[120608, 0116 UTC, Tikopia,Solomon Islands , 12º18' S / 168º 49' E]
For days the cockpit VHF microphone stayed silent, not emitting any staccato blasts of Korean or Cantonese between Asian long line or purse seiner fishing boats. The radar screen too, when we turned it on, showed no returns even when pushed out to its 24 mile limit. Our AIS screen glowed brightly but blank, it's tinny alarm silent. Apart from our participation on the Pacific Seafarers Net and a chat with friends Chuck and Larry in Majuro once per day, we seemed all alone in the world on a limitless sea.
Just 168 miles from our destination we began to plot distance versus our projected speed and decided we'd need two days to complete our journey comfortably which translates to arrival during daylight hours when the sun is high in the sky. But the wind piped up once again and eventually we had to reef down to a bare minimum sail plan to slow ourselves down. Reefing was not enough however - we were still flying along at over 5 knots - so we resorted to heaving to for seven hours in order to "park" Carina, basically drifting with the wind.
Our plan worked well, and we arrived at Tikopia Wednesday at midday. Tikopia is an extinct caldera covered in lush jungle and is populated by roughly 1,000 Polynesian people; who speak Tikopian, though school is taught in English and most children of school age and adults speak English. While walking down the beach with a group of giggling children today, Leslie asked Naison - a handsome young man who'd come to trade already at Carina - how to say "ocean" in Tikopian. The answer, "moana". Yep, they're Polynesians for sure.
Little more than one mile in length, Tikopia is "out there"; no electricity, public utilities, cell phones or even outboard engines. Four chiefs govern here, described as being responsible for different "departments" of state, and decisions affecting the entire island must be unanimous. A tiny clinic appears as if still under construction, plumbing bits and concrete blocks locked inside, a flagpole and HF antenna languishing unused in the clearing out front. A large school of termite-nibbled wooden buildings suspended above the sand on wooden or pipe stilts educates children through age high school.
Tikopians have an ocean going history. Wharram, of traditional catamaran design fame, spearheaded a project to build a catamaran for the islanders. (Search for Lapita Voyage on the internet if you are interested.) The boat is still here and in fact our first evening here it was launched and went to sea, headed for Lata about 200 miles downwind. As it turns out, the boat is headed to Lata to collect a Norwegian who is planning on returning next year with his family to help revitalize the island's clinic. At the chief's request, we have agreed to send an email to help coordinate this visit.
We are still cleaning up and organizing after 16 days at sea and have many new projects on our high priority list. One project we knew of was to change out our sink drains. Carina has lovely deep stainless steel sinks the bottoms of which rest almost right at the waterline. Replacing drains is a regular maintenance item. While underway, Leslie noticed that one drain was weeping, a sure sign it was disintegrating from seawater exposure. This morning while cleaning the sinks of accumulated detritus that sloshed back and forth while underway, Leslie dislodged a bit of drain and suddenly the Pacific ocean was flowing in onto her feet. Quickly closing the ball valve stopped the flow but the under sink cabinet and all the stuff stowed there were covered in drain-grimy seawater. The clean-up, replacing both drains, and mopping up took only an hour or so, but this delayed our visit to the chief just long enough for the chief to send his son, Johnston, to make sure we knew we were invited ashore.
It was afternoon by the time we launched the dinghy and headed towards shore to visit Edward, the chief. Edward is the only chief on this, the lee side of Tikopia. As we cautiously approached the coral shelf looking for a passage, children came running. Just as we bumped the coral shelf, an army of munchkins grabbed Bacio's gunwales and began dragging her over the coral. Occasionally there'd be water enough to float her but most of the 150 meter trip across the coral shelf involved our young friends tugging (and giggling). When we reached what must have been the designated dinghy anchor (a medicine ball-sized chunk of coral), one munchkin expertly tied Bacio. Once things came to a rest, one pretty young girl nudged Leslie and said "lolly?". Philip reached into his backpack for the gooey bag (seems they melted in the heat of the cabin on passage) and thus began a joyful melee of children crowding Philip as he attempted to get everyone their share.
Homes here are similar to those in Vanuatu, with long steeply pitched natangora thatched roofs, though they seem a bit bigger and better maintained. (The island suffered much damage from cyclone Zoey during the 2009-10 season, so this could explain why homes appear new.) Huts sit in the shade of old growth trees in small clusters on groomed sand.
Our dinghy-landing entourage of candy sweetened children escorted us up the beach and directed us to the chief's long hut, where we removed our shoes and crawled through the "front" door. Our eyes quickly adjusted to the shady interior and came to rest on the prominent figure in the room, chief Edward. Seated cross-legged in the center of the building, he is a chubby man about 50 years old with bushy grey Einstein-ish hair and a bushy sideburns. He wore a pair of store-bought reading glasses which still had the optic strength label attached to the lens. He beamed a broad toothless betel juice smile and waved us over. We sat in front of him and then introduced ourselves and for the next hour enjoyed the company of this intelligent man. Our gift offerings were rice, tea, coffee, granola bars and a can of ham. He seemed pleased. Pulling out his guest book, Edward talked of boats who'd visited and how he'd continued friendships with many of them. Two vessels we know, Flash Girl and Wakataitea were amongst the boats who'd left photos and glowing thanks with Edward. Flash Girl, the last boat to visit was here 9 months ago. The remoteness of this island means they don't get a lot of visitors.
One interesting part of the discussion with Edward involved Dr. Mark, a physician who has been actively serving islands in Vanuatu by traveling in a small plane. We haven't met him or know his source of funds, but he's helped finance and build tiny airstrips at many remote locations. We'd heard that Tikopia was on his list. Edward told us today that the four chiefs of Tikopia are split on the subject and approval was not granted for Dr. Mark to build an airstrip here. The reasoning is this: the airstrip would be on the small flat southwest end of the island and this would make it immediately inland of the reef and the chiefs do not want to endanger the reef with runoff. This seems like a wise decision. What they've apparently told Dr. Mark is that medical assistance via boat or helicopter is welcome, but an airstrip is not.
Today, Friday, the dance club is going to dance for us so that they can collect money for travel to dance off-island. We are expected to give a donation (USD is fine, they can somehow arrange for currency exchange!). It should be a wonderful event. Next week there is a festival planned on the other side of the island...we know few details now but surely this will involve meeting and greeting the other chiefs who govern this tiny speck of land in the middle of the Pacific, an island that most of the world doesn't even know exists.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake