heartache of dying so soon after finding true love threatened to crack through my stony façade.With a start I realized what I just thought.Was it really true love after all these years and who knows how many women?Or was it just the tension of the moment?
We squeezed past the last section of reef where I could bear off just when they came within spear range.I maintained my stony look while praying on the inside as the first flight of spears was launched.
“I love you, Karen,” I whispered to myself.The god of the Papua New Guinea tribes must have been looking the other way as a wave rocked the canoe just as they threw their spears and they all landed short by a few inches scratching the paint on the side of my hull.Before they could launch another volley we were out of range and heading for the safety of the deep blue sea. Tola was a great sailor and once she had the wind just forward of her beam I let her have her way.I let her fly and fly and fly far farther than any canoe could ever hope to catch us. I was much kinder than usual to Karen the rest of that day and stood most of her watches that night.The fear was still coursing through my veins and I couldn’t sleep.And a question was burning in my soul.
Two days later, we were 4 degrees south of the line and in the middle of a baby hurricane.Even though the storm was in the growing stage and was only blowing 30 knots, it was raining like hell and was totally miserable.I had closed Karen down below out of the rain and then in the midst of a particularly evil gust, I heard a persistent knocking on the companion way doors.I slid open the hatch a crack and Karen asked,
“Can I come outside?”
“You don’t have any rain gear or foulies, Karen.You will get totally soaked.”
“I do so have a rain coat,” came the emphatic reply!She held up a little plastic bag, the kind that has a flimsy fake plastic coat squished inside and the whole thing fits in to a pocket.Her eyes were pleading so hard and their color looked so fetching in the sheet lightning that just I couldn’t say no.Her ‘raincoat’ lasted all of 5 seconds till it was torn off her and carried up into the low flying clouds.Somehow she sneaked into my foul weather jacket and we shared it for two more hours till we anchored in the lee of a high tropical isle just as the low was leaving our area.
It was a great anchorage, very well protected from the wind and most of the rain fell on the island.Already anchored was a New Zealand ketch with two ten year old twins on board.We stopped, as cruisers do, and talked about the weather and told tales of our adventures.They had been out 3 years and were home schooling their children.New Zealand, being a fairly rural country, encouraged home schooling and supplied the books and materials free to its citizens.The kids seemed very well adjusted and were easy to talk to.A little warning bell went off in my head.Karen seemed much too interested in the kids.But the rum came out and I was silly enough to forget all about the bells.
Three days later the weather was great but the next group of islands only anchorage was over a hundred feet deep and the light was fading. The reefs of New Guinea were no place to sail at night.
We hadn’t made the distance I was hoping for, as the wind had been light all day.I dropped my best CQR, with a variety of jib sheets tied to the bitter end of the rode, in a likely spot and hoped that it would hold for the night.No worries, Mate, it held, but the next morning the anchor was well and truly stuck in coral far below.We tried for hours to free her but to no avail and there was no way I could free dive that deep.And there was also no way I was going to leave without my best anchor.Karen started praying to herself quietly.For my part, looking at my knotted anchor line I wondered if I was really willing to tie the knot at my advanced age of 37.
The tide was low, so I tied the rode as tight as I could.As the tide came in and the bow went lower and lower into the water and the stern came out, Karen’s prayers became higher and shriller.I decided the time had come for the ultimate sacrifice.I laid the spinnaker pole across the foredeck and took Karen by the hand.We were about to get married!
“Jump across this spinnaker pole with me and you jump into a life of joy and adventure, of happiness spiced with strife.Jump with me and we’ll be on a honeymoon the rest of our life.Jump with me, you lovely, lovely lass, jump and become my wife!”
To her credit, Karen never hesitated.She may have thought that it was all a lark, not knowing how I had avoided marriage all these years, but eyes shining, we jumped together.Of course, it was probably our weight surging forward, but at the moment we landed, the anchor broke loose.How we laughed at the goodness of life.How silly we were.If only we knew then what the future held.
We stopped at the Goodenough Islands which had an actual village.It was really nice.We were shown where we could bathe in the stream, a spot for couples, far away from the men section and even further from the woman’s area.Karen was suffering from some arthritis in her hands and negotiated with a local girl to do her laundry for some rice.The girl did an outstanding job and Karen gave her a pound of rice.It was too much apparently as the next day she was back with a little handmade doll.Karen gave her a necklace.The next day she was back again and after this trade, Karen used sign language and what pidgin she knew to say that this was enough.It was easy to see why this was such a nice village, everyone else had all your stuff and you had theirs!It was a beautiful village.It was so clean.Each house was surrounded by giant clam shells that the family members filled every day with sea water.After it evaporated the cook only had to go to the nearest shell to get some salt.As we walked around, the toddy collectors lowered bamboo flasks down to us from the tops of the trees to give us a taste.
The Coral Sea was kind to us.Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef were a delight; and six months later, we were married properly on our foredeck by the Catholic priest who was also the port minister of Gove in the Northern Territories of Australia.We rafted up with two big boats to hold all the people for the party and ceremony.Everyone kept tying their dinghies to our stern as they arrived as it is an Australian superstition that you will have as many children as there are dinghies tied to your boat for the ceremony.I kept moving their dinghies over to the other boats every chance I got leaving just our own little ‘Rascal’, as I wanted to make a quick getaway after the party.Little did I know that the superstition would be true for us. It was a great wedding.I bought 20 cases of beer and the 40 of us managed to drink it all!
We had a great time on the start of our honeymoon.We spent it sailing across the top of Australia, one of the last truly wild spots left in the world.One anchorage we shared with a witch doctor.We left him some food by his cave in the hopes for good luck!In another we snuck up on some wild cattle just for a lark.Only later did we find out they were giant Asian Buffaloes, one of the most dangerous animals alive. They were a member of the big five, the animals that when shot, attack.The Wessel group was fabulous.It was so virgin that as we walked along the beach 5 foot long fish swam up to us in a foot of water as if they had never seen a walking tree before.
Darwin was Darwin, fair shopping, great beer. A week set us right, and we were off across the big Indian Ocean!Two weeks later we were in Ashmore Reef.Ashmore was a great place.It consisted of ten rather small sand bars on top of a few reefs.No palm trees and no hotels.It was known mostly for being where nautilus shells go to die.It was on our way to Christmas Island, so why not stop?
People!We thought we would have the place to ourselves for a Blue Lagoon chapter in the continuation of our honeymoon, but it was not to be, at least not alone.
We found two Aussies who were trying to kill each other. With knifes. Really.They worked for the Oil Companies, and gave radio direction signals to the oil rigs to enable them to position themselves correctly.This was during the time that GPS was just starting to launch satellites and Sat Nav was not accurate enough for drilling.Their tour of duty was 6 months, six months in Darwin, six months out there by themselves.As there was nothing else to do they both turned to shell collecting.And beautiful shells there were, rare enough so that any museum would drool over them!
When we arrived the radio operator was accusing the other bloke, the cook, of stealing his best shells.The cook denied it and said his best shells were missing also but he wasn’t going to point fingers.
We had one bottle of wine left from Cairns where we bought a couple of cases of Cab Sav for a dollar a bottle. Remember, working one month a year means you drink your share of rot gut!Anyway, we offered to share the bottle with the two of them if they would only cool down and sit together in the same tent and talk to each other.As luck would have it, the wine had half turned to vinegar; but we drank it away!
While I was trying to keep the conversation neutral and non confrontational, Karen said,
“I know who the thief is.”You could have heard a pin drop, if a pin would make a sound dropped on a sand floor.
“And there he is!” And with a dramatic motion she pointed to the leg of a table.We rushed over and there was a hermit crab just reaching the top of the table.He strolled thru the collected shells till he found one he liked, an Emperor of the Seas, worth perhaps a thousand dollars, and before our unbelieving eyes he switched homes and started back down the leg of the table!
Perhaps it was the vinegar wine but we rolled on the sand laughing so hard we had to hold our stomachs for the pain.
What a feast that night!We ate like kings!As long as kings eat out of cans accompanied with nautilus meat!It was with a sad heart when we left a week later but the life of the deep sea sailor is one of always keeping a step ahead of the hurricane season and we still had a long way to go.
Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling were heaven incarnate.Four months passed and we were still on the first page of our honeymoon and having a better time every day.Each day was a new adventure, everyday was a day to laugh and kiss on deserted beaches under the sun.On Christmas Island we hiked into the mountains and shared love beneath gigantic trees untouched since time began.On Direction Island in the Cocos group there was a cut in the reef that you dove into and then were swept past huge fish and sharks and beautiful corals by the current and then deposited right back next to your boat.Do things like this only happen on honeymoons?
Sooner or later it had to happen.We returned to civilization when we arrived in Galle, Sri Lanka.(Darwin could never be described as civilization, The Outback, never never land, the place all the way at the end of the goddamn road, where the ‘old west’ went to, but never civilization.Civilization assumes that you have laws and that at least some of the citizens are sober, part of the day.Hey, Aussies, I’m joking!)
Galle in those days was the expatriate’s dream.With a thousand a month you could live like a real king.Hot and cold running servants, carried on a throne chair to your own private beach to swim,20 bedroom guest cottage, girls dropping grapes in your mouth, the whole nine yards. We didn’t have any where near a thousand a month but we had a great time anyway.The snake in this Eden was the war that had been going on for 7000 years between the Tamils and the Buddhists.Mostly they didn’t bother sailors.Mostly.
There is a dance, particular to yachtsmen, performed in every country in the world.This is the dance of clearing customs.Every country you sail to plays by the same rules.The way of the dance is this.First you present yourself and your boat for inspection by appearing in their port and raising your yellow hankie.Yellow quarantine flag if you must.They pretend to be not interested in doing their job for which they are paid unless you promise a midnight kiss, a tip.Eventually they show up, do their duty and wait for their kiss.
Karen was a master of the dance.In Sri Lanka, two boat boys brought out the authorities and wanted a tip.They hinted at cigarettes.Karen was very reluctant to spread the use of drugs.When pressured by these two boat boys she offered one cigarette.They expected a pack if not a carton and since there were two of them, two of everything.She waved at them to give back her cigarette.They obeyed with alacrity.Instead of offering two packs, she tore her cigarette in half and offered both boys a half of a smoke.They were so flabbergasted they didn’t know what to do so they rowed away in confusion.
We visited the Kandy, high up in the tea region.I wanted to buy Karen an engagement ring.Yes, it was a wee bit late but still for 86 dollars we bought a star sapphire mounted between two diamond chips; everyone who saw it was polite enough to be impressed.I love buying jewelry in the third world.Everyone bargains and enjoys it.I had our jeweler down to 91 dollars and he wouldn’t budge further.I suggested we toss a coin.If he won, it would be 96 dollars.But if I won it would be 86 dollars.He agreed and I started to pull a coin from my pocket.
“No, Sahib.It has to be a neutral coin.”We dragged a passer-by off the street and made him toss a coin from his pocket.Even though I won, every one had a great time.The jeweler made tea, the passer-by went and bought some sticky buns and I supplied the enhancement (gin, as we were still in the British Empire, kind of) for the tea.We all admired the beauty of Karen with her ring.What a great memory.Why do we in the west have to always be in such a big hurry?We miss so much in life.There can be so much joy in the little things.
We traveled, staying in guest cottages which were very, very basic but were only a dollar a night.Once Karen got sick with the flu and I went to the local pharmacy where they sold me a lotion to put on her third eye.The third eye, it seems, is the cause of the flu and can be located a fourth of the way between the top of the head and the eyes. If you feel around up there, they told me, you can find a soft spot.Or maybe they were just having fun with an American.
When for some strange, eerie, unknown reason the lotion didn’t work, I walked around till I found the local speakeasy.It was hard to find, Sri Lanka being half Muslim.It was some real rotgut homebrew but it fixed Karen right up by burning the hell out of anything in there that got in its way.
On the way to climb 8,000 foot Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak in Western Civilization, we had to catch a school bus.On board were Tamil and Buddhist children.They sat together, played together; they were best friends.We asked them why their parents hated each other.Was it political?Was it religious?They had no explanation other than all parents are flawed.
Sri Pada was worth it.We climbed the mountain at night on Karen’s birthday in order to greet the dawn.The dawn seen from such a perfect cone was supposed to convert the pagan and guarantee entrance into the afterlife for the devoted.Sri Pada is held holy in four different religions and each believe the footprint on its summit was caused by: Adam by the Christians, Buddha by the Buddhists, Mohammad by the Muslims and Vishnu by the Hindus.The good part was that in a war torn land the mountain was a haven of peace, respected by all sides.The sunrise was spectacular and the shadow of the mountain was beautifully reflected on the clouds and tea plantations below.I am still waiting to be canonized but Karen is set, she attained sainthood instantly when she married me!
We were so close we had to go to India.If Sri Lanka was old world charm in spades then India was old world charm doubled with exclamation points!On our way up the west coast every little town had fishermen with different kinds of hats that varied wildly.Every hat she saw, Karen wanted.About this time Karen started to get moody.She would be cheerful one day and then crabby the next, so in a moment of pure insanity I threw her birth control pills overboard.
“Well, that is just fine, Mike, real fine.Now what are we going to do about making love or are you telling me that you want to start a baby?”
“It’s alright, Karen.This is India.Every one in the world is trying to stop Indians from having more kids.There are going to be tons of birth control methods available.Not to worry.”
But it wasn’t true.Only Depo-Provera was available.This was a shot that was given once every 3 months and that worked well in preventing conception but was very hard on a woman’s body.Finally in one clinic the nurse admitted that she did have some condoms.She went into the dark recesses of long tall shelves and eventually returned blowing dust off a big plastic bag.
“Here you go then, might as well take the whole bag.We don’t want the little ones haunting our dreams, now do we?”Thanking her gratefully we returned to the boat only to discover that our bag of condoms had been invaded by a colony of ants which were attracted to the talc.Karen threw out all the condoms that had ant holes in them.
Goa wasn’t even really India.It had been a Portuguese colony for centuries and had just become part of India 20 years before.It was different in many ways.Rum and other alcohols were openly for sale.Christianity was the prevailing religion, in fact Saint Francis Xavier’s body, which had never decomposed, was still entombed in the cathedral where he is taken out on a throne and is the star in a parade once every 10 years.
We anchored off a five star hotel. This wasn’t just any hotel.In the bathroom instead of paper there were piles of ironed linen towels!The lobby was lined with priceless Persian rugs and the gardens were unreal.I bought Karen lunch at the restaurant.They came out with the rice first and started to ladle it on to Karen’s plate.She didn’t know she was supposed to indicate when she had enough.The rice on her plate resembled a mountain as the server continued to pile it on!The help kept staring at her from around corners.They had never seen someone so hungry.
The hotel was kind enough to let us use their pool showers.To return the favor twice a week when they had beach dancing we showed up and got the ball rolling. The Indians, at least the ones that could afford a hotel like that, are very conservative.After cutting up together on the empty dance floor for a few numbers, I picked an older lady and Karen a man.For every new number we picked new partners.It didn’t take that long to turn a boring dance into a jump up!
One night as a thank you the hotel held a dance contest.We danced our hearts out laughing the whole time.They gave us the prize- a bottle of wine which we drank as soon as we got back to the boat.We were really wasted!Normally we used our condoms when making love but we were too happy to remember later on if we did or didn’t.Or else we did but Karen didn’t find all of the ant holes!Anyway that, Dear Readers, was the night Falcon got started.
Want to read the whole book? It is really great. You are going to love it. Your loved one is going to want you to take you sailing around the world! Your life is going to be filled with Adventure and Romance!
Oh, Lucky You!
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Thanks for reading the beginning of my book!