At dawn, Freddy discovers a shore bird camped on one of the stern boxes. It is exhausted. When Freddy goes aft and picks it up it simply spreads its wings and looks at her. She puts it back in a more comfortable nook and the bird nestles down patiently while the Moira slides up the east side of the Palau island chain. The bird, a Far Eastern Curlew, has every right to be tired. It breeds in Siberia and migrates south.
Friend Curlew hops up and flies off just as Moira sails into Korror Harbor at 10:00 AM. We tie up to the main wharf and wait for the officials. Customs show up after lunch, dressed in their little costumes of beige and gold buttons. Their big boots (as if they will be walking for miles) gleam triumphantly as they clomp aboard, scuffing the deck.
"Your certificate of permission to visit Palau?" The biggest man thrusts out his hand.
"Uh, permission?" I act dumb. Actually, I do know we are supposed to have authority from the High Commissioner of the U.S. Trust Territory in Saipan and the Commander of the U.S. Navy in Hawaii, to visit Palau.
The two men go into freeze-frame. Both heads slowly turn to look at me, eyes narrowed with suspicion. We don't have one. Illegal Entry Alert!
"We've had a few problems with our boat. We were not planning to stop here but were forced to come in to make some emergency repairs. And we have had no wind so we need to take on fuel and water and supplies." The frozen tableau goes on. If this is their response to an emergency illegal entry alert it's a good thing they live on an island.
I sigh as they both come alive again, but it is a sigh of resignation as they suddenly can't look at us directly. This means they are going to be bastards and we are going to be given The Treatment. Oh well, Freddy and I sit down and let them rant and rave for about a half hour. Actually, Freddy and I are doing them a big favor. It seems we have made their day. They get to act out their most obnoxious self-righteous training. We are not allowed off the boat. We can stay in the harbor until necessary repairs are made. We can have water and supplies delivered to the boat but we are not allowed ashore for any reason.
They go over this three or four times, working out their professional, personal and family aggressions. Freddy and I look properly abashed, terrified, worried, remorseful as conditions seem to merit. At last they stomp off the boat. As they get into their car, the little one spins around and shakes his fist in the air, leaps into the car and they race away. A big difference from the way they came slothfully creeping up the road and lazily trooping over here when they arrived. We really should be commended for helping their morale.
"What was that fist waving bit?" Freddy asks?
"I think he said we'd better not get off the boat." We laugh. As the dust settles behind the racing customs car, I go forward to check the bow line. An 18ft outboard skiff zooms up. There is one man in the boat. He slides up to the wharf just in front of Moira and flips his dock lines ashore. He's done this before. Must be someone who lives here. He turns and I get a face-on look. Hmmm, he looks familiar. As the man prepares to leave I call out, "Hey! Are you Doug Faulkner?"
He turns and squints in my direction. "Yeah."
"I'm Richard Chesher." I say.
"No kidding! Yeah? Really? Richard Chesher? Hey, Jeez, what a coincidence!" He trots over to the Moira. I never met Doug before but I've seen his big grinning face on the dust jacket of several of his books. We have many mutual friends. Just before I left Miami, Jerry Greenberg said, "If you stop in Palau, look out for Doug Faulkner, OK? I mean, look out for him, he's crazy."
Doug is one of the world's best known professional underwater photographers. So is Jerry Greenberg, whom we affectionately call 'the Jewish Cousteau.' I was Jerry's apprentice until I accidentally whacked him on the head with a SCUBA tank one day. Doug was at the University of Miami the same time I was. How we missed meeting long before this is a mystery to me and, it turns out, also to Doug.
"Hey, I'm really glad to meet you after all these years," He says as he climbs aboard. He's a big guy, maybe 6'2", well muscled, tanned and handsome with a boyish sort of charm. He is wearing a blue bathing suit; no shirt, shoes or hat.
I introduce Freddy and show him around the Moira. "You're not going to believe this," He gives us an amazed expression. "I'm also on my way to the Solomons to work with Walter. In fact, I've got a ticket to leave the day after tomorrow. What luck! See, I've got to take a whole bunch of camera stuff, diving gear, and my SCUBA compressor with me and I was wondering as I came up to the dock how the hell am I going to get all that stuff to Malaupaina. And BANG you guys appear! See? That's weird, but great. I mean, I'll be happy to pay you to carry it for me, OK?"
"Well, Doug, it's even more of a coincidence than you think. Just as we were coming in the harbor entrance Freddy and I were talking about the trip down through the Doldrums. We had practically no wind all the way from the Philippines. We don't have an electric auto pilot, so Freddy and I steered all the way by ourselves. We were just saying how great it would be to have an extra crew member for the next passage. Why not cash in your airline ticket and come along with us?"
"Really? Hey, why not? Great idea. OK," he laughs, and we shake hands on it.
"Is Bob Owen still here?" Bob Owen was a biologist who used to work for the U.S. Trust Territory in Palau. I met him when I came to Palau in 1969 to do a survey of the Crown of Thorns Starfish.
"Sure. He's still here," Doug answers, "Why?"
I explain about the problem with the port officials. "Maybe Bob could get us permission to stay in Palau for a week or so."
"Hey, don't worry, that's OK. I'll go see Bob right now. We can work it out so you can stay as long as you want. What a bunch of creeps." Doug sets off in search of Bob.
"He's a terrific guy, I wonder why Jerry said he was crazy?" Freddy muses over dinner.
"Oh, that was just slang. Jerry is crazy as a loon, too. We all are." I wonder again at the coincidences that brought us together. If Jerry had not told me Doug was here, I might not have clicked that the guy in the outboard might be him. Had we been a day later or had he tied up and left his boat an hour earlier we would have missed him. Since we were not allowed ashore it is unlikely our paths would have crossed. Had Walter not invited Doug to the Solomons....So many perfectly logical, reasonable events which somehow vector together towards the here and now. A nice example of how the Moirae operate. None of the steps are accidental or random, nor are the steps co-ordinated in any way I can think of. Yet - in the end - the coordination is there. Improbable coincidences come together and our lives are shaped into a new direction.
Over dinner I wax philosophical about possible ways coincidences might be organized. This is the hard part. Statistical coincidences are easy enough to work through - and I spend most of the meal explaining how vectors of population behavior would create evolutionary trends.
At some point it dawns on me that Freddy has the most peculiar dazed expression - glassy eyed - and I summarize with, "Well, it's another sign post along the way so I guess we must still be going the right direction, right on schedule."
Freddy seems rather relieved as I focus on my desert.
The next day, the two customs officials drive up again and, acting as if they are doing us the worlds greatest favor, grant us a two week stay. Doug arrives just as they are leaving, giving them a cheerful wave and getting a big smile and laugh from both of the men.
"Hey, you guys want to go diving?" Doug says as he steps aboard. We toss our gear into his skiff and roar out to where his favorite Nautilus trapping area. We help him pull a bamboo trap up from 200 meters deep just off the outer reef and then plunge over the side to take some photographs.
It is the first time I have seen these ancient creatures alive in the sea. We watch them jet around, expelling water from siphons located just below the tentacles. Freddy is delighted and I can hear her tell one big specimen how cute he is. Doug intends to eat a couple and suggests we might also try them as they are delicious. Somehow this is OK with Freddy. Eating a cute little critter is not the same thing as knocking one off to study it for science.
She does the Nautilus justice that night, slicing it thin, pounding it with a wooden tenderizer, breaded it, and sautéed it with garlic butter.
Doug and I give appreciative smacks and gobble sounds while downing the living fossils. Doug is doing a book on them and has been accumulating photographs of all the five known species, as well as a wide range of information on how people have caught them down through the ages.
Doug has lived here in Palau for many years, and has a number of special dive spots and secret places that he wants to share with us. We are not in any special hurry, and quickly agree to do a little cruise with Doug to visit his favorite underwater places.
Doug was a delightful guide and Freddy and I kept thinking how lucky we were to meet him. And I kept thinking about the coincidences. It was, perhaps, not too surprising we should run into Doug here. But that he should be headed to the Three Sisters Group in the Solomon Islands to stay with Walter is very surprising.
Little did we know there was an even bigger surprise coming next...