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In The Navy...

Lapita Voyage Blogs

By Matt Fletcher

The trip from Korido to Kota Biak was a bit of a beauty. The winds were fair, the sun not too hot and the rain, when it came, light and refreshing not torrential, blustery and depressing. The coastline was dramatic, all white limestone cliffs and tropical forest stuck to steep hill sides. The sea had carved out small bays at a couple of points and tiny villages had grabbed a foothold. We passed the most remarkable one as we rounded the headland and began our run into Biak. Protected by a shallow lagoon the simple stilt huts it looked incredibly isolated and only accessible by shallow boat. At the eastern end as the cliffs swung back out into the sea was a bright-white, wooden church perched on a plinth cut into the rock 10m above the breakers. It looked pristine. From a few hundred metres out we pondered that it might have been built on a much older fortification, but couldn't be sure and it was too rough and unpredictable to get closer so it's another place for next time.

We got to Kota Biak around dusk, skipping across the long reef that protects the harbour hoping to anchor close to a big, brash hotel that Peter, Philip and Rudi scouted out whilst they'd waited for us to arrive. A massive sea wall protected the new gardens from the elements, but made for a tricky anchorage. We had two options: west of the hotel where half a dozen tuna fishing boats and few rusting freighters sat noisily at anchor; or east to short stretch of beach next to a small pier and what looked like a picnic site. 60 minutes later we were on the pier tying up the dingy and weaving unsteadily on sea legs through the picnic site. A few hundred metres west lay the promise of excellent food and cold drinks.

Shop front in Biak
The shops in Biak were in the Christmas spirit

The noise of the forest soon surrounded us. Disused dirt roads led off to the left and right at regular intervals and I remember thinking how much it reminded me of the disused army base I'd be sent to on a training course by work earlier in the year. We walked on for 10 minutes, increasingly aware that this was not quite working out, then arrived at a crossroads. We headed left towards the only lights we could see, which brought us neatly to a big blue gate, which was locked and decorated with barbed wire. 50m away to the left a dozen spotlights illuminated a huge satellite dish, part of a swish-looking telecommunications centre. Oops. We killed the headlamps, hushed our voices, climbed the gate and scuttled off stage right to find the main road leading to the hotel.

The hotel was a vast square block. They guy who designed it must also do supermarkets and office blocks. Next to the car park was a football pitch that had seen better days, but the hotel looked new. A few souls rattled around the lobby and restaurant, but it mattered not as the Indonesian food was cracking. We watched Manchester United play Osaka in the FIFA World Club Cup as we ate. United were beating them like a gong. After three cold beers all was well with the world and I was just contemplating a fourth beer when Hanneke called to say that the Indonesian Navy would like a word. Apparently we'd anchored off Lanar Naval Base and the Commander was on his way. They need the pier for an exercise in the morning and just what the hell are we doing there?

Large christmas tree next to a staircase

I find the sight of flashing blue police lights unnerving at the best of times (guess I have a guilty conscience), but I need not have worried. When the commander heard about our expedition he and his deputy Edi couldn't have been more helpful. The showers and toilets at the picnic site were put at our disposal and they laid on a vehicle to take us into town in the morning to do our shopping. And they posted a guard to take care of our boats whilst we were gone. I hope the commander's Lapita Voyage T-shirt fits OK.

- Matt Fletcher