The ICE is a curious vessel. It was built to go to Antarctica. So it is well insulated and very strong … which of course means very heavy. Here on Liapari Island, Noel buggered up his big slipway a while ago hauling out some giant vessel, so until he fixes that one he’s just got the small one.
And I think this is the heaviest vessel he’s hauled on this slipway so far.
Now, a slipway is a simple thing in theory. It’s a pair of railroad rails that just follow the bottom from the shore out to where the water is deep enough. On it there is a cradle with a bunch of wheels running on the rail. Put the boat in the cradle, pull it up the rails out of the water. (It used to be done with greased skids instead of rails, which is why it is called a “slipway” and not a “railway”.)
In the morning Abraham and I pulled the anchor and I drove the boat into the cradle. There were a couple of guys in the water checking out the cradle. The ICE has a “bow thruster”. This is a reversible propeller mounted in a piece of pipe that goes crossways right through the nose of the boat below the water line. It enables you to push the nose of the boat to one side or the other. Makes it easier to do things like cozen the boat into a slipway cradle with a cross wind blowing.
There’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, because the cradle is smaller than the boat. So the boat needs to be set down square on the cradle—too far to one side and it will fall off, which is a Very Bad Thing™.
After much in the way of small adjustments, we started being pulled out of the water. Here’s Noel and one of the guys standing by the wire rope that’s attached to the cradle, and contemplating whether the ICE is going to crush the slipway …
The winch, of course, is geared way, way down. It might move the cradle a metre per minute or something. Slowly, slowly she emerged from the water.
When she got close enough to shore, I jumped off for two reasons. One was, I wanted to see what the underbody looked like. The other was, I don’t like riding boats up slipways … I’m not scared, mind you, that would be unmanly, so I call it “cautious”, it sounds so much better …
Here are the guys running the winch. It takes three men to run it. One to control the on-off and the brake, one to turn the wheel on the hand-powered level-wind Noel built to keep the cable spooling up smoothly, and a guy with a stick of wood to push the cable to one side or the other and ensure it doesn’t wrap over itself.
Bear in mind that my mad mate Noel designed and built this sucker from the ground up, put the winch together from spare parts, constructed the cradle, poured the underwater concrete … all on a remote South Pacific island.
And at the end of the pull, all of Noel’s hand-built parts came together, and we’re safely out of the water.
Of course, that was the easy part. Now the work begins …
Walking over to the office, there were kids playing by a canoe. I took a photo … but this is Western Province, and as I mentioned, the folks have what I consider some of the loveliest, and also the darkest, skin on the planet. It’s a gorgeous sooty black, but boy, it makes photos hard to take …
The canoe behind the kids is a dugout. They still build them here out of a single tree, and they’re the universal means of transportation. Paddle canoes. The whole country might have sixty miles of paved road, and that’s on just a couple of islands. Everyone else travels by canoe. I’ll see if I can find some nice ones to photograph, each one is a work of art representing endless hours of labor.
Evening now. At dusk I sat around with Noel, my friend Pat who came over from Gizo in his skiff, and four of the the yachties that are staying in harbor here. As you do in the tropics, we drank beer and swapped stories of things we’d seen and done. Noel won hands down with his story of the last time he went to Australia.
The people at the immigration department looked at him suspiciously … he’s my friend, after all, so I guess that makes sense … and the immigration officer lady said
“Have you ever been in jail?”
His response was,
“I didn’t realize it was still a requirement!”
He said she was not amused … but we sure were.
Night-time now, and the lights just went out. Like almost all small islands that have productive enterprises on them, Liapari runs on diesel. The generator goes off at 9:30 PM, no use wasting fuel … and a wonderful silence descends. The moon is up now, and I feast my eyes on the volcanic cone of Kolombangara, clearly visible across on the other side of the Vella Gulf, with its peak shrouded in cloud. The waves on the outer reef are playing musical notes, and the night air is thick with tropical smells. And to top it off, the doves have started cooing in the trees, a resounding hollow call. A gecko chirps on my wall …
Ah, dear friends, what a world! What a world, and we have such a short time to see it! Ten lifetimes would not be enough to take in all of its wonders.
My best wishes to all of you,