The Boater’s Barter Economy

Out on northern Tonga’s remote Kenutu island, we had it all: a lush, uninhabited paradise, turquoise anchorage, vibrant coral reefs. We even had good company: a merry little company of accomplished sailors. The Kiwis had just been to Norway and back - via Cape Horn. The Japanese had navigated the treacherous waters of their country’s medieval sailing bureaucracy. Our family had sailed all the way from Greece and the South Africans were emigrating to Australia, the slow way.

We had a lot in common, including empty pantries. The Americans were out of coffee; we were low on flour. The South Africans needed outboard fuel. But the shortage most keenly felt was by the Japanese: no beer! What to do?

We could, of course, head back to the nearest shop, two day hops away. But the whole point of being out here was not to go back there! Plus, getting to Kenutu wasn’t exactly a breeze. Breezy, maybe, but not easy: a narrow, reef-strewn gauntlet; the kind you squeeze through, then look back on with a heavy gulp.

But wait! The Japanese couple did have flour. The South Africans had coffee, the Americans had fuel, and we were willing to part with a few bottles of beer.

A few trades later, we could relax once again. Ah, the feeling of kicking back in a remote anchorage with everything you need!