The Boat: Part One
Fear is relative to the safety standards in the environment you travel. There are always inherent standards of safety that you are accustomed to and these standards not being met will attribute to your fear. However in a country with no regulated safety requirements, the local level of fear is calloused. This became apparent after a boat trip to a remote island named Rossel. We were initially advised that this trip would take two days but in a country where the national creed is "land of the unexpected" this time frame seemed flexible . This ultimately led to us spending 5 days on a boat overloaded with 40 people in rough seas with a shared life jacket and an emergency beacon.
We departed after spending just 24 hours in Alotau planning. Unfortunately alcohol played a large part in the formation of our plans leaving the details of said plan haphazard and murkey . We were however relieved after finding out that our mode of transport was not to be a dingy as we had previously been advised.
The captain of the vessel carried himself with a stoic piety and had facial hair thatframed his jaw well. We never learnt his name and referred to him as "captain" the entire trip .He made every effort in making us comfortable. Which was quite an undertaking given the variables involved in the journey.
After our departure we fell asleep above the forepeak of the vessel an hour later we where violently awoken by waves crashing over the bow of the vessel and onto us. We tried to shelter under a tarpaulin with some new friends, however our efforts to stay dry were useless. I found myself perpetually wet which meant sleep did not occur until the morning when we anchored in a bay.
The reason for anchoring in the bay was to wait for a second vessel travelling in convoy with us .My confidence in our vessel immediately improved upon seeing the state of the other boat. It was a rusty and weather beaten wreck , the surface of the water was visible from the interior of the boat and the engine was situated in the middle of the passengers living quarters.
It was a piece of shit that in n other country would legally be allowed on the water . It was relying solely on our vessel for navigation as it had no GPS or compass. Due to the vessel and the crews appearance we took to calling them the lost boys. I found it laughable that this boat was supposed to follow us through open ocean and was certain that it would meet it's demise.
We left shortly after the arrival of this vessel towards a grouping of islands named the conflicts and this was to be the last land before we hit open ocean. The trip through the conflicts was as ideal as you would expect. Dolphins raced along the bow of the boat through turquoise water as a back drop of white sandy shores dotted with coconut trees slowly drifted into the blue distance. It was a Utopian image not dissimilar to the label on a bottle of Coruba. Which inturn reminded me that we had forgotten to buy alcohol in Alotau.
We spent that night on a Robin Crusoe-esque island small enough to cir-cum navigate in an hour. We waded to shore on dinghy's and the crew/passengers fetched coconuts, started fires and readied themselves for bed. After a small portion of king-fish (which had bee caught that day) we went to sleep while the fire busied itself projecting dancing silhouettes onto the surrounding jungle.
We awoke before sunrise to board the boat and head out into the open ocean but did not leave at the scheduled time. The captain was worried about the wind as it had not subsided however we continued forward. As the vessel slowly crept away from the protection of the conflict islands the waters ferocity escalated. Our stomachs began to knot and we had nothing but fear to entertain us . The boat bounced around as the waves crashed over the bow and onto the cabin windows , the crew seemed to find some mad enjoyment in this display as the violent motion began to disassemble the monotony of the calm. The only comfort i could find was hiding behind my camera .
Eventually the sun broke through the dark clouds and land was visible in the distance as well as large cargo ships. It took us another couple of hours to reach the calm waters sheltered in the next grouping of islands. The relief of this arrival led to a release of endorphin's and a sense of calm and we anchored and again waited for the lost boys to catch up. Once they arrived and anchored next to us the passengers and crew swapped betelnut and cigarettes between the boats , The captain then informed us that the lost boys vessel had sprung a leak in the rough seas . I thought that this meant the boat would dock somewhere to make the necessary repairs but this just meant that they would swap the cargo from the shitty vessel onto ours and continue on to Rossel island . This meant our vessel was to be massively overloaded with both cargo and passengers. Unfortunately my endorphin high was short lived .