Micronesian Diary
Felicia R. Beardsley
Yap State, FSM - March 1999
Yap Day
February 28 - March 1, 1999

Navigator's apprentice
Our canoe -- the navigator's apprentice

I went out in a canoe ride today, an outrigger --- it was terrific! David Look (U.S. National Park Service) and I went out in the small one. It was the only one actually ready to go out on the water. Others saw us go out and then began strolling over to the canoes to see what was happening. We went out with a navigator from Satawal. He was very nice and very chatty. I even helped with the sail. As they tack back and forth on the water, they move the sail from one end of the canoe to the other. Anyway, we got about halfway to the reef when the navigator said we had to go back because of a big rain coming. God I love it! There was indeed a big rain on its way, along with big wind, and we got back just in time. This small canoe had sailed this morning from Gagil to Colonia.

The guy steering is an apprentice. The navigator handled the sail, telling this kid what to do, how to steer and such. The navigator is sitting in the front, the guy wearing the blue thuul. When we first got on the boat I accidently kicked out the plug in the drain, so that became our first icebreaker --- everyone then started teasing him and the rest of the crowd about having me on board, a woman, who is not supposed to be riding in these canoes (because they are used mainly for fishing expeditions, and that's for men). When we get onto the water, he looks at us and asks where we should go. I say, why don't we go around the island three times. He just laughed. Apparently, though, it was sufficient as a real icebreaker, because after that he started talking more, him saying how the Yapese don't know how to sail these canoes anymore and going on about how they have lost this skill. So, for Yap Day and other occasions, it is the navigators from places like Satawal who are called in to do the sailing.

Navigator from Satawal
The navigator from Satawal supervises preparations

Traditional canoe
The Albatross -- a really splendid example of a traditional canoe

The Albatross
The Albatross

A big canoe, the Albatross, which was undergoing repairs these last couple of weeks in Rull (the southern part of Yap, and not really that far from Colonia) was towed to Colonia this morning by speed boat. In fact the crew for the Albatross hadn't even sailed the canoe until they arrived here. It had originally been built to sail to Palau, and had made at least one trip, so far as I know. Today, however, they had gone out just after we got back to shore, which meant that they got caught in the squall, losing one guy overboard when a strong wind caught the sail and knocked him out of the canoe. They got rained on hard and had to be towed back to the harbor. The crew then had to re-rig the mast, which was a mess. I did get a lot of pictures of it with its sail up and before the guy went overboard and the sail collapsed.

Sail rolled
The Albatross -- sail rolled

The Albatross -- outrigger

Carved mast top The Albatross -- carved mast top

Albatross sailingA couple who went out on the Albatross proved to be interesting sorts. They left San Francisco about six years ago, after building their own boat, and have been sailing around the Pacific for that entire time. They stop a few months here and there, but in general, they just keep moving around. They really enjoyed their ride on the canoe, but even more so when I told them that this was the first time this crew had sailed this canoe. To them, that made their ride all the more enjoyable.

The really marvelous thing about these canoes is that they simply glide across the water. It's all quite beautiful, and to see them from afar is one thing, but to be in one is another. While it is close quarters, it is thrilling just glide over the water, skipping across the wakes, letting the wind push you along.

Approaching squall line
The Albatross and the approaching squall line

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