Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Friday, October 8, 2010

The eye of the …....Squirrel?

So the expedition is over and we made it, no longer interns but now staff.....a little bit scary but very very exciting. Now that we all know where we are being placed, its on to the preparations for next expedition it was time for the training to commence. So off we set with the Rocky theme running through our heads ready to learn, train and (hopefully) enjoy ourselves.

For safety reasons and in case any emergencies or problems arise, all GVI staff have to have training to crew ‘Squirrel’ (GVI's boat) we need to know how and when to drop and weigh anchor, to tie the boat securely using the correct knot, and to pole. To pole I hear you ask? What on earth do you mean? Well basically the island and the coast of Wasini is all coral rag that has risen out of the sea over millions of years. It is also surrounded by many live and thriving reefs. Combined this means you can only get so close to the shore before you have to pull up the engine to avoid damaging the reefs and the propeller, and poling is how you get the boat to the shore. It’s essentially getting the 10ft pole and pushing yourself to shore. Now that might sound easy but when you are working against the tide, the wind and have a very heavy boat and only one pole it becomes a lot trickier than it sounds.

-- The Wasini channel we navigated during training --

Under skipper Shafii's careful guidance however we were all able to master (yeah right) the art of poling and no one got the pole caught under the boat and catapulted themselves sky high into the sea.

Once we had learnt to pole and crew it was time for the non marine staff to walk the plank....erm.......I mean disembark and for the remaining few it was time for the boat driving lessons to commence. Squirrel is a 10 man boat made from hard wood so it’s pretty solid, and has a tiny 25 bhp outboard engine. It’s adequate certainly as we only go across the channel in it, but due to the boats size and construction it is also HEAVY! As we soon found out when driving it around. For me it was the first time in about 6 weeks I had been back on the sea and I loved every minute. I also felt like the wildlife popped up to say hello and welcome me back as we were lucky enough to see 2 groups of Bottlenose dolphins and a green turtle all swimming in the channel in the space of about 2 hours. Very cool indeed, and we all got just as excited as we did the very first time we saw them.

-- Lucas working hard crewing Squirrel --

After lunch the tide had come in a lot as we are on a coral shelf so when the tide comes in its very quick. Where we had previously anchored the boat was fine, it was still there, but now it was about 150m out and about 10ft deeper. This meant someone had to swim out, get it and pole it back in. As captain, Shafii had delegated this task to me and Luke, so we bravely swam out against the tide and into the wind and climbed into the boat. I started on anchor duty and Luke had the pole and we started drifting back to shore, very very quickly with both the tide and wind pushing us in. Unfortunately it wasn't a straight line back to Shafii and Zeno and we had to navigate past several canoes and avoid drifting into the mangrove trees too. Thanks to some serious poling action, a jump over the side to guide us in, we did it and got the boat back to shore. It didn't help that the whole time both Shafii and Zeno were standing on the shore trying not to fall over from laughing so hard at us.

After the poling it was back to driving and learning to dock it on the jetty. Shafii chose the harder (without telling us first) Wasini Island dock for us to learn on with the understanding if we could dock here we could dock easily on the far more commonly used Shimoni jetty. So after much forwards and reverse, engine up and engine down and quite a few circles around to try again it was time to head back.

Overall it was a great and fun day and left us with smiles on our faces and slightly pink noses from the sun. Roll on tomorrow when we have driving lessons in the Shrew (GVI's 10 seater minibus)!.