"I know, Freddy, but I'm responsible, legally, for Doug because he is a crew member on Moira. So, if we just put him off, I would, in theory, have to pay for his airline ticket back to the States. I don't want to do that. I also feel responsible for him because he really isn't well and I can't just dump him and sail off. I also don't want to lug him the rest of the way to the Solomons because he could be dangerous." I glance up at Doug on the wheel, we are just coming into Rabaul. The tension between Doug and Freddy has been severe and is getting worse every day. The stress on her is very bad. She doesn't say so, but I can see it.
"I think we should unload him here," she insists.
I go out on deck and look at the rugged shoreline. Rabaul Harbor is a volcano crater with the clean, pleasant town of Rabaul along its protected northeast coast. Active volcanoes rim the harbor. Of particular interest to Freddy and I are the names of the volcanoes forming Rabaul Harbor. They are called, The Three Sisters and the Mother. One of the three sisters is smoking as we round the point and sail into the harbor.
We drop anchor just off the trim lawn of the yacht club at 08:00. I let out some chain and pull back with the motor to set the anchor. Then I plop down, exhausted from the long night run between New Britain and New Ireland. Doug, presently 8 years old, sits down, too, mimicking me as he has been doing all morning. He looks dark and glum. Like I feel. Freddy is on deck, coiling lines. She calls, "Look," and points at the water. "Look, Doug, there's a Nautilus!"
Doug looks up with a little show of interest. But he stays sitting there, brooding. Imitating me. A dead Nautilus shell floating by is common enough. Doug's main interest in going to the Solomons is to try and find a very rare species of Nautilus so he can photograph it for his book. Only a handful of specimens have ever been found and these were broken, damaged shells that washed ashore in the Solomon Islands and in Papua New Guinea.
"Come on, Doug," taunts Freddy, "I'll bet that's the rare species you're looking for. Go on, go get it!"
Doug puts on a fine, "OH, JESUS CHRIST!" expression but Freddy has him trapped. He has to go see. This is a bit tough on him and I shoot Freddy a frown. She shoots back, "It's the rare one, I'll bet you!"
"You've never seen one, so how would you know?", I snap.
Doug lurches to his feet and dives over the side, swims the 5 meters, grabs the innocent little shell, and lets out a whoop of joy. "It IS!" he shouts. "It IS the rare one!"
This is weird. Impossible, but there it is. He shows us the unmistakable hole in the apex of the whorl and the sharp edges of the inner curve of the shell. It is truly is the rare one.
Doug immediately starts to gather his stuff together. He's getting off. Here. Now. In Rabaul. We go ashore to check with customs and arrange for Doug's removal from our ship's papers. The custom's man is a pleasant Australian guy named Brian. When he greets us, he apologizes quietly, saying he'll explain later but right now there is a team of customs inspectors which have flown out from Port Moresby. They are going to inspect our vessel for drugs.
These guys are big. Their skin is very, very black, completely stuffed with muscles. They have military style boots, jungle uniform fighting duds with little maroon berets cocked on their heads.
"Little boys dressed like trees," Freddy mumbles almost loud enough for them to hear.
Moira is anchored out, so I wind up rowing back and forth to shore with our little yellow plastic inflatable dinghy. It's a toy, really, but we've stowed the big Avon until we reach the Solomons. I can only carry one officer at a time and I row back and forth six times to get their inspection crew aboard.
Freddy stands at the ladder and makes them take off their boots as they come aboard. When she tells the first guy to do this he glowers down at her and she puts her hands on her hips and stares right back. As soon as they are all aboard she says, "My, don't you guys look handsome in those new uniforms." They puff up like turkeys on the make, grinning. "Let me take a picture of you," she coos at them. They almost fall over each other getting together for a Polaroid snapshot.
They go through the boat for about two hours, looking at everything twice. They don't start cutting things up or tearing out the woodwork, so I just sit and read. Eventually they get bored and I ferry them back ashore.
Doug, and Brian, the resident customs man, are waiting for me on the last load. They have become good friends while the troops searched the Moira. Brian says it's OK for Doug to get off. He's excited about helping Doug with his Nautilus project and has found him a room in a guest house.
Using Brian's car, we move most of Doug's stuff to the small guest house, dropping Freddy off at the local market on the way. Brian explains "The special customs force is here because of that little 24' wood sloop anchored just there, in front of your boat." I look out the car window at the sloop. It is a piece of junk.
"An 18 year old lad sailed her into Port Moresby last year. Mike is his name. He didn't bother to clear in with customs or immigration. Just sort of hung around. After about six months, the officials discovered him. He did something outrageous at the Yacht Club or they would never have noticed him at all. Furious, they put him in jail overnight and then decided the best thing to do was simply put him on his boat and send him home. So they did.
"But Mike didn't. Go home, that is. He went sailing along the coast of PNG, out through the Milne Bay District, and eventually wound up here in Rabaul. He hung around for four months. Got a job at the local garage repairing cars. Then he decided he loved Rabaul and wanted to live here always. So one day last week he walked up to the immigration office and asked the officer, Mr. Harrington, what was involved with immigrating to PNG. Mr. Harrington explained that to do this, Mike had to return to Australia and apply for immigration and work status. He would also need a sponsor, someone who agreed to hire him to work here. Mike said, `Oh, I've got a sponsor.' Mr. Harrington asked who. `Tony at the garage,' said Mike. Well, the minute Mike left, Mr. Harrington telephoned Tony's Garage and asked if Mike was there. `Naw, he's gone to lunch.' says Tony. `But he does work there?' asks Mr. Harrington. `Yeah, call back in an hour,' says Tony.
"Of course, working here illegally is a serious crime," Brian explains as he lugs some of Doug's underwater camera gear up the stairs. "So Mr. Harrington telephoned Port Moresby to see what they wanted to do. Well. When they heard Mike's name some bright flame realized this was the same guy they had already deported a year ago. So they flew these troops out here to arrest him. Now he's in the local jail here."
We finish with Doug's gear and pick up Freddy at the market. She piles an assortment of produce into the car and says it's the best market she's seen in a long time. We drive back to the wharf.
"Who's that?" I point to the little sloop. Someone, a hippie looking character, is moving around on deck.
"Oh, that's Mike," Brian waves out at Mike and Mike waves back.
"I thought Mike was in jail," I give Brian a puzzled look.
"Well, he sleeps in jail, and of course he has his meals there, but during the day we let him work on his boat. You know, so he can eventually sail out of here." Brian explains.
"Oh. That's nice of you." Freddy hands Doug a big pumpkin and he totes it down to the dinghy.
"Yes. Actually, Mike seems to be quite happy the way things are. You know, the government is going to buy him new sails?" he chuckles.
"Yeah? You don't say." Astounding.
"Ummmmm. You see, his old ones are rotten. He couldn't sail off with them. Turns out it's cheaper to order a set of sails for his boat from Hong Kong than pay his air fare back to Australia. They are due to arrive next month." Brian squints out at the boat. "He's supposed to be working on his outboard motor today, but to tell you the truth, he's not very hard at it."
"The government must be really ticked off at him," I observe dryly.
"Oh, they are, indeed," Brian frowns, "Yes, indeed, they are. That's why they searched your boat today."
OK, Right. We finish loading Freddy's vegetables into the little plastic yellow dinghy. I am wrestling, mentally, with the contradictions of PNG logic when I look up and see a physical contradiction of PNG. Standing on the wharf is one of the biggest men I've ever seen - he looks like he's maybe 7 feet tall, perfectly, powerfully proportioned, handsome, black as night, bare chested, wearing only a wrap-around skirt. Next to him, flanking him on either side, are two highlanders whose heads come almost to the giant's waist. Brian sees the direction of my stare and says, "Oh, he's a Tol. From the South West coast of New Britain."
"Guess what?" Doug says. "Brian and I want to make arrangements to hire a boat. Right now. Is that OK? I'm really sorry about jumping ship here in Rabaul, leaving you guys alone. But I know I'm gonna find the rare Nautilus alive here. I just know it. I mean, hey, is it OK if I go with Brian now?"
Freddy and I breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Sure, Doug, it's perfectly OK. We can manage fine. Sure, no problem, you go ahead and good hunting, we'll see you when you get to the Solomons." They drive off, leaving Freddy and me standing there smiling.
Back aboard Moira, I can't help wonder about that nautilus. There was no mistaking it for another species as it has a very distinctive, sharply angled apical hole. It actually was the rare nautilus Doug was seeking. No doubt about it. A species known only from perhaps a dozen specimens, and one was right there, just bobbing along in the current exactly where and when we anchored.....I get up and look carefully around the anchorage. There is, of course, no nautilus of any species floating by now, none to be seen anywhere in the harbor.
Mike, the PNG prisoner has paddled back to shore in his dilapidated dinghy. I can see him entering the Yacht Club bar.
Alone at last, we set out for the Solomons...