South Pacific Cross Currents
"This material was put together in Manuscript form over a number of years, but I was unable to find a Publisher who would stand the cost of production. I am unable to myself, so there will never be a book run."
[David Behrens, Brisbane, 1996]
See Masked Eden, P 353
David Kenward Behrens 1921 - 2004
South Pacific Cross Currents
The Batuna Crocodile
Pride and a fall
God laughed last
Faithful unto Death
Extract from the Preface and three of the stories:
The Batuna Crocodile
Pride and a fall
God laughed last
Faithful unto Death
Extract from Preface
During the years David Behrens lived and worked in Papua New Guinea, as a soldier during World War Two, then as Engineer for the Seventh Day Adventist Mission in the Solomon Islands and New Britain, and later as an Engineer and Ship Captain, carrying out various activities around New Britain and its adjacent islands, he saw many times, how Christian men and women, Roman Catholic and Protestant alike, had been prepared to risk - and give - their lives for the Lord they loved, or to save other people's lives.
It was impressed on his mind, just how real and vicious were the forces of evil, whose handiwork he had so often seen and experienced, during those years he worked around the South Pacific Islands.
More importantly, he had seen how equally real but far more powerful, were the forces for good that were always available, to anyone who put their trust in God, and did their best to serve Him.
Happenings in his own life, convinced him that God sometimes allowed the currents of evil to have their own way for a time, but then in answer to prayers for help, He had said "Enough! No further shall you go!" Then His forces hurled them back in confusion.
When the Workshop unit to which David Behrens was attached arrived at Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea in June 1942, its men and equipment were taken inland about 20 miles, and set up on the banks of the Laloki River where Sapphire Creek joined it.
David was in charge of the Regimental Aid Post - or R.A.P, as it was usually known. He was the first to deal with any sickness or injury that might affect any of the 200 odd men in the establishment. Usually an M.O. (or Medical Officer) would come by a vehicle of some kind, from the 5th C.C.S. (Casualty Clearing Station) a tent hospital some miles back towards Port Moresby and hold a Sick Parade each day. He would advise David on treatment for men that needed it, and if their condition was too serious, have them sent to the C.C.S. by ambulance, called up by field telephone. If something really serious happened during the day or night, the patient would be taken by a light utility truck straight to the C.C.S. with David doing whatever he could for the man during the rather rough trip. The health of the men under his care was always in the forefront of his mind, especially seeing this Workshop had come from Cranbourne in Victoria, where the weather and the sicknesses were vastly different.
There was something happening at certain places in New Guinea at that time, that was of serious concern to the Services that were trying to hold up the advance of the Japanese Army towards Australia. It could well have been the plot for a Science Fiction horror film - this terrible thing that was happening to far too many of our men.
The "horror" was there in plenty, but the "fiction" part was missing. This was hard fact. Men were dying from the attacks of foes seldom seen - dying slowing, agonisingly, revoltingly, and often going crazy first.
They suffered from terrible headaches, that would be aggravated to screaming point by a sudden light in the eyes, or a sharp sound. Darkness brought some relief. Sometimes delirium would grip a victim for days with all its mind damaging effects. Eyes would often become so inflamed they were just a pussy mess. Deafness quite often occurred. In decreasing frequency during a patient’s slow and agonising slide towards the grave, periods of sanity would occur, and the man would plead piteously with his carers for something to ease his torture.
The heartbreaking part for the medical orderlies, was the fact that there was no treatment they could give. The healthier a man was when he was struck down, just meant his body took so much longer to reach the almost inevitable end, than a man in a more weakened condition. Unfortunately very few of the men in the forward positions were in good physical shape, at that time.
The task of driving back the Japanese from Australia's doorstep in that type of terrain was bad enough, but this added menace that was depleting our ranks was something the men feared more than bullets, bombs or malaria. It was not caused by the Japanese, but rather by natives of the land. The men never knew when an attack might be launched except for one peculiarity - the silent killers apparently mainly went for men stationary on the ground for some time. The victim might be quite unaware he had been attacked at times, as the injury was so slight.
However the effects were over 80% fatal in many areas. There was no known successful defence against the attacks, and no successful treatment. The only hope a man had, was that his body might be strong enough to last through perhaps weeks of torture, until the illness ran its course. Those who did so survive, were sometimes permanently handicapped physically or mentally.
The Japanese were afflicted by these attacks too, and called it Tsutsugamushi, or river fever. We called it Scrub-Typhus. It was believed to be carried by a small scrub-tick, or Mokka as the Servicemen called it- The trouble was, this tick also had tiny hitch-hiking mites about 1/4 of a millimeter long on its body, and the suspicion was that they too were carriers of the Typhus microbe.
The Military Authorities were pressuring the Scientists back in Australia to come up with some successful treatment - but those people were under a tremendous handicap, as they had no infected Mokkas or mites to experiment on! Quite a number of soldiers in areas where their mates had been struck down by the Typhus, volunteered to act as "live bait", to try and catch some of the creatures. They shaved all hair off their bodies, so as to make the insects more easily seen, and then lay on the ground for long periods, with other men who kept moving about, watching for any Mokkas that might climb on to them.
After a while the bait man would roll over and let what had been his on-the-grass-side be examined, while he offered his other side as a target. This worked, and a number of Mokkas and mites were captured and carefully sent to Melbourne in warm humid containers, to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, which was one of the leading scientific research organizations in Australia.
The men who were acting as bait knew what a terrible curse this Typhus was, and were doing their utmost to help the Scientists find some remedy. Tragically some were bitten by unnoticed Typhus carriers - probably the tiny mites - and gave their lives. Others, knowing the desperate need for these little murderers, continued with the baiting.
David of course had no idea of all this activity taking place up in the hills, but did have some very worrying thoughts when after the Workshop had been established for some months, one of the soldiers became very sick, and the M.O. had him taken to the hospital, and he was found to have contracted Scrub Typhus. He had been in pretty good physical condition when it hit him, and he eventually recovered. He was one of the lucky few - at that stage.
When the Mokkas and their mites were received in Melbourne, the scientists had the incredibly difficult task of trying to get them to breed and lay eggs. They hoped to find the Typhus organisms in the eggs, and then see if the newly developed sulpha drugs could control them. Also they hoped to develop a serum from the eggs that might be helpful.
It was a race against time, as men were still dying in far too large numbers up in New Guinea. But one of their big handicaps was that they had such minute eggs both in size and quantity to work with. There was not even a person in a hospital afflicted with the Typhus that they could get infected blood from to work with. It was so very frustrating for all engaged on the project.
One of these was a very brilliant laboratory worker named Miss Dora Lush. She knew only too well just how fruitless was all the painstaking work under microscopes, and with tiny quantities of minute eggs. They were getting nowhere - but she kept on working as directed by her superior. Then she contracted Scrub Typhus herself! Whether this was accidental or on purpose none of her associates knew.
Something that they very quickly did know, was that they now had a relatively vast supply of Typhus loaded blood. Miss Lush could have done what many advised her to do and just rested in hospital and let her superbly fit and strong body fight the disease off. But no way! She told the Institute to keep her there and use her as a human guinea pig for experimenting, in the fight against the Typhus. This they did, and over weeks many things were tried on her blood, and later on herself, and because of her training and knowledge she was better able to help and evaluate their efforts, when her mind was not in delirium.
The Typhus ran its terrible course with Dora, and her once full and beautiful body wasted away slowly but surely, till she was just a skin-covered skeleton, and had suffered all the tortures that cursed disease could bring on her. Her mind went, and then her poor body gave up the struggle and she passed way, in that sterile white room in the Laboratory.
Her sacrifice was really a triumph, as her fellow technicians found that one of the newly developed drugs - Chloromycetin - would quickly control the Typhus organism. This meant that the terribly debilitating effects of the fever were dramatically lessened and shortened- The death-rate soon fell to about two to four percent of cases. What a wonderful result, due to the self-sacrificing efforts of the men in New Guinea, and then the amazing sacrifice of herself by that lovely girl, Dora Lush.
Incidentally, the military Hospitals people found that the rehabilitation of Scrub Typhus sufferers was greatly helped by the use of big quantities of Marmite in their diet.
When David found out all this after the war, the thought how true are the words of John 15:13 - "Greater love hath no man - (or woman) - than this, that they lay down their life for their friends".
"If only we had a radio transmitter, I wouldn't have to bother you Dave, but Marion has had a run on these items at the Dispensary lately, and is almost out of them. Your boat is the only one working at present, so could you take this message to Lilihina Island and get Bill Burley to transmit it to Honiara please? We really do need these things."
Lloyd Tonkin was looking quite worried as he stood in the doorway of the Batuna Mission workshop.
David Behrens, the Engineer, nodded his head in understanding, as he knew Lloyd's wife Marion had been kept pretty busy at the Dispensary since the resident Sister had left for Australia with health problems - while Mr Les Webster who was to take her place, had not yet arrived.
He looked at Rusa and Lahsalosi, his two Maravo National helpers, and mentally checked off what he could get them to do while he was away up the lagoon.
"O.K. mate, I can get away pretty quickly and with luck get your message to Bill before this morning's "sked". Why don't you come with me?" David answered. Lloyd, who was Principal of the school at Batuna, replied that he had too much to do that day, with midyear exams coming up, and regretfully declined. David was to realize before he was much older, that he would need a lot more than just "luck" to get that message through - or even survive the day!
Batuna Mission had no radio transmitter in those days, and the only way to get radio messages out was to take them by boat some four nautical miles, (or seven kilometres) North, then Northwest around the coast of Vangunu Island inside the Maravo Lagoon, to a trading post run by Mr Bill Burley on the island of Lilihina.
This would have been no problem normally, but for some months past, the M.V. "Dandavada", a forty five foot (or fourteen metre) twin masted schooner type of ship belonging to the Mission station, had been out of action waiting for parts for the Gardner 3L2 diesel engine to come from Sydney.
David had a suspicion that the Gardner Agents in Sydney were in fact getting them from England!
This lack of transport could be quite awkward at times, so a couple of months previously the.Engineer had at his own expense asked a renowned canoe maker and wood carver named Kilivisi, of Viru village on New Georgia Island, to make him a dugout from a goliti (pronounced gorleetee) log similar in the main to the usual Marovo canoes or "chores" as they were called, but differing in a couple of important points.
It was to be a "double ender" (or in other words, sharp both ends) as usual, but at the stern end it was to have a cut-away below the place where the rudder would be hung, so that a propeller on a shaft from an in-board engine could be fitted.
Just. back from the centre of the boat, a big pad of the original log was left intact in the bottom to act as a bed for the small Wisconsin air-cooled petrol engine David had bought to power the craft with.
He had made a little hand-carved model about twelve inches (or thirty centimetres) long from a block of soft wood, and given it to Kilivisi when he was visiting Batuna, and asked him to make the finished boat sixteen feet (or five metres) long, by two feet six inches (or eighty centimetres) wide.
In due course he had taken delivery of the boat, and had done enough work on it for it to be usable even though there were still a number of things he wanted to do to make it more sea-worthy. Kilivisi had done a good job, and the boat for all. its size was relatively light in weight and even with the engine in it, floated quite high in the water. It had performed very well in the few trial runs David had made in it so far, so he had no hesitation in using it for this rather urgent trip.
The Batuna Mission station's name literally meant in the local Maravo language, "the head", and that was quite appropriate, as part of the Mission property was a point jutting out to the East, that was shaped very much like the shoulders and head of a man.
Just back from the centre of the boat, a big pad of the original log was left intact in the bottom to act as a bed for the small Wisconsin air-cooled petrol engine David had bought to power the craft with.
The coast on the North side of this point, ran back to the West for about three-quarters of a mile (or a kilometre) then swung in a rough half-circle to the North and then back to the East to form a fairly deep bay, before curving back around another point and continuing on in a Northwesterly direction towards Lilihina Island.
From the "head" of the Batuna point, to the other unnamed point on the North side of the bay was about half a mile (or a bit under a kilometre) and back inside the bay and fairly close to its North shore was a small island, known at that time as Bari’s Island. Around this island and along the shores of the bay, was notorious for the number of sharks and crocodiles that were prevalent there, not to mention many barracuda that made their living there also.
The seaward end of the point, or the "head" had two houses for Mission staff built on it, and between them was situated the Church. Being quite elevated, these buildings commanded very extensive and impressive views of the surrounding lagoon and islands.
In what might be called the "neck" area, which was quite low-lying and very little above sea-level, were situated the sawmill, slipway, and hospital on the South side, and the workshop and wharf on the North. The Principal's house and the school buildings were on what could be called the "shoulders", where the point widened and merged into the main bulk of the island.
Starting out from the shore beside the workshop, David headed the boat almost due North across the bay, aiming to clear the point on the opposite side, well clear on his left hand, and then change course to the Northwest and head for Lilihina Island. ---- Someone once said "The best laid plans of mice and men, oft get kicked in the teeth" - or something to that effect. How true!
It was a typical Southeast season day, with the trade-winds pushing random patches of white cloud across the sky at quite a rate, and whipping the fairly shallow waters of the lagoon into quite high, breaking waves.
Outside the lagoon in the deep ocean, the waves were more in the form of rollers or hills with the slopes on either side being much the same angle. Here in the lagoon it was as if the waves which were being pushed forward by the wind, were catching their feet on the bottom and tripping up, so their crests curled over and fell in a continual waterfall down their leeward sides (the side away from the wind).
As the engine pushed the boat out towards the centre of the bay, David could see that he soon would be out of the relatively smooth water which was sheltered from the full force of the wind by the high point, and would have to contend with the quite nasty breaking waves that would be coming from his right hand side, and which extended as far as he could see out in the lagoon.
They would easily roll the boat over if they caught her side-on, so he was watching them with care as the boat got away from the sheltered water but was not worried as he planned - if they got too rough - to turn the boat around to the right towards the East, and meet the waves almost head-on at slow speed, and angle across more Northeast till he was far enough out into the lagoon to be able to then make a quick turn back to the left and get past clear of the point near Bari's Island with the waves then coming from almost straight behind him. They would then have no power to roll the boat over.
He was thoroughly enjoying this contest with the increasingly breaking waves, and was pleased with the way the boat handled, even though its engine was only about four horsepower. Out past the middle of the bay now, he saw he would soon have the full unfettered force of the Southeast wind and waves to deal with. Already his face was being stung by the heavy spray being swept off the tops of the breaking waves, by what he estimated would be a thirty knot (or 55 kilometer) wind.
Watching to the right to gauge the size of the waves approaching, he noticed coming towards him from the South-east, a medium-sized canoe - a dugout "chore" - with five men in it. They were getting things easy he thought, as three of them were holding coconut palm fronds vertically with their butts in the bottom of the canoe, while their leafy tops were straight up in the air catching the wind like sails!
The on1y man doing any work was one at the stern of the canoe using his paddle as a rudder - the rest of them were really having a holiday, and were getting blown to wherever they were going at quite a good speed. David thought to himself as he watched them, that it would be a different story when they had to head home again, as it would be a long hard paddle against that gale!
Soon he realized that the men in the canoe weren't the only ones in the vicinity who had a sail. He had one himself which wasn't doing him any good at all, and it wasn't a coconut palm frond either, but the very hull of his boat that was causing the trouble.
He had been turning the boat away to the left from the badly breaking waves for some little time now, until he had reached a position in the bay, where he needed to get the boat's bow around into the wind so it could take the oncoming waves almost straight head on, and work his way up-wind - but angling slightly to the East, so he could get out - far enough to clear the point, then he would be in a position to turn back to the left and run with the wind behind him.
The difficulty was that the boat was too light, particularly up front. It needed some ballast (or weight) to keep its bow down in the water more, as it was floating with its front end right out of the water at times, while the stern where he was forced to sit at the controls, with the engine just in front of his feet, was quite deep in the water.
As a wave would come up from behind and pass under the boat, she would drop down into the following trough, and David would turn the rudder hard to the right and try and get her bow around to meet the next- wave head on - but every time, as soon as the high-floating bow started to get up above the foaming wave crest, the wind would catch it and thrust it back to the left again before the turn to the right could be completed.
This was dangerous in the extreme, as the round bottomed shape of the boat made it very easy to roll over, with insufficient ballast or weight in it to give it. stability, and David would have to instantly swing the rudder to the left again and get her round running with the waves again to avoid a capsize.
After several wild rolls that would have ended in disaster if the Wisconsin had failed to maintain full revs so the rudder could be effective, (as the rush of water sent back by a racing propeller, has more effect on the rudder than the forward movement of the boat through the water) he decided that enough was quite enough.
He would take no further risks, but just run with the wind and waves behind him, and pass through the passage between Bari's Island and the North shore of the bay, and after sailing around the island in the sheltered passage it created, he would come out again in the bay - but this time with the boat's bow facing the approaching waves.
Excellent idea. "The best laid plans of mice and men -- - !"
Having made the decision, it only took a short time to reach the entrance to the passage which he hoped would solve his problems -only to get one of the worst shocks he had ever received in his life. AS the boat entered the fairly narrow channel, lined with coral reefs each side, he suddenly realized with horror that he was trapped - trapped in a way he had never given a thought to - and with precious little time to think about it now.
The waves generated out in the lagoon were up to three metres or nine feet high, and the wind was driving them right into the entrance of this channel, where because of the shallowing water they were breaking even more viciously than out in the lagoon.
This David had fully expected and was running the engine at full speed to keep the boat ahead of them. What he had not expected was to find his way barred by a wall of jagged coral extending right across the channel from Bari's Island to the North shore of the bay, while both sides of the channel were also lined with the menacing growths, exposed by the trough of each wave that entered it.
Normally there was enough water over the coral in the channel to float a small boat at all but the most extremely low tides. The tide was not extremely low in this instance, but the troughs between those three metre waves certainly were! Any boat or body at the "mercy" of those waves, would have been hurled forward by the main bulk of a wave and then dumped with terrible force by the following trough on to that great mass of beautifully coloured, fantastically shaped, but horribly mutilating coral. Great spreading fans, some of them two metres across, grew out horizontally from the seaward face of the reef. Whole forests of stag-horn coral, long many branched, sharp pointed deep blue growths, that like the fans, were so brittle that if a body was dumped on them they would shatter just like porcelain, with jagged razor sharp edges. This menacing bank that David now saw, was alternately being covered by the racing waves, and then exposed in all its deadly beauty by the following troughs.
The sudden chill of fear that went through his very being, was not for the lacerating, tearing damage that the shattered coral would do to his body as the waves dumped him on, and rolled him over it - but for the attention his spilt blood would attract, as the pounding waves spread it through the reef waters, and that of the narrow channel itself.
Only a few nights before, he had been standing on the beach not far from the workshop with Lloyd Tonkin, and upon directing the powerful beam of his six cell torch around the coast towards Bari's Island, had seen five glowing red eyes gazing back at the light. Five crocodiles, all within the reach of that beam!
Apart from the crocodiles, there were plenty of other lovers of blood and fresh meat that lived around those reefs and channels, which could make short work of him if he got dumped virtually on their doorsteps.
He began praying to God for help, at the same time as his mind was racing to find a way out of this "dead end" situation.
Over the years, other men who have worked with, or been with David when emergencies have arisen, have said repeatedly afterwards that he has the gift of staying calm and thinking constructively when the pressure is on. He has felt that if he has such a gift, it must be God-given.
In this instance he had to think fast and act fast also, as even with the engine running slow (he didn't dare stop it, or he would have lost all control of the boat) the wind and waves were carrying the boat forward into the channel, much too fast for his liking.
He remembered the canoe he had seen earlier sailing towards the point, and the thought came that if he could get those men to paddle close to him, he would leave his boat to its fate, and swim to their canoe before he was injured in any way which would attract unwanted visitors.
Looking around he saw they were crossing behind him some two or three hundred metres away, still sailing effortlessly along with their palm frond sails, and obviously watching him.
He waved to them with a beckoning motion and yelled "Mat harmu, cuchiana", meaning "come you quickly" in Maravo, but the wind obviously carried his words away, as all the men did was to raise their idle paddles and wave them at him in cheerful greeting! Then they passed out of sight around the point. So much for that idea, he thought.
During the next few minutes (which seemed like hours to David) he tried every trick he knew to get the boat turned around, even disengaging the clutch as she slid down the back of a wave, then revving the engine and letting the clutch in with the rudder held hard over, so the sudden rush of water on the rudder-face hopefully would kick the stern around and get that high-floating bow straight up the face of the next wave before the full force of the wind could get. at it - but no luck - once again only a sudden swing of the rudder brought her back facing the now much nearer reef.
He again poured out a desperate plea to God for help as he saw how close the boat was to the wave lashed coral, and then rather than give in and have the next wave or at least the one after it, smash the boat and himself unresistingly on the coral, he made one last attempt to get her to turn in the trough.
As he once again opened wide the throttle of the little Wisconsin, and the revs built up to their maximum as he held the boat running side-on to the next wave, watching for what he judged the best time to swing her bow up the face of the on-coming breaker, he felt something different about the boat's behaviour.
She responded as if she had adequate stabilizing ballast in the forward part, and in fact it even looked as if the bow was floating lower in the water - but he thought he must have been imagining that. What he very swiftly realized he was not imagining, was the boat's changed action as the hard-over rudder swung the stern around, for the bow had certainly settled deeper into the water, and was providing some sideways grip that gave the rudder something to lever against as it strove to do its job and get the boat lined up straight into the wind before it won the match by pushing her aside again,
The nerves of the desperate man in the boat were stretched almost to breaking point he felt, as he watched in what seemed to his heightened senses to be the slow-motion approach of that last wave. If the boat hadn't made the turn that time, that would be the wave that would smash it - and him – on to the waiting coral, only a few metres away now.
The bow reached the point where it was forcing its way up through the down-curling crest of the wave - and still the boat was turning!
Then the bow was thrusting clear up into the air above the wave where the wind could make an unhindered attack on it - and the battle was 1ost.
By the wind!
That sudden unaccountable increase -in stability that David had noticed during that last chance he felt he would have to get the boat turned around, had made the difference. He could see no change in the pattern of the waves, and the wind was just as strong as it had been, but he felt sure the behaviour of the boat had changed right at the crucial time - and he was very sure that was none of his doing.
He had been praying to God for help since he first realized the peril he was in, and fully believed he had been given that help - how it had come about he didn't know. That was God's business.
He made it his business to thank his Father most gratefully as he steered the boat at slow speed straight into the wind till he was well out into the lagoon again, and could safely turn and run, with the wind and waves just on a slight angle behind him, as he cleared the point and carried on to Lilihina Island which he reached in time for the message to go out on the morning "sked".
It would then be up to the Mission headquarters staff in Honiara to got what was needed, and send it on the next available trading or Government ship that would be calling at Batuna - and that could be weeks away. He had done his part, and the rest was up to the others.
Leaving Lilihina and heading back straight into the wind towards Batuna again, the Engineer found his boat to be floating just as high in the bows as she had on the outward run, so turned and ran back to the island’s lee side and collected some blocks of old dead coral from the foreshore and packed them into the front of the boat between the two front seats.-----
The very real danger he had been in earlier that morning was still very much in his mind, but that didn't stop him enjoying the beauty of the many kilometres of island studded lagoon as the boat took him slowly back to Batuna, nor did it dampen the exhilaration he felt as the buoyant little craft would climb up the face of an oncoming wave, splitting its foaming crest with her bow and then plunging down the other side to meet the next one. It almost seemed as if the boat enjoyed the action as much as he did.
With all the beauty visible around him, but knowing full well how much menace there was in so many forms, just below the surface of the lagoon, he thanked God again for saving him, and wondered again just how He had done it. "You'll never know that, till you reach "The Better Land", mate", he told himself, but he was wrong.
After securing the boat to its davits at the side of the wharf and winching her out of the water, he walked back to the workshop where Rusa and Lahsalosi were working and told them the radio message had been sent.
Lahsalosi then said "Master, we were watching from up on the hill to see how you got on in the strong blow, and saw you go into the passage behind Bari's Island and then come out again. Who did you pick up in there?"
"I never picked up anyone Lahsalosi, there was only me in the boat" David answered in a puzzled voice, but Lahsalosi 1nsisted, "You must have Master, because we could clearly see someone in the front of the boat. It was too far away to see who it was - but we saw someone in the boat alright."
As the full import of what Lahsalosi had said sunk into David's mind, a feeling of awe overcame him, then one of deep gratitude to God as he re-lived again in thought, those crucial seconds when the unmanageable boat was so close to those foam lathered forests of coral, and the change he had felt in her behaviour as he had in almost hopeless desperation turned her to meet that last wave - knowing full well that it would smash the boat and him on to the coral, if he failed to get the bow far enough around into the wind this time.
He recalled the thought that had come to his mind as the boat continued to respond to the rudder and climb up the face of that wave, that she was acting just as if she had ballast in the front, and even seemed to be riding lower in the water.
She had ballast all right, an Angel of the Lord had indeed come to help him in his extremity, and these two men had been privileged to see him. David had not seen his Passenger, but enjoyed the far greater privilege of having been saved by Him from a very messy end.
The passage of many years, have not diminished his gratitude to God for that.
Copyright ©. Sylvia Behrens 2005.
Conditions were perfect and yet Captain David Behrens nearly wrecked his ship. How could that happen after the years he had been in charge of small ships aroCopyright ©. Sylvia Behrens 2005.und the Solomon Islands, and New Britain and its islands?
And if it nearly was wrecked, but wasn't - then why wasn't it.?
The answer is in two words - THE VOICE!
At last the time had come for the long planned trochus-shelling voyages to start. The 38 foot small ship "Bialla" had been put into the best possible mechanical and sea-going conditions. A team of swimmers had been recruited by lan McDougall, the manager of Bialla Plantation, and the weather was reasonably calm.
It was decided David would take the swimmers in the "Bialla" to a big area of coral reefs some miles to the West of New Britain, and give them some practice in working as a team, with the 13foot cedar dinghy he had bought in Rabaul some months ago, to be rowed right in over the reefs to act as their tender. This was done.
The "Bialla's" crew of four men (at that time) were allowed by David to take turns at going in over the reef with the swimmers, and trying their hands at finding suitable sized trochus shells during the greater part of the day while the "Bialla" swung at anchor in deeper water.
It was necessary to have good light, to be able to bring the ship safely back to the mainland through the many areas of coral reefs - large and small - that lie off the coast in that area. David had a reliable German Naval chart which showed the positions and extents of these reefs, which was of great value to him.
As the day wore on, the sun was getting down towards the West - which would be of great advantage to him, as the light would be coming from behind the ship as it was on its home-ward course almost due East. There would be a minimum of surface glare on the fairly calm sea. To have been sailing WEST under those conditions would have been very risky, as the glare would have made it almost impossible to see any reefs until the vessel was almost on them, unless waves were breaking on them, and thus indicating their presence.
Blasts from the conch-shell or "buki" as it was known in Pidgin, recalled all the swimmers and those of the crew-men who were having their turn on the reef- When all their shells had been counted and entered up in the book against each boy's name, David had the "Bialla's" Graymarine diesel engine started, then the anchor pulled up and stowed in the anchor-locker in the ship's bows, after being washed clean with buckets of water pulled up from the sea on a rope. Once this was done he put a crewman up in the bows as lookout, and put Pondala (his only S.D.A. crewman) on the helm after giving him a compass course that would take them in the general direction of Bialla plantation.
He had purposely anchored the ship in the Eastward side of this patch of reefs in the morning, and now had the advantage of the sun in the West behind him, as he slowly worked her out into clear deep water. Many of the mountains that form the backbone of New Britain, have no distinctive peaks which navigators in ships can use for aiming points, when trying to set compass courses for a particular part of the coast, or to take their ships clear of coral reefs or rocks. When there are such clear peaks, they are often hidden by clouds or smoke, and are therefore useless.
Bialla plantation was well situated in this respect, as just a few miles away there rose up from the fairly level coastal plain, a conical peak called Mount Galloseulo, which was often clear of clouds when the main ranges were covered. It was high enough to be seen from many miles out to sea, and its very pointed tip made a good sighting point.
When the time the ship had run at certain engine-revolutions, indicated they must be nearing the maze of reefs offshore from the plantation, the Captain consulted the chart and decided on a good wide entrance between two reefs which had very deep water in it. He carefully took a compass bearing on the chart of Mt. Gallosuelo's tip, in relation to the passage as shown on the chart. Then allowing for the earth's magnetic variation in that region, and the ship's compass's known deviation pattern, he arrived at a compass bearing which should take the ship right through the centre of the passage. There was no need to allow for sideways drift that can be caused by the wind, or leeway as it is called, as what little there was, came from dead astern.
Taking the wheel from Pondala, the Captain swung the ship off its original course until it was sailing parallel with the coast, then took frequent sightings from the compass to Mt. Galloseulo's peak, until the reading was what he had worked out it should be.
Then turning the "Bialla" onto this course, he gave Pondala the figure and told him to steer on that number on the compass card as closely as possible, and not to do any gazing around as they were aiming at a passage through the reefs.
David felt things had gone well that day, and with such perfect conditions weather-wise and sea-wise, it would only be a matter of time and they would all be safely back at the plantation anchorage. He went down into his cabin in the forward part of the ship and got a book, then came up into the bridge and put it on a shelf near the big brass compass behind which Pondala stood at the helm.
With his Captain standing close beside him and taking occasional glances at the compass, there was not much chance of him letting the ship go off course! However his Captain was in for some shocks.
David's mind was occupied with the book he was reading, with his hearing sub-consciously attuned to the steady, healthy rumbling of the engine. Suddenly he was mentally jolted by the sound of a perfect English voice in his mind - not in his ears - say quite urgently and loudly "Look up"!
That was all that was said - and it certainly wasn't Pondala's brand of English, or that of any other man in the ship, so David did what the Voice said and "looked up" - and out through the open bridge window straight forward over the ship's bow at the fairly calm sea.
There, clearly lit by the western sun through the almost still sea, stretching from left to right in an unbroken line close ahead, was a beautiful but deadly wall of coral, rising almost to the surface, straight up form the blue-green deep water over the 100 fathom shelf, and the "Bialla" was fast approaching this menace at her normal cruising speed of 10 knots!
Then Pondala got a shock as the Captain suddenly said urgently - "Quick, turn hard right" -which he did without hesitating, and so brought the "Bialla" around until she was running along parallel with, and only a few boat's lengths away, from the coral.
Pondala got another shock when he looked around to see why the Captain had called for this sudden change of course and saw the jagged teeth of the reef so close. Then he had still another, when David said angrily to him "Why didn't you see that reef before we got so close to it?" - to which he replied in an aggrieved tone "But Masta, you told me to watch the compass and not look around" - and David had to agree that was so.
Then it suddenly came to him where some of the real causes of the near disaster lay He looked out of the bridge window again and realized that the man on lookout up at the bows, had lain back on the foredeck and gone fast asleep!
When wakened none too gently, he said he was very tired after all the swimming he had done over the reef looking for trochus shells that day - which was quite understandable - and hadn't meant to go to sleep.
From that day on, never again did David allow any of the "boats-crew" to go with the trochus swimmers and so tire themselves out, but kept them aboard the ship when she was anchored and waiting for the swimmers. He gave them fishing lines and hooks and they were able to add quite a lot of fish to the other mens' daily diet. After all, the crew-men were being paid wages, whatever they were doing, while the swimmers were given rations and a small wage, but got their main income from the shells they collected.
But to get back to "The Voice" that David was so grateful to, for warning him in time to avert the loss of his ship and possibly the lives of people in her. The reef was a long way from the shore in a sea that was not to be recommended for long swims, particularly if you were losing blood after being dashed on, or dragged across jagged coral.
Every morning and often during the day, David would pray for God's help and guidance through whatever the day might bring, and he felt very sure it had been an Angel of the Lord who had spoken to him that afternoon - and was extremely grateful for His help. Over the years the impact on his mind has not lessened, as he thinks again of that unexpected Voice and the horror he felt as he did what is said and "Looked up".
Returning again to that afternoon. David had to accept the fact that when things happen at sea -whether good or bad - the buck stops with the Captain!
In working out a safe course through the reefs using the peak of Mt. Galloseulo as the guide, all his figuring had been correct, but during the run in towards the reef he had forgotten one thing, and neglected another. He forgot that unseen currents in the sea can shift a ship sideways at quite a good speed at times, even thought the helmsman is still keeping the ship on the ordered compass bearing. When the ship is out of sight of land, sun or the stars, there is not much that can be done about it.
However, in this instance, he had a good clear sighting point, and with the possibility of current-drift in mind should have continued to take periodic sights on the mountain - which he neglected to do. When he did this after the warning by The Voice, he found that although Pondala had been keeping the ship's bows in the correct compass bearing, the ship had in fact been carried sideways by the current a long way North.
He thanked the Lord that he was given a chance to learn by his mistakes instead of probably losing his ship as a result of them.
Return to contents
Copyright © Sylvia Behrens 2005.
Return to Empire & Commonwealth