People often ask us with bemused looks or tones, "So, what do you guys do
all day?" I'm not sure our pat answer helps: "Well, it varies, but there's always boat work to be done!" So here's the tale of Thursday -- a day that had a "plan" but unfolded in a totally different way. In short, a fairly typical cruiser day.
We were anchored off the island of Kohinngo, at the village of Boboe. We'd arrived there Wednesday afternoon in company with an Aussie boat, led by our new friend Rina Billy thru a tiny coral-infested pass, which, until the tsunami rearranged it 3 years ago, a sail boat couldn't negotiate. Even then, this
sailboat almost didn't make it through. For the first time in all our years out here, we felt the stomach-sinking thud of keel against coral. We weren't moving very fast and managed to wiggle out with just tiny dings to the fore and aft edges of the keel, proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished. We were headed to Rina's village so that he could borrow our small generator to run his planer on the floor boards for his new house (old house having been wiped out in the same tsunami 3 years ago). Rina managed to get a few boards planed before the machine balked at being fed only 110 volts to its 240 volt motor. Later Rina told us that the chief, his uncle, would like us to visit tomorrow.
Thursday's plan: Visit the chief in the morning, leave around noon in good light and on the rising tide to get back out the skinny white-knuckle pass and then into a similarly hairy entrance to Noro, our next stop, a couple of hours away.
Thursday dawns bright and clear. We offer to ferry the couple from the red Aussie boat to the village but have to wait till he finishes his net controller duty at about 9:30. Chief Timothy, lots of kids and other relatives are waiting for us when we arrive. The 77 year old chief is the son of one of the local men who rescued President Kennedy and his crew when PT 109 was sunk in 1943 and he has laid out for us to see his proud collection of photos, letters and medals about the event.
While we're reading the letter from Kennedy's secretary to his father and poring over the other photos (including an old one of his grandfather, a reformed headhunter), it starts to rain, gently at first, and then suddenly torrentially. We had left the little generator running on the back deck and Jim wants to get it out of the rain, so we say hasty farewells and start out for the dinghy. But the rain is pelting by then and we figure Jim can get back more quickly alone so we three stay behind doing the obligatory look at wood carvings, chatting more with the chief, and waiting for the rain to stop. When he returns, Jim snaps this picture of Chief Timothy and me, and I loan him my glasses to see the photo on the digital camera. He asks if we could print him a copy. We make apologies for our little on-board printer and say we'll try. Noting his frosted eyes, I ask if he needs reading glasses, and of course he does: 1.50s, he says.
The rain lets up a little, we drop off our passengers, and back on board, we fire up the computer, crop and print the photo, search for a plastic sleeve I know I have somewhere to protect it, and rummage through the supply for a pair of 1.50 reading glasses. The rain lets up a little so Jim makes a quick delivery of the photo and glasses to the happy chief.
Noon approaches and the sky is still wet and dark. We begin to wonder if this is just a passing weather system or one parked here for the day. I turn on the radar, looking for some clue as to how long the rain might last. It doesn't look good. We discuss what's the latest we could leave. We discuss returning to Gizo rather than trying to get to Noro. There's another route for Gizo but that one too requires good light for weaving thru reefs. Bruce on the red boat had done it before and says he'll come over to discuss options when the rain lets up. I continue to stare at the large black blobs on the radar screen. Rain at least 6 miles out. Jim and Bruce study the charts while I stare at the radar. Unless it improves right quick, we conclude it's dumb to try to leave in these conditions - on either route. Bruce takes off just as it starts to pour again. The drops are literally bouncing on the sea. Everything in the cockpit is wet, even the supposedly protected onions in their cockpit hammock, which I rescue and take below to dry.
While we watch the weather, there's a knock on the hull. "You wanna buy crayfish?"
So for the asking price of about US$2.60 we now have a 2-lb lobster for dinner.
Later there's another knock on the hull and a guys asks for smokes. Jim sends him away.
Shortly after 1:00 the first after-school visitors arrive, 2 wet girls in a canoe with 2 lovely bridal-like bouquets of purple and white flowers. I gush over them and give the girls lollies and little hair things in trade and thanks. They're happy. With that, the word is out and the steady stream of little wet visitors begins. It continues to pour with bouncing raindrops but that doesn't stop the kids from coming out, each with some small offering, canoe after canoe.
I have a boatful of flowers, lemons, papayas, star fruit, coconuts, and two live orchid plants mounted in coconut husks. In return, we give them school exercise books, pencils, pencil sharpeners, hair thingies for the girls, lollies, and their favorite: balloons.
There are at least 7 bouquets here, some with orchids!
This little guy was holding a bouquet of flowers as his brother paddled out to us. I couldn't get to the camera fast enough to snap it before they took the flowers from him and handed them to me.
While the kids mill around in their canoes, expertly jockeying for position, constantly bailing, soaking wet, I ask (and promptly forget) all their names and ages, do they like school, favorite subjects, things like that. With one group we end up singing the alphabet song together (I'm dripping wet, through all this) and then I ask them to sing something. We get a medley of bible songs, all sung in perfect harmonies.
I suggest that Jim might sing them his favorite song, so he tunes up the guitar and does "The Marvelous Toy." They peer over the back deck and shriek with laughter each time he gets to the part where the toy goes "...whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
when it stood still."
While all this is going on, we're catching rain water, doing laundry in buckets, moving wet clothes around, and trying to stay ahead of the soggy state of the cockpit and everything else.
The last canoe of young girls hopes for little hair clips like their friends got, but I don't have any more. They're disappointed, but clearly used to going without stuff. I hatch a plan: if Rina Billy is going to Gizo tomorrow we'll get some more hair thingies for them and send them back with him. They seem satisfied. We call Rina to see if he's going to Gizo and he wants to come to the boat to "story" [chat]. But he doesn't have a canoe; can Jim come get him? Sorry, the engine is already off the dinghy. As soon as the kids return with the canoes he paddles out to Asylum. We "story" for a while, telling him about the kids' visits and the fun we've had. I tell him about the girls hoping for little hair clips and wonder if he's going to Gizo tomorrow so we could send some back with him. Seems he, too, has hatched a plan. He does need to go to Gizo tomorrow, but he doesn't have enough fuel to get there. Can he come with us on Asylum, leading us out through the reefs on the alternate route, while we tow his little boat? That way he only has to buy fuel for the return trip.
While we talk about his plan (which is fine with us), 2 more kids paddle out, one a little boy we haven't seen before. I bet he saw all those balloons and wants one too. Rina speaks in "language" with them and confirms my hunch, so I start to blow up a balloon for him and POW! It explodes about half way and thwacks me in the left eye. I thought I'd been shot. Couldn't keep it open, couldn't keep it shut, and definitely couldn't stay in the cockpit to "story" with the guys. I retreat below with a cold cloth on it and hope Rina takes the hint and leaves. He didn't for a while, but Jim learns from storying with him all the things the kids are taught from about the time they can walk: how to swim, paddle a canoe, handle bush knives, tie knots, do basic first aid and mouth-to-mouth, and bush medicine.
Rina finally leaves but I wasn't up for cooking or eating lobster. Jim tapes my eye shut with blue masking tape and bless him, cooks one of our favorite comfort food meals. The rain has subsided and Rina has assured us that it will be nice tomorrow for the trip to Gizo.
So that was our day. Did we accomplish anything? Not much -- though Rina did tell us that when the kids returned to the village they all said the people on the white boat were really nice. So maybe we did. For us it was a full rich day.
And people wonder what we do all day...
Rina was right: tomorrow was a beautiful day for a boat ride.