Pastor Moses and his son Benjamin easily kept pace with my boat.
I invited Benjamin on my boat when we entered the bay of Finsch Harbor.
Everyone was curious about this yellow boat which had come from the ocean.
I am safe at Finsch Harbor (Part 2)...
February 9, 2009 (6.5619S,147.8432E) -6.5619S,212.1568W
The first canoe to reach me was one painted blue. Sea Sprite was hand written on its side. Ephraim was sitting in the front, the younger Levilevi was in the back. After asking if I was alright and whether I needed anything, Ephraim said: "they saw you from the hill with binoculars, then let us know there was a man lost at sea. We came to help." I was flattered and at the same time humbled that they would make the effort to come out over a mile into the ocean to ensure my well being. "Thank you, you are so kind to worry about me," I said.
The second canoe was painted beige. A broad faced smiling man sat in the back and a seven or eight year old skinny boy paddled with all his might in the front. He looked proud to put in his share of the work to move the canoe forward.
The two canoes coming from the rear did not look as well cared. Their sun bleached hulls leaked, requiring frequent bailing. One carried a single young man who did not engage in a conversation and only smiled from a distance if I waved. He was sitting cross legged over the dugout hull forward of a platform that also braced the cross beams. A couple times he sat up from his position on to the platform, put his feet on either side of the hull, then splashed a bunch of water forward by sweeping the blade of his paddle along the inside of his hull. His name was Christian.
The other canoe had two paddlers in it. Philip sat in the front, striking a conversation with me. "We were worried about you. We were going to save you," he said while bailing water from inside his canoe with a cup, which he later handed over to his partner in the back. Were their aged canoes seaworthy?
I asked Philip if I could walk from Finsch Harbor to Lae. "There is a ship." "I have to walk." "Ship is fast, only seven hours." "No, I have to find a way to continue from here by human power, no ships." He eventually volunteered that existing roads could be connected with bush trails in between, and one could walk to Lae in 3-4 days, a distance of just about 60 miles.
I turned to the beige canoe. The skinny boy in the front only told me that his name was Benjamin, otherwise smiled and turned away shyly. "Is that your father in the back?" "..."
I spoke to the man in the back next. Pastor Moses was with the local Christian Outreach Center. Captain Otto Finsch had first visited this bay, and German missionaries arrived in 1886 to establish a Lutheran church on the Madang Island at the bay entrance. Later when malaria got the best of them, the missionaries had to move away further northwest to establish the town of Madang... "Is there any place in the bay where I can tie my boat?" "Yes, there is a wharf inside." Trying to get Benjamin to talk, I addressed him indirectly: "Sir, is that your son in the front? "Yes." "Do you think if I came back in September and wanted to walk to Lae, Benjamin would tell me how?" I glanced at the boy who only smiled and turned away.
At that point, I wanted to pull in at Finsch Harbor to learn more about these kind people. Their genuine concern for my well being and their willingness to make the physical effort to reach out to me at sea were the compelling reasons. And I would tie my boat inside with their guidance with daylight to spare.
Philip told me the story of a boat which was lost at sea from their community recently, and the same boat was later found in Samoa. That was what I heard while rowing and over the sound of the sea, sounded tragic, but the distances did not make sense.
I later found out that nine people had piled up in a small boat together with a live pig and food supplies, in an attempt to visit family on Umboi island during Christmas time. In trying to overcome the strong current at the Fortification Point, they had burned too much fuel, eventually running out. They had had to throw overboard the pig and some supplies to make the boat more seaworthy. The current had carried them through the Vitiaz Strait to a small island all the way near Samarai at the southeast end of Papua New Guinea. The PNG government flew them back and because they could not afford the fuel cost, they had to leave their boat behind. One of Philip's cousins was on that boat, so now they were justly sensitive to any boat which seemed in distress.
As we approached the bay, they pointed at a pocket beach where people had gathered, visible like ants in the distance. A white truck was behind them. "I saw that truck earlier on the hill further north," I said to Philip. "Yes, they were the ones who saw you, then let us know." The same raucous crowd of mostly children would weave their way among the mangroves and pocket beaches along the shore until they gathered at the wharf, to help and watch the new show in town! They were from the village of Kamloa, located about a kilometer further north with a population of about 500.
Once inside the bay, the Cape Bredbow on my port side stopped any wind or chop from that side, leaving us with gentle following swells all the way into the harbor. "Would you like to come on my boat?" I asked Benjamin, who stopped his paddling for a moment and I got a quiet smile, but this time he didn't look away. That was a "yes" as far as I could tell. I motioned Pastor Moses to my port side to come alongside so his pontoon would extend away. As he came around I held the bow of his canoe with my right hand holding it at a steady distance. Benjamin was already standing up to step across. I held his skinny left arm with my left hand as he danced his way over the spare oars and the clutter on my deck. Soon he was sitting on the port gunwale, quiet as ever, keeping an eye on my chartplotter, occasionally glancing at his father.
When we came in front of the main wharf, the entire chorus of children started chanting and screaming. Benjamin smiled proudly and looked at his father. "Are they cheering for you?" "..."
Pastor Moses told me to go around to the back side of the main wharf, where I was relieved to find a a smaller wharf with a vertical concrete surface rather than with pylons. I yawed my boat 180 degrees to give my port side to the shore, then tossed my bow line to Pastor Moses who had already beached his canoe and climbed on the wharf. I quickly attached a mooring line to a cleat on the side of my cabin to secure the other end of the boat. I had already prepared two fenders, which I placed at critical spots to keep the oarlocks from hitting the concrete. Two more mooring lines serving as cross braces made sure that it would always be the fenders to touch the concrete should the boat shift with the wind...
The crowd had gathered to stare and observe. I engaged the children by giving them each a water bottle to fill. Eight in total! Off they went... "I sure would like to wash. Is there fresh water nearby?" I asked Pastor Moses, who turned to Philip and chatted, then told me to go with Philip while he stayed with my boat.
Getting off the boat was an ordeal. The wharf was high with the low tide, my back was aching, my leg muscles felt mushy as if unable to match the hard concrete, I was dehydrated having drunk the last of my water coming into the bay, I had sea legs already after just 20 days at sea, and I had taken one Vicodin and one Valium on an empty stomach in anticipation of a restful night.
We walked past a giant rain tree with wide spread branches for a good shade, then the main wharf entrance. Walking like a drunkard, I had to take a few squats to rest and stretch my lower back on the way to a fresh water spring only half a mile away. Refreshed after dipping in its shallow pond, walking back was just as challenging. I thanked them all as darkness was setting, convinced Philip that nine or ten o'clock would be better to meet the next morning, rather than the seven o'clock that he was suggesting, and climbed in my cabin after drinking a whole lot of water.
I discovered that this was the precise time that the mosquitoes would come out of hiding. Leaving the hatches ajar was an invitation for them to come in. I spent about an hour killing each one inside, some leaving red blood stains on my white ceiling as I slapped them dead. They had already bitten me in this malaria infested region. But hatches closed, humid and hot, laying in my own pool of sweat, none of it mattered, I was out like a light while thinking that I had to get antimalarial medication soonest.