Micronesia Voyage
 
E-mail Report By Bill Beadle     

 

Installment #1                                                         March 2, 2007


 Hokulea and Alingano Maisu

Aloha, friends and loved ones....
For some of you this is a voyage, long discussed, that has finally come to
pass, for others,  this note will come as a surprise.  I am e-mailing from
the town of Kolonia, capital of the Federated States of Micronesia.  Just
arrived two days ago to meet up with the Kama Hele, a 48' sloop, that is
the escort boat for two traditional Polynesian voyaging canoes on a 5 month trip from Hawaii to Japan.  I have volunteered for a month as crew with some good friends on the power sailer.  Quite the adventure.....look up "third world
and you are liable to see Micronesia.  Kolonia  as the largest town of 34,000 has a nice variety of services....from here out it will get sketchy and even more adventurous.

    

The greeting has been warm and a real taste of culture, from gov't officials chewing betel nuts during Sakau or Kava ceremonies, to being hosted to a fruit buffet for lunch at the local public school to impromptu hulas to the sound of the Sakau being pounded.  Sakau is a narcotic drink made from the root of a pepper plant. The first taste numbs the lips and tongue, the fourth glass leaves you in a very mellow stupor....very nice for contemplating the meaning of the universe or where belly button lint comes from.
 Today 40 of us from the two canoes and Kama Hele are being treated to a tour of Nan Midol, called Venice of the Pacific, an ancient village built upon artificial islands in a lagoon with canals connecting all of the structures....mid 1400s, before western contact in 1620, makes you wonder.

Anyways, just thought I would share the latest in a long string of "once in a lifetime" opportunities that have landed on my path.

Aloha, Pila Poi Boy
aka, Bill Beadle

Installment #2                         March 10, 2007

                     Aloha,

               We spent three glorious days motor sailing from Ponape to Chuuk with the two canoes in tow. The weather was perfect,  ending in a glassy sea under a half moon the last night out.  We arrived outside the pass through the reef a few hours before sunrise so we cast off the tow.  The National Geo. photog. on our boat spent an hour shooting pics of the canoes (with us snapping away in his shadow).  It was absolutely stunning.  After shooting his fill (1000 exposures). We went fishing and immediatley caught a small Mahi-mahi for breakfast sashimi.  A few hours later, we arrived at our anchorage off of the college and were welcomed with speeches dancing, and food.  Today Cap'n Mike has given me shore leave to go diving in Chuuk Lagoon, home to a graveyard of numerous Japanese ships sunk by the US in WWII.

  

               Tomorrow it is off to Satawal and the biggest celebration of all, the presentation of one of the canoes to Mau Pialaug, the father of "modern" movement in non instrument navigation.  He taught the Hawaiians 30 years ago.

If you are interested you can follow the voyage at pvshawaii.com, I think,
or google Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Aloha, Bill                          

                             Installment # 3                                                      March 27, 2007
 Wow, well, the last time I put a short note out, we were sitting in the lagoon at Chuuk.  We stayed at the Blue Lagoon resort, rather nice little enclave in a very depressed and poor area of the world.  There is about 35% unemployment there and it shows.  My highlight of the stay was the two dives on Japanese freighters that were sank in "Operation Hailstorm" in WWII.  Chuuk was one of the launching and reprovisioning points for the Japanese fleet,  literally dozens of wrecks lie in the Lagoon within dive depths. The two we dove had Japanese planes below decks, all kinds of memorabilia to fondle and examine.  Quite a slice of history.

Upon leaving Chuuk the two traditional canoes sailed the entire way to Satawal, a distance of approximately 220 miles.  Using only natural input, (stars, seas, birds, sun), they navigate directly to the very small island in the middle of nowhere....really amazing.  Once there, we had a truly unbelievable experience.  The Satawalese still live off of the ocean and the land.  They went all out to welcome us with leis, head wreathes, dancing and singing.  Yes, the women were all topless, and overweight and old.....watch what you wish for guys.  We think they hid all of the young nubile girls until we left.  Enough of that.

  
 Bill gone native!

              The purpose of going to Satawal was Mau Pialaug, master navigator, the man who, 32 years ago, navigated the Hokulea voyaging canoe to Tahiti.  In the process he started the training of Hawaiian navigators, like Nainoa Thompson, Shorty Bertellman, Chad Paison, etc.  Mau is old and ill and the Bertelman family started an effort 5 years ago to build an ocean voyaging canoe for Mau to use in teaching navigation to Micronesian youth.  Mau's son Tesaurio and several other Micronesians were along on the Alingano Maisu for the voyage from Hawaii.  The highlight of our stay was the Pwo ceremony, where 13 navigators, including the Hawaiians listed above, were inducted into the "Navigator's Guild" for lack of a better term.  Mau presided, marking the bodies of the navigators with turmeric and other coloring, Binding the wrists with hemp, "blessing" them with palm leaves which then became "crowns" of a sort.  They each received lengths of cloth in special patterns which were tied

  
 Mau Pialaug

               around their waist in a cummerbund manner.  He asked questions and administered oaths individually, with the supplicant kneeling before him.  During all of this activity in the canoe house, the women sat off to the side in the shade and would break out in song and clapping periodically.   You get the idea, pretty wild stuff.  That afternoon they finished cooking and serving the seven sea turtles which had been roasting on the beach, no I didn't try it...for reasons I would rather not discuss.  The entire experience was like being in a Natl. Geo special, with the accompanying maladies of dysentery, fevers and infections afflicting our "westernized" systems.  On a side note, St. Paddy's Day was celebrated on the Kama Hele with Corned Beef, Cabbage and Potatoes accompanied by 4 X beer and Irish pub music on the stereo.

  
 Capt. Mike Taylor, Kama Hele

               Leaving Satawal, we sailed due west to Woleaia for a short visit.  Arriving at daybreak, we went ashore and were greeted once again by the "greeting gauntlet", everyone on the island wanted to shake your hand.  All of the visiting crews were given leis, headdresses and a good turmeric torso rub down, which is basically a yellow chalk which you then leave on anything you touch.....maybe another way to monitor nubile young maidens....hmmmmmh...  Someone would be standing by with a supply of coconuts to serve up to the thirsty, (a little safer than the catchments water supply). All of the captains and navigators received extra doses of face paint and fabric number, Cap'n Mike Taylor looked especially colorful and I am happy to say I recorded it digitally.  The day finished with a luncheon and departure ceremony at around 1 p.m.
The next leg of the trip took us northwest to Ulithi Atoll, where Max Yarawamai, one of the canoe crew, was born and raised until he was adopted out to Hawaii as a teen.  Talk about

  

               a welcome there!!!! The island of Mog has a 24 hour power system and therefore refrigeration.  No swarms of flies, whew.  We stayed overnight and the day was punctuated by afternoon dance performances by the young girls and then the young men, then it was time for the lobster and crab feast....all you could eat.  Following that was the Tuba circle, I sat in a hammock in the breeze as the sun went down and shared cups of the palm sap liquor with the men of the village.  A little while later it was time for the women's dance performance, followed by the Canoe crews doing their signature Hawaiian "Haka" (more chant and gestures than dance), the evening ended with the men performing their dances, their troop included a peace corp volunteer from Kansas, blond and white, he fit in quite well.

The next day we sailed down the atoll to the small island where Max's parents still live. It was his daughter Ana's first visit.  Quite special.  One of the interesting differences was the fact that the women all wore  tee shirts and the cultivation and drinking of Tuba is prohibited by the chief.  One of the peace corp volunteers said this has had negative effects, much like prohibition in the U.S., underground drinking, smuggling of tuba, etc., like I said....interesting.  We were only there for a few hours, but during our visit we looked at the water catchment systems, foundation for a new medical clinic and the local school.  Max has a project related developing as medical clinic on the island that many of us are excited about getting involved with.  His adopted younger brother Thane is a medical doctor with the National Health System that is stationed in Yap running the hospital, he is going to spearhead the med side of the effort.  Anyway, I digress.


The sail to Yap was fast and fun, downwind run all the way.  Yap is quite developed, the dive industry has generated lots of tourism, the people are industrious and they have a brew pub at the Manta Ray resort.....its been a good visit so far!


For those who care, we have been motor sailing at 6-9 nauts and barely keeping up with the sailing canoes in 12-20 naut winds off of our aft starboard quarter to our beam.  We have the genoa and mainsail up and the Yanmar running at 2500 rpm.  It has been great to see the performance of these canoes.  For the divers in the crowd, the dives were from 60-90 feet in 50' visibility on the Kensho Maro and the "" maru.  The best sea life I have seen was during a solo snorkel off of Satawal; there is a sheer wall that goes from 14' to 80', lots of fish, one small turtle and a five foot black tip shark.  Tomorrow I hope to dive with the Mantas.....


Sorry it was so long, but lots of time in between net cafes...more from Palau next week.

Aloha, Bill
    

                            Installation # 4                                                            April 8, '07

               Aloha,

When I wrote you the last time, I believe we were in Yap.  Yap was a tremendous experience with wonderful receptions and parties.  No sakau ceremonies or tuba circles, but lots of beer and potluck buffets.  The female yapese dance troupe did a seated type of dance with a chanting style that was surreal, almost sounded like some of Enya's songs, very different from the chants we had heard so far. That reception was held at the community center right on the water, an open air basketball court, with the governor of Yap and the paramount chief in attendance.

We did two dives the next day with Yap Divers. The first was a manta ray dive in a channel, two 12 foot mantas showed up at their "cleaning station", where cleaner wrasses perform a vacuuming function for algae on the manta's skin.  The visibility was a little murky, but several sharks showed up to  spice up the dive.  The second dive was a drift outside the reef where Yap Divers do their shark feeding dive.  As soon as the boat stopped the sharks showed up, at least 7 gray reef sharks around 4-5 feet long followed us for the first half of the dive.  The wall was gorgeous, lined with coral and reef fish, it was like being in an aquarium.  Very nice dives.  The Yap Dive operation is located in the Manta Ray Bay Dive resort, right great....especially the 5th and 6th glasses.  Bill Acker from Dallas is the on the water in Yap.  Best part of the place is their brew pub operation, the dark beer was owner and quite a nice guy.

   
 "Irish" Mike Cunningham


From Yap we had a 40 hour sail to Palau.  The president of Palau, Tommy, and his assistant Jennifer Yano, were guest crew on the Hokulea.  One of our crew members from the Kama Hele, Irish Mike Cunningham, was also promoted from the escort boat to Hokulea for the passage. Mike is a great guy, 65 years young, who is a member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society's Board.  I don't know of anyone who has contributed more time, money and resources to the success of the trip, so the upgrade to the bottom of the crew list on Hokulea was well deserved.


The transit was beautiful and unevenful, except for losing the Alingano Maisu, the canoe given to the Micronesians, in the middle of the night.  We were rather stretched out, with Kama Hele in between the two canoes, one on the horizon 3 miles in front, one on the horizon three miles in back, then the Maisu wasn't there any more.  Turns out that the large steering sweep broke in two and it took them some time to get the spare installed.  The net result was waiting for several hours off of the entrance to Palau for them to catch up the next morning.  Our 6 a.m. arrival ceremony took place at 2 p.m.  What a ceremony it was, I, for one, will never forget it!  I was, unfortunately, at the helm of the Kama Hele coming into the anchorage.  We towed the Hokulea into the harbor where a local dive boat took up Hokulea's tow as they felt the channel into the mooring was too shallow for Kama Hele to make it in.  However, two american expatriates (Rita and Rick) in a small boat offered to lead us in following the Hokulea.  That was great except for the fact that 20 other small boats, three war canoes full of paddlers and the two voyaging canoes were right in front of us.  We snake our way into the channel dodging coral heads and get into a postage stamp mooring area with the entire flotilla vying to get the best spot to see the welcoming ceremony.  The canoes had dock space right in front of the Drop Off Bar, site of the ceremony.  But, we were, unsuccessfully, trying to anchor right off of the dock space amongst the 20 skiffs and 3 war canoes.  Dropped our anchor twice, retrieved it twice, dodging coral heads and boats the whole time, in the midst of this a local guy decides to set off fireworks from his boat right next to us, I nearly wet my pants.  Nobody knew he was going to do it, several people thought his boat was on fire after exploding, really funny stuff,,,,,the next day.  Anyways, Shallam Eptison, owner of NECO resort, Drop Off Bar and half of Palau, took sympathy on us and kicked everyone off of half of his fuel dock and waved us in.  I went in fast and came to a skidding stop right on the dime, I felt like Captain Ron.  We tied up and made the ceremony, over 2,000 people were there to greet us, dancers, ceremonial drinks, food, etc., It was absolutely the largest reception of the trip and reflective of Palau's greater affluence, compared to the Federated States of Micronesia.


Palau is paradise, absolutely stunning.  Only 20,000 Palauans live on four large islands connected by bridges.  It is hailed as the best dive location in the world and has a tremendous infrastructure for tourism...very modern with everything you would ever need in a town, including a mexican restaurant with great margaritas.  It has a little bit of the decadence of western life, but not seedy at all.  We stayed in Makalal area within walking distance of the boat.  This was my final port of call as a crew member so I opted, along with Irish, to take a room in the hotel next door and give the crew a little more space. That night Jennifer and Vince Yano hosted a party at their family compound, roast pig, fresh fish, lots of beer and gifts for everyone.  Vince is the local minister of health and Jennifer's dad is the Senate president.  Seems like we met a lot of legislators and government workers during our stay.


We spent the next day working on the Kama Hele and cleaning it up after the voyage, it was great to interact with Shalam, Burt, Heggy and the rest of the people at NECO.  Here is an example of their hospitality: I needed to buy a navigation light for the Kama Hele, they had a small one, but said that Ace Hardware would probably have a larger one.  Instead of drawing me a map, they assigned one of their employees to be my guide to Ace, so I wouldn't get lost....in the US, they would have sold me the small one and not even mentioned the Ace option!


The following day, NECO gave us a free dive trip to the top spots in Palau.  We started with Jellyfish lake, where jellyfish live and breed in brackish water in an inland lake.  Over the years without predators, they have abandoned their stinging defences, so you snorkel among 1,000s of jellyfish and don't get stung...way cool. Next we dove Blue Hole followed by drifting out to Blue Corner.  After lunch and safety break on the boat, we did  another drift out to Blue Corner.  Imagine diving in an aquarium full of reef fish, with schools of barracudas, dozens of sharks, large uluas (jacks) and the most beautiful coral I have seen.....Palau's reputation is well deserved.  Finally, Burt took us to chandeleir cavern, a limestone cave system under one of Palau's Rock Islands.  It was a shallow dive into the cavern and then you rise to an air pocket under stalactites coming down from the cavern roof....we surfaced in four caverns and then turned our lights out and followed the muted sunlight out of the cave entrance, surreal.  We started at 9 a.m. and finished at 5:30 p.m. a long day of spectacular diving, thanks Burt and Shalam for a memorable day.


Irish and I moved to a shared room at the Palau Pacific Resort, a five star facility on the next island. The next two days were spent sight seeing, snorkeling and shopping for a storyboard (a local craft item).  I also traveled the islands with Irish, who does a lot of volunteer work on Palau with the water supply systems, so he knows a ton of people.  One of the highlights was visiting some pump stations on the north island with Adair, the local public works guy, and him treating us to lunch on local mangrove crab and home made tapioca at a local park overlooking ancient monoliths.  The north island is totally undeveloped, but the US has funded a new road which will no doubt lead to resorts and 7-11s, visit soon.....Palau is a place I will go again, hopefully for a few months.


Well, I returned home yesterday via Osaka, Japan.  I was scheduled for a 14 hour layover in Osaka, but due a series of errors, missed my flight.  With an extra day I jumped on a train for Kyoto and wandered around that city for  the day.  It was interesting, but I was really ready to be home with my lovely wife Barb at our luxurious (600sq. ft.) condo.  Like they say, "There's no place like home."

Aloha, Bill