Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mid-summer's day in Lusalava, Gaua

Some friends arrived in Peterson Bay, just as we were preparing to leave, telling us of their too close encounter with the coral on the way in. I tried to suppress a rising feeling of smugness when we successfully wove our way through the coral heads and escaped the anchorage with the last of the light. They made up for their navigational error with an admirably laid-back attitude - "we've probably just lost some bottom paint". I'd like to be as relaxed about such mistakes but still have some way to go.

I was looking forward to a easy night sail to Lusalava Bay in Gaua, but it wasn't to be. We started well - reaching into 15 knots of wind - but once clear of the island the swell built up and the wind died. After an hour of dispiriting attempts to sail, I furled the genoa, secured the main, set the egg-timer for half an hour and went to sleep. After a couple of hours of fitful slumber, the wind returned, bringing squally rain showers and giving me a soaking while I reefed the main. Still at least we were sailing. Later in the morning as we rounded the north coast of Gaua I discovered I'd made a tactical navigation error by approaching on the leeward side. I realised too late, that Lausalava lay on the windward side of the north-coast, resulting in three hours beating against the strengthening wind in short-steep seas to make 6 miles along the coast. We took turns alternately helming then huddling under the spray hood to avoid the worst of water from the waves breaking over the bow.

Eventually we found the break in the reef marking the anchorage and slowly made our way in. What a contrast, at the entrance we'd been clinging on to the rolling boat to stop us loosing our footing but quickly found ourselves in a well-protected anchorage with background accompaniment of the surf crashing on the reef protecting us.

The chief came to meet us at the landing spot. After introductions, I attempted to comment on the beauty of the village, but was cut-short, the chief pointing out that we'd yet to be given the tour. After this unpromising start, I think we warmed to each other; I enjoyed his sense of humour, especially as he appeared to enjoy my jokes.

The women from Gaua have created a unique musical form - water music. They splash about in the sea and different sounds emerge as though they're hitting assorted underwater drums. There was much excitement in the village as ten women have been selected to perform at the UN water conference in Zaragoza, Spain in August. Most of the party haven't travelled outside Vanuatu before, some of them haven't travelled outside Gaua. I'd love to hear what they make of Spain and what Spain makes of them.
The following days the children of the village became less wary of us and started heading out to the boat in dug out canoes, with gifts of fruit and vegetables. Invariably the eldest was the paddler and the youngest employed bailing out the leaking canoe. We raided our stores for reciprocal gifts and offloaded oatmeal bars, tee-shirts and fish-hooks.The day following our arrival, the Swedish yacht Eos arrived, this generated much excitement from Charlotta as she was looking for fellow Scandinavians to share celebrations for mid-summer day. I didn't realise the significance of this festival in Sweden. A whole day was put aside to preparing banana cake, lemon madeleines, papaya crumble and home-made mayonnaise.We'd been night fishing the previous evening, with chief Paul, from the neighbouring village. We provided some torch batteries, the dinghy and spear gun and he supplied his knowledge and expertise. In the water Charlotta and I supported Paul with the spear-gun and catch-bag, struggling to keep-up as he beckoned us over to yet another lobster he'd discovered. The final count was ten lobsters and one crab.On the way back to shore I glanced at chief Paul driving the dinghy, it was a dark night, but could clearly make out his huge smile; Cheshire-cat like he'd almost entirely disappeared leaving only his bright smiling teeth.We kept two decent sized lobsters for our mid-summer celebrations and the remainder was distributed around the village.The home-made mayonnaise was my idea to accompany our lobster. Mayonnaise making without a whisk turned out to be a lot of effort and without mild oil, the end result was disappointing. Still the remainder of the food was delicious, we shared most of the desserts at a water music practice session, and then returned to Eos, for lobster, followed by Janson's Temptation and runny chocolate cake. I wonder if the Druids enjoy this kind of feast annually at Stonehenge and do they allow single day membership?

We'd arranged to give Lazarus, the village baker, a lift to Sola (Vanua Lava) for a relative's funeral. On the morning of our departure I met him at the boat landing surrounded by a large party. Not sure if this was a normal farewell crowd or a gathering to get the last glimpse of Lazarus before he risked all on the voyage with the "waetman". He proved a enthusiastic and able crew on an uneventful sail to Sola, answering our questions about island life and pulling all the right lines when asked. We waved him farewell at the beach in Sola as he set off at a cracking pace for his four hour hike across country to a village on the other side of the island, leaving us with a freshly baked loaf and great memories from our stay in Gaua.

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