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Hand Painted silk scarves from this Magic Sea

Headwinds into the Solomons

The rivers of most Pacific islands are short and steep. Finding one that is not polluted and without villages is a rare and delightful experience. The fish, snails, and other fresh water fauna are often unusual.

We are the thread of awareness in chaos. We are the image at the focus of awareness as sunlight flows through the lens of mind.

Freddy dives into the clear pool, her naked form a swirl of gold in the brown green gray mountain stream. The scent of fresh water and soft forest moss perfumes the air. Enormous trees roof the water carved valley with a billion leaves. The sunlight, filtered through their canopy, is green - as if we are on another planet, one with a green star.

Thousands of people died here, if you can believe Mitchner's story about English Harbor in his book Rascals in Paradise. An English real estate company sold this land to unsuspecting Londoners. They offered land and a new life in paradise, and the fog-chilled dreamers snapped it up. A ship loaded with immigrants anchored in the harbor - probably right where we anchored the Moira - delivered the people ashore and then sat right there, preventing anyone from getting away again. The young volcanic mountains pour right down into the sea. The sharp, beautiful slopes have very little soil but lots of rain forest. The forest looks lush, but all the nutrients, all the life, is in the trees. The soil is thin, with glass-hard volcanic rock poking up everywhere.

Nobody could farm this place. The settlement was doomed from the start. But the guys who ran the operation, who sold the land, didn't want anyone to find out, so they kept the immigrants bottled up here while they sold more land from their London office. They dumped several shiploads of people here. All died. There is not a trace of them today.

The forest stream is hauntingly beautiful. I'll bet the immigrants must have loved it. The first day, anyway. Freddy circles the pool, slides out onto a big smooth grey rock. She looks like a water nymph, glowing in a small spotlight of yellow sunlight within the dark green umbra of the trees. I strip and climb to a high, overhanging rock. The pool looks deep enough for a dive. As I poise to plunge I spot a movement down the tunnel of trees. Somebody's there!

I dive into the cool water, surface and swim over to Freddy. "Somebody's coming," I whisper. She gets up and skips over the river rocks to our nest of clothes. She picks up her bright orange wrap-around and ties it on. Then she tosses me a bathing suit and, still in the pool, I slip into it.

Several minutes go by. Who's coming? What do they want? I thought we were the only ones around. English Harbor has no village and there isn't one for miles along this desolate coast of New Ireland. There was no other boat in the harbor this morning. I begin to get nervous. I find a rounded, heavy river rock and pick it up. Something, anyway. I set it carefully next to my hand, underwater. "If there's any trouble, dive in and stay in the center of the deep water."

Seconds later a man appears, walking quickly, resolutely up the rocks. He is black, looks tough, and has a nasty looking machete in his hand. He sees us, stops, and says in good clear English. "Oh. There you are. I saw your boat and wondered what happened to you. Everything OK?"

I nod. Freddy nods.

"Well, that's splendid. Have a pleasant swim." He turns, and strolls smoothly down the jagged rocks the way he came. I blink and resume breathing with a sigh. Freddy shucks her orange cloth and leaps on me.

The silence in the evening is awesome. I love it here in English Harbor and could stay another day, another week. But I keep feeling we must get going, as if we were on a schedule. But we are not on a schedule. We don't have to get going. I lay in the bunk next to Freddy, feeling like an actor on a stage. An unseen director hovers in the wings constantly telling me to keep moving. In the morning, I know we'll be gone.


Two crown of thorns starfish joined together to eat the living coral tissues. Click to learn more about the crown of thorns problem.

"Splash!" I turn over. "Splash! Splash!"

I open my eyes, listening. It is very dark. "Sploosh!"

We sailed overnight from New Ireland, ran into a thunder squall this afternoon, and ducked into this little anchorage on the northern coast of Bougainville. It's a compact lagoon within a small barrier reef. We pulled in about 17:00, had a nibble and crumpled into the sac while the storm raged.

I fumble for my watch and push the little button for the light. 23:30. I hear another series of loud splashes and voices. Angry voices. I stand up on the bunk and stick my head out of the hatch. The rain has stopped and the night is very dark. Some black forms are moving about on shore, very difficult to see. Many of them. "Splash!"

"Hey, they are throwing rocks at us!," I yelp at Freddy. I hear them shouting, but only one phrase comes through clearly...."KILL WHITEY".

That's clear enough. I start the engine and Freddy and I slither up on deck, keeping low to avoid making a silhouette against the night horizon. As quietly as possible I crank up the anchor. Click clank, click clank, click clank. I hate this goddamned windlass. A rock whizzes past my head and splooshes in the dark sea. The anchor comes free of the bottom at last and we move off, away from shore. The pass through the reef is unlit and unmarked but wide and straight. We sail through it at midnight with our hearts in our throats. When we reach deep water we turn south, bound for Kieta, the main port of the Bougainville Copper Mine. We plan to stop just long enough to clear customs and head for the Solomons.

Chart of the harbor at Kieta.

We anchor in Kieta Harbor at 0830. I row ashore in the little yellow dinghy and walk up the road towards the Customs office to clear out for tomorrow. About half way there a car stops beside me and a young man says, "Good day. Want a lift?."

I get in and we drive on. "Keith," he offers his hand. "Rick," I answer, and we shake hands. He drops me off at the Customs office. As I get out of his car, he asks if I am from the sailboat in the harbor.

"Sure," I say.

"I'd love to have a look at her, if you don't mind. I've been thinking of getting a sailboat after I finish my contract here."

"Well, I just have to make arrangements to clear out tomorrow and then, if you'd like, you can drive me back and we'll go aboard." I go in and deal with the officials. Keith drives me back to the Moira, we paddle out and Freddy fixes some tea while I show him around.

Over tea, Keith mentions he is a marine biologist working for the copper mine, making sure there are no adverse environmental problems from the mining activities. I refrain from asking him if the rock throwing party the night before might be an adverse environmental impact. He has, in the car, already told me of the labor and racial problems here which have developed as a result of the mine. He does not think of social problems as an environmental impact.

"That is a coincidence, I'm also a marine biologist and my specialty is environmental impact of industrial activities on marine environments."

"Oh? What's your last name?" He asks.

"Richard Chesher," His expression is wonderfully gratifying. The eyes get big and round, the mouth falls open, and he says,

"Not THE Richard Chesher! The one who did the work on the crown of thorns starfish in Guam?"

Well, I don't mind saying such a reaction is both unexpected and flattering. I do my best to look modest and say, "Sure, that's me."

It's a short ego-trip, however, as his amazement is not the dubious honor of meeting me, but a truly astounding coincidence. "You're not going to believe this," he begins "I don't believe this. This is unbelievable!"

I am prepared to not believe this, whatever it is.

"Who do you think is flying in here this afternoon?" I only have to shrug and he laughs and gleefully says, "Bob Endean!"

"Yeah? No kidding? That is a coincidence. Bob Endean," I explain to Freddy, "is an old friend of mine. He's the scientist who did the work on the crown of thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef. We worked together when I was chief scientist for the Department of Interior study on the crown of thorns in the North Pacific back in 1969."

"But this is amazing, I don't believe it!" Keith still does not believe it, "I stop and say hi to a guy quite by accident and he turns out to be Richard Chesher who sails into Kieta in Papua New Guinea - of all places - on the same day Bob Endean is arriving from Australia and I'm assigned to pick up Dr. Endean this afternoon and must be the only one on the island who knows about Dr. Endean's trip and probably the only person in PNG who would know you and Bob are friends!"

This is the photo Bob took the next day. We first saw it 24 years later in Sydney in another amazing coincidence."Listen, I'll pick up Bob and bring him by tomorrow with my skiff. I'll tell Bob I just want to stop off for a moment to say hi to a friend before going diving. OK? Right? Boy, am I going to surprise him. He won't believe this."

I paddle him ashore and he goes off mumbling about the impossible odds of the event. The last thing I hear him say as he opens his car door is "I don't believe this." I wonder again about fate destiny - synchronicity or coincidence. Call it what you want but I can't help feel these wild coincidences are the hands of the Moirae weaving a pattern of threads around my life.


Finally, we arrive at the Three Sisters...