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Sunday, August 10, 2003


Bow anchor in deep water and a stern line ashore, tied to a tree, WINGS lies peacfully at Ebora, Misima Island, Papua New Guinea
wingssail-Fredrick Roswold


Saturday, August 09, 2003

August 09, 2003-Ebora, Papau New Guinea

Sailing Down Island

After nearly two months in the Lousiades we're finally away from the howling wind. Tonight we are anchored in a calm place and there is not any wind outside wailing in the rigging or whistling through the palm trees. In fact all we can detect is a slight offshore breeze and the smell of smoke from cook fires and burning rubbish. It reminds us of Mexico, where we often had this smell at night. We haven't had it before anywhere in Papua New Guinea.


Kids in the Tree

We can also hear kid's voices on the beach because we are anchored right in the village. I mean "right in the village", it's that small. This is Ebora, and it isn't on the chart, but thanks to some friends who heard about it and told us to look for it, and a "mud map" we got with longitude and latitude, we found it. It's just a tiny notch in a rugged island coastline, we almost missed it, but here we are, and the native’s houses are only a hundred feet from the back of the boat, but we don't mind. It’s quiet and calm, plus there is plenty of good fresh water here to fill our tanks, so we can take baths and wash the boat, all in all, quite a luxury.

Ebora is a contrast to where we were two weeks ago. 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

The arrivals and departures of cruising yachts however do have impact on these people.

When a yacht comes into view the children shout out the news and run about and point excitedly.

"Yachtie, Yachtie!" they cry, and everyone looks to see the white sail on the horizon.

Each yacht brings trade goods and opportunities for the village. Much of the villager's food, clothing, and tools come from the yachts whose crews gladly trade these items for fruit and vegetables or perhaps even carvings or woven baskets.

The arrival or departure of a yacht is a big deal.

The shifting patterns of the coming and going of yachts also have an impact on the cruisers that sail them. The cruisers brought together for a few days or weeks in these remote places where they share a bit of island paradise, bond with each other, and become friends, often for life.

Then inevitably they part, going their separate ways, maybe to meet again in another port or at another island, or maybe not.

In the Lousiades we met a young couple, John and Maureen and their son Dylan, on Brilliant II, from Hawaii. After a week or so sharing adventures in a couple of anchorages they became our friends. Then one day John announced that they would soon depart for Darwin, and then were going onward to Thailand. Our plans would take us the other way, north, not west.

Late that afternoon, when I was back aboard Wings, I came up on deck for a look around, just as the sun was about to sink behind the hill in the west and the colors were deep and intense, as they are late in the day, I saw John on deck on his boat, anchored just ahead of us.

The white boat from Hawaii lay swaying in the swell. Beyond, the beach was white against the deep blue of the bay and the coconut palms danced in the trade winds that came over the hill that afforded meager protection for the bay. I saw the younger blond man working on the foredeck, bare to the waist, his dingy alongside with the motor already off. I knew from these signs that Brilliant II would leave in the morning.

I went to the bow and hanging on to the forestay I hailed the other, "Hey John, where you going with that boat in your hand?"

John shaded his eyes with his hand and looked aft, trying to make sense out the words which had blown away in the wind. Finally his voice came faintly through the trade wind moan from the rigs of the two yachts, "What's that you say?"

"Looks like you're off in the morning," I said.

"Yeah, time to be going if we're to make Darwin this month."

"Well, you've got a fine breeze."

The two of us stared at each other silently across the water.

The younger man was now on his stern rail and he rocked with his boat, one hand on the backstay, his shock of blond hair as bright in the sun as his tanned skin was dark. The wind continued to blow.

"We'll call you from Darwin," he said finally.

I waved and turned aft and went below, where Judy was lighting the stove.

"She'll blow tonight," I said. I tapped the barometer and watched the pointer sink.

My wife's answer was lost in the noise of the wind.

Two hours later the moan had turned to a howl and when I went back on deck to let out some more chain I looked forward again. The white boat was lost in the darkness and had no lights showing.

Might as well be gone, I thought,

Might as well be gone.

Brilliant II

The next day we left ourselves, for the outer lagoon, and we caught a nice Mackerel on the way.

Much of the adventure of this cruise has been the local people we've met. We've met many Papuans, mostly island people. The island people of Papua New Guinea are delightful people and we love them. They claim however that they are different from the "highlanders", those people who still live in the mountains of the mainland, and only in recent times have begun to adopt what we might call civilized ways. The island people we've met are happy, friendly people, and they accept us as guests to their island homes. On the other hand, they tell us that the highlanders are a darker race, not only in the color of their skin, but in their hearts. There is much written in the local press of violence and killing in the highland villages and in the cities where the highlanders have come to look for jobs or to get into trouble. The skirmishes reported are shocking; ten people killed for example, because of an allegation of black magic, or someone whose limbs have all been hacked off, in vengeance for an insult. The police cannot stay ahead of this crime, it is just too endemic and they are too few, too weak. After one massacre the police spokesman announced that, "The matter has been settled, several pigs have been exchanged."

But we've stayed away from the cities and the mainland, and we've met few highlanders.

The worries about highland violence does not even enter our minds as we interact with the locals in the islands of Papua. Today we spend most of the day on Bagamon Island, trekking from one end of the island to the other, visiting three villages on the way.

In the far village, Bryan, a cruiser who in his previous life was a cook, was teaching bread making. He'd been in the village on several days, all arranged of course, and he'd built an oven in the village square, out of rocks and cement and a steel oil drum. In this oven the villagers could bake bread and pastries, if they knew how, and today Brian taught them. The recipes were simple. For bread, a few packets of yeast, two kilos of flour, some salt, lots of kneading, and let it rise twice. The pastries were made from half self raising flour and half normal flour, some pig fat, roll it flat, and fill it with local fillings. Everything popped into the oven and left until it was golden brown.

Brian tests oven

The women watched intently and discussed the recipes and techniques while the men tended the cocoanut husk fire under the steel drum of the oven. Bryan moved back and forth between the outdoor kitchen and the oven, keeping both going, and the rest of the village sat around and socialized, just happy to be part of the event. Judy drew a crowd as she passed out balloons to the kids.

When the first pastries were done everybody had a taste and the day was deemed a success.

We began our walk back across the island, past Oysi village where chief Gulu and some of his sons sat at their work bench under the tree making crafts for sale to the yachties, past the beach where our dingy waited anchored offshore and tied to a tree, and on to far side of the island to another village where Sam's house was. We needed to visit Sam because we'd contracted with him to carve a name board for Wings that we wanted to use on our main hatch and Sam had not completed it. We needed to tell Sam that we were leaving in the morning and he needed to get going on the job before we departed.

While we were at Sam's the rain came and we clustered under the eves of his house, and most of his village came around too and we met all of them. I sat inside the doorway of his house on his raised floor and showed Sam exactly what we expected from his carving commission,
Sam Works and Judy chatted with his wife and father and played with a dozen or so children while we waited for the rain to ease.
Sam's Kids

The walk back through the jungle, fresh after the rain, and over the low hill to our anchorage, was easy even though it was humid and thick with the smells of damp vegetation. We talked of the experience we just had at Sam's village and we were glad we'd gone there.

Just as we're glad we got to Ebora today.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Papua New Guinea

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Thursday, August 07, 2003

August 07, 2003-Child singing in the night.

There is a rock wall off to the left of our boat where we are anchored at Ebora cove, which is so steep and rugged that I don't see how anyone could walk on it, let alone do it in the dark, but a small child does each night, and she sings. The whole place here is so tiny that we are only 50 feet or so from the sheer limestone outcropping, so we can hear her clearly, even though her voice is soft.

During the day there are many children on the beach at our stern, and up high on the cliffs or jungles above.

But at night there is only one, a small child who we have never seen, but whom we hear singing in the darkness each night somewhere on the rock wall near the boat. Her voice is gentle and beautiful and she sings in some local tongue which we cannot understand, but if we come on deck at night, we can hear her.

It is a wonderful thing to hear and experience, this child singing in the night.

I don't think she is singing to us. I think she is singing to herself, and we are just eavesdroppers.

Hearing her makes me wonder about her life, her hopes, and dreams. She comes away from her home and family each night by herself and finds her way to this cliff where sings her gentle song, alone in the dark. What is going through her head? Is she wondering about her future, trying to make sense of the world, or just going over the day's events? I think about what future she might have in the village, when she becomes older and marries. When there are children to tend and a house to keep, will she still have her dreams?

All over the world I know there are children who struggle to understand the world around them, who feel hunger, or are sick; each one a unique person who sees the whole world just through their own eyes. The wonder of this, and the immensity of it, touches me.

The children are not always sad. In fact they are mostly a happy bunch. Here at Ebora it is mostly the children who make this place a delight for us. They come in groups during the day to watch us or shout for balloons (to which we answer patiently, "Balloons finished", or to sing. There is a tree, or the remains of a tree, leaning out over the water, all gnarled roots and broken limbs, barely hanging on to the spongy limestone rocks which themselves are barely hanging onto the cliff, and the village girls come to it during the day. Five or ten or twenty swarm on it and look down into our boat. They chatter like monkeys. We wonder how they keep from falling off onto the rocks below, or why the tree itself does not fall off. We also wonder at the timing of their coming and going. How do they decide it is time to go to the tree and watch the Dim Dims (us)? What makes them all at once pick up and leave?

Of course at any given moment we may hear a small voice at the side of our boat, and there will be one of the village's shared canoes with one or more boys in it. They bring some bananas or other fruit and ask for things, like exercise books for school. Judy will always trade with them.

At other islands the men have come to trade or ask for things, or in some places, women. But here at Ebora, only the children come out.

In addition to the girls who come to the tree, and the boys who come out in the canoes, there is also a group of little boys around here who hang out together. They are smaller than the girls of the tree, maybe three or four years old. They are all naked and brown, and they are boisterous. They shout at us quite assertively and throw rocks at the girls (just out of range, thankfully) or three of them climb up on some planks and do a little dance choreographed by a fourth, singing. They have a rock they climb on also, but it is to jump from, not for watching dim dims. And during the day we hear the sound of the plunge of their bodies into the water, mixed with the jungle sounds of birdcalls and cicadas and the lap of the waves on the rocks, and everything else which is going on in this village where we are staying.

There is a lot of sound here, but at night, there is just one small child singing
Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, Papua New Guinea


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