I accidentally got a job
This one time, I got out of the air force and accidentally bought a boat. I spent two years fixing her up from bottom to top. We scraped the bottom down to bare glass, rebuilt the spreaders, compression post, bulkheads, transmission, thru hulls, electrical system, steering, boom, paint, etc. And outfitted her for an open water voyage. Then, in the spring of 2013, my partner, Jackie, and I sailed around the islands near Guam. By near, I mean we sailed 450 nautical miles (515 statute miles) south west to Yap. Then we sailed another 85 nautical miles south to Ngulu. We planned to sail on down to Palau but we were having some engine troubles and decided rather than try to sail the Palau channel with no engine we would just head back to Yap. We stayed another three weeks in Yap and managed to find a guy in Seattle with a water pump for a 1976 Isuzu diesel so we asked him to send it to Guam and we sailed back to fix our engine. We got back to Guam and still had to wait for the pump to come in. We were hoping to do the famous Rota Race with the rest of our sailing friends but we didn’t have parts in time. But we got parts the next week and were ready to go again and some of our friends had sailed up to Pagan and we decided to try to get there and meet up before they left.
Pagan is a volcano. It’s about 280 knots north of Guam and 175 knotts north of Saipan. The volcano erupted in 1981 and all of the people evacuated to Saipan. Most of them have never been back. The island is technically still under evacuation orders from the CNMI government. Meanwhile, the pigs and goats and cows did not evacuate and since they had the whole island to themselves, they spread out. The pigs took up wherever there were caves and holes to hide in. They especially like all the Japanese bunkers from WWII. The cows roam the middle of the island where the grass grows and the goats occupy the high rocks and jungle and everyone gets along pretty well. Some of the families that have claim to the land on Pagan and live on Saipan send their men up there to get meat since there are thousands of cows and goats and pigs and plenty of fish. They harvest some of the creatures and dry the meat to take back to Saipan to support their families. That was what we had heard about Pagan and what we expected to find.
We sailed for Pagan on a Tuesday. We made record time (for us) between Guam and Rota because we had a tropical depression blow up right over us. Unfortunately we broke some stuff and had to stop in Rota to fix it so we lost any time we had gained. We sailed from Rota to Saipan and stopped for some rest and some final provisions and then made for Pagan. We arrived in Pagan on Saturday. It was beautiful. We sailed up to see the volcano billowing its giant cloud of steam and the black sand beaches and our friends’ sail boats. Then we were a little confused to see a helicopter and an airplane and four wheelers and white people everywhere. This was not what we had expected to find on Pagan and we were a little annoyed.
It turned out that a company working with the Army research lab and the US Geological Society was on an expedition to update the seismic sensors on the island and enable remote monitoring from the USGS data center in Alaska. The team of scientists and technicians were generally welcoming and showed us their project. They worked really hard all day every day so we only had a few hours in the evenings to hang out with them. The company had hired all of the local guys that we were hoping to hang out with on the island to work so we only got to hang out with them in the evenings too but we enjoyed our stay and made lots of new friends. One great thing about having a scientific expedition on the island was their satellite internet so we could monitor the weather. It let us stay longer than we would have with confidence. Then one day we saw an ominous dot near Chuuk on the weather web site and decided it was probably time for us to set sail. We took two days to sail back to Saipan and got there just as a tropical storm pounded Pagan.
While we were in Saipan we stayed with some friends who are part of a running club called the Saipan Hash House Harriers. We have a Hash on Guam and enjoy running through the jungles on Saturday afternoons. The way the hash works is everyone meets up on Saturday afternoon. A map to the start of the trail is posted at a certain time and everyone car pools to that spot. A square is drawn on the ground and everyone stands in the square. The people who choose the trail are called hares and they take off on the trail with a bag of flour which they use to mark where they go. Ten minutes later everyone else (the hounds) run after them trying to follow the flour marks and catch them. Sometimes there are false trails or marks to throw off the hounds and give the hares a few extra minutes to get to the end. At the end there is a bon fire and beer and story-telling and joking around. Its usually a good time to be had by all.
At the start signal, I ran off to find the trail. I was following my friend Steve because he grew up on Saipan and I figured he knew where he was going. I was wrong. After a while running in the wrong direction, we realized we were not on trail. I saw two other people running through the woods and ran toward them. Steve saw another trail and ran toward it. It turned out the people I saw were not part of the hash and Steve had run off down another trail so I was lost in the jungle on a tropical island I wasn’t especially familiar with. I introduced myself to the two people running in the woods and it turned out they were the CEO and portfolio manager for the company doing the project on Pagan. I said hi and ran off back down the trail I had come on to go find the rest of the hash folks.
I found the trail I had been following and then found the marks I had missed, three dots, which mean “turn around, this isn’t the real trail.” So, I went back to the beginning to find the real trail. I found what looked like the real trail. It went the other way, down a cliff and through a really cool cave, out onto a ledge that overlooked the ocean and then down to the water’s edge. It was beautiful and I was enjoying the hike but all of a sudden the marks just stopped. I looked all around but there were no more marks. There were no marks to turn around or go left (into the cliff) or right (into the ocean) or ahead. It just stopped. So, I thought I could find the road if I got back up the cliff and maybe find some people there. So, I found a place where the cliff wasn’t quite sheer and scrambled up only to find a barbed wire fence between me and where I though there was a road. I heard some movement around me and thought those must be hashers. I crawled through some dense tropical underbrush (affectionately called “shiggy” by the hash crowd) and found a fence with clear area next to it.
I followed the fence toward where the cars should be based on my excellent sense of direction with the fence on my right and the cliff over to the left. I decided not to jump over the barbed wire fence because I could see that there were cows on the other side and I didn’t want to disturb them. I had just come back from an island ruled by cows and had developed a rather deferential attitude toward them having heard stories of their stampedes on Pagan and the damage done. Even with a barbed wire fence between me and the cows I kept a close eye on them and they kept a close eye on me. I was crashing along through the brush looking across the fence to my right trying to figure out how far it was to the corner of the field where I could turn right and work my way back to the cars when I heard a twig snap to my left. It occurred to me that I hadn’t looked left in a while and I should enjoy the view out over the ocean. However, upon looking left, I noticed a giant bull standing about four feet from me in a little shaded cove who was only slightly less surprised by me as I was by him. Apparently he had seen me coming and decided it would be more fun to surprises me than to gore me and throw me over the cliff. I immediately apologized to the bull and begged that he pardon my inadvertent intrusion into his space. I assured him that it was an accident and that if there was any way I could make it up to him I would be quite happy to oblige his wishes. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Hey boy! You probably ought to be moving along right smartly, boy.” I bowed a little and said, “Yes Sir!” and I moved quickly and quietly toward the end of the fence keeping one eye on the cows on the other side of the fence and one eye on the bull on this side of the fence. Luckily the bull didn’t feel like he need to prove anything and I’m sure he enjoyed telling the story to his friends about how he scared the bejeezers out of the poor little white kid who accidentally wondered into his thicket.
After all that, I found the road and made my way back to the cars at the beginning of the trail. I figured eventually people would come back and get the cars and find me there waiting. Right after I got back to the cars and managed to slow my heart down from the short conversation I had with the bull, the two people I met in the woods emerged from their Saturday afternoon jog and I wondered over to talk with them. We talked about sailboats and volcanic islands and cows. I mentioned some of my experience in the air force and said they should call me if they ever had a project where they needed somebody who could ramp up quick and then disappear once things are going smoothly. We talked for about twenty minutes and then they went on about their evening and I went back to waiting by the cars. Shortly the hashers showed back up and were upset that I hadn’t been at the end of the trail.
Later with beer around a bonfire on the beach I jokingly told my story about the cow and impromptu job interview while lost in the jungle. I made plenty of accusations, of the hares for failure to set a contiguous trail, of my friend for abandoning me in the jungle, of the crazy old lady who keeps track of people for acting like it was all my fault. We all had a good laugh and some more beer and enjoyed the evening as the stars came out over the ocean.
We enjoyed our stay in Saipan and Jackie may have found her new vocation but that’s another story. We sailed back to Guam and came back to the mainland to visit family and friends for the Guam rainy season. Then about six months after our Saipan adventure, the day before Christmas, this company called me up, out of the blue and asked, ”Hey, what are you doing the next couple months? We’ve got this project starting up in Texas and could use your help.” The next week, there I was, in West Texas.
I accidentally got a job.
I accidentally got a job