Friday, May 25, 2012

Cheshire Clams

Our life here is a placid blend of boat maintenance, peeling, drying, cooking, and eating bananas, and the occasional trip about the lagoon or on the reef. I tried to find the leak we noticed on the last crossing, but at rest in flat waters, nothing was obvious beyond a little seepage in a cockpit drain through hull and obvious water ingress around the rudder stuffing box. I tightened the rudder stuffing box and the engine shaft stuffing box, but we will have to check for leaks while under way in a heavier sea.

Ashore we walked across the atoll to the reef. A palm-tree lined road runs along the inside of the lagoon with occasional side roads that branch to the reef. The roads are made of coral plowed flat and suitable for trucks or 4WD vehicles. The coral soil produces vegetation that is neither as as lush nor as varied as that in the Marquesas. Even the coconut palms seem less productive, the nuts smaller and fewer than those we saw in the volcanic islands. The reef reminded us of the tide pool shelf at Botanical Beach, back on Vancouver Island. A two meter easterly swell pounded the outer edge, which dropped off quickly into deep water. We saw a dozen turquoise coloured foot-long parrot fish and a one meter white tipped reef shark cruising in water barely enough to cover its tough hide.

Our English friends on 'Chapter Two' had us over yesterday for tea. Karen had baked a banana cake that was superb, so we used her recipe today to make our own version, which ended up tasting quite different. Not sure how this happened, but maybe their Panamanian flour is different from the Mexican flour we used - or perhaps it was that they used baking soda and baking powder, where we just used poweder? Whatever the cause, I have lost my title of 'Master Baker'.

The dinghy continues to fall apart, with a new crack in the hull by the mast partner. I 'welded' this with the soldering iron and riveted an aluminum patch to reinforce this highly stressed location. Today I sailed a couple of miles along the lagoon beaches to test the repair. The lagoon is like a large lake - 8 miles across ad 12 long. The land on the opposite shore is so low that you cannot see anything on the horizon except the top of an occasional palm tree. You have to be a bit careful to avoid coral heads, which are sometimes hard to see when lounging in bottom of the dinghy.

I stopped along the way to retrieve a pearl farm float that had washed up on the shore. As I waded ashore, a white tipped reef shark swam hurriedly away - no threat to humans I would guess. I was startled to see what looked like brightly coloured pouting mouths apparently embedded in the coral heads. On closer inspection, these belonged to clams about 15 to 20 cms wide. Each mouth was green or turquoise or blue (this is apparently caused by algae growing on the mouth lining). The effect was comical because the lips look like they were covered in a brilliant lipstick. Because the shells were completely encased in coral, the 'smile' was disembodied, like the Cheshire Cat's smile in "Alice in Wonderland", and appeared to come right out of rock.

Salvaged pearl farm floats are useful for lifting the boat's chain to keep it clear of coral heads. I have collected 3 so far and will try to buoy the chain the next time we anchor. The wind is supposed to build to 20 knots tomorrow, so we will stay here at least one more day.

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