Saturday, August 29, 2009

Day 97: Operation Tarawa


"Whatever I say in the next 10 minutes, please promise me you'll still be my friend…that you won't hate me?"

When you hear such a plea, you just know that whatever follows will be some pretty serious news. The fact is, I knew it was coming. Wednesday's rowing conditions were so wretched for Roz that I was certain she'd call me very soon to discuss a different strategy.

The call came the very next day. Roz agonized over the decision, but with a broken water maker, leaky reserves and dwindling food supplies, attempting the Herculean effort necessary to hit Tuvalu seemed to be far too dangerous. We just had no way of knowing how long it would take for Roz to push far enough south and east, or frankly, if it was even possible. Beyond the safety issues, Roz's very first book tour is just around the corner – she just couldn't miss that!

Yes, truthfully, I was a bit crestfallen to hear the news. I wanted to see her reach that goal of getting as far south of the equator as possible on Stage 2, because I've learned just how important that will be for setting her up for a successful Stage 3. I suppose it's selfish to admit, but I was bummed that we'd have to start from square one – especially because after so much time and effort, things had finally just fallen into place with Tuvalu. The country was positively buzzing about Roz's impending arrival. She was to be given the warmest of welcomes along with safe haven for her boat until Stage 3. But that's how these things go. It really only took me a few seconds to get over the disappointment – I didn't have time to mope about it! There was far too much to be done.

The minute I hung up with Roz on Thursday morning I hopped on Skype with her weatherman, Ricardo, in Portugal. He informed me that with the currents and winds now totally in Roz's favor, she could easily average 40 miles each day and make landfall as early as September 5th. My stomach twisted into knots and my palms started to sweat. I had little more than a week to get Conrad the cameraman and myself there and make all the necessary arrangements for Roz's arrival. That may not sound like such a big deal, but with only 2 flights each week into Tarawa, I knew this wasn't going to be easy…

Today (Friday) was unbelievably hectic. I managed to find flights for us after all, on Air Pacific, the only airline that flies to Tarawa. After much rather enjoyable back and forth with a heavily accented Fijian named Alex, I was able to book the seats just before the office closed for the weekend. Hooray!

At noon, I met up with a former Peace Corps volunteer named Darin, who lived on Tarawa for three years and is now married to an I-Kiribati woman. What an amazing font of knowledge he was! I took copious notes, the details of which I'll share with you tomorrow. Trust me when I say that the information gleaned from Darin is worth a blog on its own…

Shortly after my meeting with Darin, I raced over to Bank of Hawaii before the close of business to collect all the Australian currency I'd ordered the previous day. We need to take loads of cash because there aren't any ATMs on Tarawa, and in fact, none of the businesses there even accept credit cards. As the teller counted out the rainbow colored bills (it looks remarkably like Monopoly money) I started to exhale. Things were falling into place…at last.

I must say here that ever since Thursday, I have been thanking my lucky stars (several times a day) for J. Maarten Troost. Maarten's first book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, is about his life on Tarawa. He was there for two years while his wife worked for a nonprofit. He is a brilliantly funny, exceptionally talented writer – I can't recommend his books highly enough. If you're a regular to Roz's blog, you may remember that earlier in the voyage, she listened to an audio book called Getting Stoned with Savages. After reading her blog, Roz's friend in California decided to contact Maarten and let him know that Roz just might end up on Tarawa, and perhaps we should all connect. Lo and behold, he replied! I've been picking his brain ever since. He's been so gracious, not to mention an absolutely priceless resource for Team Roz. He's made invaluable introductions to people living on Tarawa that can help me arrange logistics for storing Roz's boat, and he's given me very helpful tips on dress, social norms, telecommunications, and transportation around the island. Please join me in sending a huge thank you to Maarten!

One last piece of excellent news: the Team Roz contingent on Tarawa is rapidly growing! Hunter Downs, CEO of Archinoetics (the company that developed the RozTracker) will be accompanying Conrad and me on Sunday morning. What a relief…his wife Traci, COO of Archinoetics, will join us a week later. The entire Archinoetics family has been an absolute rock for me and Roz the past couple of months. Their unwavering support of time, resources and most importantly, a whole lot of love, is so gratefully appreciated. Rounding out our happy little team is Ian Tuller, our dear friend from San Francisco. He was here with us in Hawaii before Roz's departure in May to oversee the refurbishment of the boat, and will resume his role as director of boatworks. We absolutely could not do this without this amazing group of people…and it certainly wouldn't be nearly as fun, even if we could!

So buckle your seatbelts, kids! Off we go, to one of the most remote places on planet earth. (Really, before Roz, had you even heard of Tarawa???) Yes, we've had to scramble to accommodate the new game plan…that's an understatement. But it's going great so far, and no matter what, this promises to be one heck of a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I'm so glad you're all coming along for the ride!


By the way, I'll continue to send updates from our journey. If you want to follow me on Twitter, my handle is @nics_dolcevita.

[Photo: Roz and Nicole aboard the Brocade in San Francisco in 2007]