Tennis Ball

We were taking turns looking at the moon last night though the binoculars. It was just stunning. So clear. You could see its relief, the craters, the cheese.  I kept going back just to have one last look. A couple of nights earlier, our new friend Eric, the retired Brittany dentist, had pointed out Mars and Saturn and Mercury. The night sky can look exceptional here. And it helps to have someone who can point out interesting stuff too. 

For my birthday last year, we were in the UK. Dave, my dad and I went to the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland. The show started at midnight which necessitated driving up into the forest, hoping for clear skies. We left Hexham on a clear bright night but as we drove north we could see the fog gathering over the river Tyne and by the time we arrived at 11.45pm, it was thick and claggy meaning no telescopes tonight. Oh well. We know about weather and plans and occasional disappointments, being boat dwellers. 

We had an enjoyable evening but I was sad we’d couldn’t look out into the dark skies. That was going to be the fun bit. There was however a particular story that stood out. One of the physicists / astronomers talked about the scale of the universe. Here’s my recollection of how it went. 

He showed us a photo which just looked like lots of stars. He explained it was actually many overlaid photos of just one particular area of the sky taken by the Hubble telescope built up over an extended period of time. There were 3,500 pinpricks of light in the photo. I didn’t count them. I believed him.

He explained that each of these faint pin pricks of light was a galaxy. I was able to make sense of this by reminding myself that the Milky Way is our galaxy with the sun and associated planets, Jupiter, Uranus, Pluto etc.  

He told us that each galaxy will have a minimum of 600 million stars, stars like our sun, and so far, astronomers have never found a star without at least one planet. That’s minimum by the way. The Milky Way has an estimated one hundred thousand million. Gulp.

The mind numbing bit came next. Get a friend to hold up a tennis ball up in the sky, 100m away from you. The Hubble telescope picture represented a piece of sky the same size as that tennis ball.

If my memory is correct, he said that was 1/24 millionth of the whole sky. So 3,500 galaxies in one tennis ball at 100m. Proving in no uncertain terms, it’s all pretty big out there. That’s a darned feast of stars and planets. Numbers too big by far to get my diminishing brain power to fully understand. But definitely worth thinking about occasionally. The tennis ball is a useful unit of size. 

Back in a smaller space, two delivery companies are attempting to transport a couple of packages from the States to French Polynesia. One package is in Australia, the second is in Korea. How, why? Will we ever see them? As Toyah said, “It’s a mystery”. They make take longer to get here than light does from a place far far away. Packages are dictating when we move SE down the tuamotan chain. 

And finally, I met a local family when I was out on a bike ride a couple of days ago. We had a smiley disjointed mismatched french / english conversation. Football teams have on many occasions during our travels provided a useful way of talking geography and where we are from. Usually locals will be familiar with Man United or Liverpool. This guy. The first team he mentioned completely unprompted, Newcastle. I’ll just repeat that. Newcastle. He’s now my friend for life. 

Maggie’s Handbag

My mind was wandering as I took myself off for a little paddle board trip up the atoll yesterday. Remember. Always go upwind to start so coming home is easier. (I won’t go into wind shifts here thank you very much!)  But if you go further than what your breakfast fuel tank holds, coming back, even with the wind behind, is a real effort, only remedied by instant gorging on cheese and crackers.

It was a beautiful day. The rhythm I set for paddling required no conscious thought, letting my mind meander off to other places. 

My teeny tiny world just feels lighter this week. The news that a vaccine for COVID is on the near horizon and the election shenanigans in the USA delivering a hopeful result, means I’m much more optimistic for the future. I projected forward to a year from now and felt much more positive about what footprint us humans will be leaving behind. It won’t be a perfect shape. I do believe it will be a better shape. For most people.

I then replayed some history that is solely age related. There were a whole heap of opportunities and possibilities that came into Dave and I’s life, purely because we were born in a certain era. Here’s a non exhaustive random list.

  1. Grants for further education 
  2. Housing benefit so as a student, if you’re rent was more than £12.50 (I think) a week, you could claim the overspend back from Maggie’s handbag. Plus if you weren’t living in you digs during the holidays, that money came back too. Nice. 
  3. Unemployment benefit – dole money. You could sign on in the holidays
  4. The introduction of budget airlines – £1.99 flights to Dublin Prague Geneva etc
  5. Explosion of travel possibilities further afield  – fly for 6 hours for reasonable money and be in a totally different culture
  6. No major wars that have seriously impacted us
  7. Buying a house for sensible money, like £30k or £40k and with the housing boom, be able to watch it double or triple in value
  8. The speed and development of technology. What’s happened since the mid 90’s is astounding
  9. Full size chocolate bars. A penguin or an orange / mint  club from your Granny were of the appropriate size and thickness
  10. The beauty that is the NHS. I’ve had my fair share of money from this ‘free at the point of entry’ institution. Thank you!
  11. The export of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
  12. The fact you can start drawing down on your personal pension at 55. We like this now we’re old

Do I have something deep and meaningful to say to summarise these thoughts? No not really. I’ll just continue on with my happy little life knowing I have had some ups and downs, but the up’s do come out seriously on top. 

And on a boaty note, the ship comes in on Wednesday. There hasn’t been one for two weeks. There could be fresh provisions. That’s an up. And after that a new atoll, further east – Tahanea or Makemo or Ile d’Hao. A bit more geography research folks.😀 Happy Saturday. 

Testing Testing

Dave’s olfactory senses are working just fine. If you’re struggling to find a COVID test, we accidentally invented one as I do believe a loss of smell can be one of the symptoms. 

The test is relatively simple to set up and administer. Buy some cans of beer in Carrefour in Papeete, Tahiti. (The shop and the location are actually irrelevant but it gives a sense of place to the story). Stack them carefully in a cupboard then sail 250 miles to windward. The boat will inevitably heel so dislodging can happen. 

I guess the sight equivalent would be having an eagle eye. Well Dave has an eagle nose.

He went down below into the cabin about 10.30 in the morning. I was in the cockpit keeping an eye on things. In reality there wasn’t very much to keep an eye on. The Pacific is pretty devoid of other boats once you get a handful of miles off shore. Just occasional birdies and sealife. 

Five minutes later he’s back up on deck with a can of beer in his hand. Hmmm. The beer police aka me, are alerted. We don’t drink on passage. Well we had a snifter crossing the equator and one on Christmas Day on our way to the Cape Verde islands. Having a chilled glass of white wine on arriving after days at sea is one of life’s little luxuries and something to look forward to.

‘Hello, hello, hello, what’s going on here?” The beer police are an inquisitive bunch. The defence made their case. Like a bloodhound, Dave reported to being drawn to a cupboard as a particularly familiar smell was emanating from its interior. Escaping beer. The cans had dislodged slightly and one of them had punctured necessitating immediate drinking. ‘I had no choice, me lord, but to drink it then and there.”

So that’s the test. A man with a nuanced beery nose will sniff out an open can at 20 paces. Hopefully proving an absence of Covid. 

We left Tahiti in the Society Islands, after just under 3 weeks there with a working fridge / freezer plus a boatload of stuff for the next few months. We had a couple of nights on Moorea, an island 15 miles north of Tahiti. The Society Islands combine the hills of the Marquesas with the atoll reefs of the Tuamotus. They make for popular tourist destinations and are much busier than what we’ve previously been use to.

Moorea has great trails to walk and we squeezed in one before our sail back east to Fakarava in the Tuamotus. Currently we’re anchored at Harifa. A fine sheltered spot in the SE corner of the atoll. We plan to spend at least a week here decompressing after the shock of city living.