A week had gone by and we were in this adventure well over and above our ears. The work on Lapita Tikopia had started with the help of some youngsters, but soon a sizeable group of workers was assembling on a daily basis. A giant green tent top was strung over the canoe to shelter it from the rain that threatened to fall any day and time. The platform slats were removed and submerged in the sea under a pile of coral rocks to soak them in salt water and rescue of them whatever possible. The rotten wood around the hatch coaming was being carefully scraped out trying to leave the outer layer of fibreglass in place.
Plywood however was nowhere to be found on the island. The best we could get our hands on was a pile of thin wall board, a low grade plywood with one side covered with a plastic coating that looks like wall paper. I decided that three layers of it with the plastic coating rough sanded and glued in with plenty of epoxy glue would have to do. Soon pieces were being cut to refill the hollowed out parts. I then gave our Tikopia friends a crash course in working with epoxy. We set up a station in one of the hull compartments with the resin and hardener jar and their calibrated pumps and a bucket with the glue mix. The latex gloves I had brought proved to be too small for the big hands of these island people. They provided much food for jokes and laughter and some ended up as udder-shaped balloons for the school kids passing by the work site daily on their way home.
From the very beginning of our stay on the island the idea had been floated to pull Aluna up on the beach next to Lapita Tikopia. The anchorage just outside of the fringing reef, while protected from the trades that howl out of the Southeast most of the time, promised to be marginal to dangerous should bad weather hit with a passing front that could bring nasty westerlies and corresponding onshore waves and swells. The offer of having plenty strong men available and an assortment of logs of the magic ‘slippery wood’ was too tempting to let go by and without thinking it through too much the day of the highest spring tides just after new moon Aluna slid across the reef and I rammed her into the sandy beach within a stone throw of the maritime patient we were diligently working on.
Unfortunately the promises made by Ariki Tafua and his younger brother, ‘engineer’ Dani, had trouble materializing. While a good crowd had assembled on the beach to watch the spectacle unfold, only a handful of them were able men and after much puffing and pulling the sun threatened to set and we called it a day, once the tide had retreated. Other intents were made the high tides of the following days, but Aluna proved too heavy to be pulled up the incline of the sand beach. The round underwater shape of her keels did not help either. As it turned out, we were now confined to a miserable existence with Aluna lapped on by the surf at high tides, with a slurry of coral fragments rubbing off her precious antifouling paint. To the discomfort of our vessel our own was added. As already mentioned, for the Tikopia the beach is far from a picturesque place to go for a pleasant evening stroll. Their well-encrusted habit of using it as a toilet had hordes of flies descend on our living quarters from sunrise to sunset.
No doubt practical it was to have Aluna and my workshop right there, to be able to run back and forth for tools and pieces, but the price was a too high one to pay. We stayed there in the surf and the smell for two weeks until the full moon tides came along and threatened to dislodge our eroding comfort for good. With a push and a shove from an at this time reasonably testosterone infused crowd, Aluna returned to her element after her interlude in the surf. It took another week to have a half way decent mooring installed on two prominent coral heads inside the protected inlet and once again we could feel reasonably safe and concentrate on the work at hand.
By the end of week two new antifouling had been applied to both hulls and able woodworkers were busy carving replacement parts for the hatch hinges and the coamings. The goal was to restore the most deteriorated hull compartment before our departure and leave a model the Tikopia could reference to while finishing up the other three on their own. Some of the workers had had employment with the Solomon Island fishing fleet and with that experience with basic maintenance tasks like scrubbing off old paint and applying new one. The work with the epoxy didn’t come across as too difficult for them and while the cleanliness of their work left much to be desired, little by little the repairs progressed.
A pleasant interruption arrived on October 14. I had just crept out of the main hatch in the wee hours of morning, shaking off the grogginess of sleep and ready to face the notorious flies, when I hear a schoolboy calling me from the beach. He points out to the horizon and only says two words: ‘Lapita Anuta’. There she was, bobbing gently up and down on anchor just off the reef. Sam, the captain, came by later for quick chat. Of short stature and with an honest face framed by a round beard he sounded a story of confidence, counting over 20 separate trips done with Lapita Anuta, most of them working for pay, like this time for instance, as they were bringing the teachers of Anuta and Tikopia to Lata, the capital of the Temotu Province, for professional workshops offered by the Education Department.
Once again I pushed for closer collaboration between the two islands, to share maintenance chores and other know navigational knowhow. While there on Tikopian territory I received a shy affirmation from Sam, later when I ran into him again while back in Lata, the sad reality came to light instantly. ‘We have tried to work with the man (Ariki Tafua),’ he said, ‘The man cannot be trusted!’ There once again you have the human condition in all its splendor, throwing a wrench in the transmission. So close the two intimately related people live next to each other, so far they are apart when it comes to opening up their hearts!