The 300 mile sail from Lukunor to Puluwat was another fast passage. The fishing was sporadic with a few exciting times like when we had two marlin take lour’s within 15 minutes! They both got away, but what a site to see! One fish was HUGE and was thrashing wildly while jumping back and forth behind the boat. The other was much smaller and was only on for a few minutes before he threw the hook. Later that afternoon we had a triple mahi hook up and managed to get two of the three aboard.
We had set sail mid morning with a following wind and had the big Screecher sail out for most of the trip until the winds shifted out of the North on the second night and we found ourselves on deck at 2 am changing sails.
The winds continued to clock north and by the time we approached the island we were close reached with wind on the nose. The combined north wind along with a shallow 60 foot shelf that lay south of the island made the last few miles really choppy but when we approached the pass things calmed down. The pass was one of the narrowest we had seen in a long time but we cautiously made our way through and anchored in one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world!
Puluwat is known to have the Pirates of Micronesia living on them and a history of violence. Years ago there were two villages living on the two main islands. The one island had some really bad guys that would cause all sorts of trouble with the other island and then one day the other island had enough. The chief organized a war party and killed all the bad guys along with their entire families and that was the end of that problem.
The current chief is a big man and fits what my mind thought a chief would look like, a BIG man wearing a Loin cloth (wrap around skirt) who did not speak English. We met him in his outrigger canoe house (man cave) where he was currently building a new 25 foot sailing outrigger. This was one of the biggest outriggers we had ever seen and it must have taken thousands of hours to carve out of a huge breadfruit tree. The custom is to meet with the chief and present a gift when you arrive. Recently this has been in the form of a $30 landing fee which is reasonable. We also gave him a pair of sunglasses a gift everyone appreciates.
The island only has 300 people left living on it and it looks like 20-30% of the houses are locked up and abandoned. Like many of the islands we have been to a lot of the young men leave to find jobs and send money back to support the remaining families. We were told about 1000 people used to live on the islands but most have moved away to find work.
The people who are left live very simple lives with no running water or electricity. There are a few generators to charge batteries but for the most part when the sun goes down people go to sleep and are up at the crack of dawn.
They can grow several things on the island like taro, bananas, pumpkin, and of course coconuts by the millions. Most of the islands we have been to have one or two skiffs with outboard that several men take out fishing and others take a dugouts and spearfish along the reef. Chickens run wild and a few pigs are kept close at hand by trying a front leg to a tree with a short piece of rope. Pigs are fed a diet of 6-8 coconuts a day and squeal happily when feeding time comes around and are in amazing condition from the high oil diet of copra.
Island time is set to the rhythm of the hammer on the empty oxygen cylinder. 5:30am is prayer time and the bell rings at least 15 times to wake everyone up. It seems to go on about every 15 minutes until 7 am. Then before 8 it rings again and it is time for the kids to head to school. The next time you hear it is noon and again at 1:30 when the kids head back to school after lunch. A few more times in the afternoon for who knows what and then the sun sets and the day starts anew with the hammer pounding around 5:30. I say around because everyday when I hear the bell I look at my watch and find the bell rarely rings on the hour…usually within 5 minutes one way or the other…true island time!
The lagoon was 25 feet deep where we anchored but it looked like you could reach down and touch the bottom through the crystal clear 85 degree water. Further up the lagoon was the main island with the village on the right. To the left were several more islands separated by 2-6 foot deep turquoise waters that flowed over the reefs between them. The islands themselves were covered in thick vegetation and coconut trees. You could tell copra harvesting was a thing of the past and thousands of young coconut sprouts were growing at the base of the mature trees. On islands where copra is harvested you would be hard pressed to find 50 coconuts on the ground but here there are literally thousands. The other thing you notice is that the coconut rats had moved in and many of the fruits had holes knawel into the side of them where the rats open a hole and climb inside and eat their new home for a few days.
We went for a snorkel in the pass and along the outer reef and it was obvious that the bigger reef fish had been long gone for some time. The reef had a green coating of algae growing on it and the only coral that looked like it was thriving was the Elk Horn Coral which looks like a pile of deer antlers laying on the reef.
We visited the island and brought supplies to the school one day and saw that the Red Cross had been bringing books here for years and they had literally tons of books on every subject I ever studied in school. Sadly most books looked like they had been sitting on the shelf since the day they arrived. In the main office was a disarray of desks and office supplies. There were 12 world globe boxes filled with old paper work and at least 100 reams of copy paper randomly stacked around the room. The copy machine was the old style that you made a master copy and attached it to the drum and turned the crank old school style, but it was obvious by the amount of rust on the machine that it had not put out a copy in years. The men who do the teaching on the island were sitting around grading midterms and making report cards.
These outer islands are literally cut off from civilization and the only news and supplies they get arrives by ship several times a year The teaches were asking me current events questions and I had to inform then I was no better informed than they were…. One thing they did ask that I knew was that we had captured Bin Laden. We left them a few good novels to read and they were happy to have something fresh to occupy their time with.
It would be difficult to live in a community this small anywhere in the world let alone on a remote island .I would imagine if we rounded up 300 random people from the states and put them on a remote island only about half would be left after a year and the rest would be stir crazy! You have to give these people credit maintaining a traditional lifestyle in these changing times.
In our next adventure we will continue west to Lamotrek.
Until then, Peace!
Pete and Daria