Sunday, April 6, 2014

Liberation Day

That headline has two meanings aboard Astarte. First, the boat has stopped doing 360 degree turns for Michael and he is just about "liberated" from his experience with vertigo. The boat was in an anchorage that was quite rocking and rolling – so that didn't help his balance. But today (Sunday) he feels better than the last five days. It was our first really scary experience with one of us being that debilitated. It simply took time and patience.

On Thursday, we moved the boat from Uliga back to the village of Ailuk though Michael was still feeling pretty rocky. Unfortunately, we had a tough time finding a bommie-free spot and had to re-anchor three times. Luckily Brian, a fellow boater from "Off Tempo," was in the water checking his anchor and he helped us scope out a good spot and make sure our anchor was well set – then Michael called it a day.

Barbara went into to town to check out what was on the agenda for the local "Liberation Day" holiday. In 1945, the US troops came in and liberated the islanders from the Japanese and April 4th is celebrated annually here in Ailuk Atoll. The festivities center around sporting activities with islanders from various villages and islands within the atoll participating. On Thursday, there was a men's basketball competition, men's and women's volleyball and baseball tournaments, some track and field events. We missed most of those as we were busy moving the boat and didn't get into the village until they were all over.

On Friday, the "main" event takes place which is the traditional sailing canoe race. This atoll is known as "The Island of Sails" so the sailing canoe is not only a daily workhorse here, it is also the islands' pride. We went in for that and it was something to see. Ten boats in three different sizes (classes) participated. Class A was the largest sailing canoe with four person crews. The Class B was a mid-size canoe with a crew of three and the smallest was the two-person Class C Each of these boats serve a different purpose in real life. The Class A can go offshore (a wet ride) and we've seen these plying the lagoon from village to village with ten to twelve people on board plus cargo! The mid size seem to be the most popular and are used to haul copra, fish or transport people. On Thursday, we watched on shore as many of the canoes were increasing their sail size – sewing on extra "fabric". The sails are everything from the plastic wrap that home insulation is shipped in to large tarps. Many have lots of bits sewn together to make the single large sails on these outriggers. Masts were extended as well to make room for the larger sails. It was blowing 20-24 knots on race day which meant for some wild rides with the outriggers flying out of the water – quite a sight! The Class B's started first from the beach, followed by the larger Class A craft. These boats did two rounds around a long course – one end was out of sight far up the lagoon. They came back and had to "tack" around a mark. Tacking these boats entails moving the entire sailing rig from one end of the boat to the other(not mention moving the rudder end to end). The boat doesn't turn – it can go in either direction after the sail is moved. This is a tricky maneuver on the boats and amazing to watch the skill of these sailors. Three boats were damaged in the race and didn't finish. One even had to be towed back to the beach. One was disqualified for not "following the rules." It was a wonderful opportunity to watch these skilled boatsmen and the beautiful craft.
After boat races there were a few more on the water events including a two-women canoe paddle (the same boats as the small Class C boats). The women were hilarious – rowing in the traditional "mumu" dresses (they play volleyball, baseball and run in them as well). One boat was unable to steer a straight course and managed to get going the wrong way and flipping!

The best part of the boat races was the crowd on the beach watching and yelling for their favorites. It was mostly kids (and there are a lot of them!). At one point, a woman (in a mumu of course), came running out to the beach with a whistle and banging a drum and suddenly all the kids went running to her – she was the "candy lady" and tossed out handful of sweets to the kids chasing her! Barbara and Terry (from "Off Tempo") set up a "face painting" table and painted kids hands and a few faces. They were swarmed with kids after a slow start. That made them lots of young friends and we are now like the pied piper in town with a trail off kids following us everywhere we go.

Tomorrow...the Liberation Day event continues with the closing ceremonies!

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