National Geographic : 1970 Oct
help finish the place-he called it The Bitter End. We enjoyed a last lazy holiday, then took the job (below). I put up walls, installed windows, worked on a refrigerator, made shelves, and rebuilt a dinghy. Patti helped with painting and put in a garden. When we finished at The Bitter End, we'd learned enough to build a place of our own, when the time comes. We worked for two months; then we sailed away. The hurricane danger was just about past, and it was time to move on. I had the boat hauled, and painted her bottom. While she was on the ways, I decided to install refrigeration. It took me a week, and I did most of the work myself. I ended up with a fair-sized deep freeze that ran off the engine and would keep things frozen if I ran it for just one hour a day. Alone Again, Bound for Panama Early on November 21, Patti left on the S.S. Lurline for Panama. We planned to meet in Porvenir, one of the Panamanian San Blas Islands, 960 miles from St. Thomas. I got under way that noon with the sails set and Gandalf doing the steering. Gandalf is what we call the new self-steerer; it's the name of the wizard in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, and seemed appropriate, because the self steerer is kind of a wizard itself. It steers the boat by the action of the wind on a vane. I made a cool drink with the first ice pro duced by my new freezer. Then I got out my tape recorder. Being alone, I felt like talking: "It's good to get moving. I'm doing very well, making better than six knots on a broad reach. A little while ago it rained, and I got a really nice bath." Next day, November 22, the wind began to blow out of the southwest, exactly where I wanted to head. By nightfall I was beating right into it, in the rain, with the genoa reefed to the size of a dinghy bottom. Then Gandalf broke his leg-that is, the wooden oarlike blade that sticks into the water. I had only one spare. I desperately Sailor turned carpenter, Robin helps build a cottage at a new vacation resort called The Bitter End on Virgin Gorda island. He took the job while waiting out the worst of the hurricane season; his new Dove lies at anchor beside a barge at left. Robin, who enjoys working with his hands, here adjusts a power saw. With his wages, he bought refrigeration equipment for the boat. 516 hate to steer, so I made a note to be sure to order new spares in Panama. I didn't relish the idea of having to steer by hand for a month or two in the Pacific. By the twenty-fifth the wind got back where it belonged; that is, out of the east. Things began to look up. By radio I talked to Patti aboard the Lurline, which was great. And I was making good speed on half-reefed jib and staysail, set wing and wing. In the evening a tern came in to rest on the furled mainsail (page 521). On the twenty-sixth I saw four ships. One passed so close to me during the night that it turned its searchlight on to see what I was. You don't get much sleep when you know ships are around.