[120818, 0450 UTC, Roderick Bay, Nggela Sule Island, Solomon Islands
09º01' S / 160º 07' E]
When we last wrote when we were in Honiara, Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands for the Festival of Pacific Arts. A couple of days after the festival closed, we untangled ourselves from the Honiara's crazy rip-rap med-moor with lines criss-crossing everywhere, and set out on what seemed to be a calm, sunny day. GRIB files (computer models for wind strength) showed 8 knots from the ESE but we were only going 29 miles, so we didn't worry too much about sailing slowly. Motoring almost due north on flat seas and with calm winds towards the Florida Group, we pointed Carina's bow to Sandfly Passage off of which lies Roderick Bay. A few miles out - perhaps out of Guadalcanal's wind shadow - winds suddenly rose to 20+ knots and we shut down the engine and began blazing along close-reaching at a consistent 6.5 knots under triple-reefed main and about half of our 120% genoa. With the wind came short-period, 2.5 meter beam-to waves which built very quickly in Iron Bottom Sound. The passage was a bit like a carnival ride and we hung on and enjoyed it as Bud, our Monitor windvane, steered most of the way across. Our crossing went very quickly - so much for worrying about a slow crossing - until we entered Sandfly Passage when a strong opposing current slowed our progress considerably as we battled "noserly" katabatic gusts that varied from 10 - 37 knots! Luckily, we had only to motor into the wind and current for less than 5 miles before we turned the corner into Roderick Bay where four boats were at anchor or moored - Tribute, Kalalau, Stella and Love Song.
We were quickly hailed by Love Song, already anchored, who told us that there was a mooring available for us that had been recently abandoned by a catamaran; a mooring they'd used during previous visits and onto which they had installed a new top-rope. Lucky for us! A canoe even came out from shore with sons of the local clan chief to assist us. We liked this place already! We were very surprised when David and Robert (our helpers) asked us "Is Carina coming?". We said, "We ARE Carina" and they whooped and shook our hands. Apparently our coming had been foretold to the Ruka clan by Tenacious, Jubilee, and Love Song (last year, earlier this year and just recently!)...We felt very welcome and at home.
Expected yet to join our armada were Distant Shores, Vida Nova and Fifth Season, to make eight boats in all at Roderick Bay. Once settled in, we realized we were a wee bit whipped from the crossing, so we planned to stay at home and tidy up. Soon, chief John Ruka visited us in his dugout canoe - since we were the "famous" Carina - to introduce himself and his family and bay. Little did we know we'd spend 11 days at Roderick Bay and that our stay would be "eventful"; more on that later...
The following day we went shore in Bacio, our dink, motoring slowly towards the beach near the beautifully carved, painted and varnished Roderick Bay Hideaway sign. Children and adults ran along the paths paralleling the bay as we approached and landed, and they all pitched in to help pull the dinghy up and to tie her to the old growth branch above on the shaded coral sand beach. John Ruka, the chief who had visited us the previous afternoon, introduced us to his beautiful and lithe wife Lillian and seemingly dozens of sons, brothers, nephews and grandchildren who were milling about. We were quickly enveloped in their warmth, toured the village commons, walked through their neatly tended hibiscus-arch-covered pathway and tended gardens of bananas, betel nut and flowers. Above us flew brilliant parrots and enormous butterflies. Of particular note were the two guest huts under construction and the elaborate circular arena of sand, surrounded by benches under roofs of sengo palm and decorated with wisps of palm. This was the stage that was set for the forthcoming festival and we could tell the villagers (with the help of sv Tenacious and sv Love Song) had spent a lot of time preparing and were indeed fully prepared to present a cultural festival. Later we settled on John and Lillian's raised porch, barefoot, while we helped the village's young girls to make necklaces of flowers and bright tropical leaves to be given to guests of the festival, i.e., we yachties, a couple of resort guests, and some dignitaries.
Another festival you say? Yes, the first (annual) Roderick Bay Hideaway Yacht Festival...To give you an idea of the event, on day 1 we were greeted on the Roderick Bay beach by "warriors" dressed only in tapa loin cloths and with their richly colored skin decorated in patterns made from bright white lime (calcium) paint derived from coral. The paramount chief of the surrounding region, Ben, was dressed similarly. The warriors charged us as we landed on the beach, while the chief stood back and watched. Smiling warmly, Ben stepped forward and explained that the Nggela warriors were asking if we came as enemies or friends. "Friends!" we exclaimed. Ben smiled and said that to secure our pact, we must come forward and touch his staff to confirm our commitment to friendship and then we could enter the village. Passing Ben (and of course touching his staff) we were directed to an arch where young women in kastom dress adorned us with necklaces of flowers and leaves. (These looked familiar.) The girls then offered us fresh drinking coconuts decorated with hibiscus flowers and presented with earth-friendly bamboo straws.
After escorting our group to the "pavilion" and assuring we were seated in the shade, Ben the chief marched in followed by the local women awash in shell money, grass skirts and pandanus leaf bras, and then by the local boys of the pan pipe band. Sipping fresh coconut juice, our group was treated to welcome speeches, a blessing, singing and then we enjoyed a concert by the local boys and their pan pipes. A lunch of local food - bananas, watermelon, kumala and yams - artfully presented on woven palm plates, led next to a relaxing and enjoyable village and garden tour.
The Ruka clan village at Roderick Bay stretches along the western shore of the small bay on a narrow strip of flat land below Susupu Hill (named for a local soup) and is composed of sengo palm raised floor homes with porches. Homes are small and simple but are comfortable and dry even during torrential rains. (Interestingly, sleeping mats are protected by mosquito nets provided by the government in their aggressive and mostly-successful malaria eradication program.) Walking the path, worn into the sandy soil by the bare feet of generations, we came upon a strange-looking thing - a rag, cut in thirds and strung between two posts on a small line. Peter, a cousin of the clan chief, John - are you keeping all these chiefs straight? - explained that this is an ancient symbol used to indicate to those who may not read or write that it is tabu ("TAM boo") to enter this plot. It is essentially the symbolic equivalent of a "no trespassing" sign.
The plots thus labeled were the areas used to grow economically valuable crops...betel nuts and copra on Nggela Island. We paused on our tour at the betel nut grove and a young boy used a loop of cloth to crab his way up the tall thin green trunk to dislodge betel nuts that rained down to the earth at our feet. The brave amongst us (Philip was brave, Leslie was not) stepped up to try the local intoxicant. Pppppffffth, Philip exclaimed as he bit into the bitter nut, scrinching his eyes at the astringent taste. Locals quickly stepped up with matchbooks filled with lime (akin to lime used to help balance soil pH) and scooped out a buffering dollop with a snap bean, which only made Philip's betel turn a bright red. Let's just say what followed wasn't pretty...betel nut spit...bright red and voluminous. There seems to be no chance Philip - or any others in our group - will be giving up rum for betel nuts...
Later in the day we were shown how local crafts are made. Shell money is an important commodity here in the Solomon Islands. The people from Malaita Island are known for shell money but if you ask the Ngella people, the currency originated here. It is still essential for buying a bride. Buying a bride? Yes, a young man who wants to acquire a bride - even when the bride is quite willing to wed the prospective groom - must obtain and bring to the bride's family about 75 "fathoms" of shell money. If we are doing our calculations right, that's 450 feet! All that being said, shell money's value varies by its quality (uniformity, smoothness) and its color and we cannot begin to understand the subtleties of the value given to a bride as measured in shell money. When we asked what does the bride's family does with the shell money, we were told that it is used for the sons of the family to, in turn, buy brides. In practice, we saw beautiful and numerous strands of shell money on women which had been given to them by their husbands for their wedding. In Nggela, dolphin teeth are also included in artful strands of shell money as, historically, dolphins were part of the diet for the native people.
In addition to a discussion of shell money, we learned how to weave food platters, sleeping mats, baskets, plus the sengo palm roof and wall panels used in construction here. As the afternoon wore on we had had the opportunity to shop and purchase carvings, shell money, shells, baskets, crafts, locally grown vegetables and even WWII war relics from villagers from around the entire area, including from villages on Sandfly Island. At this bazaar we spied a lovely Triton Trumpet shell which we fancied for a horn for Carina. It wasn't until the following day, after much deliberation and discussions with those who knew exactly where and how to cut a hole for the mouthpiece, that we obtained our foot-long, perfectly-formed, natural musical instrument. To be honest, we're still learning to produce a clear note...
On day 2, we received an equally warm and elaborately-staged welcome, and were treated to lovely traditional dances and pan pipe performances. Following that was the much-anticipated dugout canoe racing, undertaken under conditions of high winds and choppy seas. This was a delightful and hilarious event during which Dinis - an ebullient Azores-Portugese Canadian immigrant, and pretty soft-spoken Cindy of Distant Shores - took not just one but two dunkings in the sea. Then Allen and Kathy of Love Song - as lithe and fit as any American you'll ever meet - struggled vainly to keep up with the older couple, chief John Ruka and Lillian who have seven children...as scores of locals and yachties hooted from the shore. Leslie took a spin with Willy, the chief's nephew, as Philip was feeling a bit under the weather, and she reports that without Willy she'd have dunked too. Keeping these dugouts from overturning requires practice! Perhaps that's why you see kids who can barely hold a paddle, tootling around in their parents' canoe.
After another hearty lunch of island fare and brief respite, dozens huddled around for a dramatic session of storytelling about historic events in the Solomon Islands - warring tribes and head-hunting. The story was ably narrated while the chief and warriors enacted the events, including an impressive demonstration on building a fire without matches and the showing of ancient enemy skulls - normally stored in a kastom house off limits to us outsiders - that were sufficiently disfigured to have suggested that the men suffered from violent deaths.
Later we toured a village kitchen and "biki" or earth oven, and were shown how traditional puddings of cassava, kumala and yams are prepared for a feast. The rich puddings, some flavored with roasted coconut and ground nuts, were sampled by all. A leisurely afternoon of visiting, plus the viewing and purchasing of crafts and carvings, was followed by yet another session of traditional dancing, singing and pan pipes, this time performed by a group - with women clad in banana leaf tops - from neighboring Sandfly Island. As the sun set, we were treated to the presentation and blessing of our feast, where a live pig was carried in on a pole along with the cooked meat of the feast pig wrapped in palm leaves, plus feast puddings in gorgeous, elaborately-decorated flower and palm leaf vessels. The bountiful food was shared by scores of visitors and locals alike as darkness fell. Full of food and warmth, we all reluctantly departed the shore for our yachts.
The two day yacht festival at Roderick Bay was one of the best festivals we have ever attended in our nine years of cruising around the Pacific Ocean. John and Lillian, and their large extended family organized and implemented a truly-memorable cultural festival and we feel so lucky to have had the chance to experience the rich culture of the Nggela people right in the heart of their village.
After the festival, we chose to stay at Roderick Bay to take the opportunity to enjoy its peace and try to organize our existence after months of constant traveling. While there, we began to plan for an unexpected medical situation...unfortunately the situation escalated and Philip experienced a heart attack ("the event") while free-diving to clean Carina's hull. Thankfully it was only a minor heart attack and we were able to obtain help from our hosts, the Ruka clan.
The short story was that we were able to get to Honiara aboard Carina - with the help of John and his nephew George - and Philip had a doctor's visit, an EKG, and then an air evacuation to Cairns, Australia. During a nine day stay, he was treated successfully at Cairns Base Hospital with an angioplasty and stent. He is back aboard - after an annoying immigration delay - and feeling much better...though there is, as you may expect, a much longer story to tell.
On this subject, we apologize to all of you who we have been unable to thank personally as we received an overwhelming number of supportive emails during this busy, stressful time. Just today we have arrived back at Roderick Bay and hope to catch up on our communications. Please know we appreciated every message; thank you!
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake