Wednesday, September 3, 2008

War Hero, Tranny, Theft, and A Grounding

His name is Theron MacKay and he's 84 years old. I met him a couple weeks ago on the 65th anniversary of the US invasion of Guadalcanal. His boat was torpedoed and destroyed. Of the 85 crew, only he and 4 others survived. Another 100+ marines died as well. He swam to the bow of the ship which was still floating and climbed up to the deck. The fuel and water on his vessel were nearly depleted and those watertight compartments are what kept the bow from sinking. 36 hours later he was rescued. He almost lost his foot but after healing up was put back into action. Here's the kicker - the bow that saved his life is just across Iron Bottom Sound resting on a beach. After he was rescued they towed it to land and it served as a post office for years. Now's it's too old and rusty, but Theron comes back every year to lay a wreath on it. He's old and rusty too. They just don't make 'em like Theron anymore.
Dave McGinn is an enigma. He taught a class at ASU on how to party, and continued teaching that class at community colleges all over OC. Then he got married and had a kid, but stayed a true friend who always had time for me. 3 weeks ago, I needed help finding the replacement seal for my leaking transmission and he searched the web, made the calls, sent me the PDF file and identified the exact piece I needed. And yes, he has a full time job. My mechanic/good friend Paul Francis Panai put it all back together and the leak is gone. Dave McGinn - one of many back home who has helped. Thank you Dave McGinn! Barraveigh is mobile again.
Chris Miller, Fiona Hart, and my dear sweet mother deserve heaping bowls of thanks as well.

We left Honiara the day after the transmission was fixed and sailed across Iron Bottom Sound in strong winds to make a deep anchorage in Sand Fly Passage next to our friends Katouska, and Emelia. The wind never let up and the locals were a bit of a pest problem. The saying is, "I got canoed". They paddle out and won't leave. They want gifts or to trade and we've got season 2 of "24" to watch. How very rude.
Then we met John Ruka. He only gives. The 2nd time we met him he gave us a papaya, a giant mud crab, sweet potatoes & 4 hands of bananas. We told him of another man named John Piluka who, for $6 per head will feed us and give us a trad dance with pan pipe players. Ruka hates Piluka and matched his offer for free. The next day, all 3 boats pulled anchor and moved over to Roderick Bay. There were 10 of us, and upon arrival on the beach we were corralled into a staging area and then when everyone was assembled moved through a flowered arch, decorated with a fresh lei of flowers, given a drinking coconut (complete with bamboo straw and hibiscus flowers adorning the shell), and ushered to a bench from which we were about to watch the most astounding performance.
They have 2 instruments that the boys play. 1 is a handheld panpipe made of bamboo. They vary in size and produce thick & meaty high and low notes. The other instrument is very similar but much larger and made of pvc pipe & mounted in a stationary frame. They play these tubes by striking the open tops of them with flip flops. They play really fast and the music is unlike anything I've heard before. The Blue Man Group must have visited The Solomon Islands.

Then there are the dancers. They are all young girls with dried grass skirts and woven pandanus bras. It's quite a contrast from the boys who wear a loin cloth with teased stringy tree bark on their heads to make their hair look like long dreads. (I think all of the people in this country encourage each other to go nuts with their afros. I've seen more creative hairstyle's here than on any Snoop Dog video.)
The leader of the performers explained the dances to me: "This dance tells how we clear the ground for the garden." "Here they show how funny it is to see soldiers salute." "This one, it shows, how your wantoks (literal: "those who talk the same", i.e. - your countrymen) open beer bottles and get drunk." Obviously these dances had been past down for generations. The war influence is everywhere in The Solomons.
All 3 boats had prepared a meal and brought it ashore with us. John Ruka announced that we would be swapping. We ate native starch and they ate our protein. Katouska got the short end of the stick on that trade since they brought fresh sashimi, ceviche, and the same wonderfully seasoned fish they grilled for us on the beach a couple nights before. One of the natives popped the whole wad of wasabi in his mouth thinking he had scored a green sweet. Their starch wasn't so bad, and the plates were exquisite.
Gene from Emelia is a fantastic guitarist who has written many country songs for the big names. If you're a fan of C&W then you might know some of his work. He played for us all, and it was a great way to reciprocate and end the evening. We said our goodbyes and motored back to Barraveigh. After drinking wine in the cockpit and ruminating over what a remarkable evening we had experienced, we headed off to bed, and stupid Bob left the camera in the cockpit.
At 2:00 am Suzi and I awoke to the first unnatural noise. When you live on a boat you are on guard even when you sleep. The sound of approaching rain means we must close the hatches. Wind screeching in the rigging means we need to be aware of dragging. Now there is a 3rd fear, boarding by thieves. When we heard the 2nd noise we got up immediately. I got to the cockpit first only to hear a splash as the culprit dove over. I did see his accomplice paddling away with all his strength. "Get the spotlight" I yelled, along with every expletive I could direct at the thief. Suzi did everything correctly; she made an announcement to the other boats on the radio, brought up the light and dropped the dinghy while I burned that 1 million candle power torch into his back. Our friends on Katouska sprang to action and put their spotlight on him while I jumped in the dinghy in hot pursuit. I went to Katouska and Eric came aboard with the biggest death knife you've ever seen. We raced to the mangrove where he had ditched the canoe. Our shoes and clothes pins were inside. Proof positive that we had the correct canoe. He was long gone but we had his most valuable possession. I dropped Eric off, towed the canoe back to Barraveigh and Suzi and I hoisted it onto the deck. Let it be a visible lesson to all future thieves - you will lose more than you can gain.
We were so excited with the flush of adrenaline that sleep didn't come easy. We had recovered all our belongings and confiscated the crook's canoe. We declared total victory.
Until the next morning when we discovered the camera was missing and that the canoe had been stolen from our friend John Ruka's brother. Total victory sunk into total defeat.
Then began the 2 day process of negotiating with the chiefs. When that bore no fruit, we pulled out the big gun; get the priest involved. Emelia raced over to a neighboring island in their fast dinghy and brought back Father Ishmael. The camera was returned and the boats in the anchorage were declared "Tabu". John Ruka put his sons in canoes every night and patrolled just in case. It was a stressful situation but it gave us an insight into how their culture works that we would have never been privy to before.
This is the picture the culprit accidentally took of his big toe
Despite the theft, we like it here so much, and have been treated so well, that Barraveigh, Emelia, Katouska, and Luna helped put in 2 moorings for Ruka, so he could attract more yachts. It was a lot of work but very rewarding. We planned to leave today, so last night John Ruka repeated the same dancing/dining extravaganza as a going away present. While onshore enjoying the festivities an intense squall charged in. We were warming ourselves by a fire when I heard the excited chatter of a frantic girl talking to one of the men we had made friends with. He looked at me and I could see it in his eyes. "What's wrong?" He turned back to the girl and she repeated her speech. He looked back at me and said, "Maybe one of the yachts is on the reef." The worst words a skipper can hear. I raced back to the crowd and made the announcement. All of us stormed the beach in the 25 knot winds and pouring rains. Once off the beach we could see it was Katouska who had dragged onto the reef. It was pitch black but their anchor light was almost on the beach. I put Suzi on Barraveigh with instructions should our anchor dislodge, and raced over to help. It was a huge effort that everyone put their backs into, but we finally pulled her free and they were able to drive her into deeper water. They had to dump their anchor in the process. It was great fortune that we had just finished the moorings earlier in the day. We guided them to it and they were safe once more. Lots of deep gouges, but no holes, and the rudder is intact.

Maybe Roderick Bay should be renamed Drama Bay.
Bobby















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