Riding Rain Squalls

Alex Rust

08 November 2010 | Solomon Sea, north of Woodlark (muyua) Island

We left out of Budi Budi with good light and headed west towards Muyua island where, on a large scale chart, I had seen a possible bay on its northern coast. We have no detailed charts on the region (I dont think they exist), and even the garmin which we use for navigation would read in bold lettering ‘unsurveyed area’. We had been sailing for a couple hours towards an island that was nothing more than a huge rock that stuck up 100 feet out of the water and was 500 feet in diameter. The amount of birds circling and landing on it lured me in but the sun was down by the time we were close to enough to throw the dingy off and conquer the rock and so we turned away. About this time I noticed the depth sounder plunge to 30 feet. I checked the garmin which read us to be in 350 feet. Ben and Tree went on lookout at the bow but with only a fading dim glow of sun on the western horizon for light it was no use. My heart raced as it got down to 19 feet in total darkness. Not knowing which way to turn I decided to keep course and it was several minutes before more water appeared beneath the keel, but it left my mind wondering what other unknown shoals we would go over this night.

The next day we were hit by a half a dozen rain squalls. In between each system the wind would die to nothing and then gradually increase to 10 knots for a 30 minute period as it approached. Upon arrival its leading edge would bring 15 knot winds for 10 minutes then 20 knots for 2-3 minutes after which time the wind would lessen to 8 knots and a torrential downpour would engulf us taking visibility to near zero for 10 minutes or so before leaving us in bright sunshine and no wind once again. The first squall that hit I dropped the main when we hit 20 knots of wind, for the second squall I turned the boat into the wind until it past, and for the rest I rode with all three sails up trying to ride the wind as long as possible sometimes staying with it for a full 5 minutes or more with the boat heeled over dipping the rail and water sometimes reaching the cockpit. For each 5 minute run Tree would yell out like the girl that she is while Benito and I would lap up the excitement. We finished the day with full tanks of fresh water.

The next morning we arrived on the north side of Muyua. The island was large (nearly 60 miles from one end to the other) and thick with palm jungle, but leaving stretches of white sand beaches as barrier between itself and the bright blue sea. There were no signs of towns, villages or any type of human development but as we approached we noticed many indigenous children running out of the bush to catch a glimpse at us. We were later greeted by a local fisherman who paddled out to us in his dug out canoe. We brought him on board and he explained the lay of the entire north coast to us of which there looked to be no safe anchorage and the bay entrance where we were initially headed was blocked by reef. He tried many times to convince us to stay and it was difficult for him to understand why we couldn’t just drive the boat up on the beach like he does with his canoe. After accepting that we couldn’t stay he held up a large mackerel he had caught that morning and wanted to trade it. I offered him Tree but he didnt seem interested in the ‘dim dim’ (local word for whites) woman and so we settled on two fishing swivels for half the fish. He told of us some islands further west (trobriand islands) where they hold sex festivals for the yam gods. Sounds interesting thought we and so we said our good byes a took a coarse westward.

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