by Andrew Foote
Fishing was no longer just a pastime, it had become something of a business.
We were getting pretty good at netting Tuna but the problem was that they were an abundant resource and everyone was in on the act and the prices were falling at market.
We went out in search of shark thinking our vessels were large enough to cope with them and they were, but they're tricky buggers to handle.
We had to rethink nets, and when we were successful, they were too big to refrigerate which meant heading to the main island to land them before they spoilt, but it was by doing this we made some serious money.
I was preoccupied with our mooring problem, so if it was Conqueror's turn to go out, it was Aruno who skippered her leaving me to work on the dam project.
One evening, Rob and I took a walk to the water's edge, beers in hand, leaving Cath and Aruno to talk.
"He's good Simeon. He's so much like Cathy it scares me! She has this ability to read the conditions whereas I need instruments to do what she does just by observation and how they manage to do it, beats the crap out of me."
"I know it, and we're very fortunate, you and I. We've found love, found a life, and in an idyllic part of the world…… what else matters?"
"No regrets then?"
"You know the answer to that already!
Definitely none what so ever as I know yours would be the same."
I went out occasionally, but I was concentrating more on this river issue and how best to divert the flow. We were running out of time what with October looming large; come January it would start to rain, and by late February we'd be stuffed. Time was of the essence here.
A ready supply of rocks was easy. Close to the foothills, there was plenty enough to do the task, but shifting them became a cause for concern. Landrover we had, but a drag we didn't. A week on, and with the lack of workable ideas, I was on the verge of giving up on the stupid idea. We had experimented using sledges which worked okay until any significant weight was placed on them, because as soon as I tried to tow them, they dug themselves into the sand.
We mounted a sledge onto frame to which we attached wheels, but the effect was much the same – gouging deep trenches in the sand which prevented them from turning.
I thought about buying concrete and casting large blocks right where they were needed thus doing away with the need to shift rocks completely, but concrete is ugly and totally out of keeping with the island. Another idea consigned to the waste bin, then one evening Cathy came up with something.
"How did the ancient Egyptians build the pyramids you reckon? They didn't have the benefit of anything barring their skills. No motive power, no cranes, but they managed to build those things in much the same terrain as you're faced with. Maybe you should look on the internet and poach their ideas."
"I think I know where I've been going wrong. They were pretty ingenious – they understood about, and put into practice, some very advanced ideas. The problem is, the best and easiest method of moving large quantities of stone is one we can't use as it would mean digging a canal and floating them down, but then what about if we floated them on sand?"
"You've already tried that and it didn't work. The sled piled up sand in front of it."
"Yes, your right, it was a stupid idea, but what if the sand is wet?
Think about pulling your tender up the beach. Is it easier to haul it over dry sand or wet?"
"Much less of an effort when its wet, but you can't float rocks on wet sand."
"Right again, but if I knocked up something with a smooth bottom like some enormous skid, put the rocks on it and pull it up, or in this case, down to where we want them.
The water acts like a lubricant enabling our raft to slide over the surface rather than digging itself in. Similar principle as one used if you went skiing. Walk on snow and you'll sink in, but displace the weight over a largish area and you slide."
"Hey! That might work!
What would be the best way to move the sled? The Landy?"
"No, 'cos that would dig in. I think what I'll do is, next time we go out fishing, we head back to the main island and land whatever we managed to catch, then go in search of a scrap dealer or a salvage yard and see if we can pick up a winch."
"Love it! Tomorrow then?"
The two scrap yards on the island didn't offer up anything, but the owner of the second one we visited, pointed us in the direction of a boat breakers further round the coast.
At first glance it didn't appear we'd have any more luck than we had at the scrap yards. The place was piled high with mountains of cut-up metal and very little by way of machinery, that was until we spotted the rusting remains of a coaster, probably about four or five thousand tonnes of ship.
"A friend of mine saw it drifting about four miles out. He hailed it but there was no one on board so we salvaged her. She's starting to break up now, but when we got her back here and had a look around, we could only guess that she'd hit something very substantial as both her propellers had been sheared off and the drive shaft from her starboard engine was badly twisted. Only God knows how long she'd been out there for, - years possibly."
"Can we go aboard please?"
"Be my guest but I wouldn't go too far down inside her. She was in poor condition when we found her, but now? Who can tell."
Sad yet fascinating.
On the bridge, the ships telegraph was set at Finished with Engines which made Rob chuckle.
"Ironic don't you think? It was more than likely that the engines were finished with the ship."
"Or just Finished, period!"
Interesting though it was, we made our way back down and onto the main deck and it was here we found what we were hoping to find. Her anchor winches – or rather the port one, the starboard winch complete with its engine had disappeared down through the rotting deck plates.
"That's quite a beast Simeon. So long as the motor can be made to start, that should do the deed well enough."
"And then some. Stupidly big for a ship this size."
Rob took a closer look.
"Gardner F180 six-cylinder diesel. All the core plugs have popped, which would suggest she was abandoned well south of here. All the sump oil looks to be clean, so it's probably not seized up, and even if it is, the winch assembly and reduction box will be okay, we'd just need another power-plant."
"Right. Let's go and see how much he wants for it."
"R$ 5000 to include its removal."
"Can you deliver it to our boat?"
"Are you docked at the same quay as you were when you married?"
"Well, yes as it happens. You know us then?"
"I've never turned down a good celebration, and that one was very good!
May I ask what you need it for? It's too big for either of your vessels."
We explained what we wanted to achieve by damming the river and diverting the flow of water and our intended method of moving the rocks we would need.
"You will need a skid, something light but strong enough to take some weight.
Follow me, maybe I have something you could use."
He took us round to the rear of a shed and pointed out a flat bottomed skiff about eight-foot long by four foot wide.
"It's frame is made from lightweight aluminium with a composite, probably industrial fibreglass body. Strong, durable and virtually impossible to sink. If you can use it, then you can have it. The work required to get to the aluminium would take more time than the rewards gained from melting it down. If you don't take it, it will still be here when I die."
Delivered at eight the following morning, we took everything back to our island and began the task of ripping the winch assembly, reduction box and engine apart.
Quite obviously, whoever used to own the ship these came from, didn't mess around where maintenance was concerned as the winch-gear and gearbox were in near perfect condition, but the engine was very difficult to strip out, corroded nuts and bolts being the main source of frustration.
We left WD40 to work its magic and turned our attention to this skiff.
Lightweight it was. Four of us could lift it with little effort, so we turned it over and took a look at its belly. Solid aluminium and glass-smooth, so Rob gave it a God-Almighty thwack with a hammer. Not so much as a dent.
Next he took out a penknife and tried to scratch it. There was the faintest of marks, but nothing more.
It was rectangular but the bow, if that could describe it, angled upwards to the gunwales to minimise drag. We decided it was about as good as it gets and went to see how Arthur was getting on with cleaning the injector pump and injectors.
"No issues here. They couldn't have been running on this modern eco-fuel so there's no sign of Bug, just stale fuel, and so long as the rest of the motor checks out, I can't see any reason why it shouldn't run.
It's such a shame. They must've taken maintenance very seriously, and most likely the rest of her was perfectly seaworthy except for an unfortunate accident which put her out of commission.
Were you able to identify her?"
"No Dad, she was so rusty that we had to take care where we put our feet or risk going through the decking."
"Gardner, or more correctly, L. Gardner & Son, went out of business in the mid 1990's so that might give us a clue. I'd love to know her history.
I have something in my mind that tells me that there's still a chap who works on them. Harrison I think his name is. I'll do some digging just in case we need spares."
"Wonderful man that you are, could you find me a beer? I'm absolutely shattered and in need of some love…… after a beer!"
God. Aruno looked as if he'd not slept for a week.
"If you drink a beer, then you might fall asleep before love can happen. You don't look well."
"I'm alright. It's just, I don't know…… being suddenly put in the position where I have to make so many decisions is wearing me out.
Like our old Chief, some of our elders are old and set in their ways, so I find myself in conflict with their thinking.
I have to look to the future, but they can only see the past, a past you might say, they look at though rose-tinted glasses, but we're living in new times and unless we accept change – and I'm not saying we accept change for its own sake, but rather we move with the times, educate the children so they can adapt, embrace the good from outside while rejecting the bad, we will fail the future and fail those who are to come."
"You definitely need that drink!
Are you busy tomorrow?"
"I can always be busy Mimi-Cu."
"Too busy to take time out for us?"
"You and me?"
"Who else is there?"
"I have nothing that is so pressing that it can't wait. No beer, a glass of wine I think."
So good, so good!
Aruno let it all out that evening. His concerns for the future, the way forward without taking things too fast, mutterings from some of the younger generation about upping sticks and moving to the main island, he put it all out to the point where he drifted off to sleep wrapped in my arms, still mumbling to himself.
Even though I'm fast approaching twenty-one, I still cry for him. Thrust in to the position of Chief at barely seventeen isn't right, and the strain was beginning to tell. We needed tomorrow and the opportunity to chill out before he went into meltdown.
We woke at a scary nine o'clock the next morning.
I vaguely remember the Marion's engine starting and the laughter of their crew at around six, but that didn't prevent me from drifting back to sleep, not reawakening until Aruno was astride of me, guiding me into him. That put paid to another half-hour of bliss!
Over brunch, he looked radiant. Gone were the worries of the previous night – in came the boy I had grown to love and treasure beyond words.
"Where are you going to take me today Mimi-Cu?"
"Where do you want to go? I hardly know the island enough to suggest anywhere."
"We take the Landrover and I will show you the rest of the island. There are tracks made when the geologists visited – overgrown but good enough so we won't have to leave the vehicle until we get to open spaces like clearings."
"Dangerous then is it?"
"Yes, for you and I, very dangerous.
In the village, it's mostly sand which keeps most snakes from visiting, but in the forest, they are plentiful and if you don't know how to spot them, you can get bitten.
Death can come quickly in the forest Mimi-cu.
"No need for concern. Both yours and my guards were hand-picked for us as being some of the finest hunters on the island. This is like their garden, and over generations, they have some immunity to the venom. They get sick, but they don't die and also, they see the dangers before they become dangers. We are very safe with them."
"I'll go with best advice then! Let me put some bottled water into a cooler and we can get going."
The word Beautiful really didn't do justice to this place. It was how, as a child I'd envisaged the Garden of Eden. Yes, there was loads of wildlife, snakes a-plenty, but also various species of monkeys, wild cats, birds the like of which I'd only seen on the Nation Geographic channel on telly, and spiders – loads of spiders.
I'm no arachnophobe, but some of these were…… HUGE!"
"Very few are dangerous to you and I. They look for small birds, even baby rabbits. They look much worse than they are, but look out and take care if you see ones like…… that one over there. He follows noise, so if you stay silent, he goes away, but if you frighten him by shouting, he attacks in self-defence.
You would be very sick, but you wouldn't die."
We drove on for about an hour, then on entering a clearing, and with our Men declaring the area safe, we climbed out and stretched our legs.
This place was right at the foot of a needle-shaped rock about, I guessed, five- hundred feet high.
"When we die, at the top of this mountain is where you will be brought. Your body will be burnt with high honours and you name and position in the community will be carved into the rock in a cave which I will show you."
"Such a nice thing to show me when we're having a pleasant day out! Anyway, how do they get up there?"
"Climb. We have men whose job it is to do that. The body is tied to a plank which is strapped to the back of the climber. Other men take wood for the fire, then the elders decide who amongst the villagers lights it."
"Where's the cave?"
"A little further on down this track away. We have to walk as there's no place to turn the Landrover when we get there."
A little way be damned! A mile, maybe further perhaps, but it was worth the exercise because this cave…… not a cave, but more like a cavern, was massive.
All around the walls were inscriptions – names I didn't understand, written, or rather chiselled into the walls in a language I didn't understand.
The entire hall was lit by candles and rushwicks which Aruno told me later, were kept burning twenty-four hours a day thus keeping the memory of those who had passed on alive, and in light.
We ventured deeper to a point where the air was cool and refreshing.
There was a stream that flowed through the cavern and disappeared over a waterfall into the darkness; it was…… beautiful, calm and serine, then rounding a corner, an old man was busy carving something on the wall and as soon as he saw us, he covered it then turned to us.
"You honour me my Chief, and you must be the honoured Simeon. I and my family were at your bonding ceremony and I'm very happy for both of you."
"I'm pleased you were there and I thank you.
Are these inscriptions your handiwork? They're magnificent!"
He looked at Aruno who nodded his head.
"I speak English. Not so well as it's been many years, but meeting you in person, I wanted to try again. Do you object?"
"Whoa! No objections – none whatsoever!
Where did you learn it?"
"I was conscripted into the Brazilian Navy when I was eighteen and after basic training I was sent to join a ship as a deckhand, a wretch if you like, the lowest form of life on a ship.
We were sunk – how, I have no understanding as we were not in conflict with anyone, but those of us that survived were rescued by an American freighter and they offered me a position amongst their crew. They taught me some engineering as they were lacking people and I remained with then until the ship was decommissioned five years later, and as I was homesick, I came back here."
"Then you must visit us, our friends Cathy and Rob would love to meet you!"
"I don't come to the village so much, but when I do, you will hear me coming and I would like to meet you friends."
"I have a very old motorcycle which has only two short pipes from the exhaust. I run it on wood alcohol for gasoline, and fish oil to lubricate it so it makes much smoke. You will maybe see and smell me coming as well. It is an altogether bad machine!"
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