Photos from India

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sailing to Alotau

In the village of Mapamoiwa we picked up a new crew member. I say crew member, but she was more like a passenger than crew. Her name was Keesah, a sweet 23 year old girl from the village who had some family she wanted to visit in Alotau. After Bill had given her and some of her friends some new clothes, he invited them all on board for dinner with us. Bill cooked and prepared a wonderful variety of food including crab, sashimi and rice. Our guests quickly informed us that it was not their custom to eat uncooked fish, nor do they eat crabs. This is because they are all members of the seventh day Adventist religion. Also, Bill had provided everyone, excluding me, with chopsticks. One of the girls proceeded to speak on behalf of the group and said that none of them wanted to eat with the chopsticks and could they please have a fork to eat the rice, the only thing on the menu their religion allowed them to eat. I joyfully cheered on their enthusiasm with not wanting to use the chopsticks either! I have never quite understood why anyone would choose to use chopsticks when there is a perfectly good fork nearby. It just doesn’t seem right. To me, it is like choosing to eat a bowl of soup with a fork when there is a spoon sitting next to you. While chopsticks may have been a wonderful invention before someone came up with the idea of the fork, I think the fork is a much more efficient eating utensil and I will gladly choose it over two pointed wooden sticks when I am eating any meal.
Since getting on board, Keesah has come to the realization that life on board a yacht is not all the romance and fantasy she imagined. Sometimes, the wind doesn’t blow and the day passes by very slowly. Other times, the wind blows too much and you get tossed about, unable to remain standing without falling into everything. Along with the unpredictability of the weather, Keesah has gotten a dose of what it feels like to be on a reality TV show. Although she was one of the many spectators that surround the boat at all hours of the day watching our every movements with fascination, trying to see what goes on inside the boat, I don’t think that she is enjoying being the one who is now watched. At each stop, the canoes come out and she doesn’t seem to understand what it is that they are looking at. Just a few short days ago, she was in one of those canoes with the same dreamy eyes, staring up at the strange white people and all of the strange things they do on their sailing boat.
To go along with a journey filled with slow days, stormy days and days where the wind was too strong to even sail, it has been extremely hot. Keesah seems to complain about it like a child back home would. Every ten minutes while fanning herself she tells us how hot it is. I admit there is not much shade on a boat when the sun is directly overhead and the inside heats up to extreme temperatures when we are sailing so it too is an uncomfortable place to be. I just find it a little strange to hear a girl who lives here, so close to the equator to complain so much about the heat. The polish guy on board used to complain often about it, but he left home during the harsh temperatures of a winter in Poland, but Keesah has taken the complaining to a new level. All I can think about when I hear her complain about the heat is a polar bear telling me that it is too cold. It just doesn’t make sense. I wonder if every day back home on her island she sits in her house and says “It is too hot!”
Irina, our Russian crew, has become very close to Keesah and it is quite a relief as I was beginning to wonder if she new more than the seven words in English I had heard her say so far on the voyage. The two of them seem to act like a couple of giggling children, sitting on deck laughing and whispering secrets back and forth. Bill and I are pretty sure that Irina has been speaking poorly of us because when Keesah got on, she enjoyed talking to us and seemed to want to spend time with us. Now, since spending her days chatting with Irina, she won’t even speak to us. It is obvious when you see the way the two of them look at each other when Bill and I talk to them. They look at both of us as if we are the stupidest people in the world that they want nothing to do with.
I forgot to mention the whole reason for our journey to Alatou. Bill received confirmation that a new crew member wanted to join us. Although not intending on going to Alotau, it was the closest place to us with an airport. Needless to say we wanted to be there when she arrived so we have been doing everything we can to make it there on time. At first the trip was smooth, making our way through the islands at a nice leisurely pace but just when we thought we were getting close, we had a slight set back. Awaking early in the morning on the island of Normanby, we set out to cross the straight running between Normanby island and the main island of New Guinea. (This is a part of the country that I have previously refeered to as a wind tunnel with strong winds funneling between an enormous mountain range on the main island and the 8,000 foot peaks of the islands we have been sailing next to.) As we departed at sunrise, the wind was already tearing across the sea and the swells were building. The wind speed at first seemed to be a constant 25 knots, but as the hour rolled on, the speed increased to a consistent thirty knots. With building swells and with the wind continuing to increase, we abandoned our day of sailing and headed back to the safety of our previous nights anchorage.
The next morning we attempted the same journey again. At the first sign of light, we could see that the weather had calmed down a bit so we headed out to sea for our second attempt at the crossing. This turned out to be an incredible trip between the islands. All day long, there was nothing but smooth sailing and clear skies. With Keesah still complaining about the heat and Irina not speaking to us, Bill and I managed to enjoy a great day on board Seawanhaka without them. It’s like being back in Australia when it was just the two of us sailing on the boat. By not speaking to Irina and Keesah, you can hardly tell that they are even on board!
When the day ended, we found ourselves watching a beautiful sunset from one of the calmest bays you can imagine. A glance at the chart revealed us to be just six miles from our destination of Alotau. There was one glitch however. Alotau was on the other side of a mountain range that runs the length of a peninsula which extends out another thirty miles. Keep in mind that this is a very remote country and roads, where they do exist, are very poor. We were surprised to see a road along the side of the bay here but we knew that the journey by road to the airport would take at least one day there and one day to return and that was not a viable way to pick up our new crew.
Before the sun had risen on the following day, we already had our sails up and were making our way out of the bay, heading due east toward the tip of the peninsula which is known as East Cape. There we could pass through one of the channels that extend through the reefs covering the tip of the peninsula and make our way into Milne Bay. Staying close to shore to avoid any big swells, we watched the sun rise directly ahead. With favorable winds pushing us swiftly along, we found ourselves at the point of East Cape by 11:00 in the morning. Never expecting to have made it that far in such a short time, we navigated our way through the reefs and turned the corner to head into Milne Bay.
The afternoon went on without incident and Bill and I decided to finish off the last of our alcohol on board. Having run out of beer a few days ago, we were slowly polishing off the small amount of rum that was left on the boat. With a toast to a great day of sailing, we finished off the last few drops just as we entered the harbor. In the daylight hours, we managed to make sixty seven miles and pass between some pretty dangerous reefs without even using the engine. I know that doesn’t mean a lot to anyone who has never sailed, but that is a long way to travel in one day’s time using nothing more than the natural driving force of the wind.
So after almost a week of sailing with every kind of weather condition imaginable we are finally anchored in Alotau. Our new crew member arrives tomorrow and I think she will be happy to find the boat in the harbor instead of having to spend a few days at a hotel wondering when we might arrive. Bill and I are headed to dinner at a local hotel for our first dinner on shore in a while, not to mention a much needed beer as our supply has been gone on board for almost a week. Keesah is heading off to find her family and fortunately Irina is going with her as her main priority is to have a fresh water shower. Thank god she isn’t coming to dinner with us!

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