Friday, November 9, 2007
Strange Sea Creatures
While heading toward an anchorage in the afternoon that we left Dawson Island, we noticed a couple of beautiful little islands just a few miles away. The chart didn’t contain any information about the islands, not even so much as a name. We still had plenty of daylight to explore and navigate through any reefs we might come across on our way over so we decided to attempt to anchor there. If it proved to be impossible to reach, we could easily turn back to the known safety of our original planned anchorage. Sailing directly toward the island with Bill up in the rigging looking for reefs, we managed to sail right up to a well protected stretch of coastline on the first of the two tiny islands. Reefs stretched out all around and the shore was a tropical paradise so we decided we could figure out a way to make this anchorage work. Passing close by the reefs and the shore trying to find a shallow enough spot to anchor, we realized that the sea floor was a steep slope up from the deep. Anchoring would be difficult, but not impossible. We would attempt to drop the anchor along the steep slope and hope that it didn’t slide off. There was plenty of open sea in the direction of the current which fortunately coincided with the wind as well leaving us miles to drift in the case of the anchor becoming dislodged. With just enough daylight left to explore the nearby reefs, Yiannis grabbed a snorkel and jumped in. Since I know sharks like to feed at sunrise and sunset I elected to stay on board and talk to the mass of locals who were already overwhelming the boat. We learned the name of their island was Di Gala Gala. The people had never had a sailboat visit them much less any white men at all. They were all glad to have us there and as this would be one of our last stops in the islands, we gave away almost everything on the boat that wasn’t nailed down. All of the children were given packages of crayons, pencils and writing books. The women were given the last of our clothing and all of the men were happy to receive twine, fishing gear and kerosene. In return came the standard multitude of gifts. Shells, fruits and vegetables came from everywhere. One man gave Bill one of the best wood carvings I have seen in the islands. A plaque shaped piece of wood that depicted a battle scene amongst competing villages complete with a celebratory pig roast at the end. What an amazing gift for someone to hand out. I can’t imagine the time and work that the man put into this thing and here he was willing to give it away without a second thought to someone he didn‘t even know. With the sun almost gone, Yiannis finally began making his way back to the boat. Climbing out of the water and onto the bow of the boat, he had a look on his face of complete confusion. After removing his mask and snorkel, he began rambling on about some huge sea creature that had followed him around the reef. “Massive” he said. “This thing was massive!” When I asked what he was talking about, he told us the story. While swimming around near the beach, he was focused on the reef. This reef was better than any that we had seen since leaving Alotau, completely covered in fish of all sizes and amazing colors on all of the coral. No surprise with such an enormous reef surrounding such a small island with so few people living on it. Anyway, as he glanced back in the direction of the beach, he saw a huge animal swimming along right next to him! His account of the creature was only that it was massive! He said after catching his breath from the shock of such a big fish popping up next to him, he immediately began looking for the fin on it’s back. After careful studying and still being a bit apprehensive, he continued to watch this thing swim around him. Standing probably 6’4” tall, Yiannis is a pretty tall guy. Apparently this thing dwarfed him in size. After deciding that the animal was friendly, he continued on his snorkeling adventure. The animal proceeded to follow alongside throughout the reef. From the boat, we had noticed Yiannis swimming back and forth in the same direction for a long time. We had all commented on it and wondered what in the hell he was doing. It now made complete sense. With Yiannis describing this animal to me, I immediately knew what he had scene. It was a dugong. We had often heard that there were plenty of them around but none of us had yet to see one. I can only imagine the thrill and exhilaration that Yiannis felt when he first laid his eyes on an animal that he had never even heard of! While completely terrifying at first, I can’t imagine a more amazing feeling of being somewhere and seeing an enormous animal having no idea what it even is. That is the ultimate prize in exploring anywhere, to discover something that you didn’t even know existed! With everyone on board jealous of his dugong spotting, I think we all spent more time in the water there at Di Gala Gala than anywhere else. Sunrise and sunset along with several times during the day, we were all on a mission to find the elusive dugong. With no success, everyone was disappointed to never track the animal down again. While the feeling of seeing it wouldn’t carry the thrill of the unknown that Yiannis experienced, I have never had the opportunity to swim alongside a dugong and am terribly disappointed that I elected to bypass that first evening of snorkeling.