28 February 2004

Morobe Field Diary, July 1976: A Grueling Boat Trip

Travelling aboard the [M.V.] Sago is always an adventure. The last trip back from Lae on July 28 took me 24 hours almost. After 3 trips down to check on the ship I found it was to leave the next morning. So in order to not be left behind as I was before I put some cargo aboard and got up at six (without an alarm) the morning of departure to insure they wouldn't get impatient & take off. J. was prevailed upon to drive me down by 7 am. I got there and rain was falling steadily and no one was about. I waded out to where the Sago was tied up and found the Captain just getting up. Orait, by 9:30 I had decided to eat breakfast at a small haus kaikai ['house eat' = 'restaurant']. When I came back we were ready to go.

The boat put in at Buansing and we passed its neighboring enemy Laukanu (Bazela). The Sago had just been chartered to carry a Kaiwa corpse back to his village Buansing and we had to send talk to the village. Buansing is Yuwala-(Kaiwa-)speaking and its neighbor Bazela (Laukanu) is Kela-speaking. The kiap (local gov't official) insists upon a single kaunsil [village head] for both villages and since Bazela is more prominent & the Kelas' claim to the area is officially recognized over that of the Kaiwas' [who used to live inland, but most likely moved there from the coast much earlier], the former get the kaunsil. Bazela also has tin roofs while Buansing has none. I think a lumber company operates nearby and employs people from both villages so both have some board houses. I believe those were the two villages embroiled in a big fracas a while back, brought on by a combination of simmering animosities and alcohol.

As we pulled out of Buansing bay we could see a storm brewing out in the (Huon) Gulf. We were halfway out when the engine sputtered & died--out of gas. The fuel line has been leaking buckets or they forgot to fill up in town; I'm not sure which. It took a while to bandage the fuel line and refill. By the time we got underway again the rain & wind was upon us. We should have put in at Buansing until it passed but instead had a real rodeo ride till we reached the lee of Lababia Island off the next (Kela) village [Salus] down the coast, the one from which the original Kela apparently spread in both directions [up and down the coast].

Since I had a poncho and the 'cabin' was crowded I sat up on deck with my back to the wind which was coming from slitely off the port bow. Another guy was sitting next to me and in spite of my poncho I wasn't much drier than he was. I held on for dear life until my hands were aching. Since the wind & waves were coming from the sea and we were running parallel to the coast we got broadsided or nearly so a number of times and lost several pieces of cargo overboard. The little Sago rolled, pitched & yawed to beat all. I was just as happy not to be trapped inside in case it capsized.

When we finally made it to the island we didn't have a boat to go ashore in so we untied the liferaft and several people finally put together a bamboo raft after failing to find a canoe on the [uninhabited] island. Those few that made the slow trip to shore 2 at a time played Swiss Family Robinson while the rest of us stayed aboard debating whether to put in for the nite and risk the boat drifting onto the coral that was all about or to head out and risk another squall. We must have stayed about from dusk to midnite, no one aboard having room to sleep except some of the kids.

Finally we left and went to Kuwi and put off the parish pastor & his family. He had sat on top of the liferaft clutching his kid, a nearly useless umbrella and the raft all during the squall, shivering all the while.

We got back to Siboma a few hours before dawn. The Paiawa passengers were delivered to Paiawa that morning.

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