I begin the day with a strange feeling. Kind of a reverse deja vue. I walk into Moira's main salon and it is as if it is the first time. Everything is brand new and different. The warm teak interior, the polished brass portholes and lamp, the teak and holly floor, the white dinette and the sleek, smooth white aluminum mast surround me with novelty. I feel I can go outside and see a new place, exquisite and exciting, just waiting for exploration.
It is a refreshing feeling. The day gleams with a sense of beginning. I look out the porthole and there is El Torito and the rain forest. The sun is edging over the tops of the tall palms across the lagoon. Huge billowing clouds decorate the deep blue sky and reflect from the still lagoon. I go outside, sit in the cockpit, and admire the world of the Three Sisters.
A Solomon Island myth says there were once four sisters and one sank beneath the surface of the waves when a young girl who lived on the island betrayed a powerful chief on San Christobal. She ran off with a boy who lived on the northernmost of the four sisters. The chief hired a sorcerer who cast a magic spell over the island, causing it to sink. The survivors and the people living on the other three islands were so terrified they fled the islands - explaining why they remain uninhabited (except for us) to this day. As it happens, there is a sunken shoal between 2 to 6 miles northeast of the northernmost sister. It is 68 meters deep. Walter thinks this is might be the sunken island.
Well, this morning it feels like there are secretly four sisters of fate. In addition to Moira Clotho - the weaver of cosmic wool into the thread of fate - Moira Lachesis - who measured how long the thread of life would be - Moira Atropos - with the shears to snip it off - there is another. The Fourth Sister is hidden from us, sunk beneath the surface of earthly awareness.
The fourth Moirae is Moira Lethe and she must have visited me last night. Lethe is the River of Forgetfulness all beings must cross after Moira atropos does her trick with the shears. Or so the ancient Greeks mused. But I don't think she is a river at all. She's a fourth sister of fate lurking in the depths of our awareness. She administers the drink of forgetfulness and I have taken a sip of it. So today, the world around me is fresh, sparkling with new awareness.
A school of sardines splinters the mirror of the lagoon into a million shards of liquid silver, each fish a momentary sparkle of brilliant sunlight. A marauding jack boils the water in the center of the spreading silver drops and then they are gone, predator and prey, leaving only a series of ever widening concentric circles on the skymirror.
We have sat right here for over four months, doing practically nothing. In a few days we'll leave. Off to tour the Solomon Islands. Walter has given me a long list of anchorages and people and places to see.
It's my birthday today. We're rafted up alongside the Gypsy Cowboy in one of the long, narrow bays of the Russell Island Group. There is a large wharf at the entrance of the bay to load and unload cargo for the Lever Brother's plantation here.
Coconut trees cover most of the island group and from these trees, Lever Brother's gets the copra for use in their cosmetic products - like PalmOlive soap. At the Lever Brother's wharf there is an interisland fuel tanker, the Pacific Trader. It is delivering diesel to the Plantation and taking on a load of fresh beef from the stock which grazes below the coconut trees. Freddy and Yvette from the Gypsy Cowboy want to take the laundry over to the ship and wash it in the ship's Laundromat.
Carl and Bill are still asleep and I want to look over the ship so we clamber in the Avon with the laundry and zoom up the harbor to the ship.
We go aboard and the girls look up the captain to get permission to use the Laundromat. Yvette is a pert Tahitian and, together with Freddy, they could get permission to do whatever they want from any captain. I dump the last bag of laundry in the laundry room just as they return from the bridge. While they do their thing, I mosey up to the bridge to have a cup of coffee with Lou Davidson, the skipper. He tells me about his adventures in various island ports while I sip the strong, black brew and look out the window, forward over the long deck of pipes towards the bow.
I raise my cup to my lips and the floor drops from under me. A deafening WHAM lifts the entire bow of the ship some ten feet into the air. The ship gives a mighty shudder, then another. My first and only thought is, "Explosion!" The captain is out the door and I am on my feet looking back and forth, trying to decide what to do. The ship settles down again. My honed, trigger-like reflexes have dropped my mouth wide open. Christ! She's blowing up! I start to turn to my left. The floor of the ship slams against my feet as she heaves upward again.
Meanwhile, down in the laundry room, Freddy pushed the button for the washing machine one microsecond before the ship lurched. An instant later, Captain Davidson leaped into the room and Freddy and Yvette, convinced they had somehow blown up the ship, both cry, "We didn't do anything!" but the captain was gone.
The second time the ship leaps, I am looking shoreward. The flag pole, with the Lever Brother's flag, whips back and forth. Trucks and buildings and people shake violently. A blissful relief floods over me. It's only an earthquake. As the third shockwave hits I sit down, grab my coffee cup, and marvel at the way the ship bucks in the water. Even more interesting are a group of men unloading copra sacs from a truck onto the wharf. The truck is rocking back and forth as are the men but they continue their work as if nothing is happening.
Standing next to the crew is a European man with hands on hips, legs apart, wearing a safari outfit complete with high black boots. He taps a black quirt against his thigh as he glares at the workers. The image of a slave master. From the way they keep hustling, the workers are more afraid of him than they are of the earthquake.
Captain Davidson returns to the bridge with a happy smile of relief. "I don't mind telling you that one had me a bit jumpy." he laughs.
"I thought we had blown up," I chuckle.
"Well, I knew we hadn't blown up because we were still here but I sure as hell didn't know what did happen." As he speaks, I suddenly get the urge to return to Moira and find out what happened there. I tell Freddy I'll be right back and race down the ladder to the afterdeck and climb down into the dinghy.
Bill and Carl sit calmly in the cockpit of the Gypsy Cowboy.
"You should have been on the tanker," I climb aboard, "It was pretty exciting."
"You should have been in bed with a hangover," quips Carl, "it was pretty miserable. One minute painfully asleep, the next the whole damned boat rang like a bell. What the hell is that noise?" He cocks his head - listening.
I listen. There is a steadily mounting watery roar. "Might be a tidal wave."
Sure enough, a bore of water about a meter high rushes up the harbor. When it hits, the two boats rear back and the water surges by at 6 to 8 knots. We have secured both yachts to a giant steel buoy which sank during World War II. It rests on the narrow, submerged ledge on the edge of the deep harbor. The nylon lines holding us to the buoy stretch thin with the strain as the tidal wave races past us up the harbor. A moment later, the water from the tidal wave sloshes back out, reversing the rushing current. The boats spin around and vibrate to the roaring water. A second tidal wave spins us around again and then gurgles back out, followed by another and another, each smaller than the last.
There is nothing to do but stand and watch the sea rush by. Carl and Bill decide a couple of beers might calm things down. When all is quiet I return to the tanker where the girls have finished the laundry. An hour later the El Torito arrives. Walter and the whole gang from El Torito, Gypsy Cowboy and Moira troop up the plantation road to the estate of the manager.
Jim Broom, the manager, turns out to be the guy with the Jungle Jim suit and big shiny black boots. On closer inspection he still looks like he should be the master, not the manager, of the plantation. He's a tall, powerful blonde haired man with the most fascinating ears I've ever seen. They are pointed, like Mr. Spock's on Startrek. When he grins, the effect is almost scary. Little wonder the islanders are afraid of him.
Jim escorts us out into the plantation to show us his newest hybrid coconut trees. They are a cross between the Malaysian Dwarf and a tree from Renell Island. They have luxurious clusters of big coconuts which are only head high off the ground. Jim has planted rows of coco-bean trees underneath which produce a fine chocolate. He picks some fresh coco-beans and Freddy and I taste the meaty fruit surrounding the nut. It's not bad.
Jim is justly proud of the plantation. We tour the facilities and watch the workers husk the coconuts. They extract the white meat with a flick of a knife. The meat is placed on racks and dried in a smoker fuelled by the husks. The dried coconut meat is copra. It is shipped to England and pressed into oil and then processed into soap and cosmetics. The plantation covers most of the Russell Islands. There are thousands of acres of coconut trees. We finish the tour with a grand BBQ at Jim's house.
I am sitting between two interesting conversations. While I devour an excellent charcoal grilled steak from one of the plantation's beef cattle, I try to listen to both.
"What do you think about the coming independence? Will it endanger your operation?"
"Well, I think it is pompous for a Ph.D. to use the title Doctor, especially in a social situation."
"No, not in the slightest. There will be practically no difference. You see, there really won't be any actual independence. Oh, I know all the rhetoric about self determination and all that but its all so much talk. There will be some changes in who runs what office but it will still be the same office with the same rules and regulations. All very British."
"Why? Doctorate degrees represent a great deal of hard work. Why not use the honorific?"
"I'm not sure I follow you."
"Well, look here, before the protectorate began, there was no political entity larger than a whole island and, in fact, most of the larger islands were split into very small political groups - villages really. No grand chief of the whole thing existed.
"My dad was an MD, a country Doc. For me, there is only one kind of Doctor deserving the title and that's a medical man. Some nerd who sits in university classes for half his life learning some esoteric narrow field doesn't ever do anything to deserve the same title as a medical doctor."
"There are over two hundred languages here, you know. That gives you some idea of how well the different villages got along with each other, right? The whole idea of a central government for all the islands is strictly an English concept. And the only language which unites the people, the official language, mind you, is English."
"I suppose you object to the use of other titles, too, like Sir Gary."
"Now, this means, of course, the constitution is written in English and the laws of the country are English laws. The various government agencies are also typically English Colonial. English instructors train the people who will run those offices how to do their jobs in a proper English way. And lastly, none of it would ever work without continued British supervision....not to mention British funds."
"Very funny. But yeah, I do object to nobility titles."
"Why, even the money here is printed in England. You wait and see, the Solomons will still be a part of the Empire, part of the commonwealth. The whole independence business is a political whitewash if you'll excuse the pun."
"What about Mister, Mr. Bartlett? How about that?"
"What makes you think the system can't work without continued British supervision?"
"Oh hell, Mister is all right, but Doctor. NO. I'll never use doctor when I get my Ph.D."
"Ha ha ha, because you see, the locals don't know how to operate the English "Old Boy" system correctly. Either they mess it up and get it confused with "Family" and thus it falls apart through old time family feuds or they are rigidly "by the book" as per their training. And we both know the English governmental system especially the Colonial Office simply does not function when all the laws are properly applied."
"Well boys, I don't know about all this doctor bullshit. I like to be called Master," Jim smiles and that's something people with pointed ears should do very carefully.
I am wondering if he is right or not when a man runs up to the door and shouts, "Master, Master, Boats long harbor go walkabout!"
Even I understand that pidgin English. Carl, Jim Broom and I are in the Jeep even before the others put their drinks down. We race to the wharf where we tied the Avon. Carl and I are in the dinghy and on our way out into the harbor without missing a step. There, in the center of the bay, Moira and Gypsy Cowboy are slowly waltzing out to sea.
In seconds, we reach the boats, leap aboard and start the diesels. I run forward to survey the situation. The heavy mooring we are tied to must have been knocked off the ledge during or after the earthquake. The mooring lines are like steel rods. The weight pulls the bows of both boats way down. Must be 4 or 5 thousand pounds of steel down there. There is no way we can untie the knots, so I decide to dive down and cut the lines.
If I cut his line first, the whole weight of the buoy will be on my line and it might pull the bow right underwater. Accordingly I race aft, grab a knife, dig out a face mask and snorkel and dive in the water. I swim down to the mooring, about 50 feet, and cut Moira's bow free. Fortunately, although Gypsy Cowboy gives a frightful lurch downward, her bow does not quite go under. I take another breath, dive down, and cut her loose.
A gong bongs in the gray mist of dawn. I guess the day starts early here at Mbatuna. But no sounds follow the gong. Sometime later still gray and dim outside the gong bongs again. Hmmph. A 5minute snooze alarm for the village. I struggle out of the bunk. A few minutes later a baby cries and someone on the other side of the bay closes a door. The village is getting up.
Lots of flies fill the Moira this morning, driving Freddy nuts. I peer out the hatch and a flash of color catches my eye in the dark green jungle. On the hill, near the schoolhouse, a strange native ritual begins. School children appear over the grassy ridge, marching single file along a narrow winding path. Moving swiftly in their brightly colored school uniforms like some multilegged hominidapillar slithering silently through the jungle.
Or, like a school bus full of children arriving without the bus. I stand in the companionway resting my head on my hands watching all this. I wonder how far they have walked in the cool misty jungle air? Through what forested glades and what gardens did they pass? Do they see the flowers that line their path to school? Like actors waiting offstage for their cue, another file of children appears from stage right just as the others move from stage left to the schoolhouse door in center stage. Amazing.
The second "busload" also marches non-stop, swiftly and neatly along their path and right through the door. Not even bunching up at the entrance. Then another caterpillars up the hill, while another appears over the top of the center of the hill and winds its way in total silence down to the schoolhouse door and inside. The timing is perfect, not exactly what I'd expect of a bunch of young school kids arriving out of a New Georgia jungle. In fact, it's damn peculiar. Alien to the casual freedom one would expect in such a remote little village.
The strange magic of the whiteman reaches even here, to impose a kind of peculiar rhythm of oblivion on these young minds. But I also feel there is a strong resiliency; like the jungle. As if the schoolmaster's facts, beating pathways through the children's minds, will do little to alter the rich, lush wilderness inside them.
Which brings us to an odd sort of problem....