Back to Santos…and a few farewells | Pacific Voyagers

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Back to Santos…and a few farewells

August 1, 2012

Not long after our previous blog last Sunday, the captains of the fleet jointly decided it would be best for the vakas to go directly to Luganville again on Espiritu Santos island to take refuge from the weather and await the winds to turn in our favour. Because of the difficult wind directions we had been experiencing since departing Honiara, Santos was already directly ahead of our sail path so it was pretty much a straight shot from where we were across to the island. We still had to aim for the southern tip of the island however, to get around it and into the narrow passage towards Luganville. The winds were quite fierce and only increased their ferocity as we drew closer to the island so we had to focus as best we could on our steering to get as Southerly a heading as possible. We did pretty well to hold our course to the South and not take the faster, easier option and let the wind take us more to the North. It took us a night and a day to come within sight of the island, which meant we sighted her in the late afternoon on Monday. We didn’t quite clear the point but we arrived about 5 miles shy of it which meant we only needed 2 tacks to actually clear it and get into the calmer waters in the lee of the island, and then make our final approach towards Luganville. These ‘easy’ tacks didn’t quite go as we planned however as the wind was distorted from wrapping around the island when we got closer to it. This meant that we were not gaining much ground at all from the tacks and it actually took us most of the second night (Monday night) to clear this point and get into the lee…which we finally managed to do an hour or so before dawn on Tuesday morning.

By the time we came up for our next shift at 9am, we were just entering the narrow channel that marks the final scenic approach towards Luganville town. The sun was finally peeking through the light grey clouds above us, a strange but welcome sight, as we had not really seen her lovely warm face for almost a week! Behind us we could see the angry weather that we had just fought our way through…wind and rain-filled grey clouds with areas of menacing dark blue and black closer to the sea, indicating where the worst of the squalls would be. Within it, visibility was down to only a few hundred metres due to the torrential rain. That rain would be whipping along almost horizontally, driven violently to this state by the troubled gusting winds. When we were in the midst of that maelstrom, we are almost constantly soaked to the skin and miserably cold from the wind chill effect. Now that we had emerged into this very different world of calm waters, dry decks, shorts & t-shirts, gentle wind, slow comfortable sailing, and warm sunshine, it felt very alien indeed….almost unfamiliar…like living in a carwash for a week, getting used to the wet conditions, and then suddenly re-emerging into a warm & tranquil Sunday afternoon.

The trip through the channel (between the main island on our port and a smaller one on our starboard), was uneventful although we did maintain a good lookout upfront in case we encountered any floating logs or debris in the water. It had been raining over the last few days in Santos and there might’ve been a bit of rubbish washed down the rivers into the ocean which is why we were being cautious. However, fortunately for us we didn’t encounter anything except a few curious turtles who popped up a few times to check us out, much to the delight of Terii who was on duty with us…she is always keen to see any ocean life and this time was no different as we watched her rush to each side of the vaka to catch a better view of our turtle sightseers.

It took just under 3 hours to get through the channel and then to tie up at the small wharf which was just outside of town. It was actually the same wharf we moored at when we were last here at Santos a few weeks ago, so we were familiar with the approach and it took us only a short time to secure ourselves in a good position. Uto ni Yalo and Te Matau a Maui were a few hours behind us so we set ourselves up and had lunch while we awaited their arrival. As we had gotten closer to the wharf we had been trying to raise the local ports authorities and customs people so they could come to meet and clear us…however we couldn’t get them at all on the radio which was puzzling. When we tied up at the wharf and spoke to a couple of the local boys there, we found out it was a public holiday in Vanuatu for the start of their Independence Celebrations, so obviously everything was closed! After so much time at sea we were extremely keen to get off the vaka and stretch our legs, and maybe visit some shops…but to our dismay we couldn’t even step onto the land until we were cleared!! Just our luck! L So we were a little downhearted at the prospect of spending another night confined to the vaka, with land literally right there in front of us…but luckily the customs guys got wind of our arrival and turned up in the late afternoon just after the other 2 vakas had also arrived! They processed us in less than an hour which everyone was really happy about as we were then able to scramble out to a few shops and grab the desirables of life…i.e. fresh water, showers, fizzy drinks and junk food lol :P

The 3 of us, Uto ni Yalo, Te Matau, and Marumaru, spent 2 nights together at this wharf recovering our strength, doing repairs and cleaning our vakas. We were basically just awaiting the arrival of the rest of the fleet so all the Captains could sit down and plan the next move since the wind was not cooperating with us. This other group of vakas were coming around the Northern tip of Santos and then approaching us from the East…so being the largest island in the Vanuatu group this took them quite awhile! On the second night we had the vaka Okeanos join us at about 1am. This was a surprise because they are the smallest vaka and we did not expect them to get there so quickly, let alone before all the others! But Captain Thompson of Okeanos must’ve worked his magic to get them there to us! It was a welcome surprise and those who were still awake had a great time sharing a few bowls of kava and catching up with our friends from Okeanos.

Early the next morning, those of us who were already in the wharf were up early and preparing to move. Tua and Cap had found a hotel the day before, The Beachside Inn, that had kindly offered to host all the vakas! The hotel prided itself on being an environmentally friendly operation, and after researching us a bit and what our voyage stood for, they were only too happy to offer us their fantastic facilities! They were a beachfront hotel with quite a deep lagoon which would enable us to beach our Vakas right up onto the sand!

It had an enclosed block of rooms in the shape of a large rectangle, with rooms built around an open central dining and bbq area…i.e. perfect for us to cook, gather for meetings, and basically do our own thing without disturbing any of the hotel guests. It was perfect for us, and we thank the owners very much for their offer and assistance!
The location was approximately 300m from the wharf so it only took a few minutes to move there…just in time for the other vakas of the fleet (Haunui, Hine Moana, Faafaite), to arrive and take our spots at the wharf so they could be cleared…they would join us at the hotel’s beach later on that day after they were processed by customs.  While waiting for them at the hotel we made use of the time to do a bit more work on Marumaru. Some of us itemised and packed all our new supplies away (that were bought the day before), while some of us made us of the shallow water by giving our hulls a good scrub to try and clean off the gathering barnacles and plant growths. After those tasks everyone went and tidied up our own individual bunks and areas to make sure our vaka was looking as good as possible! With those tasks accomplished by late morning we then had some free time to go out and about. Some went to find internet or to get simcards, while others just went to find their favourite foods or to start exploring the town area and planning a few tours and excursions for the next day.  We had a meeting at 4pm that everyone had to be back at the hotel for so there was no time to start exploring too far off the beaten track just yet…

Everyone gathered for the meeting that afternoon at the central area between the rooms and listened as Tua layed out a few ground rules for behaviour and how to conduct ourselves at the hotel. Just before the meeting, the skippers had a quick chat and it was discovered that there were about 10 crew members leaving the very next day to fly home, including myself. We were all meant to fly out from New Caledonia when the Vakas arrived there but with the delay in schedules due to the difficult weather, we now had to fly from Santos to catch our flights in Noumea, as the bookings could not be altered and we would risk losing our flights. Some of us were departing in the morning and some in the evening.  Due to these departures of quite a few of our close friends, Tua and the skippers jointly decided to have a small farewell function for us that evening at the central area…it would also double as a celebration for all the vakas being reunited once again after a few weeks apart.

It was a beautiful night! Everyone pitched in to help with the food preparations and the bbq…and everyone had good fun just chatting with each other…catching up with friends we hadn’t seen for awhile…and having last conversations with friends that we may not see again. Despite the impending gloom of the morning, when we would have to farewell some of our brothers and sisters who had voyaged with us along all these thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean, everyone had a fantastic evening and we were all very grateful to the skippers and Tua for putting on such a function for us and giving us the opportunity to spend an important and heartfelt last few social hours with our voyaging families!
The next morning, the first group of departees, including myself, were up before dawn gathering our things and making sure we had taken care of all we needed to before we left. We were finally ready to leave at around 7am, and we said our last goodbyes to our crew members, our captains, our Vakas and our friends….before setting off on a pickup truck with Tua and Captain Jonathan to deliver us. As fate would have it we of course had to take one wrong turn and get lost for a bit, but luckily with the combined skills of a Captain and a Master Navigator in the front seats, they were able to get us back on the right track in time to catch our flights!

It was a strange feeling when we were checked in and finally had to say goodbye to Tua and Jonathan…as if the last vestiges of our connection to the voyage were now being severed as we made our way home by a much faster form of travel…

We did not feel alone exactly,  as there were 5 of us travelling together (Karen, Naebo, Ryan, David – from Hine Moana, & myself), but there was definitely a feeling of unspoken emptiness that we each now felt…a void now open within us…like that feeling you get when you’ve left something behind, but can’t quite remember what it is…but it’s there in the back of your head constantly, bothering you that something is not quite right…what did we leave behind?…what did we forget?….an item? Some clothing? Or something more…a part of us perhaps? Was it that we had just become so accustomed to our lives aboard the vakas, or was it something deeper, that we now had an intangible and almost physical connection to the Vakas?  Captain Peia is always telling us that when it is time to depart Marumaru Atua, it should be difficult, almost painful to leave, because you have put so much of yourself into her, in the form of blood, sweat and tears, that you cannot help but feel attached! And I can tell you that this is exactly what each of us was feeling…we never really spoke about it…each content to explore these thoughts on our own…but knowing full well that we were each thinking the same thing…each of us deep within thoughts of our friends & family still in Santos, and of our own traditional canoes that we had grown to love…that we now missed, almost like we would miss a person.

Shortly afterwards, we began our flights and we had to push these thoughts aside to go through the motions of flying…but I’m sure they will resurface as soon as we each get to our individual homes and begin to reminisce about our time when we were lucky enough to be a part of the greatest traditional voyage of our age…Te Mana o te Moana!

On a personal note, I would like to personally thank Mr. Paulmann, Tua Pittman, Captain Peia, all the skippers and crew, and my parents and family, for a fantastic opportunity, an amazing voyage, and a cherished experience. One that has touched and changed my life to a huge degree! I would also like to send my love, thoughts and prayers to my family aboard Marumaru Atua as well as all my friends aboard our ‘younger’ sister vakas! I am already missing our Vaka, the life, and all you guys! Hope to see you all again soon! Please remember that each of you have a home with me at any time if you find yourself steering a course towards Rarotonga! Meitaki Maata from the bottom of my heart! Kia Manuia and safe sailing to you all…until we meet again!

Alexander Teariki Olah
My last entry on behalf of Marumaru Atua…
Now making my way home…

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