Irish Melody's Blog

April 16, 2010

#24 – Rock Islands, Palau

Filed under: Palau — irishmelody @ 9:16 AM
11 Apr 2010 — Rock Islands, Palau
View of Rock Is. Anchorage
We wish you could see this storybook setting in person but, alas, you’ll have to endure our enthusiastic although feeble attempt to describe it. We’ll do our best to post good pictures on our blog (see note below). It’s been raining off and on, and the sun is filtering through the thin cloud layer at the moment. Air temperature is in the low 80s and water temperature is 83. A truly gorgeous morning.
We are currently anchored in 75′ of water in a small “cul-de-sac” cove which is completely surrounded by a steep 100′ high ridge of jungle except for a very narrow entry slot with a depth of 13′. It’s just big enough for two boats and is calm as a lake. It reminds me of some of the secluded coves at Lake Tahoe except with total green vegetation cover… and the temperature, of course. Early this morning there was a loud chorus of birds with a background of gentle slapping of ripples against the limestone shoreline of the islands. It is overcast and occasionally drizzling. We’re expecting sunshine today so the lighting will be right for pictures. Just outside the pass is a snorkeling site called “Cemetery Reef”. We’ll check it out and other places in our dinghy. Our friends, Rob and Teresa on s/v Yohelah are here as well. They are helping us set up our website. (A tremendous amount of work but we’re excited and think you’ll like it.)
It’s 10:00 am and the sun is out now and it’s time for pictures. We’ll be here for 2 more nights, and we’re sure we won’t want to leave. This is right up there with Fatu Hiva in the Marquesis Islands for the best anchorage we’ve had in our 14 years of cruising! We just like to sit in the cockpit and soak it in.

Note from Linda: To take the marvelous photo of our “hidden anchorage” that  is the extra large photo on our Palau page, Dave went on a perilous hike, scrambling up the steep limestone rock and up through the jungle, hanging on to trees/limbs to pull himself up. The photo was taken looking over the rock face, down into the deep anchorage. Then to find his way back… And, as the tide had fallen, Dave needed to drop his backpack/camera into the dinghy from above, before jumping into the warm waters of the lagoon. (See photo above, of how the limestone rocks are “undercut”.  The cockpit shower on Irish Melody was a refreshing end to the several hour “fun hike”…

March 22, 2010

Traditional Dance, Yap

Filed under: Yap — irishmelody @ 4:50 PM


The day after arrival, we were invited to two traditional dance performances, both outdoors.

The first was in a grassy area between a Traditional Women’s House and a Men’s House, where we used the stone money as back rests! The audience was almost all local families; perhaps 2 percent visitors.

Singing, clapping, shouting, and full, colorful grass skirts swishing in unison. The dances and songs told stories, as all island dances do, and we wished that we knew the language but settled for soaking in the ambiance.

Women, men and children all participated; young and old alike.

The second dance performance, the next afternoon, was also at a traditional dancing ground and would be the “last chance” for the families to see those dances until next Spring, sort of a “hanging up of the costumes” ceremony.

                                        We were lucky to have arrived in time

March 21, 2010

Yap Island

Filed under: Yap — irishmelody @ 12:00 AM
March 21, 2010 — Yap Island
We have been anchored at Yap Island for ten days now! Our four day/four night voyage in Irish Melody from Lamotrek to Yap began nicely, with Irish Melody sailing “wing and wing” with main on starboard, jib on port and wind directly in back.
The rest of the time was a starboard reach with wind in the 20’s, finishing up with rather rowdy wave trains from two directions pushing us onward
From Dave: “The two produced choppy seas and occasionally generated a couple of “rogue waves” which sometimes would jump into the cockpit. One such wave put at least a half barrel of water into the cockpit leaving 2 inches sloshing around plus a big splash down the companionway and onto Linda who was sleeping in the quarter berth… talk about an “ol’ wet hen”! No worries, though. The cockpit drained and Mom put down several towels to soak up the water and went back to sleep. After that, however, we kept the companionway hatch closed, and the next morning we were coming through the Pass to the Yap anchorage. The sea is full of surprises. On a passage like that the boat doesn’t just rock with the waves, it randomly lurches back and forth on all 6 degrees of freedom (including rotation). Consequently, we both didn’t realize how tired we were until we went ashore to check in. Our energy was pretty much drained and we were ravenously hungry. After checking in we had huge lunches at a nearby small restaurant and ate nearly everything in sight. A day later with big meals my food intake has finally caught up…”   We were happy to arrive in this calm harbor, as we always are, and after a full night’s sleep we were ready for exploration.

We had a St Patrick’s Day Party aboard Irish Melody with the other 3 boats in the anchorage; 9 yachties all together. Dave put up a string of green LED lights around the cockpit, there were green munchies and decorations, and Linda made a Mexican 7-layer dip with slices of baby bell peppers that looked every bit like shamrocks on top.   And Dave played his fiddle, of course.

Linda's Money

Linda's Money, Women's House

March 19, 2010

Stone Money, Yap

Filed under: Yap — irishmelody @ 12:00 AM
March 19, 2010 — Stone Money, Yap, Micronesia

For many many decades, I have dreamed of visiting the islands of Yap in Micronesia, and here I am. I am truly grateful. My cousins Dave and Doris Holmes used to send me Christmas presents from Micronesian Trust Territories right after WWII. They were my favorite presents! I still have the grass skirt, and the story board depicting Yapese Stone Money, and the dreams of all those years of someday visiting Micronesia.

Yesterday we rented a car with our friends on the Australian sailboat “Black Billy”. We spent 9 hours driving on main roads and back gravel roads, taking two hikes of a couple hours each in the jungle on two of the many ancient stone paths that criss-cross the island.

We visited a dozen beautiful, wooden “Meeting Houses” with ocean views. They feature tall, peaked thatched roofs on raised stone platforms surrounded by stone money. Think huge stone millstones, from 2′ to over 9′ in diameter.

Most were quarried in Palau, almost three hundred miles across the open ocean. For hundreds of years they were transported to Yap by sailing canoes pulling rafts with several heavy stones, often at a loss of both stone money and lives.

They were of shimmering limestone, “crystalline calcite”. They are now black with age but originally they were sparkling yellow. How beautiful they must have been! The hole carved into the center was so that a log could be inserted to carry them.

Some weigh up to 8 tons. The largest pieces were carved the latest, with iron tools provided by “His Majesty David O’Keefe”, an Irishman who shipwrecked on Yap in the 1800’s then provided a sailing ship to transport Stone Money in exchange for copra. I seemed to have taken photos of over 60 pieces… some so tall that Dave, standing in front, could barely reach to the top.

And some that I began to call “change”, only a couple of feet tall but still VERY heavy and impressive. Some of the smaller but earlier pieces, carved out with shell tools, are the most valuable.

Stone money pieces are all so different that now that several hundred years have gone by, each major piece even has a name! They change ownership sometimes, for purposes such as asking forgiveness, bestowing honor and land transactions, but almost always remain where they have been placed.

They stand upright in “Stone Money Banks” on jungle roads; along a path to a MeetingHouse or a Men’sHouse; on the raised stone platforms surrounding a MeetingHouse, and many times in front of homes of chiefs and others who have enough status to own them. We admired hundreds of pieces, and evidently there are thousands on this island, the only place in the world that such a thing exists. For more info and photos, google Yap Stone Money. I just spent a fascinating hour doing just that!

Path with a Stone Money Bridge

Photo to right: A “Stone Money Bank”

March 16, 2010

Stone Paths & Meeting Houses, Yap

Filed under: Yap — irishmelody @ 9:09 PM

The men’s houses, women’s houses and meeting houses of Yap are a marvel.  Dozens are still in use.  Many are historic but many are still being built today using traditional materials and construction.   While we were visiting Lamotrek Island, a baby girl was born in the Women’s House, surrounded by love and caring.  It seemed like most of the women in the entire island were there, especially in the mornings, making communal food for the young woman and her family and helping to care for the new babe.

Men’s houses are a meeting place for village leaders, a work shop for the building of outrigger canoes and and elaborate fish traps and a place for men and older boys to spend their free time.  They are beautiful structures, built with high peaked roofs,  set on imposing stone platforms and usually surrounded by stone money.

Wide stone foot paths, raised up from the surrounding land for good drainage, connect all of the villages. Many paths are still in good condition and we loved walking on them through the jungle, usually ending at yet another beautiful Meeting House.

March 7, 2010

Lamotrek — So hard to leave

Filed under: Lamotrek — irishmelody @ 12:00 AM
Hi everyone — 07 Mar 2010 — Lamotrek Atoll

We’re overwhelmed with love and friendship from the generous families on the island of Lamotrek. We said our good byes this morning amongst families begging us to come back some day, but sadly, we think that we never will. They expressed appreciation for our help in the school and fixing various things, and we expressed appreciation for the gifts of six hand woven lava-lava’s, 2 thu’s, so many fresh flower leis and head bands that we couldn’t count them plus papayas, bananas, freshly cooked fish, taro, and more. We shared lots of school supplies here… much needed and much appreciated, AND we have a lighter boat. In thanks for each lava lava, we came up with flash lights, sheets, towels, canned food, fishing supplies and more, with our appreciation for the artistry and work it took to hand weave the beautiful fabric on local hand crafted back-strap looms.

Most of the homes in Lamotrek have coral sand floors covered with mats woven of coconut fronds. The school has a few up to date computers (Apple) and a large solar/inverter system to power them. The batteries look like they came from a ship, weighing several hundred pounds each, I think. They don’t have internet, but they can do email like we do… through their High Frequency radio on a closed system linked throughout the Federated States of Micronesia.

After burning the midnight oil for 3 nights (first Linda and then Dave) we delivered two DVDs this morning of video/slide shows that we prepared for the schools and families. There are very few DVD players on island and the only computers are in the teacher’s room at the school, but they will crowd around to see themselves and remember the “Culture Day” festivities.

Culture Day: Micronesia is serious about preserving their traditions and throughout the year they teach them in the schools. Friday was “Culture Day” and the whole island participated in the festivities. It started with the raising of the flag and singing of the national anthem. Then various school kids demonstrated island crafts and skills, and they all sang a song about respecting their customs and elders. Canoe building is alive and well here and is a big part of the demonstrations including construction, rigging the sail, demonstrating how to right an overturned sailing canoe, and a big emphasis on “star path” navigation which requires countless hours of memorization. Unlike the Marshall Islands canoes (which have plywood sides), the construction starts with a dugout log. Then they build up the sides and ends which are lashed together and glued all with natural materials. They make their own rope from coconut fiber. We were gifted with a multi strand hank that must have taken weeks to twist — that after soaking the fiber in sea water for 2 months to soften it. The finished canoe is painted… the only non-traditional material used.

All the participants and many of the “spectators” were adorned with leis, flower headbands, and yellow turmeric powder on faces and shoulders. The younger girls all wore fiber skirts. And, of course, we yachties (four of us) were given leis and flower bands for our hair… several each. We took lots of pictures and videos for the DVD that we were asked to make for the school. We’ll be glad to show that DVD and more to you as we cross paths this summer/fall.

We were glad to hear that Northern California had a nice “February good weather wave”. We always love it, too. The weather here is… you guessed it… warm, sunny with a few puffy clouds and a light, refreshing breeze. A few days ago I (Dave) made waffles (with wheat germ and fresh chopped up apple) for the yachties in the anchorage, a total of five of us, before they needed to continue on. We’ll see them again in Yap or Palau.

The islanders are just as delightful as our favorite friends in the Marshalls, Solomons, and Fiji. This will be one of our most remembered places.

February 28, 2010

Island Welcome Party

Filed under: Lamotrek — irishmelody @ 12:00 AM
Sunday afternoon, February 28 — Lamotrek Atoll
Fortunately, we took our Bible for reading in church this morning, as the service was in the Lamotrek local language (as is usual for the Islands). Singing is international, though, and we went for the music. On this very traditional island, there were no pews or chairs; everyone stood when appropriate and sat on the concrete floor when appropriate. We went early and scored a place in the middle near the wall for back support. The church alter was wonderful. It was a beautiful, hand carved half-sized canoe on a pedestal, draped in hand woven cloth. A piece of quality museum art.
 Xavier is the Lamotrek School Principal and also the church Deacon. He organizes the church services and gives the sermons. Xavier looked very unusual and formal in his deacon’s robes (he wears a men’s thu, a sort-of loin cloth, which is a 3’x10′ length of fabric wrapped/draped around the waist, at all other times). Church attire is the same as island attire, ie: covered from waist to knees with thu for men, lava-lava for women. I guess that I looked pretty out of place with my beautiful new lava-lava and a black sleeveless top on, but that would change.
March 2: For over a week, Dave & I have come into the village every morning by 8am. I head for the Kindergarten/Head Start first, then walk down a long path to the first grade for a “picture book reading circle”, along with art or science, at 11. Dave is keeping busy with repair projects at both schools.

When the Prayer Group met Sunday evening, they decided to give a welcome party to the couples from the two sailboats in their lagoon because we were visitors to their island. Sean and Lulu, from New Zealand, were from the other “yacht” which had just arrived. Sesario, the Head Start Teacher, invited us and arranged for us to meet outside of a Canoe House. We had no idea what to expect. 

Twenty of more women brought presents and food and they and the men sang traditional welcoming songs for us. The families shared, in English, how much they welcomed us to their island, and the four of us gave speeches of love and appreciation too. Then Dave and Sean were taken away to put on their new thu’s, and Lulu and I were taken inside the canoe house to not only put on our new hand woven lava-lavas but to be powered with rouge-like yellow turmeric on our faces and on shoulders and back, then covered with about 6 leis each, plus several fresh flower head bands (mar mars).

We have lots of photos, of both the cruising couples and then the islanders who were eager to join in. Now, my “top” is lots of leis, as is Lulu’s: cool and much more appropriate. I definitely feel like a princess, wearing all those tropical flowers. Dave loves his thu, and is wearing it to the village daily.

Dave had fiddle gigs for both schools and in the men’s house and this party was a nice opportunity to play for the women. The families had many requests, including Christmas carols and folk songs, and Dave could fiddle every one of the requests. Many ended up as sing-alongs. They even requested the Star Spangled Banner, and then, after the families sang their beautiful Federated Stats of Micronesia National anthem, Dave learned that too. It was a wonderful evening. It finally grew dark, and as the cooked lobsters, fish, taro and fruit in the large woven coconut frond baskets were only for us, they suggested that we take it back to our boats. Oh, good! We didn’t need to eat while everyone was watching us. And I didn’t cook a dinner for 3 days. We love the island families soooo much.

February 25, 2010

Village Days

Filed under: Lamotrek — irishmelody @ 12:00 AM
Hi from Lamotrek Village — Thursday Feb 25
We didn’t go into the village at all yesterday because everyone was so busy with the cargo ship arrival. This morning tho, bright and early, Dave repaired the health clinic high frequency communication radio! That radio and the one at the school form Lamotrek’s communication lifeline to the outside world.
So Dave’s credibility is probably soaring, and he may get some solar panels projects tomorrow, we’ll see. He has a “complete solar system” project to check out at the elementary school tomorrow at 1 pm.
From Dave: “I had three fiddle gigs today, the first one impromptu. I sat down with some teenage boys, one playing a guitar, in a traditional Men’s House and they asked me to fiddle some tunes. Then I asked them to play some. They played and sang some really nice traditional songs which I recorded for future slide shows.


Then it was time to go to the school for my scheduled “concert” as they call it for the approximately 85 kids from 1st grade to 9th grade, outside on the basketball court.” It went well. Such well behaved and attentive kids.

Then we moved to the Kindergarten/Head Start building a ways down the path for another gig, with all the 17 or so kids getting their own rhythm instrument. A successful day.

I (Linda) am coming in at 8am every morning to the Kinder/Head Start to model “center time” as the children gather. It used to be “free play” on the schedule, and both teachers and students seem to really like this new approach of four tables of things to do: PlayDoh, blocks, puzzles, Legos and other great stuff still to come. Tomorrow one of the tables will be Art, which I would like to keep going until we leave.

Headstart USA has provided some wonderful learning tools, but of course no baskets to dump the stuff into or instructions on using them.

I am lucky that the two teachers have said that they appreciate knowing more about “Centers”, which they were evidently told that they should set up when they went to a workshop on Yap last summer, but evidently no modeling… Sigh. I have already brought ten empty baskets to that one large room, and one of the teachers went on a clean-up kick in the formerly messy storeroom (labeled above the door: OFFICE), filling an entire basket with scattered Legos, additional baskets with other manipulatives, putting together puzzles, putting all of the sand play toys into a new large box and balls into another, etc. It is now a really tidy storeroom, which is great because the kids are so cute and eager to learn and to use the materials.

Next Friday will be “Culture Day”, with the island in a flurry to continue training the youth in their traditional cultural skills. We have been asked to take photos and make a slide show for the school. OK!

It is warmer here than anywhere we have been since the Solomons, but luckily the dress code, for both men and women, is to be covered from waist to knees, and that is all. Dave says that it will be delightful to go to church Sunday with no shirt and no shoes. He asks hopefully, “No service? (Only singing?)” We’ll see. The chiefs and the people in the Yap outer islands (and the Yap main island too) want to keep their traditions, a wonderful thing in 2010, and this is supported by the church leaders. Good.

Several beautiful outrigger canoes are being built with hand tools in the traditional open-air Men’s Meeting Houses on the island. The canoes are works of art. They are paddled in the lagoon daily. There are two larger sailing canoes under the tall, steep, thatched roofs supported by columns. We hope the big sailing outriggers will be out on the water on Culture Day. Evidently one skill that will be taught is how to right your outrigger canoe if it is flipped. We will try to take some video for our requested slide show… Dave, Doug and Mike were invited to partake in drinking “tuba”, the slightly fermented drippings from tender shoots of coconut palms, at the daily evening gathering at the Men’s House shelters on Tuesday evening, and were asked to bring fiddle and guitar. A good bonding session. Dave says that tuba isn’t great, but it is much better than the kava “men’s drink” in Fiji.

Cargo Ship Day

Filed under: Lamotrek — irishmelody @ 12:00 AM

From Lamotrek Lagoon — Thursday, Feb 25, 2010

We love it here! Yesterday was an exciting day for the island, as the cargo ship came just after dawn and anchored right behind us. The ship from Yap arrives every two or three months.

Yesterday’s ship included a medical team that inoculated all 300 islanders against H1N1, a very good thing considering the horrible problems over the last century or so that all these Pacific islands have had with introduced diseases. From Dave: “It seems that the yachties are the only remaining inhabitants without virus protection.” The ship also brought an educational team that carried out all-day testing for the teachers! School was out as usual for “Ship Day” but evidently the teachers were hard at work. The ship crew unloaded the cargo that had been ordered in advance by families on Lamotrek, and some families were able to buy 50# sacks of rice etc. still on board.

There are 3 sailboats at anchor at Lamotrek, perhaps a record number? and all 3 asked if we could come aboard the cargo ship. Even tho Irish Melody has often shared an anchorage with a cargo ship, we had never asked permission to come aboard one.

After clambering up the side of the ship on a rope & plank ladder, we were allowed to go down into the hold where a few things were still waiting to be off-loaded at their last stop, and up flights of stairs to the “captain’s deck” at the top, to take photos. A quite nice boat.

Before that occurrence, all three sail boats had been boarded by a ship’s officer who asked to see our clearance papers from Pohnpei. And mentioned, very politely, that we were not allowed to stop at Lamotrek until we checked in at Yap. All three boats mentioned their various “emergency repair needs”, which were met with a sympathetic nod. When asked how long we would be staying, and we indicated a date almost two weeks in the future, it was duly recorded and the officer smiled cheerfully and departed. Love these islanders!! Even the officials are nice.

Then the official went on to arrange for our permission to see the cargo ship. By the way, Lamotrek would receive almost zero sailing visitors if we had to check into Yap first, as Yap is 5 days downwind. It would be a week’s journey against both the trade winds and the seas to get back here. As the islanders really like sailboat visitors, and have made us feel extremely welcome, the rule just isn’t enforced. But the official’s eyes must have bugged out to see three! “yachts” here. We are grateful that he didn’t ask us to depart, and was so nice about it.

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