Sunday, July 18, 2010

Getting wet...seriously wet

Yesterday was quite a day! It had all started well with an early start for our usual Saturday morning training paddle. As prep for the big Vaka Eiva comp in November, we decided it was time to practice in the big waves. We headed out of the lagoon, past the northern point of the island, offshore from the airport. Our stroke and timing was good, power was on and we were riding the waves well. At Number 1, in the front of the canoe, I could tell the crew were pulling well and everyone was feeling good. We had been going for about 90 minutes and had just about reached our mark when….Stephen yelled “watch the ama”. We went up the face of a big wave & came down the other side with a CRASH. The rear iako cracked (that’s arm holding the ama/outrigger), the outrigger popped off & we capsized.

We spent the next very intense 90 min pushing, pulling, kicking, paddling & treading water while Uncle Jnr Maoate used his 15hp boat to tow the fully submerged vaka away from the reef. We temporarily jury rigged the ama and then somehow the 15hp managed to tow the full canoe – which must have weighed around 800 – 900kg at this stage into calmer water. Our steerer Paul did an awesome job coping with the underwater vaka and the tow rope, and got the canoe successfully back around the point.

We stopped to lash the canoe to the support boat, have a muesli bar and a laugh about the morning’s adventure. I never felt in danger – despite the possible consequences of things going wrong. The guys in the crew have amazing local knowledge, skills and strength. We finally made it home safely, 3 hours late, missing shoes, bottles & Paul’s watch. Of course, this being the islands there was time for Junior to go spear fishing where he came up with a nice haul of parrot fish. As we came back through the Amuri Passage the sun was shining and the water was luminescent blue…even chaos is beautiful on Aitutaki. Co-incidentally last night was Stephen’s Birthday so we had the chance for a good laugh and a toast to celebrate the day’s excitement. I think Jen had a moment, about 1pm – when I was 3 hours overdue, where she seriously wondered how she’s come to re-live her Mother’s life!!!

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Weaving I Will Go

I have been interested in the local weaving for quite a while and decided to get my A-into-G and make some enquiries a few weeks back. I talked to my lovely friends at the laundry who pointed me to the Vainetini (womens group) and Auntie Josie. I told Auntie what I wanted to acheive and the conversation went like this:
ME: Auntie, I would like to weave a mat. Do you have any rau ara (pandanus leaves) available for sale?
JOSIE: (sideways look) Who is teaching you?
ME: I have no teacher, but I have been practicing on Nikau leaves (coconut).
JOSIE: Hmm... ... ... ... I have some tupe (rolls) here, but why don't you start on a placemat? Here is one, see if you can copy it.
ME: (reluctantly) OK, I can do that.
JOSIE: Then I will help get started on your mat.

So away I went and completed a few placemats, having learned about preparing the rau ara from Nanny Tav (soften it by running aver a sharp edge such as timber or a knife), and they went very well. The housekeeping girls were impressed! Meanwhile I had come across a book written in 1927 called "Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)" by Te Rangi Hiroa, a scholar from NZ, which had in amazing detail the traditonal methods of plaiting (weaving).

So with book 'in hand' (on line at NZ Electronic Text Center) I made a start, and then kept on going. The picture with me in it is the completed hatu rua, a starting edge with wefts running both ways. The second picture is part way throught the second row. The third picture shows the completed raurahanga (a length of mat body), with the start of the pae (decorative border).

I took my completed raurahanga (mat body part 1) to Auntie Josie to see during a session of the Vainetini. I sweated nervously as Auntie unrolled my mat in front of all the other aunties who where there working together on a Tivaevae (patchwork quilt). Then it was discussed and examined, while I sweated away.

Auntie Josie turned to me and nodded, "you have done well, very well. The ladies are saying that you have put thew to shame, that you have done this so well and they have not bothered to do any weaving." I was delighted, but somewhat awkward. But all was positive, and I returned the following day to start the border with Josie 1-on1. It was hard work! After 4 hours I returned home exhausted. It is hard to describe, but the pattern emerges on a diagonal, so you need to figure out which wefts to lift at each line to produce a pattern which doesn't appear for another 10 rows. Once you get going it is fine, but challenging.

So the next step is to complete the pae border for this section, then turn it around, split the thick butt pieces into wefts and add in new wefts of rau ara to complete a new raurahanga section which will end in the opposite border.


Jill Of All Trades...

Well while the Southern Cousins have been freezing themselves in NZ & Australia, we have had a few nights where the blankets have come out and we have even had to shut the windows. Then here we are today and it is bikini weather again! The kids have been making excellent use of the swings that Michael has hung from a plank nailed between two coconut trees. It is great to have another option for them.

It is nice to know you have a few feathers to your bow, but I hadn't realised that hair-dressing, teaching, weaving, writing sponsorship letters, desktop publishing, IT consultant and repairs, team uniform coordination and logo development were amongst them (at least not simultaneously).

Paddling has segued into steering for me, with a few tuition sessions from some of the 'uncles' and a heap of time on the water. Things have come pretty naturally and my crew have been complimentary. They aren't muttering about crooked courses or crashes anyway (except for one unfortunate incident in the lagoon during my first steering attempt in a sprint race, when I rode our canoe outrigger up the hull of another canoe!).

This culminated in a nerve-wracking session outside the reef, where
  1. It was the first time I have paddled outside the reef
  2. It was the first time I have navigated the Arutanga(main) passage, which is known for it's rather nasty temperament
While I made Uncle Jnr Moaote steer on the way out, when we were in the swells and paused to watch a large sea turtle, he jumped overboard and back I went to the number six seat. So off we went, concentrating VERY hard, trying to read the wind and swells, the safest but closest we could get to the reef, and all without slowing the canoe down too much.

At the turnaround we started to run with the swells, where nearly everything I had learned in the last 4km was thrown out the window, as the canoe behaves quite differently running with the waves. We had one minor gasp from the middle of the boat as we ran off one swell and started to pull away to the left it a sharp turn, but a quick correction meant the ama (outrigger) didn't leave the water, so quite safe after all. Jnr was keen to get me anticipating the swells to do some surfing, but that was really one bridge too far - next time maybe!

Once we got back to the reef, Uncle showed some tough love and made me steer back through the reef break. Stay left---not too far left---DON'T go right---here comes the wave---we need some POWER--- MORE POWER!!! Later they told me that the passage was pretty calm really, and it was pretty flat, but the currents are something else. I felt as much adrenaline as during Cyclone Pat, but I felt exultant to bring my crew safely home.

Michael has been doing a lot of training outside the reef, culminating last week in a 2.5 hour paddle south, past the end of the reef and towards Rarotonga! They saw some whales and turtles and by all reports it was a great paddle.

So on the rare night we aren't paddling, we are hiding out and recovering at home. I have been playing a bit more with my camera and lenses and my new tripod, and have the following to share from our lovely front yard, the Aitutaki Lagoon.