AQ Flag QUANDARY

Cruising World - - Waypoints -

To Q or to q? That was the burning ques­tion my hus­band, Josh, and I were bick­er­ing over as we sailed to­ward our first port of call. It was the hon­ey­moon to end all hon­ey­moons. No, se­ri­ously, if this were what all hon­ey­moons were like, hon­ey­moons wouldn’t be a thing any­more. There was no room ser­vice or can­dlelit din­ners — heck, there wasn’t even din­ner most nights, just night watches and sea­sick­ness. Lots and lots of sea­sick­ness.

Our wedding was a small fam­ily af­fair on an is­land in Maine, fol­lowed by a ca­sual beach potluck back home on Maui with friends. We regis­tered with West Ma­rine and REI, and our gifts were bilge pumps and pa­per charts.

We found our boat in a small ma­rina on Oahu. She was a Pa­cific Seacraft 25, and she looked small but mighty and very, very ne­glected. She wasn’t for sale, tech­ni­cally, but we made an of­fer and it was ac­cepted. She was in worse shape than we ex­pected, but she was ours and we were thrilled. We be­gan by re­mov­ing the shag car­pet­ing along the walls and gut­ting most of the in­side. We at­tempted to re­vive the 30-year-old Yan­mar but gave up and yanked it out, never to be re­placed. Af­ter liv­ing aboard for a year and do­ing some shake­down sails to Lanai and Molokai, we sailed to the Big Is­land of Hawaii, where we hauled out and painted the bot­tom. Then, we pointed the bow south and were off.

We’d been gifted a beau­ti­ful hard­cover copy of Jimmy Cor­nell’s World Cruis­ing Routes, and on around Day 15, we broke it out and started to pre­pare our cour­tesy flag for our first port of call, Fan­ning Is­land.

Fan­ning is one of the many is­lands that make up the na­tion of Kiri­bati. The flag is in­cred­i­bly in­tri­cate, with a ris­ing sun over waves and a frigate bird. We had pre-cut an old sail into flag-size pieces, and since my sewing skills left much to be de­sired and my co-cap­tain was busy tak­ing sights with one of our wedding gifts, a plas­tic sex­tant, I broke out my trusty mark­ers and be­gan col­or­ing in our first cour­tesy flag. It was hard work, and it was a good thing I had plenty of time, be­cause I had to stop fre­quently due to sea­sick­ness and to help with hank-on sail changes as we crawled through the con­ver­gence zone.

Even­tu­ally, our lit­tle line on the enor­mous pa­per chart of the whole Pa­cific started to look more like an inch­worm than a flea, and it was con­firmed by our only other piece of nav­i­ga­tional equip­ment on board — a small hand­held GPS unit — that we were get­ting close to our first land­fall. It was time to break out the trusty Cor­nell tome and make sure all our of­fi­cial ducks were in or­der for our first check-in. My marker-stained hands held the fin­ished Kiri­bati cour­tesy flag and U.S. flag (thank­fully pre-pur­chased and ready to go), pre­pared Be­gin­ner’s mis­take: Nowhere in the guide­book did it spec­ify that the quar­an­tine flag doesn’t ac­tu­ally have a Q on it.

to fly off our port quar­ters. But the book men­tioned the need for a Q flag. We knew this was sup­posed to be yel­low and sig­ni­fied that we were quar­an­tined un­til we had been cleared into the coun­try by of­fi­cials, but the great Jimmy Cor­nell and his ed­i­to­rial staff ne­glected to in­clude a pic­ture. So, we ar­gued, is the Q cap­i­tal or low­er­case?

Teach­ers by pro­fes­sion, we both leaned to­ward the more ob­vi­ous cap­i­tal, but who knew, maybe the low­er­case was used? We re­ally didn’t want to look like land­lub­bers sail­ing into our first port. How em­bar­rass­ing! We fi­nally de­cided to go with the safer op­tion, a cap­i­tal Q, but just to be safe, I gave my yel­low marker a real workout and made two. The second one I left blank, fig­ur­ing I could hur­riedly add a low­er­case q if needed.

Af­ter a mere 20 days at sea, we joy­fully shouted the oblig­a­tory “Land ho!” and broke out our luke­warm bot­tle of bub­bly. The lagoon of Fan­ning Is­land was clearly in sight, and we could make out the nar­row open­ing. Our 1,100-mile jour­ney was com­ing to an end, and we had vi­sions of ice-cold drinks and laun­dry ma­chines in our heads.

We be­gan to make our way into the nar­row open­ing of the atoll, one tack, fol­lowed by a second, then a third. So close we could taste it, see the placid wa­ter of the lagoon, pic­ture our an­chor drop­ping into the sugar-white sand and hold­ing strong. Then we started slid­ing, slid­ing back­ward, and be­fore we could say hard-a-lee, we were spit back out from whence we came by the 6-knot coun­ter­cur­rent. Day 20 at sea, and land ho was not to be ours un­til the turn­ing of the tide the next morn­ing. We licked our wounds, shed a few tears and tacked about un­til we found a lumpy but se­cure spot to drop the hook on the lee­ward side of the atoll.

In the mean­time, we still needed to call cus­toms and pre­pare to be checked in. We proudly hung our flags and did a quick prac­tice of our VHF pro­to­cols. “Fan­ning Is­land, Fan­ning Is­land, this is S/V

Tiny Bub­bles.”

“Tiny who?” an Amer­i­can voice answered back. Ap­par­ently the lone Nor­we­gian Cruise Line em­ployee manned the of­fice and the only VHF on the is­land, and since the cruise line stopped in just once a month, he had lots of time to an­swer ra­dios and me­an­der down to the vil­lage and alert the proper “au­thor­i­ties.” But not to­day, and not for lit­tle sail­boats that couldn’t even muster the strength to make it into the lagoon.

“Where are you? I can’t see you from the beach,” said Roland, the first out­side voice (other than the au­to­mated NOAA ra­dio ones) we had heard in al­most three weeks.

“Well, we are, um, an­chored out­side un­til the next tide.” The en­su­ing ex­pla­na­tion made him cu­ri­ous enough to jump in his Zo­diac and pop out of the lagoon to meet (ogle?) us. We of­fered him some luke­warm cham­pagne, which he po­litely de­clined, and then he ad­mired our im­pres­sive flags.

“But what is that one?” he said, point­ing at our star­board spreader.

“Oh, our Q flag, but I have one with a low­er­case q down­stairs. I, um, thought it might be wrong,” I answered, ea­ger to show that while we might not be right, we were pre­pared. A pe­riod of si­lence en­sued at which point he ex­plained that most sailors just forgo the Q al­to­gether.

I must have looked puz­zled, be­cause he sighed deeply and said, “Look, there’s no Q on the flag; it’s just yel­low, OK?”

Right. Thanks, Jimmy.

A few months af­ter their wedding, Heidi and Josh Holloway set off on a three-year hon­ey­moon sail through the South Pa­cific aboard their first boat, Tiny Bub­bles. Now they are cruis­ing the coast of Maine, and plan­ning more sail­ing ad­ven­tures to em­bark on with their three young crew­mates aboard Tiny Bub­bles II.

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