This Page has been moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


"You're on your way where? To Easter Island! Wow, that'll be great!" My friend's voice, sounding awed and impressed, came clearly over the Ham radio in Banyandah’s aft cabin. "But isn't this the wrong time of year?" Scepticism had crept into his voice. "You do know it's winter down there."

Of course I knew - hadn't I sat for hours with those dog-eared weather charts before me? Hadn't I tracked over and over again July's wind patterns for the deep South Pacific. My friend had voiced his worry over storms, but it wasn't storms that were shown in the ocean before Easter Island, it was frustrating calms and winds from around the clock.

The crash and bang of drooping sails now confirmed what those charts had indicated. Again we were becalmed. What a slow trip. Our fourth straight night without wind and we're bobbing about as though a toy boat at bath time with southern storms sending up a fury of swell. Already twenty-four days have past and Banyandah has managed a mere 1,800 miles - a jellyfish could go faster! A measly 100 miles separates us from the island of statues - maybe I'll motor.

We did motor, just for a titch, galvanised into action by sighting a strange, round object bobbing on the sea a short distance from our ship. Through binoculars it became a glass fishing float like those seen in fish restaurants; a big one, translucent green with woven netting around it. I couldn’t let a goody like that go floating past. No sir. Banyandah’s straight-six fired up, and with a call below, one, two, three, both boys and their mom tumbled up to gawk about till sighting the float. Then they shared my excitement. Down came the headsail; it hadn't been doing any work anyways. And in came the trolling line that had hung straight down into the abyss. Then with a push of the gear lever and pull of throttle, we went rapidly in pursuit.

Drifting in minutes later, both boys were outside the railing dangling outstretched arms, each hoping to be the lucky one to reach the green ball first. Jerome got the prize. He swung out a foot, trapped it then swooped down a hand, grabbing the netting. Zap! One treasure plucked from the sea.

Judging by the enormously long gooseneck barnacles, it had been wandering the world for some time. One side must have been a titch heavier than the other because that half was loaded with grand-daddy goosenecks, while the other was perfectly clean. Pencil thick rubbery necks, wrinkled like elephant’s trunks, those goosenecks had two white claspers at their ends.

Other critters were living on that mini-world too; a whole community of crabs. About a dozen little fellas and three big brutes with heavy armoured shells and stubby muscular arms dotted with hairs in neat rows. So small, all would have lain in a boy's hands.

Jason, the sympathetic one, grabbed a plastic bucket, dipped it full of sea water then began easing those freeloaders into the bucket. He coaxed one then another out the small gaps between glass and net. And while we watched, Jude and I realized just how shattering a blow this was to that microcosm. I mean, prior to our arrival that bunch of sea buddies had been merrily floating about the world aboard their own tiny adventure machine. The barnacles probably blabbed back and forth, made baby barnacles and watched it grow light and dark. The crabs on the other hand had the run of the ship. In calm weather they might have gone topside for a bit of sun baking or feed off the tasty algae growing on their tiny planet. They may have even dared short swims out to tasty looking morsels drifting past. And if any sea monsters came up out the blue, more than likely they just shrank under the protection of the netting. What a perfect life!

Then we came along - and swoosh, their whole world went into a spin. Animals hardly ever protest, so we humans think they don't care, or don't feel, or we think they don't think. But maybe they do....

After Jason had collected all the crabs, without thought he dumped the bucket of water and crabs back into the sea. They were very much alive to be sure, but my God, what a shock. To be just plopped into such a massive world with their only sanctuary, our ship, speeding away must have caused a few crabs’ hearts to flutter. Can you imagine? Maybe you've never swum in the middle of the biggest ocean? I have with goggles, and it seems to go on forever, a light blue world without end - with absolutely no place to hide. The tiniest particle stands out like a roadside billboard flashing, "Okay fishes! Here I am! Dinner time!"

Splashed from bucket to boundless sea which way would they go? Surely not down. And what if a hungry fish should happen by? Gulp! There'd be no place to run. We never meant to be cruel. We just wanted the ball. And they would have died on our deck if we hadn't thrown them back. Sometimes doing what seems right is wrong.

Start at the Galapagos, cross the equator, turn south, travel 25 days and nights, see not one soul, just sea and sky, catch a few fish, fight a storm and afterwards drift a bit until at last an increasing wind brings a black silhouette in the waking hours of a brand new day. Welcome to the navel of the world.

At first light see huge combers pounding against a dark red, vertical headland latticed into blocks that look like giant bricks. Atop it see a smooth conical slope of yellow and green crowned by a topknot of eucalyptus. This is Poike, the last stronghold of the Long Ears. Welcome to Easter Island - Bienvendidos a la Isla de Pascua - Ia orana Rapa Nui.

On the horizon, a storm is coming, so race the gathering wind in behind this mysterious land seen by so few. Hang on tight past Poike as blasts roll down this treeless land, careening our ship atop a torrent of white foam and spray. The sheer cliff tumbles into a crescent of crumbling rock, the last remains of another long dead volcano. Standing out clear in the wind blown bright morning light, this one is Rano Raraku, birthplace of the moai.

The wind now comes in vicious jabs, so run close alongside big southern ocean combers rumbling high up the rock shore. And fly past other worn volcanic cones; past a strange open land tilted gently towards the sea so all can be seen; past a collage of pleasing earth colours, past browns and reds, strange heat fused violets, past pastures peppered with small lumps of black rock that God Himself must have sprinkled down from the heavens. Past many more silent iconic moai standing guard over Rapa Nui.

The island's bold southern headland appears ahead across a flecked white, wind swept sea; it’s another dormant volcano. Then figures on horseback appear, a running dog alongside. The land dips, the sea breaks less strongly and a bottom of turquoise is at long last seen. Vinapu, an open roadstead, bounded by yet more rare earth coloured cliffs.

"Anchor away," my young son cries. Welcome to the island of statues.

Of course there's no harbour, we knew that before setting out. Just a triangular shaped island ten miles a side. If the wind changes, we run. If a storm attacks, sleep is forsaken and decisions have to be right. But with our first glimpse, we knew our decision to gamble so much was correct. An indescribable aura permeates the air over this island of mystery. Its presence can be felt. If we get no further, it will have been worth the long voyage.

But we get quite a lot farther. Not through any help from the weather for that storm was just a taste. In our first days we were forced to shift six times, forced to stand watches through black rainy nights, to listen to combers break just aft of our vessel. Giant ground swells and violent winds tested our anchors. We lost one.

Gaining the land was always a challenge. But once there, our dream came true. Everyone was so kind. Pascuans, some two and a half thousand Polynesians dating back to the thirteenth century inhabit the island, which today is a possession of Chile. Spanish is spoken. So is Rapi Nui, their dialect of Polynesian. A bit of English too.

If we hadn't had so many storms - but in the end, we got our fill of the rock giants we had come such a long way to see. After the first storm had flown, we shifted Banyandah to Hutuiti, the bay under the impressive sight of Rano Raraku and then wandered; just ourselves, the extinct volcano, and our cherished Banyandah in the blue at its base, and the moai. Some stand erect, some on an incline, others pushed over on their noses. Many more were still contained in the rock; noses, foreheads, ears and chins in various forms of completion. From Rano Raraku’s volcanic crest, the sea stretched unchanged since creation. Above, a lighter sky kept us company as we slid our hands over the contours of those mysterious creations, our souls listening to their secrets. Who, how, all the questions passed through our minds. And such perfect shapes; like the Mona Lisa, not their beauty, but mood, feeling.

During the middle of our two week stay, the weather turned balmy and the sea became flat. We anchored then on the north coast in the bay used by one of its first discovers, La Perouse during his visit of 1786. We strolled upon the vacant land, exploring caves we chanced upon, tingling with the thought that we might discover some still hidden treasure. Walking to the cove at Anakena, which folklore says is the original landing site of Hotu Matua, the first king of Rapa Nui, we discovered the remains of a large village. Evident today by the number of stone remains precisely set in the shape of a large double ended canoe, being the foundation stones of an olden day "boat house” that was built from a reed still growing in the crater lakes. Also at Anakena was the original statue raised by the Heyerdahl expedition, plus a set of seven others more recently raised with power equipment. Petroglyphs of sinister half-man, half-bird creatures decorate the rock walls of the Ahu - the stone temple platform on which the statues stand.

Our second storm struck the day Judith and Jerome hiked the ten miles down the island to Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui’s only town. We’d run out of food. The previous night had been hot, airless, but with dawn came a light zephyr that slowly grew as the day passed. At lunch a drop of rain fell. The bay then became choppy as the wind started blowing onshore.

It was Judith's first trip to the town for I had checked us in with Jason. While doing so, we’d met a helpful Pascuan named Orlando Paoa, a few years my senior. At the counter of a rustic timber store, he was standing next to me speaking a tongue so strange I’d impulsively asked, “What language is that?”

Without hesitation, the tall, solidly built man turned and said, “Why, that’s Rapa Nui. When did you arrive?”

Picking up my box of supplies I replied, “Oh, just this morning.” Then bid him good day.

A few minutes later on the boardwalk alongside the dirt track, a red and white pickup pulled up with my new friend driving. “Can I give you a lift to your boat?” he asked.

“How do you know I came by boat?”

Planes come only twice a week, the last yesterday.”

After our chance encounter, Orlando helped me clear the Chilean officials, assisted our purchases then gave us a box of much desired fresh fruits before delivery us cross island. But not before a quick stop at his hotel for a welcoming island drink. His parting words were, "See me again when you need any help." Orlando, the perfect friend to a sea-roving family in a far away land. So, before Judith departed, I outlined where Orlando could be found.

At three that stormy day, when Orlando's pickup breasted the last hillock from town, our bay was running a fairly nasty sea. It was still possible to land, only because our patch of sand was protected by a peninsular of land. But the journey cross swell was fraught with danger. Orlando, Jude, Jerome and several others piled out the truck then began carting box after box down to the shore. I rowed in. Jason stayed behind, in charge of the ship.

Once landed, cameras clicked, and Jude gushed with the news of her day.

"Oh what fun - It was fabulous," she ran on. "They're ever so nice."

From an icebox carried by a small army of Pascuans, Orlando poured me a drink. Raising a similar glass to his lips, he toasted our further safe travels. Standing on the fine rainbow sand looking at the hostile sea, a much appreciated blast to my spirit in hand, I was further impressed by this man.

Out the wind, I felt safer and the spike of unknown liquor, tasting sweet yet sour like a doppelganger daiquiri, soon lifted the worry I'd carried most of that day. My features relaxed. The smell of salt and sound of surf hung in the air. The setting must have been right; thusly encouraged Orlando began the saga of his life.

Before the airport was built in the sixties, Easter Island was a prison for young blood wanting a look at the rest of the world. Only once a year did a ship come. No other communications was possible. As a lad of fifteen, Orlando had yearned for more than containment. One dark night, he and four others quit their birth land, their prison. In an open fishing boat they drifted across the sea in search of other lands. Nearly 60 days later, a heroic story in itself, they found the first one. Orlando's story captured my imagination and in awe I stood on the coloured sand of Ovahe with my eyes blazing into his. Our friendship became fused in that meeting. His future, dramatically altered, then took a very different course. From the tiny Cook Island where he was first interned then put on the next ship, he next landed in Panama, where he joined the US Air Force and gained higher education while serving twenty years before being sent home to help construct the Easter Island Airport needed by NASA. Now he owns one of the island's finer hotels and has a large family spread about the world. Concluding his tale, Orlando gave a call to a tall young Pascuan, and I meet Benjamin, one of his sons, a handsome healthy twenty-three year old.

"Jack, you'll have to move your ship,” Orlando went on. "A new storm is coming."

I smiled. "I'm shifting as soon as these supplies get on board."

Orlando was silent for a moment looking out to sea. "Why don't we trade sons for the night, my one for your two? Yours can come home with me, have a shower, watch television. My son can experience a night at sea."

How could I refuse, the man had been so kind and I never imagined the storm would become quite so fierce.

"Benjamin, do you get seasick?" I quickly asked. A cute shake of his jet black curls his reply. "Okay, let's load up. I'll bring Jason ashore."

Half an hour later, the transfer complete, I was swearing and cursing. Our anchor was jammed in that confounded Easter Island rock while a violently rolling Banyandah had Benjamin limp and sick all over her side.

Finally away, we flew like lightning across La Perouse Bay, the Three Crosses atop Poike our landmark ahead. Close aboard, we roared past that red wall while surf flew and the sea ran freely across our decks. Then back again to Tongoriki at the base of Rano Raraku, but this time much farther out for the swell had built and now broke in deadly white lines across the entrance to the shallow bay.

In gathering dusk, we anchored deep, let miles of line out, and buoyed our anchor. With no-where else to hide, our existence became a screeching wind blown night of worrying. Each blast topping the last as clouds raced past the full moon making it alternately light and dark. In the moonlight, the land looked hauntingly silent and extinct. But from there to us, it was a madhouse of life. Waves tumbled till the ocean glowed eerie while white spume trapped our home in a cacophony of screeches and sea swishing past the hull. The protesting anchor rope made it useless to attempt sleep.

Daylight brought a white world. Nature gone mad. And I was surprised to see through drifts of mist the land still before us and the vague moai looking at us. Inured by years at sea, by other memories of screeching wind and mad seas, we got on with our daily life. But, bed ridden, Benji became our worry. He could not drink nor eat.

The peak of the storm had passed before dawn and by late afternoon, though still blowing full gale, a small boat put out from the shore. Pitching bows high, a familiar figure came riding the white wave like a rodeo rider. It was our friend Orlando, a broad grin lighting his face.

"The boys are okay." He had to yell across the small gap after the open craft containing two others had circled astern and ploughed back alongside. "I'll keep them safe until this blows itself out."

Hearing his father’s voice, Benji came running. First sighting the boat then his father, Benji leaped for their craft then swam for safety. Orlando, an even greater smile lighting the dull day, waved hugely over his head. Then they were off, smashing the head sea, back to their land. Jude and I, now alone, prayed for their safety while watching their single outboard struggle.

From that day on, we became a regular in the Paoa House; showers, lunches, shopping trips, tours of the island, we also got together for stories of folklore. Nothing was too much, and our friendship, knowing a time limit existed, grew with rapid delight.

The days passed, quiet ones returned and we ventured further from our home under the guidance of Orlando and his guides. Rano Kao, the island's volcanic southern tip not known for its giant moai but for its natural beauty overwhelmed us when we reached the very top of the trail. A giant caldera of glistening lakes strewn with marshes dotting its floor then looking up its green and brown streaked walls, hawks rode the thermals. The ruins of Orongo enjoy a dramatic location on the crater lip. And it was there, first looking down upon the crater lake then across the knife edged caldera wall that dropped as if atop the world’s tallest building to a cerulean sea that we listened to tales of Rongo Rongo, the bird cult ceremony.

“Come,” the guide suggested. “Examine the 53 ceremonial stone houses, squat and so beautifully adorned with bird men petroglyphs and other strange creatures.”
Then he explained that here the Orongo men had awaited the return of the sea terns that signalled the annual race to bring the first manutara (Sooty Tern egg) from the islet of Motu Nui. A true fantasy that.

As the fine weather lingered we became saturated with island lore, but the worry of new storms churned away in my thoughts. Why push our luck, I found myself thinking until finally, with perturbation, I mentioned departure. Once spoken, the move became definite and our efforts turned to reprovisioning. Here again our island friend came to our aid. His truck made many trips across the bumpy dirt tracks carrying supplies and boxes of his garden's produce. When water was mentioned, the next day he arrived with drums of sweet rain. I mentioned cooking gas, and like a magician, two full cylinders showed up on our beach.

We took time off during these forays for a pleasant, island style, fish barbeque organised, naturally, by Orlando. Sitting upon rocks overlooking the statues, a plate of island fair balanced on my knees, beside me the man who had made our visited so complete. In my reverie came distant sounds of far away and with them a remembrance of Orlando’s excited voice telling his long ago sea adventure.

"Orlando, you should come with us." I was looking deeply into his eyes and quietly nodding my head. "You should join Banyandah for the ride to Tahiti."

Excitement bloomed in his grey eyes then I watched it dwindle and die. I guess he really had no chance to say yes. His business demanded his daily presence.

"But my son, why not take Benji?" His words brought a vision of Benji doubled over and retching.

I replied we'd not see land for more than twenty days. But, if Benji thought he could take it, I'd welcome him on board.

Like his father, Benjamin was intelligent and thoughtful, so I described as best I could the hardships of such a voyage. He considered them for only a moment, and then accepted.

“Why?” I asked. “You get seasick.”

Looking earnestly into my eyes, he said the words I will never forget. “It is an opportunity I may never have again. I must.”

Only, it wasn't that easy. Chilean officialdom rates as high as the greatest in the world. And though the island population was excited, even envious, officials barred our way. For several days I delayed departure while Orlando did battle with Chilean immigration. He made telephone calls overseas, elicited favours from friends, bullied through red tape and finally received permission for his son.

A grand finale barbecue was hastily arranged, to be held before the boat on the sandy shores of the first settlement at Anakena. That final morning, a second tour of Rano Raraku was arranged upon my request. The Four J's wanted to say goodbye to their rock friends who have guarded the island for so long. In a whirl, it was over. The moai stood just the same while a strange feeling crept inside us as the island spirits infiltrated our souls. Then came the barbecue and plenty of friends; many laughs, more stories, and a promised reunion. A few hours before twilight, we made our final goodbyes. Tears flowed as if we were leaving home.

For a final time the anchor rose from the rock bottom of Rapa Nui, sails were hoisted, and Banyandah edged towards a cloud scattered horizon rapidly filling with gold. And like a play coming to end, daylight dwindled, taking the island from our sight.


  1. Hi. Jack and Jude here from London. We really enjoyed your web site. It's good to know there's other Jack and Jude's in the World.

    We wondering what your children were called? Do they begin with J?

    Jack and Jude


  2. Heh... This is Jason, Jack and Jude's 1st born, and my brother is Jerome,... so yes, they did name them with J's. Actually we used to be called the 4Js and imprinted on the sails.

    Excellent article again as usual Dad&Mum! Book is getting rave reviews!

  3. Nice to see the pics of the Island, the statues and the impromptu BBQ after listening to the story related first-hand by Jack.
    I too have found the Chilean people very welcoming, having stayed for a few days in that country on two occasions, once joining a ship to cruise south via the Fjords to the Antarctic Peninsula and then Buenos Aires and the second time to sail north via Panama to Boston.
    I saw one Easter Island Statue in Chile which had been stolen from the island in the early days but would love to visit the island itself someday. Wishful thinking.
    Great story!