Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tales of Samoa - o le momono i le va'a - The Plug In The Boat

My first experience with Aunu'u was in 1965. When we arrived in Samoa in March of 1965, quite a few consolidated elementary schools were under simultaneous construction, and virtually all of the construction was behind schedule (surprise, surprise! Things are almost ALWAYS behind schedule in Samoa. What's a schedule?)

Although I had been hired as a school principal at the tender young age of twenty-seven, when I first walked into the old office that sat approximately where the entrance to the Rainmaker Hotel now stands, I was told that school assignments for principals were still pending, and that we would be housed temporarily in Tafuna, the new government housing area out near the airport on the main island of Tutuila.

Other school principals were also living temporarily in Tafuna, awaiting school assignments, including Dick Danner, Doug Thorpe, Don Miskovsky, & Harold Hooten. Between us we were loaned an old blue government jeep, which we used to go shopping, visit schools under construction, and most often to drive down the dirt road from Tafuna to the end of the airport runway where there was a nice swimming hole!

One afternoon when the whole unassigned principal corps and families were down there swimming, I was wading out of the water after some snorkeling when I stepped on the dorsal spines of a stonefish. It felt like someone had inserted a hot poker through the arch of my foot and rammed it up past my knee almost to my hip! Needless to say, I let out a huge yelp, and yanked that foot out of the water. As I set the other foot down I managed to place it exactly where the first foot had been, thereby puncturing the sole of that foot on the stonefish too! I tumbled into the shallow water, groaning and causing everyone much concern while I contemplated the ephemeral qualities of life. Fortunately, neither wound was either very deep or particularly serious, evidently due to the fact that I had chosen a very small stonefish to exterminate, and within 40 minutes or so I was able to walk around again.

I was soon assigned to the newly opening Pago Pago Elementary School until the end of the 64-65 school year to work with Cantley George, the first palagi principal, and Mageo, the Samoan principal.

Not long after that, Dick Danner was assigned to become the first principal of Aunu'u Elementary School when it opened for the beginning of the 65-66 school year. I was with him and Tasi Tuato'o when we went out one day to see what progress had been made on the school construction.

When we arrived at the village of Auasi there were the usual number of longboats bobbing at the end of ropes attached to chunks of coral in the calm waters inside the reef, but nobody there to meet us as promised. Tasi proceeded to walk up the road about a hundred yards to the place where the road curved sharply around the point toward the village of Tula. He grabbed a small soft piece of wood and another short stick, and hunkered down just off the road. Using the short stick, he gouged a trough several inches long on the soft wood, and then, his hands and arms working like the pistons on a steam engine, rubbed the small stick back and fort in the groove, faster and faster. In less than a minute there was a wisp of smoke. Just like that there was a tiny fire to which he added other small sticks, then larger sticks. When the fire was well established he dumped a great armful of leaves on the flames, and a column of billowing white smoke rose into the air and blew off toward the west.

Less than ten minutes had passed when we saw another longboat putting out from the beach at Aunu'u. Before long the four rowers and the man working the steering oar had crossed the channel, maneuvered through the cut in the reef, and were jumping out into the shallow water to pull the boat up to the beach.

After greetings, introductions, and handshakes were exchanged we all climbed into the longboat for the crossing to Aunu'u. We waited just inside the narrow passage through the reef called avaava in Samoan. The rowers backpaddled to keep the current from taking us out until the proper moment.

The steersman gave a "ey-io!", and the rowers pulled on the oars, shooting out through the cut, surging over the incoming swell with only a little water splashing into to boat, and we were on our way. The color of the water quickly turned from shades of green to light blue as we reached the deeper water just beyond the reef. The clarity of the water was impressive; you could see the coral on the bottom easily, thirty or forty feet below. Within a hundred yards or so the bottom dropped away and the sea became a wonderful cobalt blue. A couple of flying fish erupted ahead of us as we approached, skimming away just ahead of the cresting swells, extending their gliding paths occasionally with a rapid flippity-flip of their tails on the surface of the water.

About a third of the way across the mile wide channel, Dick Danner, sitting between a couple of the rowers, leaned over toward the bottom of the boat, picked up a wad of leaves, and casually tossed them over the side. Much to our surprise, two men simultaneously shipped their oars with a yank, and standing on the seats, leaped overboard! As we gazed at them in amazement and looked at each other, we saw immediately the cause for their unexpected actions; there was a four-inch fountain jetting up inside the boat from a finger-sized hole that had been drilled next to the keel. It seems that all the longboats had several of these holes drilled right next to the keelson. When pulled up on the beach the holes are left open to drain any water that has splashed inside. Before the boats are put in the water a small cone of banana leaf, rolled tightly, is pushed firmly into each hole, sealing it tightly. The rolled up piece of banana leaf that Dick had so thoughtfully decided to clean up turned out to be the PLUG!

The errant soggy plug was duly retrieved from the water while another one of the longboat crew kept his heel on the open hole. As the two swimmers clambered back over the gunwale and stuffed the rerolled plug back in the drain hole everyone, Samoan and Palagi alike, was laughing so hard that we had trouble staying on the seats. Everyone except poor Dick, who apologized profusely, and spent the rest of the ride across to Aunu'u sitting very quietly!

The tales of the boat, the floating frozen chickens and a near drowning, and another tale of the drifting photographer and her aging mother will have to wait for another posting.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Exploring the Ware River - Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday was a great adventure. Our friends Leslie and Scott drove down to the Mobjack Bay Marina with us in the morning. There were nice 5 mph breezes out of the east as we left the slip about 11:00 a.m., which meant that I could put up the sails as soon as we had cleared the first marker. With the wind coming directly out of the east from the port side, Scott and Leslie took turns sailing down the bay, practicing the skill of making slight adjustments in the steering tiller as the wind veered a few degrees one way or the other, keeping the main and jib filled and sailing at optimum angle.
We sailed way down past Ware Neck Point, and then turned west into the Ware River, and I took the tiller. It's a bit tricky keeping the boat sailing directly downwind with the main sail pushed out on one side and the jib out on the opposite side like a bird with spread wings.
We sailed past a beautiful green marshy area called Windmill Point, swung around almost into the wind, and sailed slowly toward the shore until the depth meter showed 5 feet below the hull, then dropped anchor and lowered the sails. We put up a white sailcloth sunshade over the boom, and Leslie got out nice gourmet box lunches that she had prepared for all of us.
In the past few weeks all the jellyfish that I had seen in great profusion in July have now disappeared, so after eating I put the ladder over the side, and Scott an Jane went overboard for some refreshing swimming in water that was neither too warm or too cool.
Since the east wind was coming off the shore, I was able to raise the
anchor and put up the sails single handed as the breeze gently pushed the boat toward deeper water without starting the motor - something I had been wanting to try.
Now came the challenging part of the days' excursion...sailing directly
into the wind back toward the mouth of the Ware River. The wind had picked up to a good stiff breeze of 10-15 mph, kicking up a stiff two to two and a half foot chop. I zigzagged back and forth, back and forth across the wide river, gaining considerable amounts on each tack, while Scott and Jane took turns hauling in the jibsheets to switch the sail from one side to the other each time we came about. With both the jib and the main raised fully, the strong wind heeled the boat over 15 to 20 degrees, and whoever was on the higher side found comfortable positions with their feet planted firmly on the seats across from them.
StarLady plunged and leaped as it crested each oncoming wave and occasionally tossed cooling spray back to us in the cockpit as its bow splashed into each trough. As we rounded the last channel marker at the mouth of the river and turned toward the north everything changed.
Suddenly everything was serene, with following winds and waves coming from starboard side and the stern quarter, and it was time to break out another beer and relax as we watched several other sailboats heading back toward the marina.
To make the outing perfect, a pod of dolphins followed us long enough to pose for pictures.

With three other people assisting it was markedly easier to back the boat into the slip, get all the mooring lines secured and equipment and supplies stowed or
taken ashore.

Leaving Mobjack Bay, Marina Scott drove us past the almost invisible villages of Cardinal and Foster and across the swing-bridge to Gwynn's Island, where we ate fabulously delicious seafood dinners at the SeaBreeze Grill, which has big picture windows on three sides overlooking the water out to the sinuous back channel from the Chesapeake descriptively known as "The Hole In The Wall".

After dinner we explored the meandering roads around Gwynn's Island, stopping to admire a spectacular sunset over the mouth of the Piankatank River.

I snoozed in the back seat through West Point, and woke up as we were approaching Richmond. A most satisfactory day!

Sailing to Wolftrap - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Today was wonderful; my longest day sail so far. My original thought was to go for a half-day sail on the Mobjack Bay with someone, exploring some part of the rivers or coves I have not yet visited, choice depending on the vagaries of winds and tides. My second choice was my friend Bill, who agreed at first, but then called back to say that he needed to clean out the garage! Jane wanted to spend the day with her friend, so I decided to go down anyway and perhaps to go for a short sail after doing some touch-up painting.
The day was so beautiful when I got there that I threw away all plans of work, rigged the sails, warmed up the motor, and chugged out of the marina into North River, headed for the middle of Mobjack Bay. I had not yet decided whether to sail across the south wind up the Ware River, or motor into the wind farther south to the Severn River to explore the south-west branch, where I hadn't yet been. Maybe with the wind out of the south I could round the Guinea Marshes and into the York River, or even go as far as Hampton. As I continued to motor straight out, I thought that since the waves were only about one foot or even less, I should just sail out into the Chesapeake Bay, al the way over to Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore. It was fun to weigh the possibilities!

By the time I had traveled for an hour, the wind had shifted to the southeast, setting up conditions so that I could shut off the motor and head straight out toward New Point Comfort at the mouth of the Mobjack. I rounded the point well offshore, following the marine markers to avoid the places where the bottom shoals rapidly. Sailing directly across the wind is the easiest and fastest way to sail, and with freshening breezes I decided to sail north up the Chesapeake another 6 or so miles to the Wolf Trap Lighthouse. I had seen pictures of it, but had never sailed that direction before.
My earlier plan had been to sail a short distance, anchor in some sheltered cove and cook myself some lunch, but instead I nibbled on trail mix for energy, and drank some water while ripping along. By the time I rounded the Wolf Trap Lighthouse it was about 2:00 p.m. and time to head back.

The wind had picked up to about 20 mph, and the infamous "Chesapeake Chop" had kicked in, building the short-period waves to about three feet, making for a pretty uncomfortable passage. I was kept busy tacking the boat at an angle into the wind balancing the pull of the tiller and adjusting the angle of the boat to keep it from heeling over too far, but it was exhilarating!
As soon as I passed the New Point Comfort Light and headed up Mobjack Bay, the wind was behind me, and I could relax, setting the mainsail far out to the starboard side and the jib far out to the port side, coasting along "wing-on-wing" at about 6 miles an hour back toward the marina.
I was back in the slip about 5:30, with a slight sunburn, some tired muscles, and a big grin on my face, having put almost 45 miles under the keel.

Sailing Mobjack Bay 6/14/2007

Thursday, June 14th, Flag Day, 69th birthday! My son Mark met me at Mobjack Bay Marina in the morning, and although it was cloudy and a brisk wind was blowing from the east, we decided to go out on my 25' Lancer sailboat "StarLady" anyway.
Looking out into the bay, I could see whitecaps, so I reefed the mainsail before we even left the dock. The wind was blowing between 15-20 knots, and we absolutely ripped along on a broad reach, straight down the bay, past the mouth of the East River toward New Point Comfort.
The GPS indicated that we were making 6.5 mph with occasional bursts up to 7 mph, which is supposedly faster than the possible hull speed for the boat! As we approach New Point Comfort the already strong wind picked up a little more heeling StarLady about 25 degrees, and things began to fall off shelves below in the cabin.
Mark scrambled forward on the deck and dropped the jib, which eased the pressure, and we continued at about 6.1 mph.

We turned and ran before the wind, mainsail far out on the starboard, and ran the jib back up, positioning it off the port bow, running wing on wing, surging along with the big swells back toward safe harbor in Greenmansion Cove.
A memorable birthday!