Crew with a Cause: Helping Villages in Papua New Guinea

20 June 2019 By Aileen Mack

While being crew can mean you find yourself in uniquely stressful situations, it also means visiting remote locations and being able to affect the local community in substantial ways.
M/Y Legacy and shadow boat Pursuit have been doing just that during their visits to Papua New Guinea since February 2018.

Typically, before the boat even set anchor, there would be dugout canoes around the stern, and the chief, or someone related, would identify themselves, and they would ask permission to stay in his bay. The vessel and crew were generally warmly welcomed after friendly words and goods were exchanged, such as food supplies, fishing line, and hooks.

Pursuit’s Second Engineer Alex Wotherspoon says that by their second trip to PNG, they decided to do more than just bring these trade goods. They brought supplies from gardening tools to medical supplies and bandages to hundreds of children’s books and school supplies. On their previous visit, the crew noticed that some people were “effectively wearing rags, clothes hanging together by threads,” he says. So they also brought bags of clothes they had bought before they left.

In addition to all the supplies, the crew encouraged the locals to fish in the stern lights at night and fill up water bottles or shower using the deck hose they left out. Wotherspoon says they would sometimes ask to go ashore to meet the school teacher, minister, or chief, and take a box of goods for them, including food and school supplies.

While anchored in Ulu Island in PNG, a new location for them not suggested by agents, the crew noticed a boat pulled up on the beach and a path that disappeared into the jungle. The captain and heli mechanic ventured ashore to make contact with the villagers that lived there, returning with glowing accounts and that the island served as a health clinic to the surrounding islands.

While looking around the clinic grounds, Wotherspoon noticed the solar panels on the roof weren’t connected to a battery and had fallen into disrepair. But after running back to the boat to grab a spare tender battery and a 24v/12v transformer and setting it up, the clinic had lights for the first time in three years. They also fixed the guttering and worked on the water tanks, giving them a 12v pump that ran off solar. It was the first time the clinic had running water in seven years.

On their following visits, the deck and engineering teams from both vessels returned to that village to check up on the systems and made more improvements — installing bigger batteries, a proper solar regulator, and inverter; running more wiring and lights to different rooms in the clinic; and bringing mattresses, mosquito nets, soap, and disinfectant for cleaning.

“We did two guest trips ashore with the boss and family and friends; some of the guests had tears of emotion seeing the work we had done and how so little money could make such a difference,” Wotherspoon says. “The boss thanked us for our work and encouraged us to continue work like this where ever we could. Up until this time, they did not know that we had done it.”

They also donated time and supplies to an inland village Tuke, which was a 10- to 12-day walk or 40 minutes by helicopter. For each of their four visits, they loaded the helicopter with school supplies, clothes, food, and gardening tools, along with a battery to get the village’s high frequency medical radio up and running again.

During their time in PNG, the crew spent hours on the swim step interacting with the locals — telling stories, fishing, learning Pigeon, and teaching English. On occasion, they hosted a movie night on the swim step for the children from the nearby village. With food and laughs shared and 10 to 15 dugouts tied up off the stern, the kids were quiet as a mouse absorbing Moana, Wotherspoon says.

“The experience of being able to help the locals just added so much value to the experience of the owners, guests, and crew,” he says. “The work we did helping out, almost became the theme for our time in PNG, for the crew at the very least.”