Saturday, July 4, 2015

Project start Nanumea

Our return to the Tuvalu outer islands this time is aboard the MV Baldur, an ex-livestock carrier which was in use for a number of years ferrying cattle and sheep to and from the Chatham Islands off New Zealand. She is one of the few locally owned and operated vessels available to charter and, while smaller than the Komaiwai, has enough freight carrying capacity to be useful moving teams, tools and equipment going forward.

MV Baldur

We are still lowest on the priority list for access to the wharf. Finally on Thursday afternoon we are able to bring her up alongside and begin loading replacement cement for Vaitupu, our tools and spare equipment for Nanumea. It is a struggle to get access to the port forklifts and our cargo is strewn all over the port. The forklift driver asks Shane which flat rack we need loaded and he points to the one buried seven deep. Suddenly the forklift is out of fuel and its smoko time. He disappears and we hope he is coming back.

He does. And by 3am Friday morning, we have loaded as much gear as we can, having to leave behind 3 flat racks of cement for the ship to collect on return through Funafuti for Vaitupu. We rush back to our accommodation, shower, decamp and our generous landlord Pita delivers us and our trailer load of gear to the port. By 4am the hammocks are up and we’re all fast asleep while stevedores keep loading food supplies which we’ve offered to transport for local stores on Nanumea. We are hoping this earns us a few credits and some leverage when we ask to keep unloading on Sunday (Church day).

Sleeping quarters on the Baldur
Arrival Nanumea and loading the whale boats

We arrive Nanumea about 9:30am Saturday morning and the first task is to unload the whale boats which will be used to transport cargo through the narrow channel into the lagoon. With a 1-2m swell rolling the ship, even this is a wild affair and we’re all apprehensive about whether we’ll be able to unload gear at all. The crew are optimistic and familiar with local conditions. The smaller whale boats are more manoeuvrable in the channel entrance than the larger lighters which were being used by the Komaiwai. Even then, waves are breaking in the channel entrance and the pilots have to time their move. I decide to wear my lifejacket… just in case.

Saturday and Sunday are spent unloading our tools and spares and then loading the McConnell Dowell tools which need to be returned to Vaitupu for completion of the array foundations there. We spend another half day sorting through damaged food crates and salvaging what we can. We’ve now consolidated the food crates from 3 islands (Vaitupu leftovers, Nanumea and Nanumaga). There were some very happy and well-fed rats living in the Nanumea food crate. And now some very happy and well-fed pigs gorging themselves on creamed rice, tinned peaches and muesli bars.

Salvaging what we can from the Nanumea food crate

Supplemented with some fresh supplies from Funafuti (eggs, onions, potatoes and cabbage) I am sure we will have enough to keep us going here and to carry forward to Nanumaga. Especially if we can source another 20kg tuna.

And it’s not just our food which has been affected by the project delays and harsh conditions. All of our equipment has now been sitting on the wharf and out in the sun for up to 6 months and much of the waterproofing has disintegrated. Cardboard is a perfect rat nesting material and mould flourishes in moist, dark places. The gear shifting, unpacking, cleaning and repairing process is now a significant part of our work. We have brought some spares with us, borrowed from the Niutao equipment which was still in Funafuti. As we begin to put everything together it will become evident what damage is likely to affect completion of the system and we will make plans for any additional equipment or works. 

Rats nesting in the battery rack boxes
Washing all the workers t-shirts which smelled of mould after 6 months

Despite these challenges, work started on site Tuesday with our team of 10 local workers and progress has been fast. Array cabling is almost complete, inverters are mounted, 6 out of 10 battery racks are in place and loaded and work will begin on array framing construction Monday. It’s going to be a busy few weeks but we’re all just pleased to be working again and seeing some progress.

Eagle-eye view of the site, new powerhouse and generator building

Inverter room well underway

Meanwhile, in our evenings we’ve been bringing out the new toy which we brought with us this time – a quadcopter. The kids have very quickly worked out what it is and what it does. Their smiling faces remind us to forget about work for a few minutes and launch ourselves off the wharf into the water. None of us are sure how long we’ll be out here this time so these moments are very special.

Piloting the quadcopter with an audience
Afternoon shenanigans at the wharf

Island sunset