On the 2nd January we sailed off into the Pacific heading for a tiny island under British control. The ship arrived before dark the same day and secured alongside a somewhat unstable jetty. It was too late for shore leave.
The following morning the Skipper was invited to Government House. The Governor wanted to ask for a small favour. On the Captain’s return we were informed that we’d be carrying some passengers to a nearby island. As we prepared to leave the harbour our passengers arrived. With them came their worldly goods, children, animals, furnishings and the kitchen sink!
The animals consisted of goats, pigs, chickens and at least two dogs. Some animals were in makeshift cages others were led by children on lengths of rope.
The island was only two hours steaming and as the weather was warm it was decided our passengers and livestock could remain on deck. The trip went without mishap and we soon arrived at our destination.
That was when the Navigator announced the island was completely circled by a coral reef. There was no harbour or a suitable place to unload our guests. It was impossible to use the motor launch or the whaler because they would ground on the reef. The passengers might not have been a problem. The animals, all with a strong aversion to getting wet, definitely were.
The solution was far from perfect but under the circumstances it was the only option. Using a carley-float, two crewmembers paddled ashore. They took ropes and a block and tackle with them. We secured a line from the shore to the ship. This allowed us to pull one carley-float to shore while the other returned to the ship. I should explain what a carley- float is because it was not ideally suited for our purpose. Imagine a large oval shaped cork life ring with rope netting in the center to prevent a body falling through. It is a great rescue raft in the event a ship should sink. However it was never designed to transport pigs, goats or chickens. Especially not chickens.
It was well after midnight when we finally shipped the last of the bits of furniture ashore. It had become necessary to rig searchlights to see what we were doing.
Loading the animals into the rafts had been the most difficult task. Manhandling goats and pigs was bad enough, but chickens were something else. They kept escaping, half flying and half swimming. Their owners screamed at the sailors who laughed and splashed as they tried to retrieve the elusive birds.
We were also aware of an altogether bigger danger and needed to post lookouts for the duration. The South Pacific is a notorious hunting ground for sharks.
It took close to eight hours to complete this madcap operation. Our Skipper was fuming that our schedule was delayed. I imagine he wasn’t happy with the less than forthcoming Governor either and his inaccessible island.
An excerpt from “The Royal Navy & Me
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