Geographically, a visit to Panapompom and Nivani Islands in the Deboyne group makes sense for us, as it’s an obvious departure point to head north to Rabaul. However, there’s another important reason why we’re here.
When we were in Cairns, I made contact with the local branch of “Days For Girls”, a worldwide group of women who sew sustainable, washable feminine hygiene kits for girls living in remote parts of the world. I thought it was a great initiative and something that could be very welcome in the Louisiades. I went along to their working bee and was amazed at how much thought and care went into making the kits. They’re bright and colourful and include several washable liners & panty shields, underwear, soap and instructions, all beautifully presented in individual cloth carry bags. As they only had a few finished kits to give me, I took away a lot of the components and I’ve been putting them together whenever I have time. So far I have about 40 kits completed and ready to distribute. Faye, another cruiser at the working bee had been to the Louisiades in 2017 and suggested that the school at Panapompom would be keen to receive some kits for their girls. So here we are, cruising with a purpose!
It’s an easy sail from Panasia, with the wind behind us and just the jib out, and the Nivani reef entrance is wide and clear. Like all the other anchorages here, there’s numerous coral bommies making it hard to find an adequate patch of sand. We drop anchor on the north-west side of the uninhabited Nivani Island, and soon we get a visit from Martin, one of the elders on nearby Panapompom island. He invites us ashore tomorrow to sign his visitor’s book and visit the village. This place is a lot more laid-back, with only a few canoes visiting in the whole week we’re here – it’s a bit of a relief! It’s probably because they’re closer to the main island of Misima and have more options for supplies.
The rain starts again in earnest and we have an uncomfortable and noisy first night bouncing around in the swell and the rain squalls, listening to our chain jerk and grate on the coral as we shift direction in the gusts. We’d like to move in the morning but the deluge continues all day so nothing for it but to sit tight.
Finally the rain eases and allows us to re-anchor and then get to Martin’s village. We sign his visitor’s book and are thrilled to see previous entries from other cruising boats we know. He gives us a jar of coconut oil that his family sells at the Misima markets and in return we give him reading glasses, fishing line, a couple of shirts and caps and some blueberry muffins. We chat about his family and culture and ask about the meaning of the name “Panapompom”. He tells us “Pana” means “place of” and “Pompom” is the name of a congenital (?) disease that the original inhabitants suffered from, which made their legs swell. No idea what that could be, but I guess the literal translation would be ‘place of swollen legs’. Hmmm not very romantic, I wish I hadn’t asked!
He also introduces us to his nephew, Andrew, who comes from Sudest Island – renowned for their bagi necklaces. Andrew shows us how he makes the bagi – first collecting the spondylus shells with the red colouring, then cutting them into small pieces and grinding them smooth on his grinding stones. He uses a small hand-drill to make the hole in the centre of each piece and then they’re threaded onto fishing line, strung out on a bench and sanded smooth to make the rounded edges. At some point the fishing line is replaced with woven twine but we didn’t get to see that part. They’re still used as currency – the long bagi have 1000 pieces and apparently 20 of them will buy you a new sailing canoe. It’s a fascinating process and such extraordinary and meticulous work, but Andrew reckons he can make a short bagi in half a day.
In the afternoon we snorkel over the wreck of a Japanese zero plane that was ditched in shallow water in WWII. The wings are buried under the sand, but it’s still mostly intact and now home to lots of marine life.
Later Martin takes us on a half-hour walk to the school to meet the teacher – Edith shows us around the school which has only been open 18 months, and currently has two grades. Each year they’ll add another grade until they have a full complement of grades 4-7. Edith is lovely and extremely hard-working. The head teacher has been seconded to another school for the past 3 months, so she’s single-handedly been teaching two grades plus doing all the admin work to boot.
I’ve brought a sample of a “Days For Girls’ kit to show her and she thinks they’d be wonderful for her girls. I offer to bring the remaining kits the next day, but she’s keen to come and see the boat, and offers to collect the kits at the same time. She tells us to go ahead and she’ll meet us at the dinghy so we start off back down the track with Martin.
Before long we’re joined by Edith’s two kids and her niece, and then Edith herself and her husband. Clearly they all want to come out to the boat! Bruce warns them it’ll be a wet ride – Edith cheerily says “That’s OK we’re used to washing in salt water”! So all 7 of us pile in the dinghy and plough our way to the boat, getting drenched in the process. But their delight on coming aboard ‘Toucan’ is worth it – little Junior’s eyes are like saucers and Edith reckons he’ll be talking about the experience for months to come!
The rain returns so we wait a couple more days before departing to Rabaul. But Panapompom has other ideas about letting us go. The night before we leave Bruce thinks we’ve dragged anchor a little. I’m not so sure. But it turns out he’s right – we’d re-anchored in a clear patch of sand, but when we raise the anchor this morning we also bring up a very large lump of rock and coral, firmly wedged between the shaft and tip of the anchor. We try everything to dislodge it – the boathook, a hammer, dropping it down and raising it again, but no luck. Finally our only solution is to drive Toucan into the shallows (avoiding the bommies) and lower the anchor back down. While I hold the boat in position, Bruce dives down and tries to wrestle the anchor free from the massive lump of rock. After a couple of attempts he surfaces and I get the thumbs up – success!!
I can think of many ways of starting our day, and I can assure you that THIS was not on our list!
So, finally free and clear of Panapompom we’re ready to start the trip to Rabaul, approximately 470NM to our north. Here’s hoping for an uneventful sail!