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Saturday, August 09, 2003

August 9. 2003-Proas from Kibuta Island

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wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Proas on Sand Spit

Wings was anchored at a lonely lagoon on the outer reef in the Lousiades of Papua New Guinea, completely exposed to the elements and far from any large islands or villages. There was a small island nearby and we had gone ashore on it to burn some garbage in an old fire pit presumably left by some fishermen.

From this island we could see to another island on the next reef where there were two native sailing canoes hauled out on a sand bar. Sand Spit We took the dingy and crossed the passage to check it out. We were feeling very small in our 10 foot rubber ducky out in the big Pacific Ocean, but we got there. As we approached we saw near the canoes some men lounging on the beach watching our arrival. The water in the channel was rough and the tide was running strongly past the sand bar and out to sea. As we approached the beach we cut our motor too soon and the current caught us. Several of the men jumped up to help us but I swung my body over the side into the waist deep water and pulled the dingy safely ashore. The men relaxed.

Judy shares the beach

While I found the anchor and threw it into the sand and grabbed my camera, Judy walked over to the men and began to talk to them. They were from Kimuta Island and they had sailed to the lagoon to catch lobster that they sold to the fish buyer. Judy introduced me to the men and they showed us the big proa canoes, one about 20 feet, the other closer to 25 feet in length, made of hand adzed timber planks and ribs nailed together with long copper nails on a dug-out canoe base which also serves as a keel. The masts are small tree trunks with ½" poly ropes for shrouds and the sails are huge sections of black or blue plastic tarp's rigged lateen style. These people handle these speedy craft with skill and confidence, and they are often seen sailing in the open ocean, with four to seven people aboard, flying along in a cloud of spray and looking hopelessly over canvassed. Usually there are one or two persons bailing with a cooking pot or large shell, and one standing or sitting over the stern and steering with a paddle.

We asked them why they had come to this beach.

Indicating the younger members with them they said, "These boys have never been to this place, we brought them here to see this beach, this sand bar. Soon, when the tide changes we will go back to Kimuta."

As I looked into the eyes of these sailors, I felt a kinship to them. We deal with the same oceans, the same winds. I thought, as sailors, we have this in common.
A Man and His Ship

The Builder
Since that day I have watched these sailing canoes ply the waters around the islands, and I have photographed several of them. To me they are marvelous craft, and the people sailing them are special people. But I realize that to the islanders, the sailing canoes are just transportation, no more exceptional than the family car back home. On Bagamon Island we were at the main village with all the local people, watching a lesson on bread baking, which is another story in itself that I'll tell later, and anchored just off the village was one of the sailing canoes. I saw a man wade out to the canoe. He carried a large basket which he placed on the deck of the canoe before he climbed aboard. Then he began to uncoil lines and prepare for sailing. Soon a second man came out with a child on his shoulders. They too went aboard and began shifting cargo around. Within 15 minutes the three of them weighed anchor and set sail. Do you think the other villagers came down to the shore to see them off, or even watch from the distance as I did? No, the sailing of three souls out onto the ocean on a sailing canoe was no big event to these people, just the coming and going of some men and a child on business known to them.

Proa Sailing

Click here to see all the photos from the Louisiades

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Papua New Guinea

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