Passage Hawaii to Vancouver - Day 18
28 July 2013
A SHORT ODE TO THE WIND
Sailing, sailing Over the ocean blue. The wind is back! The wind is back! We are a happy crew!
Yes folks, the wind is back. It looks like it will stay with us for the next few days, taking us pretty well all the way to Ucluelet. Our planned arrival there on July 31 now looks virtually assured!
In the South Pacific, Joanna has been taken hostage by the ill-tempered and pot bellied Chief Watson who plans to hold her until Papa pays a ransom of three pigs, wealth he does not possess. Joanna is determined to escape and make her way back to her own village, keeping her identity a secret!
Unlike a book, with a blog story it is hard for you, the reader, to know how far along you are in the adventure. Well, we're getting there. After today's installment there will be just two more chapters. The story will end when we make landfall.
VISION OF JOANNA - A Continuing Blog Adventure Set in Vanuatu
Chapter 9 - Lost at Sea
Walking slowly away from the clearing and the Cave of Stars, both Joanna and Michael were silent. Joanna was seething. Chief Watson was being so unfair. She had broken his taboos by accident. It was not her fault. Michael was sullen; annoyed that his uncle had assigned him the task of escorting the little girl back to the village, and disappointed he would miss seeing a rarely performed ROM dance. They trudged onward, each unhappy, lost in their own thoughts,
Joanna was still trying to figure out how she could escape. She thought a conversation with Michael might lead to some ideas.
"How old are you?" Joanna asked.
Michael replied, "I am sixteen years now. My birthday was last month."
Joanna queried him again, "Then I guess you don't go to school anymore. What do you do all day?"
Michael thought about this for a few minutes, now more interested in making conversation. "I do what most of the village men do; I fish and work on the family plantation - looking after the yams and the cassava. Sometimes I hunt with my uncle. In the evening I am old enough now to sit with the other men and drink kava and listen to stories. It is expected for me to be there but I would rather be working on my new canoe. My old one is no good anymore"
"You have more than one canoe?" Joanna asked, surprised.
"Yes, I have a small one that I made when I was twelve years old. It is much too small for me now. I'm building a new, much bigger one; a big canoe for a big man."
Joanna thought Michael sounded very proud of his new canoe. She should go and see it. Her interest in his canoe might change their relationship; from him acting as her guard to seeing her as a friend; someone who might help her. As she was thinking about how to do this, Michael asked her a question. He was apparently enjoying the conversation.
Pointing to the knife Joanna was still wearing on her woven belt he said, "That's quite a knife you have there - for such little girl. Where did you get it?" There was a touch of envy in his voice.
Joanna replied proudly, "My papa gave it to me so I can learn to carve. He is the greatest carver in our village, perhaps in all of Ambrym!" She stopped and bit her tongue, realizing she had probably said too much about Papa's identity.
Michael seemed not to notice. "I would like to be a great carver some day." he said. "There are no carvers in my village anymore since Old Solomon died. Perhaps that knife was meant to find me." He slowly reached forward towards the knife.
Joanna placed her hand on the handle protectively and said, "Perhaps it was, but perhaps not. Papa told me that carving is either in your blood or it's not." Then she asked, "Have you ever carved anything? If you have, then you would know if it is in your blood."
Michael relied excitedly, "My new canoe! I have carved my new canoe from the heart of a breadfruit tree. Many people have told me it is the most beautiful canoe ever made in our village!"
A vague escape plan was forming in Joanna's mind. She said, "Let's go and see it then. It must be very special!" And so, as they approached the village, they left the main trail and followed a small path to the water's edge where they found Michael's work site and his new dugout canoe, long and sleek, sitting high on a bed of wood chips, as if on display. Joanna moved forward and ran her hand along the smoothly planed hull, admiring the craftsmanship. Her time in Papa's carving shed had taught her an appreciation for such things. But what really caught her eye was the small canoe languishing in the bushes nearby. It looked light enough for her to drag to the beach, and small enough for her to paddle. Joanna had never actually paddled a canoe on her own, but how hard could it be?
Leaving the work site, Joanna and Michael followed a path along the shore to Chief Watson's village. As they walked past a maze of huts, children stopped and stared, eyes wide and mouths hanging open. They had never seen a little girl, in fact any girl, wearing a knife and a boar's tusk, her face covered in black war paint. Along the way Joanna made note of special landmarks; a big hut, a bush with bright flowers, a garden lined with giant clam shells.
Joanna was placed in a small shed behind Chief Watson's hut where she was told she must remain. The Chief's wife, Marie, brought her food and water but was not sure if she should treat the little girl as a special guest or as her husband's prisoner. In the end she just stayed away from Joanna. Michael brought his sleeping mat out from the house and laid it across the doorway of the shed. He would stay there until tomorrow when Uncle Chief Watson returned.
Darkness had settled over the village. It was now the dead of night. Joanna could hear Michael snoring softly outside her door. She could not sleep. Her escape plan had now been finalized. It was time to start! Quiet as a mouse, Joanna used the tip of her knife to slowly cut away at the base of the woven pandanus wall, opposite the doorway from where Michael was lying. It was slow going. But, after an hour, she had cut a small hole through the wall that she was sure was big enough to wriggle through. Then Joanna lay down and waited, watching the night sky through the slits in the wall, waiting for dawn.
With the first trace of light Joanna set out. Leaving the tiny jail shed behind, she slid through the shadows of the village, following her landmarks towards the beach and Michael's work site. Reaching it undetected, she dragged the small canoe out of the bushes and towards the beach. There were several paddles leaning against a tree. She grabbed the smallest, tossing it the canoe. At the last minute Joanna thought about food. Her stomach growled. She gathered up several coconuts, added them to the canoe and then dragged it into the sea. There was a big swell running. Surf broke heavily along the shore, almost swamping the tiny craft. Finally free of the breaking waves, Joanna pulled herself into the canoe and began paddling madly for open water. Occasionally she looked behind her. Thankfully the beach was empty.
Her navigation plan was simple. She knew her village was on the west side of Ambrym and she was on the east side. By following the shore northward and then westward, with the trade winds behind her, eventually she would come to her own village. She would stay close to the shore. Although her long distance vision was poor, the outline of the shoreline was easy for her to see. As she neared her village Joanna knew she would recognize the familiar landmarks of home.
As she paddled out to sea, Joanna was surprised to see a half coconut shell float by between the canoe hull and the outrigger. While she did not really believe in magic and messenger coconuts, just to be on the safe side, she reached down and scooped the half shell out of the sea and into the canoe.
As the sun rose higher in the sky Joanna found herself skimming across an emerald sea, the wind at her back. She was pleased with herself; her clever escape and her skillful handling of the tiny canoe. Paddling was much easier than she had thought. However, with growing concern Joanna watched as the waves began to build, occasionally slopping over the gunnels and into the canoe. Sometimes the canoe would race down the back of a wave. At first it was fun, but then it became frightening as the canoe careened out of control.
As the day wore on, the skies darkened, turning grey and ominous. The wind was blowing much harder now, whipping the sea into frothy whitecaps. Joanna tried desperately to paddle towards the shore but the wind and waves were much more powerful than she was, carrying her further and further out to seas until she could barely see land it all. Suddenly a mighty wave, much bigger than the others, picked up Joanna's canoe and flung it forward out of control! Joanna dug her tiny paddle into the wave, trying to steer the canoe, trying to keep it from turning sideways and capsizing. As she pulled on the paddle it snapped in two, unable to take the force of the wave! Joanna watched the blade drift away and disappear amongst the angry waves. The canoe was filling with water! Grabbing the coconut half shell she bailed and bailed, battling to keep the canoe afloat!
As darkness fell the storm abated. Exhausted, Joanna lay down in the bottom of the canoe, salt water sloshing around her. Her paddle was gone, as were her drinking coconuts. She had lost sight of land hours ago. The skies slowly cleared. Joanna watched as the stars, real stars this time, appeared one by one in the night sky until it was ablaze with tiny blue lights. As she looked up towards the heavens, she saw her familiar blue halos that formed a delicate lacework of interwoven circles, stretching from horizon to horizon.
Joanna picked out a bright blue halo that was directly overhead and sobbed, "Papa, if that's you up there; please help me! I want to come home!"
TO BE CONTINUED . . .