Friday 24th June - Meeting Alani
We practice strapping Gandalf tightly beside Sea Runner for barge mode and then releasing him to tow mode, where he follows on his leash in open sea. He’s going to push us out of Mata Maka in barge mode, then we’ll revert to tow mode for most of the trip, finally, strap him alongside to secure a mooring in Neaifu harbour. Easy. We are all above board for the sail. Emily and I have taken up the Michelle/Carla roles; of knowing slightly more than the rest of the crew. Old salt veterans. Emily is keen as, dressed for it in her white bikini. I’m feeling dark. I feel like something could go wrong at any moment. Probably a hangover from that notorious Sunday where I cut my teeth on sailing in mayhem and disfunction. Oh and the weather was bad too.
Tineka and Hugo are relaxed but eager. They watch as Emily and I do the first hour of sailing in the lead spots then swap positions with us. Hugo has this thing called technique. He leans back and Leo’s by flicking the rope loops off the winch without having his fingers anywhere near it. ‘Well he’s not going to get told off for degloving himself’ I think. Show off. It’s a good thing that Tineka and Hugo get stuck in and comfortable in their leading roles because it means I can sit back and let my black mood settle in. I can’t be bothered looking at the horizon. When I look at the islands passing I see coconut trees popping through the foliage like a virus-ridden whorls in a Verruca. All I want to do is look at the floor of the cockpit. It’s weird.
It’s also good Tineka and Hugo are keen because Craig has plotted a journey punctuated by hundreds of tacks. This is how you sail when you don’t have a reliable motor but you do have a reliable crew. A big launch glides out of a collision course with us, the skipper miming a zigzag in the air with his hand. “Yeah” Emily laughs. “That’s right”. When we arrive on Neiafu that afternoon people ask us what we’ve been up to, smiling. Sailing we say. “Yes” they laugh, “We saw you come in”. It’s hard to have a personal sailing life in Neiafu town.
We’ve got plenty to do in Neiafu. The training manual has to be finished by Saturday morning for printing first thing, before we set sail for the meeting in Mata Maka at 5pm. We need to restock for six days away and Craig needs to locate Alani, the remote islands nurse, to confirm whether he can come with us. Without having Vaha to help translate we need him. We also want his input into the content and approach. If things go well Alani could continue to develop the initiative once the FF team have left. Hugo, Tineka and Emily are all working away at the computers in Tropicana. I’m feeling dull and heavy.
We’re pretty smooth at restocking now. I say that because Emily and Tineka are doing it while Craig, Hugo and I order takeaways at Panda, the chinese restaurant next to Coconet. Walking down chatting with Hugo we see a young Tongan man fiddling with his phone. “Excuse me” he says to Hugo, gesturing towards his phone. I err towards caution, keeping walking, without a clear read on what he’s after. Luckily Hugo is friendlier than me. “What’s up” he says. “Do you know Craig?” says the young man. “He’s just been calling me. I’m Alani”.
He has the air of a nurse about him. I say that because I have a sense that if shit hit the fan he’d be someone good to have around. Being surrounded at the moment by a medical team this is something I pick up from all of them. It’s unrelated to personality; there is a deeper thing to them, that I get from Alani too. A feeling that, when it counts, they’d have the best interests of the person who needs it most at heart, and be willing and capable to act on them.
Alani is listening while Craig explains our trip to Hunga. When Craig mentions they’re looking for a nurse for the clinic he chuckles - “Yes that’s me” he says “But I don’t want to go there, I want to go to Fale Vai because it’s more central to all the islands and closer to Neiafu to visit my family.” He chuckles again when we mention Sandy and Brian, who will be on a plane back to New Zealand by now. “Yes, they’re very nice” he says. He hasn’t met Julia and her husband yet, the new interim doctor from West Auckland. “And so” Craig concludes, “We’d love it if you would come with us on Sea Runner to Mata Maka”. Another chuckle - “I have to, that’s my job”. Alani will check in with Dr John, at the hospital on Monday morning and all going well, he’ll come with us.
We eat our vegetable noodle dish from Panda, which is fetticini noodles in soy sauce with a single leaf of book choy chopped in and some egg which Emily and I pick out. Then we bundle off to Sea Runner to drop off the provisions. We’re due at Aquarium at 6:30pm to meet the Peace Corp team, who are running a screening and vaccine programme, and introduce Emily to VEPA organisers. It’s 6:40pm. “There’s no time for a loo stop” says Craig. “You can go at Aquarium.” I decide to stay back on the ship. The heavy feeling is still with me and I feel overwhelmed by rushing and activity. Emily is taking her laptop to keep working on the programme at Aquarium. I don’t know how she does it. As Gandalf pulls away I check Facebook and see a post from the husband of one of my beautiful poet friend’s, saying she has committed suicide.