Craig and Sara Noyes
“Miss Adventure” is the name of our boat that will be bringing us back and forth to the Pano people. About a month ago we wanted to take her out for a fun trip to a small, uninhabited island a few miles off of the mainland. Unfortunately, our normal skipper was not available. We did know one skipper that was free, although he was very inexperienced. When we talked to him he acknowledged that he was green, but was confident that a trip like that was no problem! The high level of confidence plus the lack of experience should have been our warning.
We left the dock and pulled out into the harbor. The water was as calm as I ever remember seeing it. The sea was almost as flat as glass as the bow cut through it like a razor through plastic. After 15 minutes we rounded the backside of our island and could see the sandy beach in a small bay.
To be fair, I should note at this point that we had been to this island on numerous occasions, and the way the skipper approached the shore is how it’s normally done. Today, however, would show us that a different approach was needed.
We came around the corner and approached the sandy beach. As we came close, the water was still pancake flat. One corner of the island did have some pretty big waves crashing on the reef, but that was far from where we were trying to land (later, the skipper said he had a little voice in his head warning him about the swells that were causing those waves, but ignored it). If the water is really calm, it is normal to nose the boat onto the sand, pull it up partway on the beach, and tie it to a tree, which is what we approached the beach intending to do. However, just as the bow of the boat touched the sand, we all felt the back of the boat being picked up and dropped down sharply. Instantly the skipper knew what was happening and tried to put the boat in reverse to pull away from the shore, but it was too late. Even as the boat went into reverse, everyone in the boat was being knocked forward by waves that crashed into us from behind.
As the skipper yelled for everyone to abandon the boat we scrambled to grab children and get out of the pounding waves and onto the beach. Just that fast, the boat was swamped and getting beaten up by the surf that seemed to pick up out of nowhere, and we were stuck on a deserted island.
The first 40 minutes on the island were chaotic, to say the least. Fuel tanks were bobbing in the water, kids were crying, the new boat was getting picked up and slammed down, and the skipper was obviously way out of his league and not sure what to do.
We grabbed the bow rope and worked to pull the boat high enough onto the sand to be able to bail the water out. The problem was that the back of the boat was overflowing with thousands of pounds of water, and any effort to bail it was futile as it was refilled moments later by the next wave. We ran the rope up to the nearest tree and created a cinch. Every time a wave came it would lift the boat for just a moment and we could pull it a couple of inches further up. After about 40 minutes, with blistered hands, we couldn’t pull the boat any further on the beach, as there were stones right in front of it, and we still were not out of the water. To make matters worse, there were large rocks on both sides of the boat now, and the waves wanted to push her into them.
The skipper asked if we could wait a couple of hours until the tide went down, but when we checked a tide chart we saw that the tide was coming up! Not only did that mean we’d have to wait until after dark before the tide went down, it meant that in the next hour our boat was going to be smashed against the rocks on the beach. The skipper was really sweating now. He called another (real) skipper and the guy said there was only one way to get out of this mess. We had to push the boat back out through the waves, climb into the swamped boat, bail it out, and hope the motor started (gulp!!!).
All of us on the island, minus the kids who, thankfully, were off looking for wild hermit crabs, talked and agreed that we had no other choice; we had to try to push the boat out or come to terms with the fact that it would be destroyed.
What if we pushed the boat out and it capsized? What if we got it out and the motor (which had basically been underwater for an hour) wouldn’t start? What if the skipper had to make another instant decision and was wrong again? Those really big crashing waves on the corner of the island and the giant reef didn’t seem so far away now. Yikes.
As they say in Tok Pisin, we make up our minds prepared to “tighten our bones”. We had to try. The three adults each got on the front of the boat. The teenage girl got her hands ready to pull the knot and release the boat. We waited until the waves were smaller for a moment, said a last prayer, told her to pull the rope, and strained to push the boat as hard as we could.
Sadly, all of us died…. (please pause here for effect)
Just kidding! It actually worked amazingly! The boat went back through the small waves and, even though it was full just about to the brim with water, it still floated, since the walls were filled with foam. We hauled our sorry selves into the boat once it was past the waves. One person paddled to keep it away from the surf and the reef with the big waves, the other one bailed with a broken goggle case, our actual bailing scoop having been lost in the incident.
After about 30 minutes of bailing, the moment of truth arrived. Would the motor start? Keep in mind, this is a 60 hp pull-a-rope-like-a-lawn-mower engine with a tiller handle. The skipper took a deep breath and prepared to try and start her up. An important detail: the ladies and the kids were back on the island and it was just two men on the boat. If we couldn’t get it to start we didn’t know what we would do. Anchor it out there in the bay, swim back to the island, and hope we could call someone else with a boat to come and get us??? The skipper grabbed the handle and gave it a big pull……..and nothing happened…… 4 or 5 times he tried and the motor didn’t even attempt to start. Uh-oh. However, to his embarrassment and joy, I observed that the skipper hadn’t put the key in the motor. Having done that, it fired up on the first try, no problem! Praise the Lord! We ran the boat close to the shore and, while one of us swam back and forth to the island to get people and boat supplies, the skipper kept the boat out of the waves. With a huge sigh of relief, we turned the boat around and headed back to the dock.
We’ll use the skipper again. He’s got potential. He just didn’t know what he didn’t know about watching out for waves. More training under a real skipper and he’ll be all right.
In the end, there was no damage to person or property, and the only casualties were that my wallet was lost and my pride was greatly humbled. For, you see, l left a detail out until the end as a reward for those who persevered. I, Craig Noyes, was the skipper.
(You should reread the post knowing I was the skipper; it’s much funnier the second time. Also, be sure to say the name of the boat out loud to really appreciate the irony!)
On another note, please be in prayer for one of our children as their little heart is struggling immensely with stubborn defiance and anger. We’re reaching out for help in how to best shepherd the kid and we’re seeing slow progress; but the last couple of months have been really, really difficult. We will update you with progress in the next post.
Issues with Covid in PNG are also holding us to a standstill with getting building started. Travel is extremely limited, and the country’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse. Something like 20-40% of all people getting tested are positive for Covid, but testing resources and treatment are insufficient for demand. More than ever, we are isolated from medical and logistical help. We had one medical close call this week, but we think it has turned out okay.
Thank you so much for praying for us. We need it more now than ever!
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