A birthday to remember

Monday 28 June 2010, 11:45pm, Luganville

I woke up this morning just before dawn. Looking up to the ceiling in my cabin I can see through the deck hatch all the way to the top of the mast. The anchor light was burning brightly. Sometimes the anchor light on the top of the mast is waving around the sky when the anchorage is a bit rolly poly exaggerating the movement and tracing out shapes among the stars. This morning the yacht was completely still and the mast pointed straight up to the sky. The hatch was covered in rain drops from the day before giving the world a very soggy look and seemingly not promising any better for today. A short while later the first hint of sun painted everything I could see through the hatch while lying comfortably on my back, a soft yellow on the side facing east leaving a soft blue grey shadow on the other side. This was a promising difference from other mornings. It was still quiet aboard. Everyone was in their bunks. I got up to see what the day was like. In the cabin a shaft of bright sun shine was coming through a port hole placing a splash of light on the other side of the cabin. The light moved in slow circles in time with the small movements the yacht made sitting in the water. One by one the crew got up. Chris is always bright and cheerful in the morning. “Good morning. Did you sleep well?” she would say. Usually the reply from any of the guys was a bleary grunt. They would take a few minutes to wake up properly. This morning when Carl got up it was “Good morning Carl. Happy birthday”.
It was as if the weather got better just for Carl’s birthday. The day turned out to be one straight out of the travel brochures; Bright blue sea and sky and lush green vegetation everywhere.
After the weekend when everything is shut in Luganville and after all the rain when we couldn’t do much, this morning we had to swing into action. The first job was to find a refrigeration mechanic to look at our fridge and freezer. Just after 8am Ray and I announced that we were going into Luganville to see the people in a shop we had noticed the day before. Chris immediately said she was coming too. She wanted a shower. At the risk of being left behind Chris was in the dinghy as quick as a flash. Grant took us ashore and we left Chris on the beach talking to a craft vendor. That was the last we saw of her till 6pm.
Ray and I walked into Luganville. The heat was already becoming intense. Ladies used umbrellas to keep the sun off. Yesterday they used them to keep the rain off.  As you get close to the town you cross a little bridge over a muddy river. It looks just like where you would expect McHale’s Navy PT boat to moored. There are even the same Nissan huts on the bank.
The refrigeration shop was not much further on and we went inside to find an empty space with 2 new fridges on the floor and a little cubicle office in the back corner. The manager spoke to us in Bislama. We replied in short sentences hoping the key words might overlap the 2 languages. “We on yacht” we started out. “Anchor off shore” to finish our introductions and pointing to the water. “Our fridge freezer finis” We got straight to the point. “Can you fixem?” . “Oh he 12volt” We added as an after thought. The manager thought they could fix it and started to make up a job card. He asked all the usual questions; name, address, contact phone. Our answers made him feel this job was already difficult. “When you want to fixem?” He asked, changing tack. Ray and I looked at each other and sensed the logistics were getting hard. “Now?” we replied gingerly. “Ok, Ok” he said as a holding response while he got on the phone to one of his technicians. “…..yacht…….hurry……” where the only two words I could pick out of his rapid fire Bislama. Soon after a technician arrived in the vehicle of choice around here, a dual cab ute. The driver, Winston, was a very likeable guy and he was clearly happy to be doing something a bit different. He drove us back to the yacht and we went aboard. After sweating away in the stern for a while, Winston extracted himself and we decided to go ashore to find 2 new 12v fans and come back to do the job. We drove to the other end of town on a tip off and went into a Chinese shop that sold an eclectic range of products. Two 12v fans were produced and we raced back to the boat. I noticed that Winston used the seat belt so I put mine on too. When I commented on it Winston said “I was in a bad car accident in Vila. See my nose, he bent. Now I am scared in my car and use the belt” accidents seem to be a way of life here. All the drivers have a loose concept of the rules and the general capabilities of cars. They leave the kerb without notice, over take another car by drifting around it and wander to the other side of the road if there are less pot holes on that side.
Back on the boat Winston re-gassed the fridge and installed the fans and we now have everything working. At least until Port Vila when we can replace a couple of faulty bits that we have bypassed for the moment.
Meanwhile, Carl had been studying the autohelm and chart plotter manuals to see if he could fix the problems we have been experiencing. So far it is looking very promising.
Grant and Paul started to tackle the jib repairs. As the jib slid towards the deck it suddenly stopped. Grant climbed the stay and was able to free the sail and it fell to the deck. Grant climbed back down in a controlled way impressing his audience. Paul and Grant hand sewed several joins and then tacked the blue UV cover back into place. We then hoped to borrow the neighbouring yacht’s sewing machine to finish the job. Unfortunately the machine was too small and we broke a needle. It looks like it will be a hand job after all.
The plan was to celebrate Carl’s birthday at the resort. When Chris went ashore she visited the kitchen to see if they could make a cake. Preferably one shaped like a fish. We invited the two guys from the next door yacht and were on the lookout for any other people to add to the party. During the afternoon everyone started to wonder where Chris had got to but then thought she will definitely be at the resort by 6pm. At five a few pre party drinks were served on the foredeck. Close on 6pm our neighbours motored over which signaled the next phase of the evening. We all got in the dinghy, dressed in our best shorts and t-shirts and barefoot and adjourned to the resort. Chris was already there and holding court with several holiday makers. We made up a long table to accommodate our gathering. Grant noticed a new resident sitting on her own and gallantly went over to ask if she would like to join our party. She did, and sat at my end of the table which was soon identified as the low intake end of the party. Three of us at that end of the table were able to enjoy conversation for quite sometime. Carl’s mother had written to wish him happy birthday and she said “just make it one glass of red; good luck; take care”. Carl did what he was told and only had one glass of red. Or was that one glass at a time, I can’t remember.
A full moon rose over the water, casting a silver sheen over the beautiful outlook through the coconut trees. The balmy tropic air caressed the skin and the whole atmosphere was very romantic, straight out of the Tales of the South Pacific. Was I seeing the silhouette of a GI and a beautiful island girl in the distance or was it my imagination. Romance was lost on our lot and we focused on the barmy (sorry balmy) part of the night.

We had a beautiful dinner and towards the end the waiters brought out the cake, with candles lit and singing Happy Birthday as they came. The candles were the sort that relit themselves after being blown out. This perplexed Carl for a while but he settled into a period of blowing out candles, each time as if was the first time and all the while thinking this was normal. He didn’t stop till the candles had burnt their way into the cake. The waiter then cut big slabs of cake for everyone and after each of us had a piece, Carl offered it around to other patrons. Carl decided he should say a few words and to the tinkle of glass to announce the moment he stood up and literally said a few words. OK, it was two sentences. Some of our gathering were still marshalling their powers of concentration and missed it completely.

Gail, the lady travelling on her own wisely retired at a respectable hour, after all she had 2 big dives lined up for tomorrow. The rest of us only left when the waiter said the bus had arrived to take the staff home.  We piled into the dinghy and went home too.

The dinghy ride home was memorable. Puttering along in the moon light with six on board with Carl telling a joke about an octopus and Paul singing Scotland the Brave at the top of his voice. Somehow we all got aboard safely and agreed it had been a great day. Carl said “it’s a birthday to remember”

Fair winds, smooth seas and a birthday to remember.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.