Putting In

It’s morning here on Liapari Island. I’m waiting for the time to put the ICE back into the water. She’s looking all happy with new bottom paint … we got lucky. Of the four days that we needed for painting, it only rained one morning. Here’s the ICE ready to roll …

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It’s curious to be leaving an island where I spent such happy years. I was thinking, if they offered me the job of running the island again, would I take it? I think not … been there, done that.

I’m no longer foolish enough, however, to believe that inevitably I will set foot on Liapari again. I may, I may … but when I left the Philippines as a young man in 1978, I told my friends there, “I love it here! I’ll be back soon!” … and while that was assuredly the truth at that instant, I’ve never been there since.

So when I leave places these days, I take it more seriously. I drink them in, luxuriate in the sounds and the smells, and feast my eyes on things like the island bull watching a man paddle his canoe, with Kolombangara Island in the distance 

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So I’ve been wandering around the island taking pictures of various things. Here’s Noel, the owner of the island, working on one of his many beloved engines. This is an old Ford tractor.

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Noel is a cantankerous SOB, not a man to cross, a thoroughly honest businessman, and his friends all love him. My thanks to him for his welcome and the work that he and his guys did. His wife Rosie also went out of her way to wecome us to the island.

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I’ve known both of them for thirty years now, so it was wonderful to see them again.

Here are a couple of panoramas of Noel’s domain, shot from the flying bridge of one of the boats.

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There are enough boats and machinery on and around the island to equip an entire navy …

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A couple kids of Mike’s, the owner, are coming over. Don runs the local fuel depot in Gizo for his dad. He has a boat he wants to pull out when the ICE goes in, so we’re waiting to hear that he’s ready to go. He’s a great guy, a lot like his dad. Very knowledgeable about engines, he’s my go-to guy for questions about the ICE. His daughter Constance is a lawyer who is just finishing her MBA, wicked smart. Plus friends, wives, kids … the usual South Pacific entourage.

I finally got word around 11 AM that Don, Constance, and the inlaws and outlaws were leaving Gizo, so the ICE would be ready to go into the water in a half hour or so. I started a slow walk towards the slipway. As promised, here’s a photo of one of the local canoes. People use these to travel, not only along the coast, but between islands.

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This is all carved by hand out of a single log. Note how thin and regular the sides are.

Because the log typically is not wide enough to encompass the canoe, they use an interesting method to make it wide enough. The carver first makes the canoe as wide as the log will allow. Then he fills it with water, and dumps in what in Alaska we used to call a “metric assload”, meaning a whole lot, of red-hot stones. These cause the water to boil. The heat of the boiling water softens the wood. Then it is sprung apart and pieces of wood are placed between the sides to keep it at the proper width until it cools and sets.

Days and days of work in each one … but heck, tomorrow will be just like today, there’s no hurry. Walking along further there are a bunch of kids playing on the landing ramp of a big barge … I say:

“Hao nao? Disfala specil boat blong pikanini?”

or in English, “How now? This fellow special boat belong pikanini?” (“pikanini” are children, the common term, has no racial overtones in Pijin)

They laugh …

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I say:

“Ating olsem. No eni bikman save kam long sip. Pikanini nomoa.”

meaning “I think all same. No any big man save (can) come long (onto) ship. Children no more (only).”

They crack up at the idea of a ship just for kids. I point to one boy. I say:

Ating iu nao Kaptin.”

which is “I think you now Captain”.

He gives a big shy grin.

I wave my hand at the rest and continue … “Iufala evriwan kru”,

or “You fellow everyone crew” … they laugh and laugh …

An diswan”, I point to the girl at the left, “hemi”

which is “And this one, him (either sex) he …”

The kids wait … I look at the girl and say:

“Ating iu nao Enjinia!”

or “I think you now Engineer!”

I walk on to general hysteria.

Further along, a couple more kids. They’ve got a knife that in the US would put a teenager’s mom into hysterics, but small kids carry such “cane knives” all the time in the Solos

“Iufala hao”, I say, the standard greeting, “You fellow how?”

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“Mi orait”, they chime in unison, “Me all right”.

“Wanem nao you wokim”, I say, “What name now you work him”, meaning “What are you making”.

“Wanfela gan”, one says, “One fellow gun”. No surprise, I did the same as a kid.

“Hu nao bye you sutim?”, I ask, “Who now bye (future) you shoot him?”

“Mi no save”, they both say, “Me no know“. “Save”, pronounced “sa-vay”, means to know or to be able to. Like I said, with only about a thousand word vocabulary, words in Pijin need to work overtime.

“Bye you sutim me?” I ask, “Bye (in the future) you shoot him me?”.

“NOMOA”, they both say emphatically, “No more”, meaning emphatically “NO”.

I walk on until I get to the slipway. The boat is looking lovely, new blue bottom paint.

My offsider Abraham and I climb aboard, and we start down the ramp. Here’s the view from in front. You can see the bow thruster holes on either side underwater, there’s a pipe straight through the front there with a propeller in the middle. A bow thruster a wonderful thing on a boat. It lets you push the nose sideways or spin around on one spot.

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Again the speed is about a metre per minute, but going down is always scarier than going up. The cradle gets hung up a bit, the cable goes a bit slack. Then she breaks loose and starts rolling again, only to stop instantly with a jerk … yikes!

Well, things were going swimmingly until that fateful moment when the cradle hung up on something and it refused to budge any further. Grrrr … lots of guys pushing to no avail. Shaking the stages on both sides … nothing.

So Noel gets the tractor. He’s got any number of them, different sizes. He drives it right out on the slipway with the front wheels in the water … check out the custom fenders on that bad boy.

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Did the tractor wheels spin? Yes. Did Noel say bad words? Plenty. Did the ICE start down the ramp again? Of course … nobody and nothing stops Noel.

And finally, after more slow rolling, and unchaining and untying, we were once again afloat. I took the boat a bit offshore. Donnie put his boat up on the slip, one down, one up. Abraham ran the windlass, he put the anchor over and handled the brake as I backed the ship up. Once it came up hard against the anchor I knew it was set, so I turned off the main engine.

Of course, when I started the generator and went to turn on the air conditioners, none of them worked. They’d work for like three minutes then cut out. So within fifteen minutes of being afloat again, I was in my least favorite position, head down in the bilges, grease up to the elbows, tracing the cooling water pipes for the aircons … ah, the joyous romantic life of the sailor.

With Don’s assistance I finally traced the problem to a totally clogged sea water filter in the line to the airconditioners. Pulled it apart, cleaned it up, and I am writing this in a wonderfully air conditioned wheelhouse, floating in Liapari harbor.

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Dinner ashore tonight, Noel and Rosie have invited us all over to their place for dinner. Raining here again, no surprise, Liapari is in what is called the “wet tropics”.

Anyhow, that’s all the news that’s fit to print, so I’ll sign off. Tomorrow? I think we’ll go over to Sanbis Resort, which is on a tiny island off of Gizo, and bother my old mate Hans for some pizza. He makes the best, I hear. Then drop a couple folks off at the airport, and head over to Gizo. I still have lots of survey and inventory work to do on the boat, I’ll do it in Gizo where I have access to tools and such.

My best to everyone, more to come,


9 thoughts on “Putting In

  1. Real men have grease up to their elbows! If you haven’t been there and done that, how could one appreciate another of being such a deplorable character!

    I’ve been using a lot of ‘elbow grease’ lately and need to cleanup. By the way, where’s the beer holder on the tractor? If it’s the top of the fender then it would hold at least a case on ice.


    • Noel’s a Kiwi and he does like his piss, so it may be that it is set up to carry a “slab” of beer, as they call a case around here. As much as he likes his piss, he’s rarely on the piss, his capacity is legendary, so a slab might not be enough …



    • @ bruce “The Ice isn’t a beautiful ship” – I think she’s lovely, but shudder to think what she cost in capital as well as running. Any guesses – or maybe even exact numbers?


  2. Willis,
    An idea for a future post or discussion with regards to ships, boats, and even canoes. Three important details of a vessels characteristics in water are the center of gravity, the center of buoyancy, and the metacenter. Interesting in concept but little thought given by the masses. A quick search offers some insight: http://www.marineengineering.org.uk/page85.html There may be better sites but this is the first I came across.

    ICE would appear to be pretty secure/stable in rough water as viewed from my untrained eye.

    That hand made canoe will have limited first order stability. Center/midships flared sides and slightly flatter bottom would offer better firsthand stability, but howya gonna do that with the available trees?


  3. Your article has a gritty reality that is refreshing, a bit like a National Geographic story from many decades ago. And fortunately nothing like the nonsense they publish these days. BTW, do you notice any difference in sea level after all the time you’ve been away? It should be most noticeable around a slipway.


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