April 15th 2011

After our initial bluster the winds abandoned us, leaving only massive swell. Not my favourite sailing mix so we motored...and we motored....had a few brief sailing interludes but these were more fraught with sweating swearing and bruises from getting knocked around the cockpit (steel is a harsh partner at times) so we motored a little more....basically we motored the entire way to Puluwat (about 160 miles or so due west from Chuuk).

Technically speaking we are still in the bounds of the North East Monsoon and the trade winds are still apparent however as the season progresses they blow with decreasing frequency and strength so it becomes a tad more important to pick your weather window well....unless of course you happen to have a massive fuel carrying capacity (which we do not)...so Puluwat was looking like a good option to sit out the doldrums and wait for the trades to pop back into play.

Still a little burned from our Chuuk experience we were not holding out much hope for Puluwat, but as it turned out from the moment we entered the lagoon to the moment we left, we were completely converted.

The lagoon entrance itself is quite narrow and the deepest passage (stay starboard) brings you perilously close to waves breaking on the frigging reef, but with good light for a few dips and dodges of coral heads it's not so bad at all and well worth it when you find yourself in the centre of a lagoon with water so piercingly blue and clear you need to pinch yourself to be sure it's real.

We anchored a little lower than an old abandoned jetty (Japanese relic we were told) in a nice sandy patch clear of a few patches of shoal and were promptly joined by two sizeable gentlemen in loincloths back to back in a canoe. One was a local high school teacher who informed us that the anchorage fee of $10.00 (not again we cry silently) per yacht for as long as one wishes to stay (thank Christ we sigh silently). This fee is usually payable to the Mayor but as the Major and eight other senior fellows were currently out hunting turtles (and had been for the last 5 weeks) we simply handed over the dough to the teacher.

After a respectable interval (enough to enable a dip and a nap) we had a bit of a wander onshore. Strangely enough we didn't really encounter a village (so to speak), more a collection of grass huts set with sufficient space between so as to require a well worn path between them....so we simply trod the well worn paths, dodging the pigs tied to coconut trees and generally tried to be unobtrusive (quite difficult when you're the only white person in a yacht for 100s of miles).

We didn't really encounter anyone until we started heading back to the boat, where we came across a bunch of kids laughing, singing and generally having a good time...not understanding each other there wasn't much of an exchange but we did enjoy listening to the singing and having the kids laugh at us and themselves....such willing and generous smiles.

I think our little wander broke the ice somewhat...not half an hour after returning to the boat we were joined by a bevy of children/teenagers led by the fearless (and quite bossy) Patty. Patty and her troop kept us company each day after school for our entire stay and we kept her supplied with DVDs, updated MP3 collections and kept her digital camera empty enough for her to continue her happy snaps with the customary 2 finger salute in each shot.

Thanks to Patty we also had the opportunity to meet Tonia (her cousin) who was an absolute fountain of information on frying breadfruit (makes great chips) and making coconut cream (from scratch mind you). She was also kind enough to let us try a bit of freshly prepared turtle (kinda chewy beef/fish like stuff) as by this stage the men folk had returned in their canoes with a catch of 8 turtles, evenly distributed amongst the villages on the island.

Over the next couple of days we simply spent time with the kids, swam, dove and generally rested our weary bones, aside from one rather energetic and sweaty walk to the old Japanese lighthouse on a neighbouring island in the lagoon. Our tour guide (one of Patty's younger cousins) had apparently been there many times before, however I think he was slightly more focussed on finding mountain apple trees than the right path so we went from tree to tree for hours before coming across the lighthouse which was located in the old secondary school grounds...now deserted. Lucky the walk was worth it (Ralph was getting rather close to stringing up our guide)... the view from the top of the lighthouse was incredible, although strangely enough the walk back to the dinghy along the beach was waaaaaaay shorter than our inland trek!

Our last afternoon on Puluwat was spent peacefully wandering around the lagoon swimming and snorkelling with one small visit from the elder navigator (named Rapwei) on the island who's canoe block needed a little TLC courtesy of Ralph's toolbox. Being only too happy to help Ralph had it ship shape within minutes and the navigator (absolutely stoked with the result) had returned back to our boat with some locally made rope made from coconut husk and a hand woven lap lap (not that I knew that at the time and Ralph thought it was a table cloth). Turned out Rapwei was well known, he had originally come from Satawal and had a selection of cousins in Woleai as well. Quite an amazing man I feel... one of those rare individuals so at peace with their life you can see it shine from their eyes....leaving us feeling honoured to have spent time in his presence.

As the days had passed the wind had gradually gained in strength enough for us to consider setting sail....but not without a final farewell from Tonia, Patty and the crew who turned up in the morning of our departure laden with bananas, coconuts, breadfruit and flowers freshly picked and promptly fashioned into lays... a bit of a treat for us as we'd not received them before.... nearly 2 months in the Pacific and never been laid (so to speak).

So lays freshly donned and farewells spoken we set off out the narrow passage to continue our path westward towards Palau, well rested and significantly richer for the experience.