Published: September 14th 2009September 1st 2009
My new home!
My funky new traveling tent, next to the Warthog on the beach at Nkopola Lodge, helping folk fix cars, build boats and drink beer...
Best laid plans of mice and men...
So after completing what will probably be my last offshore trip for a while, which was actually my most interesting to date, doing lots of flying and fixing lots of in-depth stuff that was very interesting. Getting out was another story entirely.
Because Omar Bongo died, suddenly the Air Gabon route through Libreville was no longer safe.... the fact that quite a few of us had been flying Air Gabon (deemed safer than South African Airways or Ethiopian Airways by SS7 incidentally, despite it being an exceptionally ancient 2 aircraft fleet...) often simply because it was cheaper, this being one of the ways companies like this make money, they get a standard rate (often $5000+) to mobilize you to a rig, if they can do it cheaper, then they make a profit, despite the fact there is a direct flight, we would be doing the stop in Libreville, arrive late with next to no sleep and literally have to jump on the connecting boat to reach the rig.... however I digress.
The point of this is I was now given no option but to stay on the rig an extra 3 days, causing the
Some of the boats lined up on the beach before capsize drill and testing for the competitors.
loss of a $350 ticket change for my flight to Malawi, I was told tough, I shouldn't have booked anything in my time off... nothing like caring for your contractors!!
I did however get a "posh" helicopter transfer, 25 mins and got to see what was around, was actually good to get a perspective of where I had been sitting in the ocean for a few tours, extraordinary number of vessels and platforms out there and a huge fuel oil slick, as we flew over it stretched to both horizons and was a good 500 meters wide. Something had been spilled somewhere, not good to see.
Then a first, my "electronic" ticket on TAC (Trans Air Congo) which only just about meets Congo national aviation standards, but is acceptable to SS7, is "printed on the wrong type of paper"
After much questioning and pleading by the ground agent there is no option but to drive back into town and sort it out at the ticket office, which means a missed flight, the next one leaving at 6 and it is full, also means my connecting flight is tight (and I am not going to get the 3 hours I had
Launching off Livingstonia Beach
3rd day of the race, my first on rescue this year, missed photos of Kieron falling out, it was the usual rough launch, 2 meter waves breaking on the beach.
hoped for in Brazzaville to go and see the river!
Ticket re-issued, the same check-in guy then proceeds to tell me the new ticket is no good because it was for the earlier flight, SS7 have told me at this point I will be getting to Brazzaville somehow and even though there was a direct flight out of Pointe-Noire with Air France in the next 2 hours, although there were seats available, the tickets were too expensive and if I missed my connecting flight to Malawi again, it was tough.
As you can imagine, at this point I am not very happy, at the prospect of my employer having cost me not only the change fee, but now it was too late to change again and I was out of comms, I would just lose the ticket....
In the end it did work out, despite having to crawl through the luggage conveyor to unload my own baggage, then being unable to check in until 20 mins before the flight left "because we have run from boarding passes" we finally made it through the 11 separate checks to get to the aircraft, including 2 desks, one after the other,
Sue and Rob, at one of the control/safety gate on the third day between Livingstonia and Nhkotakota, spot Robs old trousers as a flag, before he lost his anchor..... again
asking exactly the same question, if I was taking any local currency from the country, obviously the desk everyone wants to be on, as the money is confiscated (no receipt given) fortunately no problems for me there!
After a quick stop-over in the UK, back on a plane to OR Tambo Airport in JNB, South Africa, what a wonderful airport, far better than either Heathrow or CDG in Paris... spent 36 hours visiting a very good friend, making my first visit to the iconic Sun City, just to say we had been!
All to soon, on a plane back home to MW, a few days sorting out my other Warthog, the Range Rover, giving her the TLC she so deserves and needs after rather too much abuse!
Off then for the run up to the start of the 24th Lake Malawi Yachting Marathon at Nkopola, loading up in Blantyre, bit of a bummer as the place I had hoped to get with the rescue cues had already gone to someone else. Still lots to do helping out and always a good party, so hung out there camping on the beach, figuring I would see a couple of the other
Finishing the day
Boats on the beach at Nhkotakota Pottery, a very exposed beach but always good food and interesting launches in the morning because of the rocks at the end of the beach!!
evenings by following the marathon up the lakeshore seeing mates along the way before going to do "plan B" fly up to Tanzania and do some fixing in exchange for some diving on Pemba Island.
Booked a ticket and got that sorted and headed up the lake, missing the messy night at Cape Maclear, but then getting a phone call, could I stand in on rescue now?? One of the yachts had pitch-poled 10 mins in and Ed the skipper had broken a couple of ribs, so one of the rescue guys had started sailing, Ed and Lorraine had a bad trip up from Durban in SA with lots of car troubles and stuff going wrong and now he had busted ribs!! But they didn't want the boat to pull out, so I was lucky enough to be in the right place, right time (almost unheard of for me
Ahh, mad rush to get everything sorted in a day, I would be leaving at 1 in the morning now after finishing the marathon at Makuzi Beach on the Saturday night... would be tight but hopefully do-able!!
So I joined at Livingstonia Beach, pitching up to an empty bar area
The Rescue team, just love the rubber ducks, they sit in them even on the beach!!
Walter, Frankie, Kieron, Tracy, Mark (The Rooster), Rob and Sean.
at 8, everyone so broken from the night before at Aubrey's place, Chembe Fish Eagle lodge, always a cracking party!
Up at 5 in the morning, realised that I had left half my stuff in the car one of my old mechanics had driven back to town after dropping me off, bugger, all I had was a wet suit, fine for the start but chilly when we got going and I dried out.
Launch is always fun from Livingstonia, Sean and I first off, me up to my neck in the water, waves breaking over my head, waiting for him to get it started then up and in, staying at the front to punch the waves, nothing like it for waking you up!
Was a fairly monstrous day, Kieron managed to fall out of his rescue boat on launch, winning a "down-down" (horrible Chinese concoction that gave everyone who drank one a dodgy stomach... but then it is a large shot, always 2 awarded for each day for silly stuff!) for the effort of leaving his crew hanging on to the front of the boat with no-one at the tiller! Rob won the other for the day, by losing
On the water
Sean in his high vis yachting jacket with Kieron and Richard barreling past out of the lake, chasing the front of the fleet
yet another anchor at the first safety gate (his 5th I think in 6 years!!)
Good days sailing for the boats though, rough for rescue, finished at Nhkotakota Pottery for the night, having an excellent stay as always, before next day up to Dwangwa the Illove Sugar estate, who always put on a magnificent spread, nice place to stay and a massive dinner with free bar for a while as well!! They sponsor a few of the legs and a boat usually.
I got the chance to catch up with a whole load of folk unexpectedly, all my old customers and mates from the lakeshore area and the sugar estate. Always ends up with a huge fire on the beach (even though not much beach left as the lake is so high this year!)
Next day is the tough one and all three times I've done it on the marathon it is rough! The crossing to Likoma island, 70+kms straight across the lake, you don't quite lose sight of land, but very nearly.... monster day of waves and wind, 5 meter swells out in the middle, awesome!
There was some doubt as to the suitability of some of the boats,
It is big out there when you're trying to spot sails!!
but all of them made it in the end.
Poor Lorraine, Ed's partner, the bag (spinnaker) had ripped on them half way across, so I took them and a buch of folk off the boats round to the town where we sat and drank beer watching a very young "konde" tailor stitch up the sail whilst the other folk wandered off to see the catherdral, quite a sight on the tiny island, that once boasted 100% literacy, the only place in Africa apparently!
Staying at Mango Drift the campsite for the posh lodge at Kayamawa, it was fantastic to catch up with Craig and Diane and James, even if it was to be roped into doing the braai (BBQ for the non-SA folk) which was literally a metal bucket of chicken, Craig reckoned they had wiped out the entire chicken population on the island!!
Then the wheels fell off and rescue definitely outdid the WOFI's (Wind Oriented F*%king Idiots as they are affectionately known) but got to bed at 4 to get up at 5.30 and get out on the water, Sean my Captain lasted all of 100 meters before crew (me) had to take over driving for the
The Gin Palace
The trimaran that was towed up from SA, the way to do the marathon, has beds, kitchen, head and sure a fridge with G&T's on ice. They looked so chilled while we bounced around crossing to Likoma
day, not feeling so hot either....
We had also collected Karen, a photographer wanting to spend "an hour or so with rescue" which ended up being the entire day...
there were some very dull moments on this day, not alot of wind... which means just sitting in the middle of the lake bobbing around, waiting for the boats to catch up, but at least there is no shortage of fresh water to drink (the lake) and also swim in to try and revive oneself
But finally we did make it back, a boat on tow, only to not be able to find the beach where the container was waiting to pack them up!! Then still wait out on the water for the last folk before hitting the beach and getting a Carlsberg green in with soup before the great pack up!!
Gladly my man Dyson had pitched with the Warthog, ready to take me back to Lilongwe.... what I didn't realise was that he didn't want to drive at night, so when we finally left with a wonderful take away meal from Brett and Lara (thanks loads guys, was great to see you both even for a
On the look out for sails in the distance (That's the Gin Palace in view) we had 11 out of 20 starters in view on one occasion on the 70+kms crossing
such a breif one!!) , as was missing the prize giving dinner, I realized that I hadn't had more than about 2 hours of sleep in the last 30 hours. i had 4 hours to do a 4 hour daylight drive or I would miss my flight... we did make it, check in was just closing when I got to the desk, but all worked in the end, slept to Lusaka and then all the way to Nairobi.... woohoo, Pemba Island here I come!!
There are more photos below