Wala

Sophie is starting her day nestled behind Wala Island, gently rocking as a rain shower passes overhead. 1558’632 S, 16722’437 E. Please note how our lattitude keeps getting smaller as we continue to journey north.

We woke up yesterday at Awei Island hearing a snort outside the boat. A dugong cow and her big baby were swimming around 10 meters behind Sophie. The dugong looked like a big brown hippo in the water, except for when it dived and showed off its dolphin tail. Her baby stayed right by her side the whole time. They hung around Sophie for 2 minutes, then went away. I never had “See a dugong cow and her enormous baby” on my bucket list, but it felt like a bucket list moment.

Actually, I don’t have a bucket list. My life is a bucket list.

It was 7:00 AM and sunny, the forecast was for ~19 knots of wind from the SE, and Jenna and I decided to take off for an anchorage on the north tip of Ambrym Island, 30 miles away. If it was too rough, we could always turn and sail with the wind back to Malakula. As we turned the corner and began to motor up the Northwest Channel away from our anchorage, the wind picked up to 25 knots apparent on the nose, and we were riding a 2 knot ebb tide that helped push us along. When the wind blows against a fast current, it makes the waves become tall and steep, and at the entrance to the channel we were motoring through 10 foot standing waves at 7+ knots. From the wheel we could see how the waves ended once we got through the entrance to the reef, but it made for an interesting 10 minute roller coaster ride. Once we cleared the channel the waves calmed down, we put 2 reefs in the main and pulled out a full jib, and enjoyed a fun sunshine sail for 15 miles up to the western tip of Ambryn. Our cellphones started working again, and we even posted some pictures to Facebook and Instagram.

As we rounded Ambrym, the wind swung around to the north. This created a bit of a problem for us, because our intended anchorage was 15 miles away and looked like it was exposed to the north. Given the wind, we reluctantly turned and set course for Wala and Rano islands, another 35 miles away on the north side of Malakula. Jenna was bummed because she had hoped to spend 2 days learning more about the mountain culture on the island. They have a large and active volcano there, they also do some unique dances involving giant masks in the shape of cones that go all the way down to the dancers’ shoulders.

But at least we were sailing downwind on our warmest and sunniest day in a couple of weeks. We lost 2 fish on this leg. The first was a 4-5 kilo mahi mahi that we caught on a Riebling via a long meat line. We got it onto the deck, and I tried a new technique that David on Flour Girl told me: if you grab a mahi mahi’s tail and bend it up towards its head, the fish completely stops flapping around. It worked! We then removed the hook and looped the red rope that Melissa Ahlers gave us around the fish’s tail. We have started bleeding our fish by dragging them in the water behind the boat. This makes for better tasting meat. (And yes, Melissa, we are using your rope to do so. But we haven’t reached the point where we say “OK, it’s time to Melissa that fish”.)

Anyway, as we were about to Melissa that fish, but its tail slipped out of the loop and the fish drifted away from the boat. Goodbye mahi mahi, hello shark snack.

The second fish we lost was a flying fish. There are tens of thousands of them around here, easily the most we have seen in the Pacific. I was up at the wheel and one caught the corner of my eye. He picked the wrong moment to launch off a wave and arced high and long directly onto Sophie’ trampoline. I yelled and started running for it, because fresh flying fish make the best bait in the Pacific. He saw me coming, rolled three times, found the edge of the trampoline net, and then fell back into the water. Oh well.

By the time we rounded Wala Island, it was 4:30 in the afternoon and we had sailed almost 60 miles. But it was still warm and sunny, and the island’s village was bathed in golden light as we dropped anchor next to the beach. Soon a fellow named George paddled out in his dugout and invited us to dinner at his house. I was pretty tired after a long day of sailing and asked if we could do so tonight instead. This was most likely a social faux pas on my part in this culture, but he said tonight would be fine. He also offered to walk us around the village and arrange tours or another Nambas dance for us. Thirty minutes later a fellow named Donny and his 2 buddies paddled up and asked if we wanted any coconut crabs. These are apparently the largest crabs in the world. He said he would climb some trees at night and bring us 2 or 3 this morning. He said he would charge only ~$7 for a 2 kilo crab. We said YES! 30 minutes later a fellow named David paddled up and asked if we knew anything about inverters. The inverter for his solar panel was showing a red and a green light, and it was supposed to show only a green light. It might need a fuse. He also asked if we had any spark plugs, because his generator won’t start and he thinks it is the spark plug. He offered us grapefruit in return. We said YES!

I would have helped him without the offer of grapefruit, you know.

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