October 23, 2011

Windy With Turtles and a Chance of Dugongs

We've been hunkered down in Epi for the past day waiting for squally weather to pass. The sail here was excellent--the kind of downwind ride (past live volcanoes and grass-hut villages) that cruising sailors dream of. When we arrived we strolled through the village, greeting and being greeted by the locals, then we set up an excellent dinner at the local guest house, Paradise Bungalows. Over dinner (and under the eerie glow of Ambrym's volcanos) we learned that the dugongs we hoped to see had moved their prime residence across the bay--to Lamen Island which is on the downwind side of some fierce winds so we decided we'd have to make do with turtles. Lots of turtles. Huge turtles--the biggest being in the 1 m range.

Turtles seem to be everywhere in Lamen bay and every time one of us looked out from the boat we'd see a few. Initially we'd all traipse out on deck and watch the ungainly looking creatures drift around on the surface--stretching their necks to gulp air in the choppy seas before diving. After a while they just got a brief glance. Who can imagine getting tired of giant sea turtles?

Being hunkered down is making me a bit anxious because we've slowed our progress. The first of the boats we've been traveling with are beginning to close on Australia and another group (including Connect 4) plan to leave tomorrow. I've been waking up--filled with doubt, thinking maybe we should be getting ready to leave rather than eking the last days out of the season on our own. At our current rate we'll be watching for weather for our own departure sometime around the 29th. Which also means we may well be at sea for the most-important-holiday of the year. Which I've also been waking at 3am to worry about.

For a stress-free life (and seriously, how much more low key can it get: remote village, sea turtles, fascinating local people) the fact I'm feeling guilty about missing trick-or-treating and worrying about whether we are a week or so behind the main crowd seems a bit silly. But I find that every so often out here my stress kind of builds to a peak--most of it is about the uncertainty. Is this life fair to Maia? (The harm caused by missing trick-or-treating aside--she seems remarkably happy out here). Are our choices (especially when we diverge from the pack) the right ones? (Happily when we listened to the morning net this morning we discovered there are several boats on the same schedule we are (not to mention a few more that are further behind.) Have we seen the right things? Gone to the right places? Should we have stuck with our buddy boats and just gone to Tanna?

This is an uncertain life. The only way to know we've done it right is in hindsight. But I guess that is true of any life.

The sail today started nicely and built to raucous. The currents at the southern end of Malakula have been whipped up by the days of reinforced trades. We abandoned our first attempt to get through the reef and into the Maskeleyne Islands when white-knuckle terror (and the fact it was impossible to distinguish between reef and washing machine seas) made us turn off. There is no room for error out here.

Pounding into seas--which came from everywhere and rose to sharp breaking points--away from the island we wanted, looking for another entrance through the reef made me wish I was a) in a peaceful harbour having a drink b) at home reading a book about adventure in the bath or c) with another boat, so I could at least call on the radio and commiserate.

Actually it mostly made me wish I were the sort of person who didn't become afraid. I wished my clenched fists and dry mouth knew what my head does--that there is no real danger, just discomfort. No, I wish I was the sort who thought this stuff was exciting, who relished these moments on the edge: Who thought skirting a reef in steep seas, strong currents, gusty winds and fading light was heaps of fun.

The third reef break was manageable. And now we're tucked into a deep, calm bay. We're not in the village we were trying for--a kastum, small namba village that still lives the way it did when Cook came across these islands. We're a few kilometers away in an unpopulated bay. But as we anchored a dugong surfaced near the boat. And in retrospect--the afternoon was okay really.

Tomorrow we'll try for the village--where we plan to go on a dugout canoe tour. Perhaps, like the dugong we'll relish it more when it's harder earned.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As Bobby McFarrin says: "Don't worry, be happy".