circumnavigate [f. CIRCUM- + NAVIGATE. Cf. L circumnavigare.] Sail round (esp. the world). *
In October, nine days short of a year since we set out, Tom and I completed a circumnavigation of Papua on Oddly Enough. We left from Australia’s isolated Top End, travelled up through East Indonesian islands jammed with Muslims and Christians, ran with the northwest monsoon winds east to see the villages of northern Papua New Guinea, and down into tsunami-ravaged Gizo in the Solomon Islands.
The people of all three countries are intensely seagoing. They paddle canoes like extensions of themselves, and between their curiosity about us and desire to trade we spent one of the more socially exhausting years of our travels, even though we saw few other cruising boats. At the end of the winter tradewind season we cruised to the Louisiade islands off Papua’s southeast coast, where the shell necklaces we bought are still used to buy a bride, and on west to close the circle in Darwin.
My first circumnavigations as a child were of Bean Island in Frenchman Bay on the coast of Maine. I was only sailing a 15-foot keel boat, and going around the island was more challenging than simply sailing out into the bay and back, as usually the winds and tides changed in the circuit and so I experienced moments of delicious artificially-induced suspense; would I make it back to Sorrento in time for dinner? On the world cruising circuit you rarely stop to go around something because a) it means going backwards, and b) the flip sides of islands often have troublesome conditions.
Circumnavigating Papua provided an illusion of purpose. It’s like our keel was a saw blade and as we went we cut a trench around the huge island, so at the end we could put it on our “been there done that” list. As we sailed into the familiar milky grey-green sea and hot, over-white light of Beagle Gulf outside Darwin, we seemed to have never left.
Tom sees this as a minor disappointment of a circumnavigation. I on the other hand am enjoying one of the few moments of closure in the middle of what is by now an almost eight year wandering that may at one time lead us to sail round the world.
*definition from the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary cd version