Pearl pirates, yarrr! (part two)
Posted on July 01 2011
This is part two of the story. If you have not read part one, please scroll down to see it.
The sound of the approaching boat became louder, confirming our guess that it was our neighbor with his rowdy friends on their way home from a bender in the village on the other side of the atoll.
“We better go have a look,” my father said in French. I knew he was right, but having never been in a fight in my life, the idea of confronting a boat of several big, probably drunk guys made me feel more than a little unsure.
We hurried to our aluminum boat, grabbing a fish gaff and a broom-length hardwood dowel heavy enough to knock out an elephant. I really, really didn’t want to use either, but I wanted even less to be left with only my bare hands.
After firing up the outboard, we cast off from the dock into the moonless night while the wind whipped the chilly lagoon water at us. After driving into the chop for 400 meters, we spotted the boat stopped where we had expected it to be. I could feel my heart slamming in my chest. We could barely make out several people in the darkness, including one getting back into our neighbor’s flimsy wooden boat. My father threw a volley of insults at them to which we could just make out their replies over the roar of our motor and the white noise of the wind. Much yelling followed, making me think of dogs barking at each other through a fence. My fear dissipated as I realized that the only defense or offense we needed was our own v-bottomed aluminum boat. If push had come to shove, it would have been very easy to sink their boat with ours. They hurriedly got their motor started as we circled them again and again, and finally they puttered off into the night in the direction of their islet.
The next day a check on our oysters showed that the bandits didn’t have enough time to steal any. Although relieved, I knew that the bandit situation would have to be resolved soon. Our work was strenuous enough that we didn’t need the added strain and mental torment.
A few days after the incident, a supply boat came with some of our gear, so we put work aside and boated the 6 km to the village where it docked. At the time of this story (early nineties) there was no airport in Ahe yet; all supplies were delivered by cargo ships, whose rotations were notoriously irregular. To locals, it always seemed like a small miracle when the cargo ships actually appeared. It was never all business when a supply boat came though: all the farmers whose homes and farms were spread out over the atoll would come together for some much needed socializing. We squeezed in between two boats and waited on the dock with some friends while people milled around.
I realized suddenly that Floresse was just a few meters away, on a path to walk by us, unaware of our presence. My father saw him too and immediately jumped up to step in his path. At my father’s height of 5’6”, Floresse could have almost stepped over him. I jumped up as well and winced in anticipation as my father reached up to shove him in the shoulder as he asked him angrily what it was going to take for him to leave us alone. I saw Floresse stiffen and clench his hands but instead of taking a swing, he looked around at the crowd that had formed and to my surprise backed away.
The following week found us again at the village waiting for supplies. This time we were sitting with our feet over the dock when Floresse approached. Strangely, I hardly recognized him. He hadn’t changed in any obvious way but just looked smaller. He looked meek and embarrassed and smiled showing good will. He explained in a tiny voice that he had come to excuse himself for the bad feelings and that it wasn’t his idea, it was the others that had pushed him to be that way.
On a small island, the necessity of getting along with others is heightened in a way that is hard to understand for continent dwellers. This was my first major lesson but far from my last or most adventurous.
To this day, twenty years later, we still have never had oysters disappear from our waters. Pearls on the other hand are far easier to abscond with but that is a different story.