[140206, 0114 UTC, Lamotrek Atoll, Yap, Fed.States of Micronesia
07º27.5' N / 146º 22.6' E]
In our last Passage Note we wrote that we had just left Pohnpei headed for Ant Atoll. There we settled in to take care of some last minute chores while anchored in Ant's calm, clear, turquoise water. We still needed to finish cleaning Carina's hull of any residual sea growth: barnacles, green slime, wormy-looking calcium deposits and even the occasional oyster! And, after 13 months of moored in Pohnpei's calm harbor, we had gotten a little careless about everything on the boat being in its proper place, so storage for sea was high on our list. Then too, we wanted to do some recreational snorkeling, and finally, to once again wrap our heads around the concept of sailing out of sight of land on long passages.
We enjoyed every single minute at Ant and had fine weather in Pohnpei's rain shadow which allowed us not only to work but also to play. We made an excursion a mile and a half downwind one day to snorkel Ant's pass, which was truly a spectacle. Sheer cliffs formed by coral 100' or more in height from the sea bottom, awash with brilliant fish, create a narrow winding channel where currents run frighteningly fast. The underwater world here is brilliant and vibrant, in constant motion, but at the same time serene. To access the pass, we anchored our dinghy on a sand spit on its eastern entrance and swam across a sandy shallow, bright to the eye. The pass loomed ahead, an intense blue abyss that enveloped us as we swam over the cliff edge.
Nine days after arriving, well-rested and ready for sea, we fired up our still-reluctant starter motor and Carina's little diesel purred. We pulled up the anchor early and began motoring out Ant's circuitous pass at what we'd hoped would be nearly slack tide. Once inside the pass, it became clear which of our tide station information was correct and that we'd chosen the wrong one. Carina wiggled like a two year old in an old auntie's embrace as Philip on the bow strained to see the reef in the glare of the rising sun. With no other choice, Leslie gunned the engine to gain control and we went flying "blind" at 7 knots following waypoints generated from our inbound track. Once clear of the surf, Leslie was able to breathe again, and we pointed our bow 270 miles to the west. Destination: Lukunor Atoll. We had received favorable reports from other cruisers who called here on what is only one small motu (island) of those that encircle Lukunor's coral-reef-defined lagoon like a broken string of pearls.
You couldn't call the 3 day passage pleasant since we had light wind against contrary current, confused seas and sometimes heavy rain with wind in the mid 20 knot range. In addition, the wind would oftentimes box the compass; now coming from the southeast, now from northeast and any point in between. Still, we were in high spirits when we arrived in the wake of a westerly blow and blinding rain.
We arrived on a Wednesday and, once the squall had passed, we began motoring so as to reach the anchorage before dark. As we approached the island, a pair of dolphins joined us to ride our bow wake. One animal made repeated leaps out of the water, landing on his side and gazing eight feet up at Philip who was watching for reefs on the bow. The other animal appeared to be a pregnant female whose actions, though spirited, were a bit more sedate then her partner's. Whenever dolphins grace our arrival we always take them to be a good omen about our visit. At the pass, we lined up Carina's bow and pointed towards deep water, avoiding the reefs on either side and the reef directly ahead. A white limestone statue of Jesus Christ on a pedestal of coral stone marks the starboard point on the entrance of the pass. Nearby, a solitary man strolled along the shore. With an islander's ubiquitous machete in one hand and clad in shorts, hat and a raggedy tee shirt he spied Carina and lifted both arms high in greeting, looking very much like a football referee marking a score.
Lukunor is a small atoll in the Mortlock Group, Chuuk State and was every bit what we had hoped for and a wee bit more. Actually, the preferred spelling is Lekinioch, which is how the island is pronounced in the native Mortlockese language. The yacht book shows only a handful of boats visit each year though the island welcomes yachts warmly.
While still in the process of anchoring, we spied an approaching outrigger dugout canoe paddled by a young boy, with an older man in the bow. Simon Bualuay, 78 years old and the village's official greeter, and his grandson Cooper waited for us to finish anchoring and then approached and asked if they could come aboard. We plied them with a cool soft drink and answered the usual questions asked of a newly arrived yacht: where are you from? what was your last port? how long will you stay? After a pleasant chat, he told us there was a modest $20 anchoring fee and that he would like us to come ashore - though not today, as he knew how fatigued we must be - to meet the person representing the mayor (who was off-island). We thanked him for his visit and sent him back home with a small jar of instant coffee and a tin of milk.
As an aside, most who know Micronesia know that Chuuk was previously spelled Truk and mistakenly pronounced "truck". Simon told us that to the people of Chuuk, the word Truk would actually be pronounced "Chuuk", because the letter combination of TR would be pronounced the same as CH, as in the word "change". Thus the official spelling was changed to ensure that we unenlightened folk would pronounce the state name correctly.
The following day, after putting Bacio together (she is a two-part nesting dinghy), we attempted to motor ashore and meet the town officers but found that our outboard engine would not go into gear. We quickly swapped seats so Philip could row us to the remains of an earthen and concrete cay where Simon, and also Alfredo from the yacht On Verra, and seemingly half the island's population, waited.
The island is run by both a traditional clan hierarchy and an elected government...which may amount to the same thing! Everyone on Lekinioch attends the Catholic church; the Protestant village is on a separate motu to the west. There are only a few supply boats that have Lekinioch as a port of call so everything - rice, sugar, nail polish, rubber clogs, reading glasses, DVDs - is game for trading. After a few days, it seemed that every kid was in need of a volleyball, but would happily accept sweets instead. The islanders are still living primarily on island foods: taro, bananas, breadfruit, and have few fresh veggies. As many times happens, a pile of electronics including DVD players and radios, most far beyond repair, arrived aboard Carina (and On Verra, also anchored in the lagoon). Philip and Alfredo tried to repair them, but with little success.
We took a village tour and were impressed with its neatness; everything was swept clean. The main road is a wide sandy path defined by flat, coral "bricks". Few people wear footwear or probably even own footwear. There are no motorized land vehicles and only a few bicycles. The island is officially "dry", though tuba drinking was in their tradition. Tuba is coconut beer, fermented from the sap of the flower of the coconut tree. Later we learned that some of the young men who came to trade are in fact concocting their own brew of flour, yeast and sugar so there is some imbibing going on despite the edict of the elders.
We saw no one with betel nut-stained teeth; tobacco is preferred but we even saw little of this. If you want to play billiards, there is a coral-floored structure with a well-worn table in it, but it'll put you back 10 cents a game and you only have 8 minutes to finish. On the island, there are still many structures of traditional design; rectangular with rounded ends, overhanging thatched roofs (called fach) and walls of small sticks set apart so as to let the breezes blow through. In fact, you can (ironically) rent a DVD from a "store" housed in a such a thatched hut! Cooking is done on breadfruit wood fires in separate cooking huts. Lekinioch has a huge, impressive feong or men's meeting house/canoe house that is, according to Simon, one of the last, if not the last, remaining one of traditional construction in Chuuk State. It will shelter most of the island's population and is used for village meetings.
During our tour, we stumbled upon a canoe building project where two young men were being taught the art of dugout canoe carving and construction by a handsome but ailing elderly man named Otto. They mixed a most interesting resin, a process they learned from some Filipinos: that is styrofoam dissolved in gasoline. Don't laugh because it actually works! The resin was being used to apply a patch to the canoe under construction and also to bond bow and stern sections to the hull. We were told that the students would weave a pandanus sail to use with the canoe. This canoe is going to be sold to the College of Micronesia and will be called the Miss Lekinioch. It will be "christened" in a traditional ceremony where the men will eat fish together over the canoe's overturned hull and then the canoe will be launched.
Lekinioch has a large school teaching students through the 10th grade with two Peace Corps volunteer teachers named Cariña and Marielle. Marielle's parents arrived from Pennsylvania during our stay and it was fun to have them recount the crazy trip they'd had trying to reach Lekinioch. (Do you remember the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles? This was about planes, supply ships, and open fishing punts - and about two weeks of travel time!) We visited the school, dropped off some supplies and had a nice chat with Peter, the principal and Edmund, a teacher. Later we were summoned to visit Tomasa Ruben, the kindergarten teacher, who is a treasure and who will tell you she thinks Alabama, where she went to university, is very COLD. Sixty solar panels run computers and lights at the school. There is no central power; only solar panels. The island is absolutely committed to education and each student in the school is issued a light (flashlight or headlamp) which is charged at the school and sent home with them to assure they can study after the sun sets.
With all the lovely things to see and interesting culture to experience, our fondest memories of Lekinioch involved the children. In short, the kids were GREAT. Very sweet. Very smart. Beautiful. They are gleeful and hug-able and we usually had a flock trailing behind and holding our hands. We gave a couple of Frisbees to the children as gifts and played a bit of keep-away after church on Sunday. Oh my; lots of fun and lots of laughs - that is, mostly them laughing at us. Philip took a special liking to Jomarine, a cute-as-a-button eight year old. She sometimes didn't understand some the things Philip would ask (English being a second language) so she would crinkle up her nose, beam a bright smile, lean forward and say very distinctly "WHAT!?" Philip teased her about this and, when with her the next day, and once again she didn't understand a question, she started to answer in the usual manner and then stopped, leaned back a little and said in a serious and composed manner: "I'm sorry, I don't understand your question". She then broke down into peals of laughter.
After church and Frisbee, we announced our intention of hiking to the statue at the pass. We, along with Alfredo and Alicia of On Verra, began walking down the road only to find that we were being escorted. The littlest guy, nicknamed Monkey, was probably only three but he stubbornly refused to be left behind. Eventually the trail got rough but everyone arrived in fine form and we sat down to watch the water flow and enjoy a snack of bananas. Berleen painted the nails on Leslie's right hand (only) and the older kids climbed the statue base and camped out above us giggling. After a rest and photos, we started back and immediately Monkey got cranky and tired. One of the littlest girls tried to carry him but he just got crankier and wailed grumpily. Alfredo eventually convinced him to ride on his shoulders and Monkey fell asleep there. Eventually all troops fell into step, Leslie arm in arm with Berleen and Rafina who tried to teach her words in Mortlockese while they tripped over bits of jungle underfoot and exclaimed (their new English word) "OOOOpppps"!
Just when we had just passed the furthest out house, a tiny (palm-sized) but perfect tiger kitten came galloping up the trail and underfoot. The kids responded by trying to swat him but Leslie picked him up and explained to the children that he was just a "baby" and then the little thing snuggled for a second in her hands and then climbed up on her shoulders and backpack. Philip gave one of those looks that said "don't even think about what I think you are thinking about"...gently picked up the kitten, hiked back and deposited him with his litter mate. This happened twice and the little cutie came back again for a third time. One of the littlest boys picked the kitten up and carried him, sometimes under his shirt, sometimes with one hand under each of the kittens forward legs...all the way back to the village. The kitten never made a peep but clung on and seemed content.
Though loving our stay and comfy at anchor in the lagoon, a rare dry tradewind pattern drove us out on passage again, towards Lamotrek in Yap State, a sail of nearly 500 miles. Saying goodbye to intelligent, kind Simon was difficult, but as Philip presented him with his Carina ball cap, he said to Simon, "This is so you will remember us, because we will surely remember you. Thank you for helping to make our stay so wonderful".
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake