Sunday 15 September 2013

Back at Loh Island, Torres Group

The Torres Islands are famous for their coconut crab.  Whenever we’ve mentioned we are going way up north, people (down south) say, “Oh, you must have coconut crab … ”

Well, after buying one back on Mission 1, (at Emae Island) and then deciding to let it go, after it had already made a break for freedom on the deck by wriggling out of its tightly bound vines, we somehow took two aboard yesterday at Hui Island – not sure how or why … maybe in return for some much-needed medical attention.   (Yes, I was right … Ruth said they were caught by an 8 year old – the grand daughter of an older woman … Nellie, in the remote village of Yaqana, where Graeme, Ruth and local health worker Zebulon made a house call yesterday.  I heard a little more about the catching of the coconut crab at dinner – apparently Graeme asked the little girl how she caught the crabs and she said she put her hand into their burrow making sure to keep her hand at the top of the tunnel.  Then, when she felt the crab she pushed her hand over the top of the crab to its back so she could safely grab on so as to drag it out.  Her mother then reinforced the fact that you must keep your hand along the top of the hole.  And this is an animal that, with one false move, could easily take a figure off)

Anyway, this time the crabs were wrapped up like island cabbage, with leaves and vines, (very secure) and as I type this Ships Log in my cabin, I can hear Nivans, Bob and Gibson, plus local healthcare worker Zebulon and our old boatman friend Atchin up on deck laughing and talking Bislama as they crack open all the cooked pieces of the two crabs.  It’s a labour intensive process.  In the galley, Cathy and Nancy are putting all the other bits of dinner together – and the bell has just been hit once, indicating dinner is immanent …, Oh, that’s the bell going many times … I think Cathy is impatient for the boys to bring down the crab, I’m not sure what 5 bells means … when I called out an explanation, Graeme called out “abandon ship” … but I’m sure he was joking, after all, that’s my department.

As we sit here at anchor, a quiet spot mercifully – back at the top of Loh Island (what we have dubbed Atchin’s anchorage, on account of him directing us here in 2009)  the ship really is a hive of activity.  Graeme is finalizing the mission stats on the computer in the saloon.  Dave, Barry, Doug, Nancy and Ruth have all been busy freshening up and packing their gear away – this being the last night aboard for most – and as mentioned Cathy is hard at it in the galley.

After a big day’s sail, Matt is relaxing in the cockpit and I’m sitting on my bunk typing.  We’re all waiting for the wonderful dinner – our last dinner together – and also as mentioned we have Zebulon and Atchin aboard; they’ve been with us all day and later we’ll run them ashore so they can walk back to their village.
Yesterday really was a successful day at Hui.  They get visited so infrequently and were just so appreciative.  The showing of ‘Finding Nemo’ was also a real highlight and being able to take Chimere well into the bay – effectively just off the white sandy beach, meant the transport back and forward in the dinghy was not such a chore.
Gibson stayed ashore last night, (more friends and family) along with Zebulon and Atchin on account of his uncle (his other father) living here … as one of the chiefs … chief Michael.  Although it’s just a 2 hour sail from Loh, Atchin hasn’t seen his uncle since July last year, about 14 months.

Oops, there’s two bells – dinner is on, back soon …

Back again.  It was a lovely dinner, after which Zebulon gave a speech of thanks and appreciation and I even scored a toast as the captain, for keeping everyone safe etc.

We then delivered Zebulon and Atchin ashore.  How they walk on that coral is a mystery to me.  Atchin had no shoes and Zebulon some thin rubber thongs.  I took them in with Matt on the search light and as we entered the channel, with coral outcrops everywhere and the glassy green-blue water sparkling with the light, the place seemed just alive with jumping fish.  We saw one quite big fish, long and thin make a horizontal dive in the air for a smaller fish, attracted by the light, which just missed Matt who was holding the torch.

Like many other days, today started early.  We picked Zebulon, Gibson and Atchin off the beach at 4:30am and were away around 5:00am – out through the small entrance of the bay, in the dull morning light, with every piece of technology available – chart plotter, radar, search light and extra eyes upfront.  In the end we shouldn’t have bothered – there was Atchin casually waving a few fingers above his head, this way and that, to indicate the right way out.

Once out, we set a course south towards the island of Togo and made surprisingly good time against the SE wind – the sea being a bit calmer than we’d expected.

The team mostly remained in bed and Cathy organized some toast and a cup-a-soup for those who wanted one as they emerged.  Unfortunately the good progress made early was negated somewhat as we came out of the lee of the islands – first Metoma, Tegua and then Loh.  As we left Loh astern, the wind and sea had built and we’d had to do several tacks to remain close to the coast.

Heading down the coast of Togo Zebulon mentioned that if it was too hard to get down to the south east corner of Toga – where the main village is located – then maybe we should give it a miss.  I called Graeme up into the cockpit and asked some more questions of Zebulon and Atchin – they confirmed what we kind-of already knew – that the landing was exposed to the SE trade winds, was onto rock and there was a very small beach there – onto which surf broke.  We’d just passed a village on the north coast of Toga – and one with a supposedly sheltered anchorage and s it was decided – we would go ashore here to run a clinic and a small team comprising Graeme, Ruth and Zebulon would walk the 5 km to the village in the south – our original target.
In the end it all worked out well, however, Matt, Cathy and I had a time of it looking after the boat; the effects of the offshore wind and tides that run around the island created what would have to be our worst rolling yet.

Future logs will have to report the onshore and other activities of the day – the need for sleep is starting to render me a bit useless.

But in closing I should say that with this being our last night, it’s been fantastic to see how the team has worked together – through the good and the not so good, to deliver a very professional service, with a high degree of safety.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Toga, we did our best

Rob Latimer

www.msm.org.au