- 'JAHO' -
1. TAHITI FEVER
Several years ago,......late in '79 to be precise, just after I had started a short contract as Government Surgeon in the Seychelles, a group of islands scattered in the middle of the Indian Ocean...... I went down with 'Tahiti-Fever'.
I'll tell you more about it if you care to read on, however first dear reader, you should realise that there exists an attraction to the sea which is so overpowering to many that it almost amounts to an addiction; yet no anti-drug campaign is waged to diminish the effects of this primal urge, which acts upon those who, responding like the lemmings, are called to go down to the sea..........
anthropologists, archaeologists, psychologists and countless other 'ologists propound on the early origins of Life aeons ago within the great waters of this planet, which might more aptly be named 'Ocean' rather than 'Earth'; so logically it is probable that there remains a seed or germ within each of us which can grow and become in some cases, during the course of a single lifetime, a full blown case of an ailing which has been alluded to by poets and romantics and manifested by adventurers for centuries.
That call to go back to the sea to refresh our very soul from the aridity of Earth. To find once again the source of our substance. To rest upon the maternal bosom to be immersed once again in the fecund waters of life within the Mother of all mothers and yet at the same time seamen throughout the ages have ever likened her to a jealous mistress. Enfolded in her embrace and overwhelmed by her passions Man becomes ensnared by her loveliness. Yet, allow but a moment's lapse from subservience to her powers and she will turn with a fury not envisaged since the days of mythology and devour him upon an instant to disperse his elements once more within herself the eternal matrix, source of all life under the firmament.
Perhaps those who are born and raised deep within continental land masses have acquired immunity to the emergence of this congenital ailing, but for those of us who are nurtured on small islands or along those vast coastal stretches of the continents' meetings with the waters the germ can remain so potent that the possibility of developing a full-blown addiction is ever near.
If you are one of those who has ever wittingly 'put to sea' especially in sailing ketch or read John Doherty's enjoyable book on John Hanna's Yacht Designs or if you're one of the land-locked millions still standing at the shore and dreaming of sailing away one day...some day...over and beyond the far horizon, you should be able to understand the tale that follows and maybe even the teller, on the one hand that which beckons imagination to wanderings across the trackless oceans ahead, on the other, one driven away by nothing more than the wind blowing free abaft the beam.
When it comes to romancing the sea and the ships that sail upon it John Masefield captured the essence in his stirring poem 'Sea-Fever' while after him and a century or more ago, that famous old sea captain Joshua Slocum stated quite simply "the sea is there to sail over" in his own account of voyaging as the first man ever to sail alone around the world.
Doherty recently elucidated his own malaise in a fascinating and beautifully illustrated book entitled 'A Ketch Called Tahiti', so it transpired as in his case, I too caught 'Tahiti Fever'.
It happened one afternoon early in the North-west Monsoon as the rain cascaded out of a leaden sky onto the island of Mahé, the largest island of the Seychelles group all of which having at one time comprised a British Colony had by then become the independent Republic of Seychelles.
Tropical fevers being often sudden in onset my attack was no exception and it is easy to pinpoint the time for the malady started immediately upon my seeing and then being invited aboard a 'Tahiti Ketch'. I had in fact been smitten by 'the bug' a few minutes before that, having caught it from an ebullient 'Hitch - hiker' to whom I'd given a lift.
He'd been thumbing his way, on this typically wet November afternoon along the coast road back towards Mahé's Victoria Harbour where the 'boat' about which he was by then being so effusive lay at anchor. Having just reached the island he had been the crewman aboard her for the 2000 mile voyage up from Durban a large city port on the coast of South Africa's Natal Province.
As we splashed along though the waters which threatened to cover the earth, shouting all the while against the thrash of the wipers in desperate conflict with the deluge, the noise of the steaming engine and the inevitable rattles of my many-times-handed-over 'Island-Toyota' what tales he had to tell me, his chance benefactor, in that short a space of time as we drove the mile or so to the Yacht Club in the pouring rain and where upon arrival, cloud-burst notwithstanding, he leapt from his temporary shelter and clutching me by the arm drew me inexorably with a scrawny but vice-like grip through the deserted Club - deserted at this time for nobody went sailing in this season of no wind, and such torrential celestial libations of fresh water had not drawn many bar lizards out of their cosy dry hideouts. Just the two of us, me and this bedraggled maniacal fellow, epitome of The Ancient Mariner of epic saga by Coleridge. Onwards he pulled me.... onwards and down...... out to the waterfront where suddenly...... as the downpour suddenly ceased and vision cleared, with a gasp I saw her - as there she lay some forty or fifty yards from the jetty - riding gently to her anchor on the now glassy waters of the yacht basin out-standing amongst those taller, longer, faster, younger and sleeker ocean-yachts of plastic, steel and 'chicken-wire with concrete'. Above and beyond class or style and standing alone, with such an air of elegant assurance that it was almost tangible and belied her beamy 30 foot waterline - this old wooden boat, this 'Tahiti' - which, from the cap-iron of her Bowsprit to the cheeks of her rudder-post, showed nothing but classic seaworthiness in her lines ..... pure beauty for any age.
Beauty's name was 'JAHO' and commanded by her owner, an Englishman John B. residing in Durban, she was making passage from South Africa to Israel where he was to take up a 2 year career appointment and for which, as fate would have it, he had a deadline date to meet.
Creeping that day into Port Victoria the capital of Mahé, at 57 sq. miles the largest of the Seychelles' 92 island Archipelago, having initially sailed with the south-easterly from the coast of Natal up the Mozambique Channel and by way of the Comoros Islands at the upper end of the Mozambique Basin, he was now in the Doldrums having run into the predictably sudden change in the Monsoon Season in the latitudes of Mahé some 4 degrees South of the Equator. His progress northwards had been halted and he was well behind the schedule he had hoped to maintain when starting out from Durban.
John was facing an agonising dilemma, the feasibility of being able to complete his voyage and fulfil his obligations sailing from Seychelles at that time of year for the Red Sea and beyond in his old 'Tahiti' on a course that would by then entail lengthy windward passages in the further north he went against parting with his cherished old gaff-rigged ketch, whose kind are notably poorer performers to windward than modern rigs. Tales related to him by some visiting European yachtsmen may have helped in the resolution of this situation for when he considered the likely and prohibitive costs of keeping and maintaining 'JAHO' in the Eastern Mediterranean during his coming two years of work in Israel, he elected to sell her and to take up instead the job of delivery of a fast modern French sloop that happened at that same time to be lying in Port Victoria devoid of a skipper from Mahé north-eastwards to the East African port of Djibouti. As this was on his prepared route to the southern part of Red Sea and promised to be a better sail than he could have hoped for in the old Gaffer at that time of year and an onward air-ticket from Djibouti to Tel Aviv was offered by the French owner as a sweetener to this arrangement, John sealed his resolve and put himself back on schedule.
So it was, that within a few days of my first sighting her I found myself not only the stricken fever victim but the proud new owner and much enamoured with this vintage John Hanna 'Tahiti'.
Having made his decision, John still had very little time before his departure, only in fact long enough for a couple of half-day sails being my initiation into the rituals of sailing a Gaffer, as opposed to the skills required for sailing the ordinary Bermudian Sloop rig, and for getting to know, he mimicked the fast Frenchman's disdain for the old fashioned rig "ol zoze rrropes". Following which a survey on the slipway completed our short preliminaries.
Some of my readers I am sure at this stage would be appalled at such precipitate 'goings on' and fear they were being hoodwinked or about to find themselves on the wrong end of an ownership deal receiving goods of dubious origin maybe, but both John and I having agreed that such mutual opportunities don't usually present themselves '1000 miles out from the middle of nowhere' quickly settled on a price and the 'Little Ship' changed hands. We finally had just sufficient time to legalise the affair and for John to hand over a couple of lists of - "Do's, Don'ts and How to's" together with some additional notes on "tricky techniques" for managing various 'qwerks' - pertaining mostly to the Engine and the Head!
'JAHO' became mine not only without a great deal of fuss but albeit also without much of her background history and documentation to boot and from that time on, like a questing adopted child, I began my searches and researches to fill in the details of my 'Tahiti's' past. These efforts were not without successes and the 'tale' has gone almost full circle as anyone who has read Mr. Doherty's book might see.
the story continues.................
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