Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Carina Arrives Pohnpei

This morning October 4, 2016 at 0641 local, Carina entered the lagoon at Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia after making the passage from the Ninigo Islands. Dolphins greeted us and made us feel welcome. We had been idling offshore drifting overnight, getting underway at 3 am local time headed for the pass. The trip was 1295 nm and each mile was earned. Almost every day we had to learn a few new tricks to infuse drive into the Carina sailing machine. We had few breaks but even fewer breakdowns, thankfully. Our FSM check-in was efficient and friendly. We're going to sleep well tonight. We are looking forward to going ashore and catching up with our old friends after a three year absence.

Thank you to all who followed us, helped us, and kept us cheerful.

Your friends of SV Carina,
Philip, Leslie and the spirit of the fat cat, Jake

At 10/3/2016 and 23:35 UTC (GMT) Carina's position was: 06°57.66'N / 158°12.04'E.

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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Not Yet There

Yesterday we tacked about six times with the NE headwinds and of 66 nm traveled we really made 44 nm to the good...but that's almost due east which is important. We needed the easting; a constant worry of cross-equatorial passages! Hand steered most of the night to keep Carina moving. Weird currents tugging on the wheel, sloppy seas, and slow movement through the water make the Monitor windvane steering useless when winds are so light. No squalls overnight which made the sea around glow in the starlight. The twin squall this morning made up for it - winds screeched from the ESE and then half way through they reversed and came from NNE. Then nothing but sloppy calm. Makes for exciting sailing, if only for a few minutes.

Looking forward to promised SEerly trades. Ten knots and we'll fly right along the rhumb line! We're hoping the GRIB gods have gotten it right this time. Would be a welcome change!

About 870 nm under our keel about about 370 to go, but that's assuming no tacking. Looking forward to fresh food, we're surviving on our bountiful stores of tinned rations. Ran out of honey today, though, and that is a bummer.

At 9/28/2016 and 1:08 UTC (GMT) our position was: 04°26.57'N / 152°42.17'E.
We were traveling 061T degrees true at 2.7 knots.

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Sunday, 25 September 2016

Day 13

When we left Ninigo, we had westerly winds and felt exhilarated. This aura quickly dissipated as Carina pushed against unrelenting west-setting currents with often little wind. These currents, often mixed, kick up short steep waves at short intervals, which can create a sharp and twisting motion to the hull. AND, flog whatever little bit of wind there might be out of the sails.

Getting to Kapingamarangi proved almost impossible to get to with our range of motoring under such conditions. Too, our supplies are starting to get low, even with the influx of crayfish, snake beans and PUMPKIN (!) at Ninigo. So we reluctantly turned our focus to Pohnpei.

Occasionally, with squally periods, we have had westerlies again (truly a blessing) but otherwise we've continued to push push push slowly east and north against wind and current. The squalls - we were thinking of writing a story called "Clouds I Have Known" - have been of every size and intensity but all are intimidating (and some downright scary) and can whomp you down hard if you dare to mess with them. Thus, we are usually running a reefed main which limits our drive. Thank goodness for roller reefing headsails!

For encounters we've had a few Asian fishing boats fishing the upwellings along the Mussau Trench that don't run AIS until - oops! - they suddenly see your AIS signal. One memorable evening, becalmed, an AIS signal of a drifting (presumptive) fishing boat showed up. The vessel's drift was towards us and we weren't moving well ourselves. A few minutes later ANOTHER AIS signal of a deep draft vessel showed up SW of us, and it was steaming directly towards the drifting boat - and us - at 11 knots! Slowly their statistics emerged and we collected information. The vessel "not under command" was the Royal Meredith, a "High Speed Craft" (?) and the steaming vessel was the Ocean Crystal, a tanker, that was going to be bunkering fuel to the Royal Meredith in almost exactly the spot we were becalmed. Grrrr! Of the millions of square miles of the NW Pacific, we find ourselves smack in the middle of a deep draft sandwich! Time to use some of our horded fuel!

Of our animal visitors, we've had the usual stupid boobies trying to land on the wind generator (ouch!) that have instead found, and fouled, the solar panels. Plus a whale, a tropic bird, scores of tuna that tease us by leaping nearby during the nastiest of conditions, and many dolphins. Dolphins brings us a sense of well-being, especially when they arrive at night and just swim along side for a bit. We get the sense they're saying, "Isn't this grand? This ocean. Relax. Enjoy."

One particularly stormy afternoon a couple of days back, we had a very large pod of green dolphins gleefully playing around Carina. Those on the fringes of the pod came speeding at us, leaping and breeching as they came.

At 9/25/2016 and 19:52 UTC (GMT) our position was: 03°20.85'N / 151°19.43'E.
We were traveling 028T degrees true at 4.0 knots.

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Monday, 19 September 2016

Ninigo Hospitality

We sat at a table in a kitchen hut with a sand floor, eating a bountiful lunch of freshly caught fish, chicken, rice, pumpkin with coconut milk, sago with banana, cassava and coconut patties, fresh lime and coconut juice, and cut up sweet, ripe paw-paw. As westerners and guests, we are offered spoons and shallow bowls, a dish useful for liquid or solid sustenance. Serving spoons are used to dole out foods, though most islanders use their hands to consume chicken, fish or pieces of pumpkin or cakes of cassava or sago. There seem to be no knives or forks, they simply don't have them, so we are challenged to eat some things politely. Mugs serve for drinking both cold and hot beverages. Most kitchens have large thermoses storing hot water for tea; instant (3 in 1) coffee is a rare and expensive treat which we would often bring or give as gifts. Before and after the meal, we share a bowl of slightly soapy water to wash our hands, a second bowl to rinse and a small cotton hand towel.

Denny and Caroline's kitchen sits in the shade behind their beachfront sleeping quarters; all structures are made of bamboo wood and woven sago palm leaves. Hinged windows also of sago leaves at elbow level were propped up by sticks and allowed a nice cross breeze to find us, blowing from dirt-grey clouds which zipped by above the velvety turquoise lagoon. A soft rain pattered on the deep reddish-brown leaf roof overhead while the remains of the wood fire on which our lunch was cooked, smoldered in the corner. Chickens strutted and scratched at the sand at our feet looking for some tasty morsel that might have escaped the table. Across the wooden table stained with a few streaks of paint, were Denny and Puka; Denny a grey haired man of few words whose substantial wife Caroline had served up the feast. Puka Morop is the head teacher at the local school, fine featured and fluent in English, he is not a local, but from Manus Island. His soft lilting questions in perfect English kept the conversation going. On the window shelf next to Philip's arm rested a calico puss that had jumped up to get out of the rain and who showed her pleasure at Philip's stroking by grinning and closing her eyes in pleasure. A baby, set down on the ground by Terry, his momma, quietly peed on the sand. Outside on a table set in a clearing, a bare-chested adolescent washed the pots in large stainless steel bowls, dispensing water from an aluminum tea kettle she'd filled in the shallow well nearby. In the center of the kitchen sat a jury of the rest of the family and some of the neighbors, watching us eat and listening to the stories being told.

The villagers seem intently interested in our lives and often ask questions that might be considered rude in other settings: why haven't you had children? what is your religion? what was your occupation? how much did your yacht cost?" Being able to afford to buy a yacht with all the associated goodies boggles their minds since most - except teachers and health care workers - have no income at all except what they might make by selling beche-de-mer, betel nut or coconut oil on rare trips to Manus Island 200 miles away.

Two days later, we enjoyed an equally-tasty and leisurely lunch served under the shade of an heirloom lemon tree, served by Solomon and his beautiful wife. Leiti is typical of a Ninigo native with her dramatic facial features, warm skin, shockingly blue almond-shaped eyes, and perfect salt and pepper kinky hair. Their grown son, Luni rested in a hammock at Philip's left side nursing a still-bleeding wound inflicted by a sierra mackerel, while Pansy their daughter sat nearby cradling her 13 day old infant son, Benjamin. The meal had been prepared the day before as Leiti, a follower of the SDA faith, was observing Sabbath. There is no refrigeration here but the SDA islanders have become skilled at keeping cooked foods edible for Saturday consumption, and our meal, including sautéed chicken, tasted freshly cooked.

It seems that the community of Longan Island had planned these lunches every other day or so that we are properly taken care of - the island way. There were two others hosted by Campbell & Nellie and also by Oscar & Keren. Lunch, the large meal of the day, is served promptly at noon, though the women and girls have been busy for hours. There are fish to be caught; chicken to be slaughtered, scalded and plucked; pumpkin to be gathered, sliced and baked with rice inside in a ground oven of volcanic stones gathered from Luf in the Hermit Islands; and cassava root to be harvested, cleaned and grated to make pudding. Many dishes involve coconut milk, freshly made by splitting the hard shell with the back side of a bush knife, grating the hard meat using a specially serrated and rounded knife mounted on a saddle-like stool, and wringing out in a towel. Magnificent! No cans here. The feast is always covered by a brightly colored cloth when we arrive and until we sit and, sometimes, someone offers a blessing.

Food here is abundant but such gifts come through the constant toil of the people who are hunter-gatherers with agrarian habits, too. Hunting consists of fishing by trolling from sailing canoes and by diving, often with handmade spear guns. The rare "speedy" - a skiff with an outboard engine - on a trip in the lagoon will always troll a line. In the past, a fishing company employed an armada of small canoes plus forty, forty-horse banana boats per day with teams of locals. This relationship fell apart when the fishery began to be depleted and the fishing company was unwilling to pay additional money per fish caught. The locals say it is better without income but with food to feed their large families.

In addition to protein from the sea and from free range chickens, the eggs of wild hens found buried on uninhabited lagoon islands, and the rare porker, every family has vegetables - and gorgeous watermelons! - grown in a one or more mixed-species gardens. These gardens are scattered around the islands in the large lagoon or on islands at the separate small adjacent atolls of Heina or Pelleluhn. Villages usually include banana and citrus trees, plus the ever-important and ubiquitous coconut palm. Usually when there's a family's garden on an island, there is also a house, since travel between islands by canoe may be hampered by adverse wind or no sailing wind at all and the villagers need some place to stay if they are stranded. Thus the typical Ninigo islander diet is a healthy mixture of low fat protein, mostly taken from the sea, plus fresh vegetables and fruit, though every meal seems to be served with a side of (purchased) white rice. Nothing is wasted, so when enjoying hearty island food we are careful at what we spoon out so we don't end up with something we might have trouble eating (such as a rooster head!) During the canoe races, we noticed for the first time island children stripping the peels off green coconuts with their teeth and gnawing on the fibrous sweet creamy white inner flesh. Alcohol is frowned upon, though there are reports of home brewing and we had at least one request to trade for whiskey which we declined out of respect for the wishes of the majority (though we had no remaining spirits to trade anyway!).

By contrast to the detached kitchens, many of the sleeping houses are built above the sand on poles with amazingly springy but strong and thin sago palm-wood floors. We visited Justin Kolpi - a bright, young and ambitious teacher with the neatest classroom we've seen in the whole of the Pacific - to see if we could solder the #8 back onto his dart board and were taken inside his home to get out of the wind so our butane soldering iron could be lit. At the top of the rough wooden stairs that brought us about a meter off the ground, we passed through an equally-rough wooden door into the main room, the sandy ground below showing through the gaps in the flooring. In the center was a fold-up table with a newish HP printer and a huge laptop, at work busily copying a stack of DVDs of school lesson plans. It was like walking into a cave and coming upon a shiny red Lamborghini.

Latrines are elevated huts far out over the water and accessed by long rickety single log board bridges, so there is no smell in these neatly swept flower-filled villages. In case you were wondering, toilet tissue consists of coconut fibers. Drinking water is caught on tin roofs with gutters feeding water into community-shared large green plastic water storage containers, most courtesy of AusAID. Shallow wells lined with large blue plastic 250 L drums yield slightly brackish wash water in a quantity that rises and falls with the tide.

There has been no boat servicing these islands for at least 8 years, maybe longer - depending on whom you ask. Politicians make promises but nothing seems to happen. Even the churches - Catholic and SDA - keep no clergy here. A scheduled visit by a priest resulted in a flurry of activity in preparation for weddings and christenings and then at the last moment, the official found another priority and gave the islands a pass.

Supplies come from Lorengau on Manus Island, about 200 nm away; from Vanimo, Wewak or the duty free border town of Batas near Jayapura Indonesia on the mainland; or from the occasional yacht or small cruise ship. Small open boats with no radios, safety equipment or buoyancy travel across the open ocean and we had the occasion to talk with at least three who had nearly perished from storms and overturned boats. Another distressing development are suspected pirate attacks on the skiffs on their way to and from Manus Island. We were told of two boats that left Wewak, arrived at Manus and then left but were never seen again, this "about a year ago". Yet these stoic people have no choice but to make these journeys. The True North, a small cruise ship, comes each November 17th from Australia, and its local liaison, Simon Tewson, brings whatever donations he can fit in his luggage. Otherwise, these few hundred people must fend for themselves. Clothing is especially hard to come by, so even after we gave away our dozens of plastic bags full of clothing donated in Palau, we still found ourselves digging down into our own limited clothing supplies and giving gifts to those who were so kind to us.

Since we are from the outside, we are often asked to help repair electrical things. In other places we have traveled, the classic offering was a cheap small portable DVD player, though even these are rare at Ninigo where many homes have no lighting but coconut oil lamps made from jars and cotton wicks. Still, we had many requests to fix things - light fixtures, electric drills, inverters, etc. and sometimes we succeeded and brought smiles to their faces and their faith in us verified. Other times we failed and had to tell the disappointed friend that there was nothing that could be done. Usually this is met with a resigned shrug as if to say, "No worries - there will be other yachts coming".

Oscar, the government designated tourist contact, told us that he and the other villagers look forward to December and January when the winds change direction and increase in intensity. The sea then brings gifts of exotic logs of wood, plastic bottles, electronic transponders which have drifted away from purse seiners, these usually complete with a much-coveted solar panel. Sometimes whole boats of various sizes drift up to the lagoons and are seized by the islanders. We saw one brightly colored, large Philippine fishing vessel high up on the beach in front of Silas's house, the name and the owner's name proudly emblazoned on the bow. We hope to post a photo on our website once we are back to internet coverage and to also do a Google search to see if we could get more information as to why it might have been abandoned or lost. The exotic wood that washes up is used mainly for building the island sailing canoes. When we examine the wood closely, we are convinced that some of it is old growth mahogany, probably emanating from the strip logging in Indonesia or Malaysia. Some of the logs are huge, measuring over three feet in diameter by thirty or more feet long. We shudder to think of these behemoths bobbing about in the open ocean while we are on passage.

But maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves. When we last wrote we were at Pihon Island and everyone was anticipating the fun of the second set of the annual canoe races. Competition is fierce and these men (and women too) are fantastic sailors. So maybe at this juncture we should end our story and begin our next dispatch with a story of the Ninigo canoes.

At 9/19/2016 and 6:49 UTC (GMT) our position was: 00°50.54'N / 146°56.21'E.

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Saturday, 17 September 2016

Backwards and Forwards

It is dawn and the eastern sky on our starboard bow is yellow fading subtly into a Maxfield Parrish-like blue silhouetted with dark clouds. Above our port stern quarter, a frosted full moon is setting, illuminating the undulating seaswell behind; a trail of shimmering water. The sound of water, like a running brook, complements the nearly imperceptible sound of the wind brushing the water. Carina is gliding along humming a sotto voce song of rhythmic shooshes as she pushes the sea. It is hard to imagine ugliness or violence in a world so peaceful and beautiful.

At 9/17/2016 and 19:31 UTC (GMT) our position was: 00°36.78'N / 146°16.75'E.
We were traveling 072T degrees true at 2.5 knots.

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Saturday, 10 September 2016

We're Ninigo Sailors Now

Took a sailing canoe trip all day yesterday with Oscar and Keren from Longan Island. We rushed to get to shore when it was cloudy as we did not know what time exactly was meant by "after breakfast" and then when the sun came out, we both got totally sunburnt despite big hats. Dumb. Leslie has blisters on her lips and isn't looking forward to when they pop.

We sailed Oscar's nearly new canoe from Longan to Amik to wait out a squall and visit the people there. Many of the people on Amik - Oscar's people - we had met at the canoe races. Amik is a lovely but very small and low island, tightly packed with sago palm homes and banana trees and a few breadfruit. There is a tiny school and a concrete platform that was supposed to be a church. Someday maybe. We met Oscar's tiny ancient blind mother - a blue eyed beauty named Margaret - and spent time with his brother Michael in his half-finished house, watching the clouds to the SE, and keeping his loyal pup "Coffee" company. Once the squall passed, we sailed again south into the center of the lagoon and then Oscar and Keren changed the mast location (end for end) and we screeched right up to the beach at Pihon. Beautiful sailing...like flying!

Everyone at Pihon was surprised to see us back. We spent hours visiting and eating, and eating and visiting. We were able to get photos and talk with the family of a little blind boy named Jamie. We hope we might be able to scare up some help for him in the USA. None of our friends at Pihon would let us pass without a hello, firm handshake, a chat and maybe a look at their broken "whatever". We delivered a letter from a yacht we do not know that had been emailed to us to the Lemky family and had a nice long visit sipping tea and munching biscuits and bananas while watching the beautiful turquoise water just at arms length away. As we "told stories" Lemky's daughter Doreena carefully composed a letter for us to be emailed back.

Back at our canoe landing, the gracious Kalonga family served us a lovely snack of veggies, fish, ramen and rice with mango juice, insisting we must eat with them before we sailed. Before we finally clamored aboard "Sea Mate" headed NW to Longan - just as the sun was getting low and the SDA families were getting ready to shut down for sabbath - we had packed in our bags Doreena's letter; photos of a light we promised to email to a brother so he might buy another for them; bags of oranges, bananas, nuts, coconuts, a bucket of eggs, and full bellies. It was downwind home to Longan and as the sun set, we pulled up to the beach and all of Oscar and Keren's children swarmed to the beach to help unload the canoe before we all rolled it up on rollers of styrofoam floats. We got some great photos and a bit of video of the day - but even better memories.

At 9/4/2016 and 5:17 UTC (GMT) our position was: 01°13.10'S / 144°18.17'E.

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Sunday, 28 August 2016

//WL2K - Pihon Prepares to Race

Dear Friends;

Before we go on and tell you more of our adventures, let us just say we are writing from Pihon Island, a large island on the eastern shore of the Ninigo lagoon about 12 nm from where we first anchored. After a trail getting untangled from a coral bommie, we motorsailed on Wednesday against a soft tradewinds, dodging shallows, to come to rest just NW of a reef extending from the island's northern tip. We sent the story of our bommie wrap to our blog at: http://sv-carinablog.blogspot.com/

As we said already, we have been very very busy. Most of the activities that have kept us hopping during our stay have involved the distribution of the supplies we have brought. In addition to specific gifts sent to individuals, donated used clothing, wound care and school supplies, we left a supply of topical meds at the health center at Mal for treatment of such maladies as scabies (yuck, we read cause and the ingredients for treatment!) and head lice - and have packages for outposts up-lagoon. We have dribbled knives, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, elastic bands, sunscreen, bug-dope, books, coloring books, puzzles, games, documentaries and children's movies, and other supplies to individuals as we see needs.

Though islanders still use traditional navigation methods, following wave direction and zenith stars, one supply in hot demand are hand-held GPS units (and compasses). We bought, brought and gave away two used Garmin units and we have had inquiries for about a half a dozen more. Those with wages - primarily the teachers and health-care workers,- have bought them, sometimes at criminal prices, from passing yachts. The need makes sense really, even for the canoes that often cross between islands at night, sometimes across the open sea outside of the lagoon, and who have serious canoe-crunching reefs to contend with.

We gave one of our GPS units to the people of Mal Island for use by whoever might need it; to be shared. To ensure its use, we had an active day aboard Carina with Michael, the ward councillor, setting up waypoints for the entire region and entering them into the GPS. Meanwhile Augustine, his son, and Arnold, his younger brother, scoured the navigation programs on two tablet computers, intent on teaching themselves electronic navigation. We gave the second GPS to Justin, a teacher on Longan Island, for sharing amongst the islanders there. Not too long ago, Justin was in a skiff that flipped over off of the Hermit Islands and he and his companion were adrift for two days after ditching two outboard engines to save the boat. He lost his GPS in that accident.

One project we have enjoyed while here is the Ninigos is the sending and receiving messages for families who are anxious for contact with yachting friends of the past - typing written letters for emailing and writing out long-hand emailed letters back. Through contacts on the outside we have also tried to help a lovely young family of five struggling with the mother's health problems. Thankfully we had the medications aboard that were recommended by the first world doctors in the USA via email intersession efforts of Behan on sv Totem. Behan had met the woman during Totem's visit here and was quite anxious (as we are) to help cure her a condition that makes it difficult for her to manage her small household (three children under five) in a small village far from medical help. Now out of touch with her because of our move, we are waiting on information as to whether the meds we gave her were effective. We hope to get word when we are next anchored off Longan next week where her relatives reside.

The reason we came to Ninigo at this time of the year was to attend the 2016 "Great Ninigo Races" sponsored last year by the national government of Papua New Guinea. When we first arrived we were surprised that there was some hedging during discussions as to the schedule and format for the races. A charter flight of dignitaries including an Australian woman who'd lived here 45 years ago, had been canceled, though this was due to her illness and other extenuating factors. We made frequent inquiries but only got oblique answers; the islanders knew we had come to visit specifically during race time.

As an aside, without the sailing canoes, it is doubtful the islanders could continue to live here; petrol is 200 nm away and prohibitively expensive, and their food is located in the sea among large distant reefs and in gardens that are scattered around on small motus throughout this large lagoon and even surrounding atolls. Kelly Lui, VP of the local level government, has promised to tell us the history of these out-rigger canoes during the races here at Pihon.

So, after many discussions and getting to know the islanders better, Michael shared with us that the funding from the national government never arrived to the local level government; the funding necessary for logistics and cash prizes so sought after. BUT the out-rigger sailing tradition is strong and the will to preserve it is intense here and the race committees were determined that the races would be held. What evolved was that we proposed 28 prizes (places 1-4 for seven race classes) and a whole list of smaller consolation prizes that came to Ninigo aboard Carina, the 10 meter sailing cargo ship. Prizes include: sail-making kits (tarps and a used sail plus needles and heavy hand sew thread), fishing gear packages, rigging gear - lines, blocks and cleats, tools, packages of collared shirts + hats + polarizing sunglasses, copper and stainless steel nails in pkgs of 68 -85 each (poundage), snorkeling gear, knives, LED lights, headlamps, footwear, etc. (What you might describe as humanitarian supplies were of course excluded, health, medical, educational, etc.)

The islanders seemed ecstatic and one - the school headmaster - commented, "The items you propose as prizes are very valuable to us, so yes, we will race to win them." No one really had to tell us of the enthusiasm for the new plan, everywhere we went someone was working on their canoe and the sense of competition was in the air.

At Mal last week, we had the first set of races with almost 30 canoes including a huge contingent sailing over from Pataku, an island outside of the large Ninigo lagoon. These canoes were driven back by intense squalls the morning of the races but in the end all arrived safely and the competition began. Kiribai Papi, the gracious chairman of the local canoe race committee, had our hand held VHF in the committee skiff eight miles away at the starting line (presumably using the community's petrol), and we had Kathy, also of the canoe racing committee, aboard Carina monitoring our VHF for instructions, and a support skiff piloted by Paul shuttling us about. The finish line was between Carina and the big styrofoam float with a flag. What great fun everyone had on boats and ashore! It was chaos of course but in the end the races were well organized and the sailing just beautiful.

When we arrived at Pihon, there were teams here already training for the races, intently buzzing Carina as we shot photos. Teams all waved only briefly and then turned their attention to focus on the next canoe ahead to chase. Friday we went ashore and had a hoot of a visit in the village. Adopted by a merry lady with brown kinky hair naturally highlighted in blond named Wendy and a little beauty named Renita and a whole battalion of munchkins, we got the grand tour of the village that sits on a narrow sandy breezy spit on the north end of the island. Houses here are bigger than at Mal and often with multiple rooms defined by woven panels and with slightly less pitch on their roof, but are also made of the important sago palm fronds. When we asked Wendy how many people lived on the island, she grinned and said, "Too many". That was as much information as we could get!

We also met Silas during our tour - a curly haired salt and pepper grey round-faced man with Japanese blood and a sly grin, clearly a village leader. Silas, Wendy's father, pulled us into his over-water bungalow - for rent for 150 kina per night - and tried to sell us an ancient VHF radio. Still works but it's pretty crude. Seems a yachtie of an ethnicity we will not name sold it to him for 500 kina! About $170) Grrrr. Maybe it's the same boat that sold Chris Omen (headmaster of the Pataku school) a Garmin Etrex handheld for $1,400 kina! Taking advantage of people makes us grumpy.

We later learned that the yacht in question had wrecked about a year ago in the nearby Hermit Islands. The single man aboard had salvaged as much from the yacht as he could and loaded his inflatable dinghy and made it ashore. He then sold the items he was able to salvage to any islander who offered money. Alas, the islanders in some cases paid way more than the items were worth. Word has it that the captain eventually boarded another yacht on Manus Island and sailed away with them. We do not know the wrecked yacht's name but are hoping to find out more information.

Saturday, sabbath here on the SDA island, we wandered again through the village, delivered a new LED module to a lady named Honey whose LED light we had attempted to repair (and who later gave us a treasured gift: five hen's eggs). Honey led us to meet Murry of the race committee, her brother in law. We found his family enjoying a sabbath rest in the shade of a large tree at the water's edge on the breezy eastern shore. We talked of the races and showed photos of the heats at Mal and made plans for today's races. We are to go ashore at 10 am but nothing will happen until the canoes from Catholic Amix Island (a few miles N) arrive after church. More later...

Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and the spirit of the fat cat, Jake
Pihon Island, Ninigo lagoon, Papua New Guinea

website: www.sv-carina.org

At 8/25/2016 and 6:17 UTC (GMT) our position was: 01°17.06'S / 144°20.57'E

p.s. PLEASE, if you wish to respond to our emails, DO NOT hit the "reply" button as it sends our original message back to us.
We usually have limited bandwidth that makes it difficult to receive lengthly messages.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

//WL2K - Update on Halokeni, Mal Island and the people

Dear Friends;

Oh my, have we been busy and the last two weeks have just flown by. The people of Ninigo...how should we say it?...are just plain wonderful. Honest, caring, educated, hard working, funny. We have so much more we now want to do for them...now that they're "family".

At this juncture, we realize we haven't given our readers a description of the Ninigo Islands inhabitants. Mal Island, our first stop, is a crescent-moon-shaped atoll a little over 3 nautical miles long by .5 mile wide at its widest point. (Mal means "laugh" in the Seimat language.) Its highest point is barely 2 meters above the sea level. On a king tide coinciding with wind from the "wrong" direction, sea water will flood part of the island. This has happened in the past and some crops in gardens were lost; particularly the important swamp taro. Global warming may be just an abstract concept to most people but it is a very real peril to these islanders. We envisage a time in the not too distant future when the government may force people to move from their ancestral home islands, though we have seen an honest effort by the government to prepare the islanders for rising sea levels.

There is no industry here; there are no stores of any sort. Well, there is a raised metal shack that looks like an historic copra shed on Pihon Island that is a "canteen" but there is no stock. Fuel, when available is pumped from rusty old 55 gallon drums that sit helter-skelter on the beach. Most islanders have out-rigger canoes that have been an important part of their culture for centuries and serve as the family vehicle. Canoe building tools and supplies are treasures to these people.

Islanders are truly living a subsistence livelihood with swamp taro, cassava, sweet potatoes and fish as their staple foods. The Catholic islanders also eat crayfish (lobster) but the SDA villagers do not. Pigs are rare and are only sacrificed for big events such as weddings or funerals. Government workers, such as the well-trained and dedicated teachers who teach here in both the native Seimat language and in English (and who also speak Pidgin), have small amounts of cash to spend. Others have little to none.

The islanders themselves appear to be a mix of Polynesian and Melanesian descent with widely different features. We meet people with distant Japanese, German, Australian or English ancestry. Skin color ranges from a white to milk chocolate to espresso. Hair can be jet black, brown or even blondish, kinky or wavy and facial features that are Asian, African or Caucasian. A good portion of the population is magnificently handsome. Many of the young children are almost androgynous in appearance with fine, almost "pretty" features where it is difficult to tell whether the child is male or female. Most men and women are shorter and slighter than your average American although some of the men appear to have the musculature of a prize fighter. We have not met a truly obese person yet. Most men wear beards and mustaches, probably due to the high cost of razor blades as much as any personal preference. When all these features are put together along with eyes ranging from blue, blue-green, blue-brown or green, the effect can be most striking. Genetics aside, the small population takes pride in having a spouse from the island of Manus or from villages on the "mainland" of New Guinea. A young couple we met with a four year old dimpled prodigy of a dream child, she from a village outside of Wiwak, were anxious for the arrival of a priest (an event that had not occurred for "years") so they could marry in the Catholic faith.

One factor of note is that many of the men, women and (alas) some children chew betel nut. This is the nut from a swamp variety of "palm", planted originally to dry swampy areas. The nut is peeled back and taken along with lime made from incinerated coral, pepper leaves are added and chewed until the inside of the mouth is quite red. Frequent spitting is necessary and, of course, the ground becomes stained with red expectorant. The big problem with betel nut chewing is that the lime begins to break down the enamel of the teeth and, given enough time and usage, the teeth dissolve away. Even before that happens, the teeth, lips and gums become red stained, and unsightly to our western eyes. The islanders don't seem to notice. Philip tried betel nut while we were in the Solomons. He reported the taste to be bitter and quite astringent but he only tried it once, not seeing any appeal to continue the habit. Besides, he has enough bad habits as it is ;-)

Many of you have expressed concern for Halokeni, the boy who had to be evacuated from Mal Island to Lorengau on Manus Island with a bone lodged in his esophagus. He was discharged on Wednesday August 24 and arrived back by skiff on Thursday about midday.

Despite the fact we've left Mal, we know this because we met a skiff en route to the other end of the Ninigo atoll. In the skiff was a waving, smiling, happy Halokeni, flanked by two matronly island ladies. He was looking quite chipper for a young lad who'd had such an experience and who had traveled all night at sea in an open boat for two hundred miles. Michael, Halokeni's father, was at the bow wearing a NYPD ball cap and waving too, while Solomon stood firmly at the controls of the well-aged Yamaha 40 Hp. After a brief chat and some photo opportunities as we motored side by side, Michael's skiff peeled off to head back to Mal and his wife, Lynette and the rest of the family. Michael plans to visit us at Pihon. As soon as we are able to get to Pohnpei and internet service, we will post pictures of the islanders including Halokeni.

And though we still have stories to tell you of Mal Island, we are now anchored off of Pihon Island 12 nm northeast of Mal. Out-rigger canoe races are expected to begin here tomorrow. On our way here and about a mile west of Pihon we caught a nice sized wahoo - a voracious fish which is good eating but destroyed our lure in the process! An elder of the neat little village saw us way off in the distance trying to anchor in the bommie-filled shallows to the west of the village and took pity on us, arriving in a skiff to lead us closer and just off a green coral reef on the island's northern tip. The wind blows over the barrier reef beyond, sailing canoes race about preparing for the upcoming races and the smell of cooking fires mixes with the tradewinds to fill the cabin with lovely scents.

Life is very good. We sleep well here. At dusk, after we've finished our supper, we sit in the cockpit and watch Jupiter and Mercury chasing Venus down to the western horizon.

Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake
website: www.sv-carina.org

At 8/25/2016 and 6:17 UTC (GMT) our position was: 01°17.06'S / 144°20.57'E

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Thursday, 25 August 2016

Bummer of a Bommie

What's a bommie? It's an underwater colony of coral that can be the size of a Volkswagen or the size of the Volkswagen factory. They maybe visible from the surface or they may not be. Our Mal Island bommie was 30' below the surface, about 25' tall and 6' around and undetectable by the normal means; that is to observe a change in the color of the water.

When we arrived at Mal Island in the Ninigo Group of Papua New Guinea, we dropped our anchor in a spot previously occupied by another sailboat. Such waypoints are usually reliable. This one seemed to be, the bottom looked smooth and sandy, and we fell back, backed down on the anchor to ensure a good set and went about our business for over two weeks. If, and this is a big if, we hadn't had a front come through last week giving us northerly and then westerly winds, we may have been fine. But...

this morning we were stuck. Stuck isn't even a good term, chained to the bottom. Chained to the bommie, which over millennia has been glued to the bottom. We tried our usual methods of motoring up while cranking in and letting Carina bounce in the swell. She did not bounce. Her bow dipped and stayed there. The chain was frighteningly taut, threatening fingers and toes. We let out chain and tried again, again, again, again and just for good measure, again.

Finally, we shut off the engine and our hero came to the rescue...in a bathing suit, fins, mask and snorkel. Down he went, four times...down the chain until his ears nearly burst. The conclusion: it was a big bommie - not just our chain wedged in a crevice - and we were wrapped and wrapped solidly. Probably counterclockwise.

Back aboard, we started the engine again, let out a whole bunch of chain and motored not once, but twice in a wide circle around the bommie, clockwise. We could read the depths and contours on our fishfinder to know when we were outside of it. With alacrity Philip cranked in on the anchored chain, came up short, Carina bowed and then "blam" her bow came up and Leslie motored due east into deeper water as we both wished our chain to be free. And it was.

So, an hour and a half of grunting, groaning, stress, worry, diving, consulting...we were free of the bommie. And finally underway...

At 8/25/2016 and 6:17 UTC (GMT) our position was: 01°17.06'S / 144°20.57'E.
We were traveling degrees true at knots.


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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Ninigo Islands - Far Out in the Pacific

Almost immediately upon dropping and securing our anchor in the Ninigo Islands of Papua New Guinea, a sailing canoe pushed off from the northwestern shore of Mal Island and headed for Carina. We were to windward of them, so their sail remained furled and two or three strong young men had to paddle. On it were Michael Tahalam (the ward councillor for the islands of Mal, Lau and Ahu); his 3 year-old daughter with an impish gleeful grin, Marianne; Solomon, a visiting family friend of strong dark features; and two young men, Augustine, Michael's handsome son, and Arnold, his younger brother. We soon had their out-rigger canoe secured to Carina's starboard side and invited them into the cockpit where we plied them with tea and coffee and of course, candy for Marianne. We ourselves were somewhat bleary-eyed from lack of sleep but we also high on adrenalin. This usually happens to us on the last day of a passage as we lose sleep as we become a little anxious leaving the sanctuary of the open sea and approaching a strange shore where things can go wrong.

Michael knew we were coming but did not know when; there is one telephone on the island, owned by the government that sits on a crude wooden table at the door of Michael's raised-floor tin house. We had called this telephone a number of months back and had had a difficult discussion with weak signals and much static, though because of it we knew the big annual canoe racing week was scheduled for August 25th. The only other communications Mal Island has with the world outside is via an HF radio in the regional health center, also owned by the government. Michael was repeatedly apologetic as he greeted us for not responding to an email we had promised him (and written). We repeatedly said that we had not expected a reply and were just thrilled to finally be here for the races and to meet him and the other islanders in person.

It seems our timing was good, we arrived on a Tuesday and it had just been Saturday when Michael arrived back from Manus Island. To give you an idea of how isolated these people are; to go to Lorengau, the islanders must take an open boat (skiff if you will), often with a single outboard engine about 200 nm east southeast. The cost of fuel round trip is about 1000 USD (3000 kina); which makes such trips pretty rare. Michael's recent trip had been on official business as a ward councillor and involved with climate change disaster planning. He had returned to the island on a chartered landing craft hired by AusAID to carry with climate change disaster materials - primarily building supplies.

Visits by yachts are rare in these islands and we bore with us, letters and gifts sent to us by previous yachts who jumped at the chance to send their love back to the islands via Carina. It was great fun to see the eyes of visitors to Carina light up as we delivered specially addressed packages and letters to them that we had squirreled carefully away amongst our boatload of supplies. One family, Thomas and Elizabeth Ailis, who also visited immediately, received in their skiff a particularly large stack from us and handed back an enormous lobster! What a wonderful welcome that was after days of one-pot left-overs!

During this initial visit, we explained to our visitors that we needed assistance to distribute our generously-donated supplies as equitably as we could. We wanted them off the boat and into the hands of islanders but we wanted to ensure that everyone felt the generosity of our donors and in our wake we would leave only good feelings and not envy that someone else had received more than they did.

During one of our first visits ashore, we asked the collected and curious islanders gathered on the beach outside of Michael and Lynette's kitchen hut, to allow us to create first, packages of food and clothing for the island's neediest. The gathered group gave us the names of eight families with disabilities of some sort that prevents them from taking care of themselves. It was serious business and everyone took it so, talking in the Seimat language to each other and us in English, as they gave us the names and the particulars of each family necessary for us to choose the donations wisely. For example, one family was an old woman (described to us as "fat") with one 5 YO granddaughter, another a disabled man with wife, son and two grandchildren ages 7 and 10, etc. We spent a long evening unearthing appropriate clothing from our huge pile of bagged items and packing these with a selection of staple foods in custom labeled bags that have now gone ashore.

A disconcerting development occurred on Mal over the weekend, an accident that demonstrates how isolated and vulnerable these communities are. Yesterday while we were ashore, Solomon approached Philip and said simply "can you help this boy"? Halokeni, the twelve year old adopted son of Michael and Lynette had swallowed a fish bone that had gotten firmly stuck far down in his throat. The accident had occurred almost two days earlier. The health services worker had tried to extract it but it was too far down to even see. He had given him only aspirin (!) at his point. Philip tried to examine him but the poor kid couldn't lift his head without tears streaming down his face. We asked him where the bone was, thinking we could possibly bring back surgical forceps and try to remove it. When he pointed so far down on his neck, we knew it was not something we could not help to treat. Poking in the little boy's throat would possibly cause more damage. A Heimlich maneuver would likely have been unsuccessful as the health worker - Vincent - commented that the bone was likely by this time lodged in tissue.

Already, the flesh of the child's neck was swollen; we were afraid the swelling might close down his air passage. Halokeni could only take tiny sips of water but no food. Philip sighed and then explained to the adults waiting for his opinion that the best course of action would be to evacuate him to Lorengau on Manus Island 200 miles away. The islanders assured us that there is a hospital in Lorengau where there were doctors and surgeons who could administer sedation and other meds necessary for extraction. Maybe it was the opinion of a respected outsider but things started to happen quickly at this point. Vincent, the man responsible for the Mal Island Clinic radioed his superiors on Manus - while we watched - and got permission to use clinic-allocated petrol to fuel a boat to evacuate the little boy. He then started an IV drip so Halokeni would stay hydrated. Meanwhile, Michael made arrangements of his skiff to brought from Pihon Island, have the fuel loaded and prepared for a trip to Lorengau first thing in the morning. He was hoping to find a second 40 HP engine, though this was in vain. We provided paracetamol and a bamboo straw and were able to coax the boy to drink a crushed pill in water through the straw. This helped to ease his pain and allowed him to later take a small amount of citrus juice.

Early this morning, Michael drove by Carina. In his skiff was Halokeni resting in the bottom of the skiff on a blue poly tarp, another ill little boy, the boy's mother and aunt, Vincent, and Solomon at the controls of the 40hp outboard, a 55 gallon drum of petrol, two live green turtles laying on their backs, bananas, coconuts and other food and a bouquet of betel nuts. (More on betel nut later!) Michael asked us to send out an email on his behalf, asked for a weather report for today and tomorrow and said he expected to reach Lorengau by 1600 (4 pm) that day. They were using a GPS we had donated to the island for navigation. He would try to call his wife Lynette on the island's phone once he arrived.

Today, we also installed a 12V battery, two solar panels, a charge controller and a voltmeter at the village school under the watchful eye of a cadre of students who carefully watched our every move. Philip, the principal, will use the extra electricity to power a computer and, possibly, an LED light. When we left, the battery, which registered on 12.5V at installation, was zinging along at 14.4V as the solar panels crammed amps into the battery from the equatorial sun.

And so, it was a full day on Mal Island. Tomorrow we hike down to the village at the far end for a visit, hoping to facilitate additional medical help for a family there. We had arranged for transport by skiff today but, alas, that skiff never arrived. Such is the way in the islands...

Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and the spirit of the fat cat, Jake
website: www.sv-carina.org

At 8/11/2016 and 7:16 UTC (GMT) our position was: 01°23.54'S / 144°10.80'E

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