By Raoul Island volunteer Katie Grinsted
When there is work to be done on Raoul Island, the most difficult thing is to get the workers to the island. Fortunately for Raoul, the Navy ship Wellington agreed to make the journey.
Over the last two weeks the population of the island grew, at peak, fluctuating to 33 personnel – that’s more than tripling the population! A party of three GNS (Geological and Nuclear Sciences), two MET (Metservice) and two DOC workers came to complete building work for ten days. Meanwhile, the Navy deployed several work crews to the island for a different training experience and to help DOC out with some track work.
In readiness for their arrival, as with the arrival of any ship to the island, we solemnly raised the New Zealand flag. With a slasher as our weapon of choice we paid homage to her majesty and prepared for the arrival of her NZ Navy representatives.
Late on a Friday evening, the first transmission was heard – “This is Warship Wellington. Warship Wellington calling Raoul Island. Do you copy?”. We copied and from the hostel balcony we watched as the vessel anchored off the picturesque Meyer Islands, the angular grey metal hulk creating a sharp contrast in this place of rugged contour and line.
This was to be the first of many contrasts. Firstly in communication…
Warship Wellington: “We will contact you on channel one, two, I repeat, channel one, two”
Raoul Island: “But we don’t have a channel one or two. Can you repeat?”
Warship Wellington: “Channel one, two. Twelve! I repeat, twelve!”
Raoul Island: “Ahh, copy that.”
Then in timing…
Warship Wellington: “We will begin operations at sixteen hundred and thirty, I repeat”
Raoul Island: “Sixteen hundred and thirty? Oh, you mean, four thirty? That sounds sweet.”
After sorting out some of these finer details, the unloading of the ship began. The new ‘Civies’ (civilians) set about to their building work. DOC worked hard to build a new quarantine shed…
GNS checked their monitoring equipment around the island and completed some building work, while the MET builders slaved away putting new doors onto the ‘bomb shed’ (the place where the weather balloons are released).
Meanwhile, the ship had kindly invited the volunteers out to the Wellington for lunch. It was a thrill to get up some speed on the boat ride over, as anything over 15k/hr is extreme here!
It was fascinating to get an insight into a totally different way of life. We unanimously agreed that none of us could handle living in such confined quarters.
When the first Navy team arrived we all had to have a little giggle. In ripped shorts and faded t-shirts we Raoulites shook hands with the smartly dressed Navy in their slick ‘GWD’ (General Work Dress).
After an amount of time taken up with the necessary Navy briefings, the shore crews worked hard and with good humour to carry out their latest ‘deployment’ – slashing and raking of cyclone damaged tracks.
Each team enjoyed the opportunity to eat as many cakes and biscuits as they liked, and even had the chance to have two different kinds of meat dishes for dinner!
Although I struggled at times to stop myself singing, “In the Navy, we can sail the seven seas, in the Navy!”, I believe both the Raoulites and the Navy benefited greatly from the experience of the past two weeks. All those who came onto the island seemed to leave with a smile on their face, and no doubt, with as many stories to tell about us as we do about them!
So on Sunday the Wellington departed, leaving eight exhausted Raoulites waving goodbye at the flagpole. It had been an eventful, and at times challenging two weeks. By far the hardest part of it all has been the departure of our dear friend and colleague Dave, who left for home on the Navy ship. He is already sorely missed but we all wish him the best of luck and look forward to seeing him on the mainland. For him, the Raoul Salute.
As the Navy departed we raised a renegade skull and crossbones in tribute to Dave. Ragged and painted on an old bed sheet, once again we saw the contrast to the Navy ship. But, somehow it seems to fit the character of the island and of its inhabitants.
Interested in becoming a volunteer on Raoul Island?
DOC is currently recruiting for volunteers for August 2013 to February 2014 now. See www.doc.govt.nz/raoulvolunteers for more information.