March Update

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James Wharram
Four men standing next to a plane
James flanked by his '3 sons' about to fly home. To his left is Tulano and to his right is Caulton. Jamie Wharram is on the far right.

I am now back in Devoran.

Last week on the last blog of the Lapita Voyage official website, Klaus Hympendahl, describes the four chiefs of Tikopia in solemn assembly, smoking pipes and chewing betel nuts in the chief’s house before leading a procession to the beach with four clergy and singing, to bless the 'Lapita Tikopia' double canoe, followed by a Polynesian feast. But what Klaus did not say is that Hanneke was still sailing one of the two double canoes to its new home on the island of Anuta.

The boat was delivered by Hanneke, two Polynesians, Caulton (the Anutan) and Tulana (the expedition’s Polynesian non-instrumental navigation expert), plus Jamie Wharram and Ingo, a German TV cameraman.

Anuta in the distance, off the bow
Lapita Anuta's final approach to Anuta

I should also have been on the last 250 mile leg of this 4,000 mile voyage but had to leave the ‘Lapita Anuta’ Double Canoe in Lata, Santa Cruz, Solomon Islands, due to a physical weakness from a bout of serious food poisoning in Honiara whilst being filmed by the German TV company. For a while it was feared that I had caught malaria. [It was discovered to be bowel cancer several months later]

Hanneke at the helm
Hanneke steers for the island

On the way to Lata I received the horrifying news that my closest friend of 40 years, Ernald Pearson, had died, and that Ken Hook the secretary of the PCA (Polynesian Catamaran Association), also a close friend, was close to death (and has sadly since died). All in all I was devastated and I took the decision not to sail on to Anuta. Was it the right decision?

Tikopia and Anuta are separated by approximately 70 miles of open ocean, yet emotionally and culturally they are like two mountainside villages. Tikopia equals the more cosmopolitan lowland village; Anuta is the higher mountain village, where life is harder. What makes Anuta the tougher higher mountain village is that not only is it much smaller than Tikopia but it does not have a sheltered landing bay.

Sea, golden beach and trees
The surfbeach of Anuta where the boat is landed

So the Anutans, by necessity, are great fishermen, canoe builders and sailors. I was told by an Anutan that the ‘Tikopian Sacred Canoe’ we had discovered in Auckland New Zealand Museum 13 years ago had been designed and built by an Anutan over eighty years before.

This lack of a sheltered landing bay meant that on arrival at Anuta, I might have had to leap into the sea and be guided through the surf by Caulton the Anutan and Tulano the Navigator, our two fantastic Polynesian crewmembers, who were all for this adventure! At the same time, other Anutans of the island would be guiding the ‘Lapita Anuta’, with Hanneke steering, through the surf, there to snatch it up the small safe beach to safety.

People wearing sarongs walking around a beached double canoe
Welcome ceremony for Lapita Anuta

Whatever the reason for my early return, my doctor here at my medical check up on arrival home pointed out that now both of my knees, due to a wasted youth (not sailing but mountain walking and climbing), need medical attention. Had they twisted in the surf, it would have been a serious matter.

Except for a brief wireless message, we here in Devoran have not heard from Hanneke and the ‘Lapita Anuta’ since it was hauled up the beach seven days ago. By now she should have been relaunched and on her way to Tikopia. With them, there will be a further 4 or 5 Anutans on board whose job it will be to sail the ‘Lapita Anuta’.

- James Wharram