Girdling the world starting from Perth - Part I

During the late sixties my wife Eileen and me were in the way of accomplishing a voyage around the world aboard the 25 foot cruising yawl Sea Bird, when calling at Tahiti, the trip had to be interrupted by the birth of our daughter Astrid. We lived there for almost one year, and since then we never went back to that place where we had been so happy. Now Astrid is forty-five years old and since then plenty of water had passed under the keel. This story is told in the book "Rio to Polynesia" which you can read for free downloading from the site home page lower left corner.

In spite of the ultimate goal being girdling the world in a sailboat, the short term plan was establishing a boat building business in New Zealand, Eileen`s mother country, where we intended to stay, at least for a while. Not wanting to take any risk with a baby on board a 25 foot sailboat, I decided to sell our beloved mini-cruiser in Tahiti and fly back to Brazil where I started the intended business. The good news was that the trade was successful, in a first phase as boat builder and later on as a yacht design studio. Following the inclination for nautical activities in the family, my daughter chose the career of naval architecture. Since she married another naval architect, Luis Gouveia, who she met at the university, and since the three of us where interested in yacht design, we opened a studio in 1987, then called Roberto Barros Yacht Design. Being one of the few offices specialized in small craft projects, in very short time the studio was recognized as one of the best yacht designing teams in the country. The second important step we took the decision to essay was to expand our market to overseas creating a site in for languages, with the intention of having our work known internationally.

In 2007 Astrid received an unrefusable job offer to work in Perth, W.A., so the solution found at the time was to shift the office to Perth, to be managed by Luis Gouveia, I remaining in Rio to run the Brazilian branch of the company.

It was then that the company changed its name, becoming B & G Yacht Design, B from Barros and G from Gouveia. Seven years passed by and now in 2014 we decided to shut down the company`s Brazilian branch and set up shop exclusively in Perth. So Eileen and I flew to Perth in the beginning of October, 2014, by way of Dubay, to start a new phase in the office, with the whole family joined again (our team is larger, but the others work on-line). However an important appointment obliged me to fly back to Brazil in October 13, obliging me to endure a twenty-five hours Perth/Dubai/Rio flight with eleven hours of time difference just a few days after doing this same trip in the opposite direction and before my biological watch had adapted to the new time zone.

Before departing for the round the world trip. From left to right: Our daughter Astrid, our grand-daughter Juliana, Eileen and I enjoying a stroll in King`s Park, Perth, W.A.

The exhausting return trip to Rio was not totally uninteresting because in my adolescence I were fascinated by the discovery of the hinterlands of the African continent by the British explorer David Livingstone and the American journalist Stanley, who came in pursuit of the English explorer after years without the outside world knowing what have happened to him during his explorations inside in the heart of the African jungle. I had flown over Africa in the past, but this time my place was at the window and I had the opportunity to fly over the Nile valley and the Central African equatorial rainforest with the impressive Congo River meandering in its middle. From the window of a carrier flying at eleven thousand metres the forest looked huge and still almost impenetrable, since all that could be observed as human occupation were small villages scattered in the immensity, without paved roads to access them. The plane reached the Atlantic flying over Luanda and from then on it was boredom only. Settled in Rio for a few days, for me it was hard work only, and after so much doing unpleasant activities I decided to indulge me a leisure returning trip, one with a strong emotional appeal. I chose the route Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Easter Island, Papeete, Auckland, Sidney and back to Perth. I called emotional travelling because forty-five years earlier my wife Eileen and I had been in those same places, when returning from Papeete to Rio, having our Tahitian daughter in our laps.

The vacation really began when the plane landed in Easter Island. Forty-five years ago we were on board one of the first flights after the opening of the airport and the event still had a considerable impact in the then sluggish community dwelling on that almost inaccessible island. When stepping into the airport`s hall, I could observe in one of its walls a gallery of photos of the very first flight, which not being much different from ours in what concerned the local reception, had a group of local dancers cheering the passengers who disembarked from that flight, perhaps only missing the politicians and celebrities invited on that occasion."

The book "Rio to Polynesia" covers the story of this short passage, which I reproduce next:

The old Douglas DC6 banked over in its approach to land. From my window I could see the lake formed in the profound depths of the almost perfectly round crater of the Rano-Raraku. I was intrigued to notice that the inner walls of the crater were partly covered by thick vegetation, contrasting with the rather bare ground that surrounded the volcano.
Minutes later we touched down in a perfect landing. When we left the plane we were surprised at the large number of people waiting for the flight. Being one of the first regular flights to the recently opened airfield, the arrival of passengers from Tahiti was still a great source of entertainment for the local population. The airport installations comprised of a small bungalow where an official awaited the passengers to take them to a campsite, the only place available to accommodate tourists. As soon as we had disembarked, a couple holding a little girl in their arms approached us and invited us in English to stay at their home. We climbed into the backseats of the family’s jeep and drove along a dusty track until we arrived at a one roomed wooden hut.
After we had entered their house we completed the customary introductions. Only after explaining who we were and why we were there, did Isaac introduce himself to us. He was a New Yorker who had come to Easter Island with his young wife for a field survey in archaeology, in which science he had just graduated.
When they had arrived the hut was completely empty, obliging them to make their own furniture. They made a sofa and a cupboard with their luggage crates. On one of the walls they built bookshelves with planks and bricks, covering the entire wall with books. After placing straw mats on the floor and filling the room with coloured cushions, they had created such a cosy atmosphere that it was difficult to believe it had all cost them practically nothing. Compared to our accommodations on Sea Bird our hosts lived in a veritable palace.
After putting Astrid to sleep in her basket the two women plunged into a long conversation about the difficulties of bringing up babies in such precarious conditions.
I meanwhile was delighted with my host’s information about his archaeological activities. Personally I had always had an inexplicable passion for the mysteries of Easter Island, as well as for the whole history of the Maori civilisation. If it hadn’t been for Eileen’s pregnancy we would probably have skipped the Marquesas and come to Easter Island instead, and then stopped of in Pitcairn Island, another place which fascinated me. In spite of drinking in the words of my new friend as if they were a good vintage wine, what I really wanted that night was to run into the darkness and search for those legendary long eared statues.
Early next morning a Chilean national with a large moustache, having his Maori wife with him as tourist guide, came to the hut to pick me up in a Land Rover. After collecting the other tourists from the same flight, we went on a sightseeing tour of the principal archaeological sites on the Island. As Eileen didn’t feel like coming along with little Astrid, and our friends had their own affairs to attend to, I went alone on the most fantastic excursion of my life.
The driver first followed a sandy track that took us from the village of Hanga-Roa at the south west corner of the Island, to the north east coast, where the volcano which I had seen from the plane’s window was. The road uphill was almost nonexistent, but the Land Rover managed to get very close to the crater’s edge, about six hundred metres above sea level. The caldera in front of us was an immense almost perfectly circular crater, which if it weren’t for the lake at the bottom and some bushy vegetation, would have resembled a lunar crater. Close to the margins of the lake grew the totora, the same aquatic plant I had seen years earlier in Lake Titicaca, and with which the Peruvian Indians constructed their sailing crafts. The lake must have been a blessing for the Rapa-Nuians, after they had destroyed their native forests, mainly for the logs to roll their monoliths to the final places where they now stand. When streams died out during the most severe droughts, that reservoir probably was the only source of fresh water on the whole island.
From there we went down to the foothills of the Rano-Raraku, where the statues were carved. According to our proud Rapa-Nuian guide, this was the largest outdoor factory in the world. There were more than two hundred mohais, many half buried by continuous sedimentation over the centuries. What impressed me most was the fact that every one of them was facing seawards. Their sizes varied, but in every other aspect they were identical, as if one person had been responsible for creating them all, in the same image. Trying to find a better angle for viewing a large concentration of these thin-lipped giants with their long noses and pointed chins, I reached the edge of a slope at the foot of which there was a lonely monolith which was quite different from all the others.
This was of a fat little fellow, round-faced, with a slightly bent nose and a smile, in no way resembling the sober looks of the rest of them.
This was an interesting case to ponder over. Whilst the local autocracy of the fantastic Easter Island civilisation built these no doubt politically correct statues, imposing a rigid standard for ensuing generations, one solitary artist had defied the establishment, creating his own style, seemingly without caring for his contemporaries’ opinions. I would love to go back in a time machine, and get to know that non-conformist. I would have liked to know whether he was discriminated against for having his own way of thinking, whether he had support for his ideas, or if he was simply sculpturing a caricature of some local despot. How would he have felt to have assumed such an alternative behaviour in that small isolated world? If he had lived in our present society, for sure he would have been gobbled up by the cannibals.
It was a very good lesson in life. At that moment my worries at not choosing a conventional path through life vanished completely.
To tour around mysterious Rapa-Nui took most of that day, allowing me to learn a little more about that unique place. It was as if that lost civilisation were the pilot plan for the future of the much larger one we presently inhabit. I tried to talk to our archaeologist about the solitary statue, but unfortunately the time available only allowed us to exchange a warm farewell embrace. A few minutes after take-off, another ocean island sank behind us on the horizon, leaving only a shadowy memory of all the remembrances of a distant dream...

Back to the present I can make comparisons. The return visit was a bit deceptive. The Maori population, which prevailed at the first visit is now dwindling, most of the cultural stock being of Chilean descendants, like hermit crabs who dwell in other molluscs`shells, having nothing to do with that fantastic civilization which flourished for ages on that lonely place. The population increased tenfold and now the whole island looks like a spread town. The good news is that there is some reforestation and much more agriculture then there was by the first visit. In spite of its divorce with the past, the island is still one of the best places on earth to live a tranquil life.

Twenty-first century hut in Easter Island. There is no need for safety precautions, like door locks or iron bars on the windows, since there is no place for thieves there.

What didn`t exist forty-five years ago was the small haven with a ramp and crane access to put crafts up to forty feet L.O.A, or so, on dry. Isabel Pimentel, the Brazilian lady who is attempting to accomplish a round the world trip singlehanded aboard her aluminium cruising sailboat Don, after tipping over in the Southern Ocean and coming back to upside position with a missing spreader, after improvising a jury rig.

The access to the Hanga-Roa tiny harbour is for cold blood sailors with iron nerves.

Sailed bound for Easter Island where she managed to get her boat hauled out for the necessary repairs, accomplished with the assistance of our client and friend Flavio Bezerra, who owns a MC28 on which he lives aboard for eight years. He is half way to completing a round the world journey, being at present in French Polynesia. To cross the pass through the little harbour requires iron nerves since it is crowded with reefs, with many outcrops where breakers are continuously battering.

1969. Mohais in line. It can be observed how the island was depleted of vegetation by then, when hardly could a tree be seen in the landscape.

2014. These are not the same mohais of the photo above. Visibly they were put in this place much more recently. It can be noticed too that presently there is much more vegetation than forty-five years ago.

Since my stay was scheduled for one day only, I had to be selective, giving up a new visit to the volcano Rano-Raracu, "the largest outdoor factory in the world". Instead I preferred to keep the pristine memory I saved in my mind about that magic place.