The remainder of the canoe was finished quickly. Notches were cut in the top planks and stout cross beams were lashed into place with kora every two feet. Five-foot outrigger booms were lashed on in a similar manner. Mbwes friend on Tamana had come through with the outrigger log, and Mbwe and Beara formed it into the shape of a 5-foot long torpedo, which was lashed to the booms with both kora and fishing line. My friend on Tarawa had come through by sending me two quarts of white and blue paint on the plane breaking all of the Air Kiribati security measures. It was worth it.
SIX WEEKS AFTER we had begun, the canoe was finished. After adding the final coats of paint, Mbwe stated that the next day we would see how it floated. A paddle, made from a short length of one of the extra planks shaped smoothly into a teardrop shape and carefully lashed to a stout 3-foot length of uri, was obtained from under the buia.
The next day we carried the canoe across the coral road and out to the beach. It was high tide and the ocean was extremely calm; only very small breakers were coming across the reef.
You sit like this, Beara said. A notched board was put in place over the top planks and he agilely hopped on and tested it out. He sat on top of the board and put his feet on one of the cross beams.
Remember to never put direct weight inside the bottom of the canoe, Mbwe reminded me. It is designed to take weight from the top, not pushing from the inside. You can stand up on the seat, but dont try and stand up anywhere else.
I dont think Ill be standing up at all, I said. While the canoe was about sixteen feet in length, the actual hull was extremely narrow, less than 18 inches from side to side. The outrigger extended out four feet to the left side.
Remember to always keep the outrigger on your left, Mbwe said, except when youre sailing. Then it will be on your left or your right, depending on the wind.
Beara paddled in the foam inside the reef for a few minutes to make sure everything was all right. He came back and hopped off at the edge of the beach.
It doesnt leak a bit, he said, and it tracks straight. Its a very good canoe.
We all stood and admired it for a moment. I couldnt believe it was actually mine.
Well, what are you waiting for? Mbwe asked. You have been waiting for this long enough. Hop on, the ocean awaits. He pursed his lips toward the reef.
What do you mean?
Take your canoe to Rungata and come in the channel there. Bearas father-in-law, Tieemi, lives one house to the north on the beach. He has agreed to keep it there for you. That way you can be near the channel and also not too far from your house.
You want me to take it there now?
Mbwe almost imperceptibly raised his eyebrows, the classic Kiribati way of saying yes without actually saying it. His eyes were smiling.
The ocean is calm today, he said. It will be good for you to practice. Teinai will take your bicycle and will be waiting there for you with Tieemi.
I was overcome with emotion. Our hard work had finally come to an end, and I would miss spending my time with these kind men. I wanted to tell them how much I enjoyed helping them with the building process, how much I appreciated their time and patience with me, but I knew it was not the Kiribati way. These men had sacrificed six weeks of their life just so I could have a canoe, just for this exact moment.
I carefully got on and put my feet where Bearas had been, looked back one last time at my smiling friends, and turned and paddled for the reef.