Archive for April, 2011
April 14th, 2011
This time, though, may well be the last time we ‘take to the road’. So good to be on our way back.
Just before our departure to Auckland ten days ago, we managed somehow to arrange a ‘part-charter’ of the empty [hah!] leg of L/C Tina1 [’L/C’ stands for ‘Landing Craft’] which was to be enroute to Solomon Islands for maintenance a week before it finally went. It wasn’t supposed to be a week later than planned; it just happened that way - its engine problem appeared insoluble until twenty hours before actual departure.
The everything that happened was also needed by us. The preparation of the bulldozer was the overriding factor. It actually took right up to 24hrs before actual departure to be prepped for service [per John’s oh so accurate insistences]. So Peter’s mech, Bobby, worked nearly every thing through John had flagged – in good-natured cooperation as it should be amongst friends. Even so, though the rental is a commercial deal between friends, no matter; we honor commitments.
There was also the delivery of steel, several tonnes of cement and various other items that were all ‘last-minute’ purchases, even two more 20liter diesel fuel cans, full. So we were all ready for a 9:00am departure. John was there, ready, dependable as always. Frederick, the Secretary of our Tasmate committee, and his pallet of extras….. Kevin, the owner of Tina1, went to get the ‘Clearance’ - it came as a stroke of enabling cooperation straight from the Director of Customs and was directed specifically to us: the ship could clear in Luganville, discharging the bulldozer [and John, Frederick et al] in Tasmate, albeit enroute to Solomons.
All good ….except one issue! No one had anticipated Immigration Clearance. The officer [Allan] said “No Stops! It clears here and goes to Solomons ….if it stops, it must come back here first. He was adamant. So I made a call to the Minister – he really does intend to see to it we are helped – but he was in a meeting; I was told to call back in ten or fifteen minutes. But then it became unnecessary. Allan’s supervisor came up with a brilliant suggestion: the officer could go to Tasmate and clear it there - all we have to do is arrange to get him back to town. That was the first time a solution was ever put to us along the many minefields of this very long and winding journey we’ve been on these last several years. Most impressionante!
By the time I got back to Minister, the solution had hardened into operational fact. Officer Allan was off to get his overnight bag. It was ten-thirty now. But there was still no activity on the boat to suggest its departure was anywhere imminent. In fact the senior captain was still not back with more food stuffs he’d gone to fetch – and family members of crew were still sitting about in the sparse shade.
More taxis arrived, out of one a white guy who looked like crew, but not on this ship, got off and went aboard carrying an overnight bag. Somewhat sooner than later he re-emerged, sauntering off the ship with the same gait he took getting on it, then just walking down the roadway towards ….town. Various people to-ed and fro-ed in busily disparate activities. Then the captain arrived – he must have had a hundred kilos of foodstuffs. Some one came to help him and they both disappeared to the back of the ship, below the steering house.
Soon after eleven o’clock, Poppy, Kevin’s mechanic, emerges ….smiling. Now she’ll be alright he assures us. Maybe one more injector but she’s running OK now – she can leave. Close to eleven thirty Allan returns with his bag, gets a few quid from me and goes on board – also to the back of the ship. Then he emerges from the wheel-house, clearly in a most relaxed frame of mind, as if going on holiday. What an amazing circus we have been part of….
Then, without warning, all hands are doing something that vaguely looks like a coordinated action. John and Frederick hasten to get on board. Ruth and I are glued to our seats. It will still take twenty-five minutes to back out of the slipway Tina1 beaches on…. At eleven fifty-five, smoke pours out of the diesel stacks on both sides of the back of the ship and it eases out into Segond Canal. Ruth says we can finally leave. But, no, I say, wait till it turns around and is heading out the channel to the west.
Ten minutes later it’s still heading backwards albeit enroute in the channel and heading west. Then it finally dawned on me why those exhaust stacks were turned the wrong way round: the bloody boat is making way normally, its wheel house in the front [not the back, stupid!]. Well, I’ll be damned – now we can go. All morning we were pushing and pulling strings to get it going, one full week later than planned.
We had been ready to go, all fueled up and loaded, that earlier Sunday with John …to prepare things at Tasmate in advance of the ship’s arrival. Things like repositioning the forty-odd fuel drums we had around the mango tree in the village to the shed. John might have also prepared the thresholds of the shed doors so their concrete sills would not self destruct in their first uses of moving equipment in and out. But the delay pushed us right up to the day before departure to Auckland and now John would have to do it all with Ray, his ni-Van helper, and those he hires on our account at the village.
Well the ship landed at eight thirty that Monday night ….and everything went well in spite of arriving after dark. Next day, in pouring rain, Allan [Immigration Officer] calls up at three in the afternoon. He’s in Tasiriki, about to get transport back to town [and would need 13,000vatu]. The boat trip from Tasmate to Tasiriki was pre-arranged by Frederick on my instructions, but of course we can’t control things like trucks from Tasiriki. The only problem, though, is that we’d be on an airplane leaving Luganville when he arrived. So, a quick adjustment, resourcefully, his father came fifteen minutes later – I gave him the vatu, with our thanks.
That was Tuesday. On Sunday night John finally got through to me on the satellite phone. He’d tried several times he told me. The weather’s been difficult – too many rains. But he’d nonetheless managed to do an actual thirty-five hours with the bulldozer already and was ahead of the estimated schedule for the job. What good news! I told him the sat pix looked like the low-pressure trough that was heaping showers on Santo would break up soon….
We left Auckland, as planned, on Wednesday noon – the weather, ironically [and unexpectedly] beautiful in NZ, had not resolved in Vanuatu. On Friday morning we arrived back ….in a shower. But we have in John a real pro, and the work is getting done. Ruth and I will take him back after his four/five day R & R town ….since we’d also like to see the progress and take care of everyone who has helped to make it. Just one overnight [which turned into two - the flight cancelled] in Port Vila to fight through Immigration for our own residence permits – some new attempt to extort money that we’d manage to get through - and did! The new Principal Immigration Officer has an astoundingly good grasp on who’s who and what’s what.
By the way, you may recall that we have had a case pending in the supreme court since Aug 2009. Well we won it in February ….but we nonetheless lodged an appeal in March because [although the judge meant to satisfy our claim in its entirety [for timber and prefabricated kits we bought and paid for] he did so in a way that let one of the culprits somewhat off the hook. Well, while we were in NZ, the Appeal Court decision came down [completely as we hoped, signed by five Judges] and we now return to exact full Judgment ….to which we are so entitled, with interest and costs.
Good news travels fast.
We’re on the way, now. The road should be finished in June - we’ve already let the contract for building to start almost immediately after - it really does look like we’ll be able to settle in ‘on top’ before the end of the year. Meanwhile, we’ll build a bush cabin so as to enjoy more of the process. Such a joyous experience ths has turned out to be….
Not a moment too soon! The world’s doing some serious shaking, so keep your seat belts fastened; you already know it’s gonna be a bumpy ride….