Jeeze. When I met Sonrisa, I knew she is a wise soul with a strong heart. I knew she would take us on adventures far and wide, and that I would hopefully learn something from the trip. I did not realize how much I would learn from her perspective as a little sailing ship. Patience.(www.oddgodfrey.com/landfallhivaoa) Positive Visualization.(www.oddgodfrey.com/avaliantship) and now she’s on about the value of courage and the cycle of death to new life? That’s all pretty heavy, Sonrisa! Now I know why sailors love their ships so much.
I can't beat her last post, so I'm not even going to try. I'll just close up the story with a few notes on our dive experience.
We were tempted to dive the stern to see the name President Coolidge, but that dive requires about a half hour swim the length of the ship, a vertical drop of 60 meters (180 feet), and a very calculated swim back along the length of the ship to complete decompression at proper depths. We worked our way down the ship, diving at 30M (90feet) to see the medical room and holds, 38M (114 feet) to visit the Lady and the Unicorn, 43M (129 Feet) to see the engine room, then 54M (162 feet) to see the swimming pool. Each dive required a longer and longer swim the length of the ship. Each dive we wove our way back through her decks, squeezing through holes, and arriving at the shore to slowly work our way up the decompression process over the course of 20-30 minutes. This meant we had to control our breathing so well that we could make a single bottle last a full hour, even with what we consider to be extremely deep depths. (For those who are not divers, the deeper you go, the faster you go through air. Also, the deeper you go, the more likely you are to experience narcosis, which makes you feel a bit drunk and less calm than you would otherwise hope.) Each dive past 38M constituted a personal lowest-depth for both Andrew and I.
Are all these bottles for me!?!?
We were diving with Allan Powers dive company. Mr. Powers is known as Mr. President Coolidge, and he is a co-author of the wonderful book about the Coolidge that we all read. He’s 85 years old, and has spent his entire life diving the Coolidge. He is the man who first found the Lady and the Unicorn. He has dived the wreck thousands of times. He built a dive facility and dive company that has safely guided millions of dives on the President Coolidge. Now, Alan drives the van; but with his team of experienced dive guides, we were in very good hands. We were given one guide to two people, and as we dove even deeper, they moved to two guides for two people. Extra air bottles were placed at the bow of the ship and at the final decompression stop to make sure everyone had enough air to make it through the process. No one gets to dive the ship at depth without first going through prior stages to make sure you have the proper skill set, air consumption, and control over narcosis. With the Allan Powers group, it’s a gradual and safe process.
That being said, we decided to call it a day after completing the 54 Meter dive to the swimming pool. For me, I don’t feel narcosis much at all. Once we hit 43M, I feel a little light headed. My gauge of this is whether I can still operate my camera; and I can. Andrew, on the other hand, reports feeling like he has had two or three beers at 30M. Narcosis increases as you drop lower, so we had been monitoring Andrew’s narcosis condition as we went. When we hit depth at 52M, I twirl my pointer finger around near my temple, the sign for “How’s your narcosis?”Andrew looks me in the eye and provides the “OK” sign. Paul (the one who insisted I kiss the unicorn’s bum) takes the lead, Andrew next, I follow, and Tim (a man who has been guiding Coolidge dives at least since the 80s) is in the back to round us up. I drop to 54M to look more closely at the pool tiles; I rub my hand along the mosaic. I can feel the square ridges of the tile, just like the hundreds of pool decks I have experienced in my lifetime. I can imagine myself swimming in this pool, the Coolidge steaming across the Pacific.
Then I look up and see Andrew hovering above me in the swimming pool. I know he is narced because he is not swimming any deeper. I twirl my finger at him again and he looks at me like he’s seen a ghost. Then, gives me the “OK” sign. Somehow, I doubt this.
When, we squeeze our way through a hole in the ship to swim along her C Deck. It was challenging. We had to use every ounce of our buoyancy and breathing skill to guide our bodies through the maze of the ship while not overusing air or rustling up sediment with our feet. Paul carried an extra tank in his arms, just in case anyone ran low on air. We didn’t. Everything was ok.
After completing our decompression while feeding fish bread, meeting spotty sweet-lips and a pufferfish, we waddle our heavy dive gear up the coral beach. Andrew turns to me and says, “Wow! One minute I couldn’t see you, and then all of a sudden, there you were! I thought ‘Whoa! Where did she come from???’” Spoken like a guy who just smoked a bit of weed.
Yeah. Diving to 60M would be pushing our luck.
So, we decide to experience some of the other fun things Luganville has to offer. We join our Kiwi and British friends for dinner and an epic viewing of the All Blacks v. Lions Rugby Match. (The French Referee won in the end.)
We take a trip into a village to hike Millennium Caves, where all our friends we met diving the Coolidge join us for a trek across a bridge make of nothing but bamboo poles tipped across the deep crevice, up and down muddy ladders made logs, over giant rock boulders, through a pitch black cave with a river running at our feet, and on a float down a long canyon. A beautiful trip all in its own right. We were baptized with face paint to honor the Ni Vanuatu's sacred places we were visiting. A symbol for a swallow, stone, and water.
After adventuring, we would return to Sonrisa waiting patiently on her mooring in front of Aore Resort. The snorkeling in front of the resort is some of the best we have found anywhere. Giant swarms of bait balls, pipe fish, poisonous cone snails, Christmas tree worms, a little purple fish who would try with all his might to chase us off. When we would take our eyes off of him, he would go in for the kill and nibble our legs.
Angel Fish: “Now you see me….now you don’t!”
I actually watched a sea cucumber poop.
In the evenings, Grin would escort us to the beach, where we would enjoy a cold beer on the patio. Every now and then, a large swarm of sardine-like fish would boil themselves into a frenzy just off the beach. Our waiters, Eddie and Mason, would drop everything and sprint into the water up to their knees. Swinging their arms, they would bat little fish onto the beach by the hundreds. Once everything calmed down again, they would gather the fish from the beach into a plastic bag and take them to the kitchen to be soup broth.
Watching this, Andrew figured this is a type of fishing at which he might have luck. He decides next time the fish go crazy, he’s going to join the process. Waiting on the edge of his seat, he keeps a close eye on the shoreline. Soon enough, the fish boil up. He kicks off his flip flops, abandons his sloshing beer on the table and sprints into the water. Bat! Bat! Bat! He bats a total of ten fish onto the beach. Success!
More often than not, Eddie and Mason talk us into staying for dinner and we enjoyed their warm crisp-on-the-outside-chewy-on-the-inside dinner rolls with some of the most delicious entree salads we have had anywhere. If I can’t say no to the dinner salad, you can’t expect me to resist their rich chocolate mousse with vanilla ice cream and a sprig of mint!
One night, we are surprised with an evening performance by the “Water Ladies.” The Water Ladies are from remote islands in the North part of Vanuatu - the Banks Group. We are not going to have time to go there, so imagine my happiness when they came to me! A line of women dressed in long grass skirts, pulled up right beneath their arms sing as they walk into the sea. They are followed by three young men, also in grass skirts, with dried seeds tied in clusters on their ankles. The young men stomp to the ladies’ singing, causing their ankles to clatter and clack in rhythm to the Ladies’ song.
Silence befalls the scene. Then, “PLONK! Swish-a-swisha-swish! PLONK! Swish-a-swisha-swish!” The women dissipate into a blur of movement, splashing water, and the dusk light. Cupped fist, flat hand, swooping arm. Using their hands and arms, the women make precision music against the water. The boys stomp and dance on the beach, adding their clacking to the women’s magical voices and splash-song. This is a traditional dance used to call fish from the sea to their shores.
It was so dark, and they were moving so fast, I didn’t get any good pictures. So, I will leave you with this YouTube Video instead. I can’t wait to see this movie as soon as I can download it!
After the Water Ladies performance, Andrew and I sit on the patio under the stars sipping our glasses of house wine. I contemplate the “once in a lifetime experiences” we are wracking up here in Vanuatu: standing on the edge of a live volcano, watching the Tannese dance through the night in their colorful skirts and painted faces, diving the Coolidge. I follow the line back, all the way to Galapagos, then Mexico, evenings spent testing Grin in San Diego bay.
“You’re quiet tonight.” Andrew says.
I shrug. “Yeah, just enjoying a nice night.” I tell him. This makes me think of my grandmother.
Whenever we would go visit her, especially in the last years she could live on her own, we would find her sitting quietly in her chair. No TV, no music, silence. As soon as we arrive, she would hop up to cook or pull out candies to feed us. She would turn on the TV and things would get lively. But, I would wonder how long she had been sitting there in the silence; what was she thinking about?
Before we left, I watched travel videos, read sailing blogs. My imagination formed images behind a haze of inexperience. Out here, places develop in technicolor only for the brief moment they are reality, then they recede again. The haze of inexperience becomes the haze of memory, but now, I can conjure the smell of a place. I can feel the energy of the people, the humidity on my skin, the temperature of the light. I curl my toes around the texture of the sand, volcanic ash, crushed coral, jungle mud, moss. I can feel Andrew’s heart expand with happiness of another travel-achievement completed, the warmth of the skin on his arm resting next to mine.
I’m taking as many notes as I can. These are among the memories I will summon in my own quiet.