Time: 9.30 am (Marquesas - Taiohae)
Longtitude: 9° 25 S
Latitude: 136° 45 W
Course over ground: 242°
Speed over ground: 6 knots
True wind speed: 10 - 15 knots
135 nautical miles to go…
Well, we are now in the home straights and can almost smell the land! The wind picked up overnight and we started pushing 7 knots. We had forgotten how bumpy the boat gets at higher speed, so used to the calmer waters and snail’s pace of the past week, and this afternoon we put in a reef to tighten the sail. It was a joy to be at the helm steering the boat into the wind again and to have an input into sailing rather than simply float along on autopilot! We would have been much more proactive over the past week if we’d still had a gennaker, putting it up and down, and for that, as well as its billowing beauty, I really do miss it.
This has felt an especially long day as we set the clocks back an hour and a half only yesterday, so in order to get an early night we had an movie afternoon instead, watching “You Only Live Twice” as Francis had spotted in the biographical notes to George’s Marvellous Medicine that Roald Dahl had written the screenplay. That counts as educational, right?!
Just before the film started, as I was putting on the kettle for a cup of tea, next to the saucepan with popcorn on the go, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, through the galley window, some fins in the water ahead. We raced on deck to find dolphins playing at the bow, just as we had found the night before arriving in St Lucia crossing the Atlantic Ocean. A good omen!
At this rate we will be in Fatu Hiva tomorrow morning. We have no idea what to expect really, although I have some sense thanks to the memories of Robert Louis Stevenson, albeit 150 years out of date! His honorific nickname when he settled in Samoa was “Tusitala” or “Storyteller”, and his non-fiction writing is just as much a page turner as ever was Jekyll and Hyde, or Treasure Island. At the moment, he is currently explaining why he feels that he has more kinship with the Polynesians than the Europeans, drawing on the knowledge he has of Scots folk of the Highlands and Islands:
“Not much beyond a century has passed since these were in the same convulsive and transitionary state as the Marquesans of today. In both cases an alien authority enforced, the clans disarmed, the chiefs deposed, new customs introduced, and chiefly that fashion of regarding money as the means and object of existence… In one the cherished practice of tattooing, in the other a cherished costume, proscribed… The grumbling, the secret ferment the fears and resentments, the alarms and sudden councils of Marquesan chiefs, reminded me of the days of Lovet and Strain. Hospitality, tact, natural fine manners and a touchy punctilio, are common to both races: common to both tongues the trick of dropping medial consonants.”
RLS also draws a comparison with Highlanders being robbed of cattle to Marquesans being denied the luxury of “long-pig”. Animalising the reference to human flesh in that way, makes an ever more persuasive case for vegetarianism all round!
His observation “what I knew of he Cluny Macphersons, or the Appin Stewarts, enabled me to learn, and helped me understand, about the Tevas of Tahiti” rang a bell - I spent a good couple of holidays in Appin as a teenager, looking at family tombstones there, immersed in local history, both in published texts and a family narrative written up by Victorian Mackenzie ancestors, like a detective tracking down the truth behind the circumstances leading to James Stewart being hung as a scapegoat (or long-goat?!) for the Appin murder by the bridge at Glencoe, and intrigued by all the clan machinations. I didn’t have that far to look - our clan was one of two whereby the truth of the real murderer was secretly handed down by generations. Sharing such information to an outsider, apparently, would result in hair dropping out (only men were in on it), and there is a wonderful story of two gentlemen out fishing, one a relative, who tested each other by writing the name on a piece of paper and gravely swapping them over in silence.
RLS cast back to the time of his fathers, sharing mythologies and stories “with some trait of equal barbarism” from home to encourage South Sea Islanders “no longer ashamed” to share theirs in turn:
“It is this sense of kinship that the traveller must rouse and share; or he had better content himself with travels from the blue bed to the brown.”
I wonder how much RLS, Melville and Dafoe were informed by Rousseau’s paternalistic concept of “the noble savage”, whether at home or abroad, but with RLS, a natural structuralist with the emphasis he places on discovering and reflecting on connections and kinship, rather than exotic Otherness, coupled with keen observations, writes ahead of his time. Wha’s like us?!