Magic & Mystery in Micronesia
But Micronesian pride can extend beyond ancient man-made marvels to several gifts of nature. Pohnpei itself is a high, forested island with many scenic attractions, but the pearl of the province is the uninhabited Ant Atoll, which lies just 10 miles to the southwest.
Perhaps to ease my own conscience, I've often tried to convince my hard-working family that the cruising life isn't as idle or idyllic as it may seem. But a single photograph of our holiday antics within that pristine atoll would discredit me forever. Four boats, from the United States, Australia, Denmark, and France, shared the anchorage. (See "Holiday Time at Ant Atoll," Passage Notes, October 2009.) On Christmas Eve, festive carolers swam from boat to boat to sample the international cuisine. Christmas Day was spent sipping laced coconuts in the surf along a sweeping white beach, while fresh fish grilled on an open fire. At the stroke of New Year, we dove from the high decks of the classic powerboat Westward into the moonlit waters below. I had the thought that the instant comradeship and good will felt between cruisers of any age, race, religion, or national origin is the embodiment of the Christmas spirit without seasonal restraint.
After two sun-soaked weeks, Diana and I tore ourselves away from these pleasures. We faced a plethora of landfall choices in the states of Chuuk and Yap. In the end, we decided to focus on the atoll of Lamotrek, in eastern Yap, because it reportedly still possessed a vibrant traditional culture.
With the spinnaker breathing like a slumbering beast, we ghosted 700 miles to the west. We hove to for the night to windward of Lamotrek so we could reach through one of the narrow passes into the eight-mile-long lagoon at dawn. We dropped anchor just off the village into 50 feet of clear water.
After a week at sea, vibrant colors and earthy smells filled our senses. A world of wonder waited just behind those coconut trees. But once the anchor was snubbed, the sail cover secured, and the tiller tied, a deep fatigue set in. We longed to crawl into our berths and sleep until we couldn't. But custom demanded that we row in and introduce ourselves.
A huge man dressed in a loincloth met us on the beach. Francis is a schoolteacher, speaks perfect English, and, although living a very traditional island life, has much experience with the outside world. He was the perfect translator and guide.
Francis led us to a towering thatched structure. Twenty men, dressed in scant loincloths, were adzing a breadfruit log into the rough shape of a canoe. We were offered a cup of the ubiquitous tuba, a heady coconut beer. I told Francis that I'd like first to meet the chief and ask his permission to anchor in the lagoon. Francis translated. The men nodded in approval, agreeing that this was the proper way.
He led me to an elderly man sitting on a log. I introduced myself to Chief Joseph and offered him a big plait of tobacco and a box of matches. This is an old custom-simple yet respectful-and, in our case, particularly timely. The supply ship had been broken down for months. The villagers were out of rice, flour, sugar, canned goods, and much-prized tobacco.
Besides matches, Chief Joseph found 10 shiny fish hooks in the box. Puzzled, he asked Francis for an explanation.