Monday, November 1, 2010


We'd just read in the guidebooks that Rabaul has "rascals," the violent PNG gangs that prey on locals and foreigners alike. And Steve relayed the depressing story of how Gordon had left several large lines hanging from his transom overnight, only to find them gone in the morning. And they were anchored in Egem Atol, a remote, seldom-visited island. So we were hesitant to anchor too close to shore when we arrived near Rabaul last night. It looked very civilized. There were even cars driving along the coastal road, the first we've seen in a month or more. But we were wary. As we set the anchor and stowed equipment we were alarmed a bit to notice the commotion on the beach that our arrival had caused. A group of about 20 young men were energetically hooping and hollering at us from a half mile away, dragging a large log down the beach and into the water. Before long the entire gang was piled onto the log and paddling furiously with their arms out towards us, throwing as much water into the air as they were pushing behind them.
As they got closer we sat on the back deck and waved back at them with smiles. To our relief the smiles returned looked genuine. They were just energetic fans of cruising yachts. So we finished locking all the bits and pieces of equipment that we can't sail without and Riss put the dingy in the water. We planned to meet them before they reached to boat to discourage them climbing aboard. We tentatively spoke with them about 100 ft from the boat. They quickly exploded in celebration, raucously chatted away with one another and did backflips off the log. They'd made it! They were just trying to touch the boat, and they were almost there. So we accompanied them to the boat, inviting the younger ones aboard our dingy. They all touched it, and two of the teenagers did climb aboard the swim platform, mostly to just get a rest from the long swim. We hung out there for a 15 minutes or so as one of the older boys dove below to look at our prop and keel or show off his ability to swim under a big yacht (no mask or snorkel, just curiosity and energy). When we explained that we needed to go ashore and would take some of them with us, Mark, the leader assured us they'd come with us too. And they all did. We even helped tow the giant log paddling in the dingy. Our new friends turned out to be children of military and police fathers, staying at the barracks nearby. And we found some fishermen on the beach that were willing to watch our dingy for us. The fishermen were the rascal types with gangster clothing and scowls to greet us. But having made our new friends just down the beach probably protected us a bit, and the fishermen offered to watch our dingy as we went ashore. We locked it to a tree, but couldn't secure the paddles from the curious children who were likely to rummage around inside. Nonetheless, when we came back after a walk through an abandoned, seedy part of town with a liquor store named The Spirit of Rabaul and a night club named only Entertainment. Several business had security guards patrolling form behind iron bars and fencing. All were closed, except for a small take-away restaurant run by a Chinese woman. Riss bought a Cherry Soda. It helped turn her teeth and braces red during the warry walk back through the "entertainment" district, so she fit in with the natives and their Beetlenut stained mouths.
We'll try to find the less seedy parts of town today and see if we can check in with port authorities. We're stuck here for a week waiting for a friend. I hope we can keep the locals happy that long. Thursday is supposed to be the bad night for rascals when they get their paychecks and spend it all on beer. Maybe we'll put to sea and stay out on an outer island for that.

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