by Andrew Foote
It was a very surreal experience talking to this elderly tribesman in English. He was very understandable although he admitted that it had been many years since he had used it other than to speak with Anita or Aruno on his very infrequent visits to the village so he had to think about what I said, and more to the point, think carefully how best to reply.
He asked about our boats and where we had managed to find suitable moorings then laughed when I explained that actually, that was a major cause for concern and how we were hoping to divert the old river so giving us a channel out of harm's way.
I told him about the winch and how we thought it might help us move the rocks necessary to form the dam, but aside from one idea to remove the sand, we were stuck for want of a more practical method.
"You need an earth mover, a machine to do the work."
"Ideally yes, but hiring one would cost too much money and anyway, how could we get one to the island?"
"Come with me. I have something to show you."
We followed him out of the cave and back up the track we'd come down earlier then turned off and followed a path that took us deeper into the forest – Aruno's bodyguards leading the way with mine walking either side of us. At one point we were told to walk single file as we passed the biggest snake I'd ever laid eyes on. It wasn't its length that really got to me but its girth. Sodding thing had to be around two and a half feet in diameter in the middle.
One of my guards on noticing my surprise said, "It has had a big meal. Maybe a mountain goat. It will sleep for many days so it can digest it before it becomes a danger to us.
We are safe."
"You have no idea how good it is to hear that!" was my only comment, which made him laugh.
Eventually we came to a clearing and a sizable hut which our guards entered and on tossing out three very dead snakes, we were beckoned inside only to see a very formidable track laying earth mover and one that was in not all bad condition.
"The men who came to look for precious gems and left disappointed had an accident. This machine became stuck when a rock fall took out the path it was travelling on so they had to leave it here.
Since that time, there were more rock falls in the same area – a fault in the cliff face I think, but then the track became passable so I brought it here. It runs but you might want to replace some of the hydraulic pipes together with the oil, so if you can find use for it, take it away."
"This is like the answer to a prayer! How much payment do you want?"
"Nothing. I have everything I need, but if you want to make me very happy, American beer I like very much?"
"Budweiser do for you?"
"Bud, Coors, Schlitz, Mountain Dew…… anything. I don't have a favourite!"
"Then we can supply your requirements. Thank you – thank you very much! Next time one or other boats lands a catch at the main island, we'll get you a couple of cases then we'll see about collecting this beasty."
"I can wait for the beer so you take the machine when you have the time, but bring diesel with you as the tank is very low now."
The following morning it was our turn to go out fishing leaving Rob and Cathy to rest up.
We managed a decent amount of Tuna together with Dorado which might get a good price at market, docking at the main island a two in the afternoon. I'd ordered hosing equipment so we could make up hydraulic lines to suit the huge Mitsubishi machine together with sufficient hydraulic oil, but these had to be flown in from Natal which meant an overnight.
A radio conversation with Rob flagged up something else.
"Grease. If that thing's tracks are rusted up, you'll need to give them a damn good going-over or risk snapping them.
Have you got a big enough grease gun? I've been on line and downloaded the User Manual for that particular machine and I think that the best way to play this is for all of us to take a day away from fishing and do a thorough service on it before we think about bringing it down."
"Good idea. Day after tomorrow then?"
"Works well for us. How good a catch did you manage?"
"We got just over R$2450 so around £780 but take away some £70 for the beer I promised as payment, not at all shabby."
"Only seventy quid?"
"Yeah, and that was for a full pallet of Coors Lite.
I didn't ask questions!"
"I'll bet not!
See you tomorrow.
Take it easy out there Simeon."
A caring friend…… or one who didn't relish the prospect of us losing six hundred cans of perfectly good beer to ten thousand feet of water seemed the more likely scenario!
We left the boat and went shopping for the bits and pieces needed to get the earth mover operational.
Our first port of call was the chandlers just off the quay where we managed to find enough of the right grade of grease we required, but they couldn't supply us with a decent sized grease-gun so they pointed us in the direction of a workshop some five hundred yards down the street.
This place looked more like a derelict repair shop – no one around and with just one tired-looking Chevy pickup truck sitting inside with its back axil in pieces on the floor.
This place definitely didn't inspire me, but then this island is quirky and with having been surprised so many times during our time here, I shouted out for attention.
A few minutes passed before a boy – about ten years old, came out from the back of the building and addressing us in Portuguese asked us what we wanted.
Aruno took centre stage with Tanbae and our Minders translating this conversation into Our island tongue.
"We need a large grease-gun and the oil and fuel filters on this list. Do you have them? This is a cash transaction by the way, US Dollars or Reais, it makes little difference to me."
The casual mentioning of Dollars saw the boy dashing up a metal ladder to what I assumed were their stores then moments later, he came back down and a sizable grease-gun tucked under his arm.
This was perfect as it came with a selection of interchangeable nozzles, some concave, others convex and of varying sizes and diameters. He was also able to provide all the filters saving us the expense of an online order and the cost of shipping.
We also needed oil for the gearboxes and engine. Rob had told me to try and get synthetic lubricant rather than a mineral based oil but Aruno was having trouble trying to get this across, so we were taken out to a separate shed where all the lubricants were neatly stacked with their labels facing to the front.
These came in 30 litre drums and on seeing what we needed, asked Aruno to buy two drums and arrange delivery to the boat ASAP.
We paid in US Dollars and the lad promised delivery later that afternoon which was fine as we had to wait until the morning for the hosing kit anyway.
The weeks that followed saw us getting the hang of driving the earth mover and setting the winch on a block of concrete. There had been a problem getting it's motor to start because we hadn't thought about a fuel tank for it, but we substituted this for an empty plastic container and made a note to revisit the breakers yard next time we went back to land a catch. The motor worked well as did the winch gear but we needed more chain – so another item was added to the list of Must Try and Get.
We had a load of the children sit on the skid for a test run over the wet sand. It glided over the surface like skates on ice so we were almost ready to make a start on our new moorings.
A month on and progress stalled.
The bottom line was, we were having so much success at fishing, we didn't have the time to devote to this project – we needed someone to help and when a girl very nervously approached Aruno, we realised we'd found the person we needed.
She had watched us working and wanted to try and drive the earth mover but more than that, she could see what we were attempting to achieve almost as if she was a budding civil engineer. She had ideas and enthusiasm so Cathy, who was possibly the best at handling the machine, taught her how to drive it.
We showed the sketches we'd drawn showing the various stages of the dam-build – four across on the base narrowing to three then two then topping the structure with one large rock.
We had already pegged out where they were going to be placed so all that was left was to scrape off the layer of sand, blow what remained away with the water pump and set the foundations.
We worked with her for a couple of weeks, but then happy that she knew what had to be done, we left her alone to figure it out for herself.
Progress was swift; every time we came back in we could see this clearly and it wouldn't be too long before we would have to think about opening up the mouth of the river but she had been thinking carefully about this, so after some discussion we went along with her ideas.
She would dig out enough sand until it became too wet making the weight too great for the machine to move in any quantity. We would then shutter of the edges and drill into the rock setting Hilti anchors into the holes to protrude out about twenty-four inches. These were chemically activated and once they'd set off, no amount of effort would be able to shift them – most likely stronger than the rock that surrounded them.
We poured concrete over the rebar-enforcements behind the shuttering and keeping it damp for a couple of days, removed the shutters so it could cure.
This left us with a foundation to which we could drill into and mount bollards for our boats but we also bought solid lengths of rubber to slide over the protruding studs and with washers and stainless steel nuts recessed into the rubber, we made a cushion so doing away with the need to fenders.
We carried out the same operation either side of the river and although it was wide enough for us to moor side by side leaving around ten foot between us, we allocated plenty of space so the village could use it to bring things ashore in their boats and canoes but allowing us the space to get out for our fishing without smacking them.
Not us, but the villagers built huts all the way down this harbour on both sides of the cut which they used for the storage of nets, ropes and other paraphernalia – we commandeered one of these to store all our oils and spares, then later, the UNHCR provided us with a 10 kVa diesel generator which we put to good use providing some lighting to the village and power to the clinic which allowed Anita and Arthur to work in a sort of sterilised environment to carry our minor surgical procedures under good lighting.
We had our machine driver-come-civil engineer who I nick-named Kaz ('cos I could never pronounce her name), dig holes into the rock either side of the river mouth using a jack-hammer which could be mounted on the machine in place of a bucket, and sunk poles on which were mounted solar-powered lights – one red – one green indicating the harbour mouth to help us if we came into port after dark.
Always pass port (red) to port and starboard (green) to starboard is the way to do it unless you have a death-wish, but when Rob and I took a canoe out on evening to take a look at our handy-work, what he said made me feel like an idiot.
"They look good except for one slight problem. They're arse about face."
"The Lateral Markers – they're the wrong way round. The green should be on the left as you enter port and the red on the right."
"No, honestly. Had we been back in Europe then fine, but not here. I almost made a prick of myself because when we came into Natal it was dusk and their lights were, I thought incorrect. Didn't you see them?"
"No, Aruno brought us in."
"Well, if it hadn't been for your chasing off once we'd docked, I was going to find the Harbourmaster and tell him of his mistake but fortunately I took a look on the internet.
You see there are two zones, A and B. Europe and some Countries outside of it are Zone A where your thinking would've been spot on, but in this neck of the woods and beyond, they're Zone B where you are not."
"So I'll have to swap them over. No biggie, it's easy enough. Thanks for telling me."
It was very plain to see that Tanbae had the hots for Kaz as we'd see them sneaking off together for a bit of Private Time. The age difference was about right as well with Tanbae having turned eighteen and Kaz sixteen and as Aruno told me, it's unusual for a boy to wait that long before he bonds but he was very choosy and perhaps she was the one to get him settled.
"I reckon she might prove to be a bit of a handful. No doubting her looks, she's very pretty but also she's something of a tomboy – self-reliant and very confidant, not to mention competent."
"You like her don't you!"
"Very much. She reminds me of how Cathy used to be at her age."
"It's good you like her because if they bond, we will be seeing a lot of them as they will be a part of our extended family.
For three generations, descendants of past Chiefs are members of the ruling family which is now you, Rob, Cathy, my parents and me. Tanbae is the last of the line of our retired Chief, so he and Kaz will become part of our family as will their children."
Anyway, I like both of them."
The rains were coming soon so we took another week out from fishing and concentrated or efforts on shifting the bulk of the sand that blocked the entrance to our harbour.
We moved the winch to a position near to the harbour mouth and Kaz began the task of digging it out and dumping it onto the skid which we could slide down a ramp until it fell forward depositing it's load into the deep.
She dug down to about four foot at which point the sea / river water made itself known, and so then moving back, the process was repeated until she had dug back as far as the dam – our thinking being that the rain water coming down from the mountain would wash away what we hadn't managed to move, hopefully clearing the channel which went back inland by some one hundred yards.
On one of our joint fishing expeditions and having landed a decent catch, we went back to the breaker's yard and came away with an old dismantled Bailey-Bridge which we could use to span the old river. Also we blagged some RSJ's to further re-enforce the thing so the earth mover could cross it, and on testing it, the bloody thing hardly bent in the middle so we had the boys plaster it with coats of thick bitumen before pronouncing it fit for purpose.
Job done…… aside for waiting for the rains to hit us, which they most definitely did on February 12th 2018.
Log of M.V. Conqueror.
February 12th 2018
'Holy SHIT!...... Sorry, but this has to be seen to be believed! We had rain in Cornwall which was pretty frightening, but today, or rather last night, we hardly slept for the noise outside. It didn't begin with a light drizzle – it just hit suddenly and just as soon as it eases off I'll go out and see what's happening.
Oh okay. Apparently that was the calm before the storm!
I know that it's going to come – we need it to wash away the sand, and more importantly, the volcanic rock supports a vast amount of water which has to be replenished so the village has enough during the dry season. Now I'm going to find out the true meaning of a monsoon season.
February 21st 2018
This is insufferable. Rain I can cope with but it's also summer here and the temperatures regularly hit the mid to high 30 o mark. Whilst that might be acceptable, the humidity isn't, and for the most part it's like living in a steam room.
It's good to put out to sea – at least we normally get a breeze enough to breathe.
March 30th 2018
I've finally done it! I haven't had a ciggie for a couple of weeks! Rob and I went on a bender one evening and given that I'm the only one having problems with the humidity and breathing, he persuaded me to chuck my stash over the side.
I miss smoking dreadfully and I still cough, but according to Anita, that's normal and I will for a year or so. Thing is, I feel okay and I'm coping with this humidity thing much better than before.
I find myself getting irritable but I am aware of it, so I get busy rather than taking my stress out on other people. The Landrover has had a thorough service as have the boats and I've started on the task of repainting Conqueror.
Aruno was right when he told me to read the weather, because now I can see when the rain is going to abate so I can get things organised and pounce just as soon as it stops.
I should've packed it in years ago!
Our dam is working! Recent rainfalls had the silt washed down from the foothills build up in front of the Bailey Bridge, but then one afternoon it gave up the fight, slid down the gully and disappeared into the once-fertile land (the silt did – not the bridge!). This left clear water to do the job we hoped it would do, and tomorrow we're going to see if we can bring the boats in.
Now this is much better! We now have safe moorings away from the dangers of changing tides, but more than that, we can build a hut to span the upper part of the cut so we can work on the boats sheltered away from the elements.
It also looks the business and the villagers have taken to keeping their boats there together with all their equipment. We had created a busy working wharf and it was in use every hour of the day and night with men going out fishing for Peacock Bass after dark and during the day for more routine trips.
We had plans to install another generator that would provide lighting for the wharf and sheds, and Rob's idea of a cold room to store perishables and…… beer, giving us more space on our boats but that could wait until the rains stopped in August.
I had checked back through the log and tomorrow it would be one year to the day since entering the port of Rotterdam.
So much had happened in such a short space of time. I had fallen in love, travelled three parts of the way around the world in a small boat, got married and now I'm doing something I always said I wouldn't do, which is earning a living by trawling for fish, all be it not off the south coast of England, but in waters off the rain forests of South America. A magical life and one I shared with magical friends and my adorable Aruno.
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