Use the Force, Luke

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Tue 19 Apr 2011 06:38
Alongside Quai des Paquebots, Papeete, Tahiti
Wind: East, F2 gentle breeze
Weather: Mostly sunny, warm

I was standing in the cockpit brushing my teeth this morning watching the traffic crawl past, me staring at the drivers and the drivers staring back at me. I can't put my finger on it, maybe it was watching a 10 minute documentary the Sea Fables had given me back in Rangiroa Atoll, “The Story of Stuff” last night, or re-reading “The Tragedy of the Commons” this morning, but all of a sudden it struck me as extraordinarily funny, not sure what, perhaps just the craziness of it all, me standing there in the middle of down town Papeete, doing the most mundane of daily rituals while almost standing in the middle of peak hour traffic. All these harassed looking faces staring at me blankly, almost through me it seemed, helped me to appreciate how happy I actually am. Sometimes lonely, yes, largely because I choose not to be in one of those motor vehicles, but still happy because I am free, doing what I want.

Once morning chores were completed I donned neat attire and hiked to the Port Captain's office to clear into Papeete and out of French Polynesia. It was a lot further away then I expected, across a bridge and on a small island where the commercial port facilities are located, and when I got there I was told, “Wrong place, you need to go back to the ferry terminal where there is a small blue building in which resides the 'Yacht Master' ”. “Hmm, what about customs and immigration?” I asked. I would have been very annoyed if I had hiked all the way back to the see the “Yacht Master” then have to hike all the way back again to go through the other formalities of clearing out of French Polynesia. I am glad I asked for while there is an immigration office next to the Yacht Master's office, customs was right next door. I found the right office and was looked after by two very nice ladies, all smiles and pleasantness and after a couple of forms their side of proceedings were complete.

On the way back to see the Yacht Master I stopped at a chandlery, the first decent one I have been to since Ireland. I have put aside quite a bit of stuff which I will purchase tomorrow after the tax exemption forms have been processed. Included in my purchases is an AIS unit, Automatic Identification System. This is a bit like a radar but works through VHF radio and GPS input, and will give me warning of ships crossing my path, provided of course that they have an AIS also and it is turned on. Ships of 300 tonnes or more are now required to have these units but I have been told are not actually required to have them turned on which seems a little stupid, but I figure at about $450 US this is still a pretty good piece of insurance for a single handed sailor, so I am quite excited about fitting this new piece of technology when I have it. Though it just occurs to me if I turn my GPS off as I am inclined to do when in my Luddite celestial navigation mode of crossing oceans then it is actually pretty useless. Damn, another complication I have added to my life! I have also put a hand held VHF radio in my shopping basket. I have been contemplating acquiring one of these for some time also. When ever I enter harbour I often have to talk to harbour authorities on the VHF radio and it is just when I am getting close to harbour that I need to be on deck watching out for other ships and concentrating on navigation, not down below trying to spell Sylph's name out several times, “I say again, Sylph VI, I spell, sierra, yankee, lima, papa, hotel, numeral six, over.” How do they make these radios so cheap? Watch “The Story of Stuff” at – very good! Get on board and help save the planet. Then google “The Tragedy of the Commons”, a short essay by Garrett Hardin written back in 1968. Hardin's essay helps us see the flaw in the logic of Annie Leonard's “Story of Stuff” but she definitely has something to say which is worth listening to in my opinion. I am tempted to say something about carbon taxes and the like but I think it better if each of us tries to work things out for themselves and come to their own conclusions.

By the time I got to the Yacht Master's office he was out for lunch so I returned to Sylph for my own lunch. Back at the YM's office a little later I was treated very courteously by a tall young man with a bit of fuzz on his upper lip, presumably what he might have described as a moustache. We completed the necessary paperwork and we quibbled a bit over how long I will have stayed at the Quai des Paquebots, four days or five. I counted four, he counted five. You know the usual routine, 20 minus 16 equals four; 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 equals five. In the end he charged me for three, so I am happy. I think this is what happens when you listen to people's concerns about tsunamis and the fact that their house is only two meters above sea level, and admiring their calendar of half naked ladies. But he really was a very nice young bloke. Next door however, the Gendamerie, who looked after immigration were a completely different kettle of fish. The YM told me they should be open at 20 past one. I knocked, no answer. I peered in through the window, there was someone inside in a reclined position in a chair, arms behind head, staring overhead. I knew at the other end of the man's gaze lay a television set. I sat down on a chair outside, pulled my book out of my back pack and started to read. I always carry a book when doing battle with bureaucrats, it helps me to stay calm and enter the battle field from a position of strength. My current book by the way, as I know dear reader you cannot help but wonder about, so, anticipating your curiosity, I will inform you that it is “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”. Excellent stuff so far but Hugo's diversions into his descriptions of the architecture of medieval Paris make Herman Melville's descriptions of Leviathans seem like scratchings on the back of a pack of cigarettes, i.e. short. After glazing over and finding myself fading out trying to keep track of the three cities that make up Paris, and the arches, the streets, the gates, bridges, walls and so on and so forth, the YM re-appeared and suggested I knock again but, he warned , on no account open the door and go in, this is taboo. We heard someone cough. YM nodded to me urging me to knock, I knocked. And I think the coinciding of cough and knock prevented the bureaucrats from within ignoring me any longer. The window slid open. I felt the cool draught of their air conditioned air flow out over my face. “Parlez vous Anglais?”, I asked. A dumb blank look responded. Eventually the man on the other side of the window frame said very grumpily, “What do you want?” I explained that I wanted to leave. I am sure this is precisely what the gentleman on the other side of the partition wanted as well. He passed me some forms, I asked for a pen, he indicated a space in front of him. I could see no pen. There was a box full of them on his counter but this was not what he was nodding at and I am sure he did not want me to reach that far into his sanctuary. I went to see if I had one in my back pack but before I could do so he said, “Give me your hand.” OK, this is getting weird, but I am calm having employed my book reading meditation technique. I put my hand in through the slot, he grabs it and pushes my hand down behind the sill where the pen is hidden from my view. I pick it up, he gloats with a certain satisfaction, perhaps he felt he had won a tactical victory by not actually being forced to hand me the pen. With all the paperwork filled out I asked about getting my bond back, and proffered the bond forms across the front line and into the enemy's trenches. He reluctantly takes them, hands them back and says, “Come back tomorrow.” “What time?” I ask. This seems to confuse him, he looks behind him, presumably at a clock on the wall, walks away a few paces, talks to someone in the shadows, and returns. He sticks out his hand, he wants the papers back, he is going to complete the paperwork today. Inside I am smiling, I think of Obeonekenobi, “Use the Force Luke, use the Force.” Maybe it works after all.

From there I proceed to the bank where, after waiting in queue and wading through the architecture of fifteenth century Paris for a while, the ladies are again very nice. It takes a while to get my bond back and changed into NZ and Australian dollars (my next stop is the Cook Islands which are a protectorate of New Zealand and use NZ currency) but the two ladies I have to deal with are just so pleasant, smiling and courteous, I do not mind at all, I am in no hurry.

Back to Sylph, then to the supermarket for some more essential supplies. Now back on board for a fresh salad and a cold beer for dinner. I have enjoyed today.

All is well.