After Friday's full day of sailing canoe races, tug of wars (known locally as "pull the rope"), face painting for hours and watching women compete in dresses, we called it a day and came home with some large flying fish from Anious (Pumpkin) and Emily. Michael was beat as he was still needing some recuperation from his bout with vertigo. We (all the visiting yachties) had been publicly invited to the closing celebration that would be held on Saturday at 3 pm.
We had invited Anious and Emily to the boat for dinner on Saturday but had to juggle that because of the change by the "Liberation Day Committee" in the date of the closing ceremony. It had been changed from Friday to Saturday at the last minute. So we decided to do at least an early "coffee and cake" with them Unfortunately we had to cancel that as well. The boat was way to rocking and rolling in the anchorage and we thought it would be very uncomfortable, plus it would be a very wet ride out to the boat in the dinghy.
That morning however was not without some activity. Our friends from SVV Off Tempo, Brian and Terry had arranged to go out on one of the sailing canoes. They traded a rigging knife and some fishing line for their adventure. But they sure got more than they traded for! We watched the boat leave the beach at 0830 and by 0900 they were upside down in the water! A gust, a sail move, and a young man steering, all collided and created a flip. The wind was blowing a steady 20k with heavier gusts. Michael had to get dressed and get our dinghy fueled up to get way out there to help rescue. Luckily SV Mariposa also finally saw it and got into their dinghy, which is a much more powerful and bigger launch. The boat managed to flip itself back over by doing it end over end – quite an accomplishment. Michael brought Terry back to her boat and Mariposa (also Michael) towed the canoe and four people back to the beach. Terry got a few pretty good bumps on her head and arm from the boat and was quite stiff that night and the next day.
After the rescue, we got ready for the afternoon's dinner. We had been warned that 3 pm was probably gonna be more like 5 pm - "Marshall Island Time." We got to the site at the sound of the first bells. We (meaning all the yachties) were the only ones there along with the set up crew and our entourage of about 30 kids! We have groupies! So we sat around and listened to them set up the music. Most times we go to get entertained by the locals – but while waiting Terry and Brian danced to the music to the delight of the children with us.
About 6 pm we were invited to sit down – we were given seats at a "head table" and the men got flower leis and the women got flower head wreaths. The ladies' wreaths did get changed a few times, each time with a more beautiful and fragrant wreath – but it was quite funny. We got our fresh drinking coconuts and the event committee really waited on us and made us feel very important. Other people at this point also started to arrive – but it was slow. About 7:30 pm the flag ceremony took place and the speeches got started. It was all in Marshallese except the occasional welcome to the yachties in English. Many speeches continued and at around 0830 women brought out these incredible handmade frond baskets filled with a variety of local foods. They gave one to each of us though there was enough food to feed four in one basket! But we couldn't eat this food until more speeches happened and so we stared at wonderful and exotic looking food getting cold! Finally, we were given the okay to start and tasted a sampling of very traditional food – some of it we will most likely never get the chance to eat again(because of the endangered species laws!) There was chicken, pork, octopus, fish prepared in a variety of ways, rice, an orange fruit or veggie thing wrapped in a pandanus leave; breadfruit and a sweet coconut treat.
We were asked to speak and Barbara was elected by the group to say a few words with the help of a translator. We listened to the two church choirs sing and then the evening was over. There are two churches on the island and it seems they are quite competitive. One has 56 parishioners and one has 54 – and at events they sit in separate areas, provide their own choirs and it was interesting to watch the two ministers react (or not react) to each other.
The challenge was to return in the dark night to the boat in our dinghy through shallow coral reefs and bommies. It was challenging but luckily tide was a little higher so we could safely make it back. We got aboard at 2300 (11 pm)...well past cruisers' midnight.
We did feel quite honored and special that night. On Sunday we moved the boat back to Uliga and a more calm anchorage – though it is still really windy in the low 20s, there is a little less roll here.
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