The village that no one can spell
Trip Start May 11, 2012
16Trip End Ongoing
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What I did
We were visited by two gales along the way. The first only lasted a day; the second settled in for two. The wind howled outside like a toddler having a tantrum, whipping up the waves with its stroppy gusts then blowing their tops off but we reduced sail, hove to, and snuggled up inside whilst Island Prism pottered along at 2 knots. We were glad of my advance food preparation, and reheated stews and chillies which I had stored away in the fridge. My carefully stowed vegetables, purchased from Whangarei Farmer's Market, lasted well and kept us going through the voyage- not once did we have to resort to the old sailor's standby of pork and beans
There were magical moments. One day the wind was perfect and the swells had vanished. Prism steamed along under full sail, through blue water as smooth as glass, and I kept watch in glowing sunshine. Some of the nights were incredible, when the moon sparkled over the water, or when there was no moon at all, and the skies were so clear that all of the Milky Way was visible and I felt like I could see forever.
We reached the island of Aneityum with a stiff wind behind us; reinforced trade winds had us flying past the reefs and into the harbour entrance. The harbour itself was peaceful, fringed with white sands and coral. We hoisted the yellow quarantine flag to indicate that we were waiting for Customs to come and clear us in. It began to rain; we hopped out on deck in our swimwear, hoping for enough of a downpour to wash off the salt from our travels. The weather did not feel like cooperating and the rain kept to a trickle, so we heated up saucepans of water to wash the traditional way. Jim opened up a tin of chicken pie, and roasted up some of the potatoes from our stores. I struggled to stay awake long enough to eat, and slept like a log.
The following day, we got up early to clean up the boat and convert her from passage to cruising mode
The village turned out to be a very pleasant place. Nobody can quite agree on the spelling, including the villagers themselves, so it is sometimes Analgawat, or Anelcawat, or Anelcahuat. We were warmly welcomed as soon as we got out of the dinghy, and were told that we were free to explore. It was an odd sensation, being on land after 11 days at sea. I felt as if the ground was swaying beneath me, as if my brain was so used to sloshing back and forth that it couldn't stop. Occasionally it would all get too much and I would lose my ability to walk in a straight line. The locals must have thought I was very strange indeed- or perhaps they are used to seeing disorientated sailors wobbling around the place. I just had to hope that they didn't think I'd been at the rum already..
Our first task was to visit the immigration agent to get our passports stamped. We knew from Timothy that he was to be found at the primary school, but it quickly became clear that the school had no signposts. We felt rather lost as we wandered through the concrete basketball court and across the sandpit; it was like playing a game of hide and seek when you have never met the person you are seeking. Eventually we asked for help, and Patrick, a teacher on vacation, showed us the way. The curmudgeonly immigration officer was staying in a guest house next to the school, and stamped our passports on a bench outside, next to the dishes put our to dry, whilst trying not to let anything blow away. I evidently did a good enough job of standing up straight that I was allowed to remain in the country- though with my swaying brain I'm sure it was touch and go for a few minutes.
That done, we decided to explore the village. It was what you imagine a village on a small Pacific island to be like. The houses were beautifully woven from bamboo with palm thatch, surrounded by neat little gardens of tropical flowers and plants with brightly hued leaves. The trees were all festooned with fruit, and stands of bamboo clattered in the wind as small children with sharp machetes ran off to the bush to help their mothers. Miraculously, they all seemed to have their full count of fingers and toes, and swung at grasses and sticks with joyful abandon. Everybody else seems very laid back- wandering around unhurriedly or sitting to talk under a banyan tree. Everybody had a smile, and many paused to introduce themselves and find out who we were and where we were from.
We soon met Ben, who turned out to be the Year 5/6 teacher at the school. He showed us the weather station and one of the stores, and promised that his mother could make us bread. The store was small, and full of tinned fish, biscuits and dozens of baskets of oranges. Jim's face lit up at the sight of the oranges; our fresh rations were dwindling fast and we were down to a scattering of potatoes and a rather withered parsnip, so the juicy fruits just off the trees were quite a treat. Jim had polished off most of the ten oranges we purchased within an hour.
In the afternoon, we took the dinghy out to Mystery Cruise ships visit a few times a month, but other than that it is uninhabited. We had the whole of the island to ourselves, with its coral sand beaches and fringing reefs. The snorkeling was excellent, with colourful coral bommies, thousands of fish and even an octopus lurking in a hole in the coral sand. We found giant clams and hosts of anemones with their resident clownfish watching us warily. We returned the next day, startling a turtle (who sadly was camera shy) and enjoying a picnic with the bread that Ben's mum had made for us.
Then calamity struck. Our solar panel had been working very well at providing us with power, but occasionally the batteries need additional topping up by running the engine. We turned the engine on and it immediately began vomiting oil. Jim quickly shut the engine down and carried out a thorough examination, leading him to deduce that the leak was in one of the inaccessible rear seals. Normally Jim would pull out the engine with the help of a crane, but there is a definite shortage of cranes on remote tropical island, so he had to rig up a hoist using the mainsheet and running backstays instead. I got quite a workout when I had to winch the heavy engine out of its housing. Unfortunately an adapter was in the way of the seal, and proved impossible to move, so Jim was unable to refine his diagnosis. As remote tropical islands are also not known for having hardware stores, we had to replace the engine and abandon paradise for somewhere where we might be able to solve the problem.