Archive for the ‘Present’ Category

Sweating Towards A Third Life

October 17, 2019

It was a bittersweet homecoming aboard Aluna at the Helena Marina in Sorong. Sorong is the capital of Indonesia’s West Papua province, situated at just shy of one degree South of the Equator. I did have to cry a couple of silent tears, as I had dearly hoped never having to see our Aluna in that same state of abandonment I had seen so many other boats along our journey to the remote corners of the Pacific. Those boats that languish in muted suffering at the far end of piers of remote harbors or anchored out on a rusty chain under flapping pieces of disintegrating tarp amongst other local relics in a bay just slightly off the charts. Those boats that had lost the care of a watchful owner willing to squeeze the needed elbow grease onto the decks and below, where swift tropical deterioration tickles any bank account not fit enough to stand the test of time.

The grey green of monsoonal moisture had laid itself heavily over Aluna’s shrouds and more of it along the hull sides. Dark grey soot from the nearby charcoal factory had encrusted itself on the cockpit cover whose plastic windows had been replaced with little signs of love and care. On opening the galley hatch a stench of moldy mess made itself known as the one predominant intruder who clearly had decided to make itself at home and keep any benevolent spirit a good distance away.

How Aluna looked on my arrival at the Helena Marina in Sorong

Now eighteen days later, days of equatorial sweat and buzzing sandflies, days of selective reanimation strategies, days of simple down to earth baking soda scrubbing and vinegar spraying, days of lightening the ship onto a growing rubbish pile ashore, testimony to my years of hoarding materials to remedy any imaginable situation out in the isles past the end of Western goods supply chains, days of cleansing the tired sails of the hundreds of mud wasp nests, but also days of thinking how to best prepare Aluna for another stretch of undefined length, during which she will be eagerly waiting for her new masters, stemming my fickle will heavily against the tide of careless abandonment.

Before and after: Aluna’s galley on arrival

… and two weeks later!

Our fourth attempt at finding a good caretaker to inspire Aluna with new life had once again failed. My good friend Christoph had come all the way from Switzerland to find out first hand if Aluna could be fit to serve as a vessel to provide his rapidly growing boys with a maritime adventure of the superior kind before being absorbed into the tentacles of educational stress and inflicted social aspiration. Unfortunately, he turned out to be unable to muster up enough manhood to counteract the sprouting fears running amok in his nicotine infused imagination. Strangely enough, against my own lingering fears, Aluna’s enchantment did work wonders in his soul, he pronounced all kinds of enchantments about what a fine and spacious ship she could be. But alas not enough of it to live up to the only right decision: look one’s fears into the eyes and say yes to all the uncertainties of an adventure about to be born, and give vivid testimony to the stern fact, that this is the only life form truly worth living!

Anther quick chapter of modern humanity just no longer being fit enough for the basic requirements of life closed therefore rather quickly and Christoph’s journey ended instead amongst the hordes of tourists grazing the wonders of Raja Ampat, where snorkeling humanoids soothe themselves in what might be the last healthy coral reefs of the planet.

On the upside of things after barely one week of work Aluna’s splendid offer of a cozy and rather comfortable home on the water, where you can live independently, fully immersed in the spirit of adventure, the cruising ground of Southeast Asia spread out before you, became immediately apparent and for a short while I settled back into this sweet life of laying out a day’s work after waking up with the sun and the chanting birds, fix a hearty breakfast with tropical fruits and then get at it. Doing practical things while the mind rolls round and round, finding its way out of the self-imposed labyrinths, unstuck emotions lingering way past their deadlines, contemplating the crude absurdity of egotistic world views and capitalist colonization, being fully aware if I would be able to continue for a month or two more, Aluna would be slicing the waves again and sail away towards the horizon, where wonders wait in the whereabouts of watery worlds caressed by winds of monsoonal moisture…

Tomorrow morning quite some time before dawn I will sneak out of Aluna’s comfy quarters, making one last round to check that everything is left properly so as not to suffer too much by the absence of a caretaking eye and make my way through the muddy road towards the airport/ There I will begin the arduous two day journey back home, knowing quite well that with Aluna now out of the water with her ‘vital organs’ protected from sun and rain with a sturdy tarp, she will wait patiently but persistently insisting that a new owner is wanted, somebody with enough lust for adventure to make her shine again.

Amphibious Aluna

… and now definitely on land!

After having inspected her health in person I now have a better understanding of her condition and we have accordingly adjusted the sales price to reflect the work that needs to be done and the money to be spent to bring her back up to the strident specs of ocean voyaging. The list of what needs to be done is hanging on our wall and can be requested by any interested party. Most if not all of it can be done where she lies now, either by a willing new occupant on site or remotely by instructing the capable workers at the yard for what are very reasonable fees. Plus: You’ll be starting your journey in the magic area of Raja Ampat, premier dive location of SE Asia!

If interested, please do get in touch!


Closing Arguments: This time for good!

March 22, 2019

All other options having evaporated, Aluna’s Travel the World Blog is coming to a full stop here. Aluna herself however has plenty of life left in her. She is structurally sound and is desperately looking for a new owner to continue her journey.

Located and safely stored in Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia she is now for sale.

More information on Scott Brown Multihull and also here.


Aluna watching out over Ta Atua, Tongareva, Cook Islands


Aluna returning from Whangaroa to the Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand

All Set for a Second Life!

April 29, 2018

I am sitting for a good while at the galley table inside the belly of Aluna, contemplating the warm texture of the plywood panels of which she is made. My head turns right and left to let the gaze wander, while the tropical autumn sun outside burns hot in the mid-morning air. Through the tiny window I see a flock of white herons gingerly walking through the mangrove stumps. We have come less than a mile up the Tingalpa River to find a protected spot for Aluna.

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A profound sigh lifts my chest and yet another look wanders around the carefully designed living space. The gas stove waits with the red kettle just sitting there, the sprouting tray harbors fresh vegetable energy, the newly installed fridge hums inside its Styrofoam coat, the obnoxious walking mat on the floor once again would have to be stretched out and put back in its place, the stairs lead up into the bright blue sky. A flash of man’s eternally catastrophic thinking crosses my mind like a ghost wandering about gaily in plain sight: I might not see all this again!

A bit over two weeks I have now spent aboard with Nadine and Matthew, who will be Aluna’s new inhabitants for the next year or two.

alunamoreton - 6My mission was tight and well defined: to transform those to sailing novices into trustworthy sea people worthy of that name, to make sure they will be able and willing to take charge of the trusty vessel that had been our home for a good nine years and brought us from one end of the vast Pacific to the other. We have crisscrossed Moreton Bay in Southeast Queensland, to the South of the outflow of the Brisbane River, always visible from afar with the giant horse-like cranes of the container port. The weather has been kind enough to provide us with a good array of different sailing conditions, from hot, dead calms to breezy 25 knot winds, where the two apprentices experienced the crucial threshold where the big mainsail has to come down in a hurry and then one continues to claw one’s way upwind with the number two main. We have anchored in a crowded weekend anchorage and also in a river with tidal flows. Little by little their initial clumsiness has given way to a hint of new modalities ready to grow in efficiency. They do have a long stretch ahead of them with nature’s dangerous game awaiting them out there in the wide blue yonder.

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My task is now complete, and I will step off Aluna in an hour’s time. The jump into the canoe and then ashore is a substantial leap of faith. Faith in the human capability to transform if the pressure from the environment is high enough; faith in the forces of brazen craziness that can, if focused enough, break the borders of normality; and finally, faith in the brutal fact that safety and control are dead end streets, which many a time have pulled us astronomical distances away from life and its endless sources of energy.

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Aluna is now getting a second chance in life, spreading her mighty wings anew for her next adventurous flight into the bristle space of all those many things we do not yet know. Those two young people will stand the test of time, will brave the winds of change, will face their inborn fears and will deliver Aluna safely around half our mother earth’s girdle. The goal is in a couple of years’ time to have Aluna living in a secret spot amongst the Windward Islands at the edge of the Caribbean Sea. But that’s a long and winding way into the future. Who knows what crimes humanity will be committing at that time!

Please follow the well-crafted and tastefully served adventures of Nadine and Matthew on their home page at Navigating Nature, and on their facebook and instagram pages!

Closing Argument, For The Time Being!

June 16, 2017

This might be one of the hardest post to write. Its duty is to fill you in on the reason for what has been the longest absence I have taken from Aluna’s Travel the World blog since we started this amazing journey almost exactly eight years ago. Change is in the air! Big change!

Almost to the date eight years ago Aluna set out to sea under the Golden Gate Bridge that connects the city of San Francisco with the Marine County headlands to the north. It was with a deep disdain for the global corporate culture of consumption that this daredevil adventure had been set in motion and a good six of those eight years have been spent away from it all, or at least so we tried to kid ourselves. We have seen, lived and learned an unmeasurable lot and the most pertinent conclusion of it all is that there is no away from it all anymore. The culture of plastic wrapped and artificially and exaggeratedly sweetened goods has reached the gloomy eyes of every lone inhabitant of even the most remote little spec of land on our aching planet Earth. There is no sense anymore in running away!

There are reasons of personal finances too, but those are not the actual mover of things as we like to conclude with ever suspicious haste. Our batteries are charged, our vision is clear, it’s time to go in and work the system from the inside. I have accepted a teaching position at a Waldorf School in Switzerland, and we will be living in Langnau im Emmental for the next couple of years, far far away from the soothing swashing of the surf, hoping to instill some of the much-needed love of life in the next generation, who will have to find ways to deal with the big mess ours has created.

But this is by no means the end of Aluna’s travel. We were amongst the many options toying with the idea of outright selling her, but her uniqueness does not make that an easy undertaking. Storing her here in Australia for such an extended period also does not make any sense at all. We would pay an outrageous amount of money pretty much to have her slowly rot away under the tropical sun. By fortunate coincidence some German sailing friends we have met a couple of years ago in Tonga and then again in New Zealand, ever since they sold their small sailboat and returned to Stuttgart, had voiced interest in Aluna in sporadic spurts of electronic communication. Sophie and her Trinidadian partner Junior, in the meantime proud parents of two beautiful kids, have just last week booked a long haul flight this coming September from Germany to Brisbane. They will be taking Aluna on a run to New Caledonia and Vanuatu to celebrate their very own escape from the lands of consumption and along the way provide their offspring with the perfect opportunity to see a good bit of the real world out there, where fear can be embraced as the vociferous pointer it is towards the very lands of freedom.

I might sporadically continue to babble on here on this blog for a good bit more. There are many open ends to be tied up here, about the meaning of it all when looking back, about the spurts of continuous upgrades to Aluna’s fitness for aquatic life done here between those two concrete piles in the Brisbane river, about our half year spent in Australia without sighting a single koala bear nor kangaroo, and of course about the strongly resonating echoes of our extensive travelling that will most certainly illuminate our temporary return amongst the settlers of houses, those badly built boats so firmly aground that you cannot think of moving them.

Urban Jungle

January 4, 2017

The lush and dark green vegetation has closed in around me. A mossy, moist air exudes stringent layers of tropical heat. Vines snake up slender palm trunks towards the somber canopy. Exotic birds swirl around sporting plumage not seen anywhere else but here, on the most far out continent of the earth. If it weren’t for the little metal plates on the tree trunks, engraved with black letters, revealing local and Latin names of botanic species, I might be tempted to teleport myself back to a sultry Pacific Island. The fact is I’m barely a couple hundred meters away from the more hustling than bustling central business district of the three million strong City of Brisbane, where slender columns of glass, steel and concrete have grown much higher than any palm tree would ever dare.

Right next to these splendid Botanic Gardens four rows of solid piles have been driven into the muddy bed of the Brisbane River, which meanders through the town with its murky brown waters like a feathered serpent looking in vain for a healthy bite at its very own tail. It’s between two of these piles that our Aluna is moored, now already for a good three weeks. Back in the mantic mania of civilization the pull of time is once again mighty strong.

Hectic, unabashed, desperately virtual, tantricly absorbed, fiercely abused, methodically ignored: the gardens are used from dusk to dawn for the popular fitness craze, where phosphorescent colored sports ware under the tight control of smartphones strapped to biceps and handlebars absorbs the sweat of rapidly aging bodies. While living a life with loads of labor and a little lack of lust, spending the rest of their days inside cubes and concrete slabs, the absent gaze in the eyes of the Brisbanites hurrying along the many pathways of the park feels shamefully hollow. The contrast to the calm and ever-present people in the outer islands of the Pacific could not be greater. We have come far along in the process of man’s alienation from his natural roots. Modern man is a somber beast, lost infused in the illusion of control, terrified tremendously by his and her own so deeply crippled emotions. The switch to the robotized self has been completed, each physical unit thoroughly enslaved to a mirage of artificially animated clumps of matter, circling like mutilated bumblebees inside slightly swollen skulls.

I never seem to get tired to find fancy words to describe modern man’s frantic intent to rid himself of each and every tie to nature, this blind but very methodical urge to strangle life at its very source. The memories of ‘our there’, where this madness has had limited reach as of yet, these exotic places we have had the privilege to immerse our tired selves in until just barely one month ago, these memories are fading fast while we are being reabsorbed into a sterile world of steel, glass and concrete, hydrocarbon fuels and artificial intelligence, where the value of every single thing is extensively measured a billion times a second. The mind stands back in awe, numbed in an almost total anesthesia, the eyes wide open jaguar-like, staring into and scanning the void, the body aching with its movement restraint by arthritic joints.

What to do, apart from feeling the pain? There must be cracks in this world of glitz and glitter where resilient seeds can grow! There must be uncontrolled air space to undertake experiments of levitation! There must me sacred souls with sufficient suffering to generate a sound but subtle longing for understanding!

Tikopia On The Move

December 15, 2016

Tikopia might seem paradise to the fleeting glimpse of an outside visitor. While its over one thousand inhabitants are living a carefully and smartly controlled life in intimate embrace with nature, modernity has carved a solid foothold right through the middle of it, and the deadly diseases of the consumer society driven by greed and systemic exploitation have grown like cancerous tumours, eating away with lightning speed at its very core. However, as in any other human society, these unfortunate inflictions are diligently hidden away, its weaknesses pushed aside by potent bragging with crippled testosterone, its dark sides kept carefully veiled by well-guarded secrets.

I had contacted Norwegian Thomas Lien by email while still in Luganville, Vanuatu, to get details about the present state of the Lapita canoe. A little over two years ago he had lived for six months on Tikopia with his family of four, hoping to get away from the perils of civilization for a time while producing a television series for kids starring his charming six-year-old daughter. His answers to my persistent questions provided some very helpful information about the technical state of Lapita Tikopia, but once I enquired about the social context and the possible reasons behind the boat’s abandonment, the conversation abruptly stopped.

The two Lapita canoes had been delivered to Anuta and Tikopia in March of 2009. From my detective work on piecing together a history of Lapita Tikopia since then, it seems that for the first three years it was managed by Ariki Tafua’s inner circle, his younger brother Pa Tilo taking on the role of skipper. Four or five trips were made to Lata and back, providing transportation for government officials amongst other lucrative ventures. Pa Tilo is an open hearted guy, with a modern mind tempered by years of working with Solomon Islands fisheries, but leadership is not very high up on his personal skill sheet. Taking advantage of a break during our first week of work on Lapita Tikopia I sat down with him overlooking the bright white sandy beach, which would be an absolutely picturesque scene were it not for the strange fact that this happens to be the Tikopia’s toilet with the dizzying amount of flies that goes along this persistent habit. His account of one of these journeys must stand for most of the others.

‘There were these government officials from Fisheries visiting our island,’ he said in his rather charming intermittently broken English. ‘They needed to return to Lata and suggested why don’t we bring them there with Lapita. They offered a good bit of money. So we went, stopping at the Reef Islands on the way there. Then coming back, I knew we had to go way out to go up into the wind, so I went almost down to the Torres Islands. That’s when my crew started to complain, asking why we go that far and why don’t we head for Tikopia. After four days we finally sighted Tikopia, but they said it was a different island. Then I was sleeping down in the cabin when I heard the sails bang about on top. I went up and nobody was looking after things. Everybody wanted to know better than me, but when it came to doing things they were hopeless. We finally made it back but then they didn’t want to sail with me anymore.’

By 2012 it appears that accusations started to rummage about in the island. That the Tafua clan was making a lot of money with the canoe, that it should be the property of all the island folks, why don’t they share the profits and other similar things. After a while Ariki Tafua, at the time the present chief’s father Edward, gave in and transferred ownership to a steering committee in the neighboring village of Saint Michael. More trips were made but the moneys earned ended up carelessly in private pockets instead of being reinvested in the maintenance of the boat. It looks as the Solomon Island disease of corruption and misuse of public funds and property has made great inroads in Tikopia as well. On one of the last trips in 2014 the foot of the main mast broke and repairing that proved to be too great a feat for the designated captain and crew. No more use was made of the sailing canoe and not only was there nobody looking after it anymore, but things started to disappear from it, probably to mend more urgent personal needs somewhere else on the island.

These two years of abandonment were now at our hands and I was doing my best to explain again and again that I had not come to do the work myself. From our first meeting with the three chiefs I had demanded working hands, skilled and unskilled, ideally from the different villages on the island, to come and help with the restoration of the canoe, so that a sense of communal ownership could be reestablished. This took a good week and a further visit to Ariki Kafika in Ravenga on a rainy Sunday to sink in to the realm of reality. By week two a small team of four of five constant helpers and a short list of intermittent appearances had materialized. The rotten wood was being scraped out from underneath the fiberglass of the decks and pieces of the miserable plywood we found at the local school were cut to be fitted back in.

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As was to be expected progress was terribly slow and the original optimistic goal of sailing to Vanikoro together with us on Aluna at our return to Lata by the end of the month soon had vanished into very thin air. But soon our new island friends were mixing epoxy with cheap Latex gloves on their big hands. Their work was far from a pretty sight with blobs of hardened glue all over the place. Pretty was not what we were after however, and at the start of our third week on Tikopia, the coaming of the worst affected hatch was being reinstalled. Locally cut timber started to appear at the sight to be transformed into new bearers for the deck platform. Ariki Tafua had generously donated a sturdy bed frame from one of his guest houses. This provided good quality timber for replacing the rotten parts in the hull sides. New pieces for the hinges were being cut out and shaped by a very tall and viscously skilled wood worker. On good days food was being prepared by nearby families for the work crew and the constant supply of beetlenut and tobacco kept things moving along.

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It was now the last week of our stay, the end of October was approaching and with that the onset of the cyclone season. The repair of the worst section of the hull decks was almost completed and I designed a new motor bracket to mount the 15hp engine that had been donated by the Tikopia member of parliament. This in fact was a bit of an engineering challenge of its own, as it had to be done crudely without any fancy blocks and tackle. I keep my fingers crossed that it will work in the harsh reality of maritime abuse. While there was still a good amount of work to be done, a solid beginning had been made.

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Figuring out what had gone wrong in the past beyond the general notion of money and accessories of the canoe mysteriously disappearing, proved to be an impossible task. The present Tikopia society is one in disarray. Modernity is overrunning the island at a time when three of the four chiefs had to fill the shoes of their fathers at a very young age, while the fourth is clearly losing his wits to old age. With the money economy infiltrating the island’s social fabric at breakneck speed, the power of decision making is sifting through the stunned fingers of the immature chiefs towards the more astute, and discontent and distrust is growing along the fuzzy lines of clanships like mold and moss in the tropical heat. Nobody I managed to talk to had the courage to speak out against the chief’s clan or give clear cut information about the whos and the hows of the managerial catastrophe that had stifled the sound development of Lapita Tikopia.

Against all odds Ariki Tafua seems determined to give Lapita Tikopia a second life. That there may be a good deal of self-interest fueling his resolve does not matter all that much in the destined evolution of things. Given the lack of interest demonstrated by his fellow Tikopia citizen, it might in fact be the canoe’s only chance of survival. The very visible truth is that the Tikopia have made a firm step into the modern day consumer society. Money and its distorted evaluation of reality is infiltrating the merry minds of these charming island folks like a viral outbreak of contagious disease under the burning tropical sun. Maybe the burgeoning middle class haunted by their very recent stone age past will sooner or later claim some or all of the properties of the flailing chiefly clans and in a neo-liberal take-over Tikopia style realize, in appearance at least, the communal intentions of the original donors of the canoe. That can and will of course happen only once the hard work of restauration from the past neglect has been accomplished, once the profits promise to be smooth and fat and sufficiently effortless…

In The Thick Of It

December 8, 2016

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.

lapitaprogress-6Plywood 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!

Surveying The Sad State of Neglect

December 2, 2016

It had been clear to me that what we were going to see once finally close up to Lapita Tikopia was not going to be pretty. I had agreed with Ariki Tafua that work on the ship should start on the coming Monday and that on Friday and Saturday I was going to inspect the boat to get an idea of the scope of the work ahead.

We found Lapita Tikopia resting on round logs we would later learn are of the local ‘slippery wood’, ideal for dragging heavy boats over them. Her two hulls were each covered with a long strip of green tarp while a wider one loosely covered the center deck. Removing that one first we found a dilapidated cooking box resting on the platform timbers, a pile of inflated life vests with corroded cartridges and a heavy blue bag containing a life raft sitting next to it. The platform timbers flexed precariously when I tried to walk across them. Some pieces of it had broken off and rot hat gotten the best of others. Examining the hulls from the outside showed no major damage. The antifouling paint had worn off and two small cracks revealed a tiny bit of rot along the drain holes of the cockpit.

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After gingerly removing the long tarps covering the hulls we encountered the first serious trouble. The hinges of the enormous hatches of James Wharram’s Tama Moana design were badly worn, their ropes lose and whole pieces of the hinge mounts on the decks of the hulls were missing. The latter had resulted in cracked and holed areas where rainwater had entered. Rot had progressed from there underneath the fiberglass to the point making the deck areas feel mushy. Beatriz’ not very careful step on one area had her foot going straight through leaving a gaping hole. Fortunately, no serious injury resulted.

Once inside the hulls the extent of the damage became hauntingly clear. The plywood of the decks was reduced to a spongy mess in those places, rot extending as far as the top strips of the side planking and into the hatch coamings. White ants and wood rot go together in the tropics, and in addition there were dark brown knobs of as spongy fungus happily at home on the teak. There was water in almost all the bilges, fresh water, as the famous lick test soon revealed. About half of the removable floor boards that give access to the bilges were rotten to the point of no longer bearing the weight of a person standing on them. The floor of the starboard cockpit and the bulkhead around the entrance to the hull were also soft to the touch.

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Three of the beams were of a little smaller diameter. They had obviously been replaced, while the one that supports the mizzen mast showed small pockets of rot close to the port inboard lashing. The two masts had been leaned against a corrugated iron shed next to the boat, their wood severely weathered. The foot of the main mast had been crudely repaired with a string wrapped around it. While the two smaller sails looked decent, the big main sail’s vertical spar was reduced to a bare bamboo pole, weathered and split. Most of the rigging rope was missing. A crudely assembled motor bracket hung precariously from the aft beam.

The general impression was one of neglect. There’s a certain aspect emanating from a boat that has not properly been looked after, and Lapita Tikopia’s aura was impregnated with it from nose to tail. I began to wonder if anybody had even seriously looked at the boat prior to our arrival. All the descriptions of the damages I had heard prior to our arrival had been misleading, and I wondered if with the materials I had brought with us on Aluna we would be able to mend the worst of it and restore functionality to the boat. Most importantly there was going to be a great need of plywood to replace the rotten decks, and I had brought none. It could easily have been arranged with time, had there been a clear reporting of the facts.

But my task here on Tikopia is not only a technical and engineering one. Many people have invested their energy in the two Lapita canoes and a great deal of money has been spent. In order not to end up trying to refill a bucket with a giant hole in its bottom, I had to find out why it had come to all this. What went wrong on Tikopia? What is the social background that allowed such a precious and well-intended gift to waste under the sun? What kind of politics derailed the clear purpose of the donors and the original sound desire of the recipients?

Of course not all was work and despair. We did some exploring with our young friends. A terribly steep footpath leads up from Saint Michael’s village to a small gap in the mountain range visible from our anchorage. Descending on the other side our expert guides led us along the peaceful shores of Rongo Lake, the brackish body of water that fills the crater of the ancient volcano that created the island in the first place. Of its southern rim only two pinnacles are left standing. We learned that in 2013 cyclone Zoe had breached the sand spit that separates the lake from the sea and flooded the lake with salt water. Apparently Tikopia gets hit by cyclones almost every year. Our excursion then led us behind the village of Ravenga to a point where the footpath rounds a rocky promontory where the main crater rim descends down into the sea. From there we returned to the western side of the tiny island that for a couple weeks was our fragile home.

lapitasurvey-7 lapitasurvey-8 rongolake-1

180˚ Course Change

November 29, 2016

This is an interlude from the present time, as there are still three posts from the Tikopia project in the pipeline, which are duly scheduled to appear every Thursday for the upcoming weeks. Attentive readers might remember our ambitious plans for the oncoming cyclone season mentioned at our outset from New Zealand six months ago. Dreams like going up North to Kiribati, then Marshall Islands and the big brave jump all the way up North. Well, all of a sudden all the enormous sea we’d have to cross to do that started to seem a bit too brutal. Also our intense experience in Tikopia grew on us a bit like a finishing point of sort. Could it be that we had seen enough of the Pacific? Did the Poly-, Mela- and Micronesians all of a sudden look a little shallow, as if we had explored them to death, their charm now looking a bit empty, their cultural adaptations morphed to a solitary dead end street waiting to be crushed and cursed by modernity?

It came out of the blue, without wanting it, but then almost logically emerging from the few options at hand. Why don’t we go to Australia? That southernmost continent never had exerted any attraction for me with its white arrogance, dark history of penal colony and brutal annihilation of a native people with a skin tan too scary for the Europeans.

One month of humiliating maneuvers later, striving to fulfill the stringent visa requirements, and with a good chunk of cash having evaporated in the doldrums sun, it feels a little bit like sometimes life wants you to do things you never really wished for. Something must be waiting there ‘down under’ for us to do. It certainly is a great privilege to be able to radically change our life’s direction whenever the calling rings in our ears.

We have spent the last week and half in what must be one of the most miserable places in the South Pacific: the Solomon Islands noisy, dirty and faceless capital of Honiara. An impossibly small and exposed port, where half the time your vessel is bouncing up and down on short choppy swells coming in the tiny bay from the North, makes for a miserable existence at best, with torrential rainfalls that purge the creeks of their accumulated human throwaways, which ends up washed out into the sea, a slurry of plastic bags, food containers, plastic bottles of all sizes swimming around the boat at anchor and lining the beaches with their non-floating peers the tin cans. Landing our canoe here at the ‘Yacht Club’ always implied wading through a meter wide band of debris of modern mankind’s industrial excrements, where the Tikopia’s poop on their pristine beaches was allowed to quickly fade into memory, whipped out by a yet more disgusting manifestation.

After undergoing medical exams to prove that we will not infect the Aussies with some solemn diseases and staring at a wall of faceless refusal to communicate, finally last night an email confirmed that now the two of us are deemed suitable for visiting the terra australis. We will set to sea tomorrow morning and set an ambitious course for Brisbane in Southern Queensland, with Bundaberg as an option should the gods of the winds be less then favorable. We will report from the Eastern seaboard of the notorious Coral Sea as soon as we shall have passed unscathed the just as notorious Australian border controls with our unconventional vessel and our still mighty non-conventional attitudes!

Saint Michael’s Feast

November 24, 2016

September 29 is the day of Saint Michael in the calendar of the Melanesian branch of the Anglican Church. That is reason enough for the whole island population of Tikopia to congregate in and around the church under his patronage. It is a long dilapidated concrete building with a corrugated tin roof. We had come ashore with the morning service already underway, the chanting of the choir had lured us in. Once again a group of children had greeted us as we landed our canoe and had lead us by our hands across the big open clearing towards the church, which is not big enough to accommodate everybody, so groups of people in colorful dresses had been sitting in the shade of the trees all around while the muffled sound of the celebrated mass continued to nurture their lack of attention.

Now we are sitting cross-legged on the matted floor of a house next to the church. Ariki Tafua has invited us for the feast and we are in the house of his wife’s family. The chief and the invited guests seem to be always eating first. From a couple baskets bundles of food are unwrapped. The big green leaves are spread out on the floor in front of us and now serve as plates. Mashed manioc and banana pudding serve as staple, and heaps of it land on our plates plus sizeable junks of baked fish. A short blessing is pronounced, the Tikopia have embraced the Christian doctrine only very recently, in fact since about the middle of last century. Then the fingers dig in and for a short while the conversation stops. Tikopia are of Polynesian stock, proud and tall built and Ariki Tafua is a splendid example. His sizeable frame is hunched over the edibles in front of him and we do our best to keep up with his appetite. As soon as he’s had enough his food is moved on to the next group of people and eyes staring at us from the opposite side of the ample room give us a hint that our feeding time better be over too. Before we know it our ‘plate’ is also moved along and ends up before other hungry fingers.

After washing our hands and a short chitchat we go back outside and return to the clearing around the church. There the people who have come from afar, if such a thing can exist on such a tiny island, are finishing up their picnics. We are invited to sit next to the chief and his family on a mat covering the sandy grounds. A wailing sound comes from the other side of the clearing where a group of men has risen and a slow chanting makes a rather timid entrance. Little by little the voices clear and become infused with passion. The chief explains that the folks from the other side of the islands are ‘rehearsing’ their first set of ‘kustom’ presentation. The two chiefs from the township of Ravenga, Ariki Kafika and Ariki Fangarere are both dressed in traditional attire, broad bands of tapa cloth wrapped around their waists, bare chested with bright white leis around the necks, the heads topped with crowns made from the yellow stems of palm fronds. Soon the group starts advancing towards us swaying slowly from side to side while stomping heavily on the ground. A crooked half of an old canoe has been placed in the center of the clearing and a guy with two wooden sticks pounds a slow rhythm down on it, keeping the performers’ pace in unison. The group has now been reinforced in the back rows by women and young folks and as they advance towards us their chanting grows in crescendo until they approach the lonesome drummer in the center. There all of a sudden their pulsating fervor comes to an end, but the group reforms once again in the background from they had started.


After two more chants the dancers retire to their places and sit down. It is now our side’s turn and we’re immediately dragged into the action, soon swaying our enchanted bodies from side to side with hanging arms, trying to imitate the intriguingly monotonous melody, while connecting to mother Earth with our pounding feet. With every new number the dancer’s enthusiasm accelerates and we clearly are on a path to some mystic frenzy. The beetle nut stained teeth of our hosts gleam read and ravaging as the smiles become more and more exuberant. Our heads in the meantime have also been decorated with yellow crowns of palm fronds and Beatriz’ advanced dance moves are greatly appreciated and profusely applauded.


All afternoon long the two parties alternate their presentation, the dance moves growing more elaborate with eclectic jumping in line formation, clearly a challenge to improvise on given structure, where the most daring take the lead and enthusiastic followers trailing their valent initiative.


A short announcement of Ariki Tafua brings the celebration to a close while the sun starts its decent in the West. We are summoned to a short meeting at his house with the two chiefs from the ‘other’ side, to explain to them the purpose of our visit. They are both young and friendly and promise support by sending workers for our task of resuscitating the neglected Lapita canoe. This brings the day of celebration to a close and we retire to our gently bouncing floating home on anchor just off the reef. The children help us carry our canoe back into the water and send us off with cheers and laughter and eyes of immense curiosity, a trait we would soon learn to appreciate well beyond admiration!