Panasia is 12 nm north of our previous anchorage and is part of the Calvados group. The island is mountainous, surrounded by a coral reef, and coral bommies that need navigating around to reach the anchorage. Perpendicular limestone cliffs rise several hundred feet from where we were anchored, making for a spectacular scene. High above, sea eagles soar, hunting for food.
There were two separate sandy beaches in the anchorage, and two different families own the elaborate huts on stilts at the base of the cliffs, and have ‘gardens’ close by, that they tend for fruit and vegetables. The families live on nearby Brooker Island, and sail over in their canoes every two weeks or so, to collect produce and return home. They only spend 2-3 nights on the island and it was a delight to meet them – men, women and children. As we may be addicted to coffee, they are definitely addicted to betel nut which is a constant presence. They start the habit young. Unfortunately, it colours and decays teeth, gums and inside of the mouth, so unlike the Ni-vans from Vanuatu who seem to have beautiful teeth, these locals give you an orange smile. But they are very friendly, not at all aggressive and are willing to exchange goods for fruit, vegetables and even a crayfish. We were unable to obtain any local currency anyway, so gave them sugar, flour, rice, oil, biscuits that they either cannot get or are far too expensive for them. Educated until the age of 16 by the state, most speak English and amongst themselves talk in ‘Misima English’, Misima being the principle Louisiade island.
They offered to take us to see limestone caves on another side of the island. This involved a tortuous rock climb over the top, walking on jagged limestone, and descending carefully using vines and saplings as handholds.
The caves are only reached by climbing a series of ladders, and then entering the cavern through a hole in the rock, and descending a steel ladder, followed by carefully climbing down to a lake at the bottom. The cave is probably 200ft high, with an opening to the sky in its roof, allowing some light to filter below. The walls were colourful as a result of water seeping down over the millennia, and stalactites and stalagmites were growing as if carved in the form of sculpture.
A highlight of this day out was to sail back to the anchorage in a local canoe, which comprises a hardwood V shaped boat with planks fastened together, and then an outrigger attached to one side using bamboo cane. It is a gaff rig, with the sail made out of industrial quality plastic. Having paddled the canoe to deep water the sail is hoisted, and the forward end made fast to the bow. The aft end is controlled by a basic mainsheet, with the helmsman holding a paddle to steer by.
The fascinating part was tacking or gybing. They let the wind out of the sail, swing the sail around to that the forward end goes to what was the stern, another helmsman takes over, and they sail the canoe on the new tack, because it is double ended!
We finished our stay with another beach BBQ, burning more of our rubbish, and collecting more paw paws and bananas. Having heard about crocodiles in the area, we were warned off swimming and snorkelling, but according to one of the villagers there are no crocs! But then a lionfish was speared close to the beach, and dispelled any further thought of swimming.
It turned out to be a lovely spot to break our passage to Indonesia, if a little windy!
Photograph captions to follow!