The Purge (Dec 4)

Today is our last day at sea before arriving in Tarawa and I now get why everyone has been in such a good mood today. Just like when flying into another country you aren’t allowed to bring in most fruits and vegetables and meat products, definitely not meat products. So began the purge, and it didn’t just mean food items.

Men who I would occasionally spot smoking a cigarette here or there, were going through an entire pack at a time, not wanting to pay taxes on their duty free smokes from Fiji, and all the alcohol that was purchased at sea from the resupply ship, that had to go too.

I did one final training flight today with Jose, and I think that I’m coming into this job far more prepared having done one trip with an experienced pilot than perhaps most people do. Jose told me that when he showed up they did one hour of training with him and then sent him, with his helicopter and some cargo, to meet the boat. Everything he learned about this job he learned at sea, by himself. I’ve heard that story before, it was even something I was concerned with coming out here, that I was going to get little to no training before being thrust into a strange environment and risking it all to learn how to land on a moving boat on my own.

I still think starting out at one of the main bases would have been better for me logistically, as I’ve never met anyone from the company I work for yet and I do have some questions for them that I think, considering language barriers, would be easier to pantomime in person.

Anyways, shortly after we landed from training on how to find, approach and hover over a “payow” Jose and I went to the galley to post-flight. There we found the deck boss and the chief engineer, grilling up some Korean ribs, and a couple of bottles of Soju on the table. The excitedly waved us over to their table and poured us each a paper cup full.

Then, at dinner, the Captain waved one of his training officers over and sent him and a deck hand scurrying off (presumably to his cabin). When they returned they had arms full of Soju and began to place them around the tables while the cook passed more paper cups around to the entire crew. It was going to be one of those kinds of nights. So we ate hearty of ribs and drank hearty of Soju with dinner.

Of course, that wasn’t the last of it. Roxy and Jose both had Soju and beer that needed to go so we put together a bit of a farewell/welcome to the club party for Jose and I up on the upper deck. Which simply meant we scattered a few boxes around to act as seats and tables, the cook gave us some plates of ribs and a Korean omelet thing (not delicious), and paper cups. We passed cups around as Jose filled them with small gulps of Soju at a time and we shared stories, thanked him for his time, and I got more than my fair share of drunken advice from our observer, who when drunk, becomes “the best person who knows everything in the world” guy. It was funny, if it weren’t only slightly annoying. The plus side of that conversation though is that I guess he has the pull in Tarawa to arrange permission for a flight with the agents there, so I may get to do a bit of Island flying.

After the beer was passed out, and consumed, and the food tossed to sea that we didn’t eat it was time to call it a night. When I went downstairs the crew had formed a chain gang and were tossing each other packages of food from the freezers and refrigerator while the cook supervised, so much stuff that had expired and stuff that we couldn’t take into port with us was being tossed overboard into the ocean. Some of it was a bit upsetting to see since he’d been serving us the same 4 or 5 meals this entire time. Fortunately the large box of delicious red apples got to stay, and now I know they exist – I ate two of them before headed to bed.

The last day at sea, is a feast day it seems.

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