Sunday, 14 January 2007

Mainland Expedition - day one

Day One: The Western Approaches.

With our benevolent leader announcing to the nation his interest in furthering the exploration of the mainland, the Society has decided to step up to this challenge. We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. And for self-aggrandisement, naturally.

As many of our readers (and certainly our members) are well-aware, grant monies for such endeavours are rather a bit hard to come by. Supporters seem to be much more interested in projects that provide potential income, if not titillation.

I and two of our willing Fellows (E.B., A.K.) came to the conclusion that we could not really prove that such outcomes would be in store, and so these travels would be funded out of the petty cash fund of the Society. Any baubles, trinkets, or other artefacts brought back would help re-fill our coffers.

First, provisioning: no problems on that front. The Society's attic is brim-full of various items appropriate for supporting a proper expedition, including enough tea for the round trip. In fact, while scrounging around the attic, we came across a few things we frankly forgot were up there, which we will clean up and display when we return.

Second, transport: somewhat of a problem, what with our very limited budget, and all. Professor Krogstad, being an open-seas fisherman in his youth, used his network of contacts to find transit on a tramp steamer headed east, with the small additional inconvenience of deck-swabbing to help pay the fare. (I of course delegated such duties to Prof. Krogstad, while Mme. Bellambi and I pondered our route on the mainland.)

Third, additional help: the three of us, having quite a bit of field work under our belts so to speak, knew the key ingredient for a successful expedition:


Now, as our readers know, even Our Fair Isle has no lack of persons of varied occupations, lifestyles, and interests. Unfortunately, sherpas are at quite a premium, and we were unable to locate even one.

Not to be dismayed at this early stage, Prof. Krogstad managed to adapt his flat-bottomed river boats (last used for the Caledon Hydrographic Survey of 2006) to sit upon a wagon-frame of sorts, with the steam engine normally driving the propeller shaft now providing locomotive power on land. Such brilliance! We are indeed lucky to have this chap along, his tastes in accommodations notwithstanding.

After gathering up all the necessary equipment, reviewing our wills, and pre-paying Mr Shang for the next cycle of land fees, we sat off. A crowd of literally several bid us "adieu" and "pax vobiscum" from the Society's Office on the sea in Tamrannoch.

By my reckoning, the trip should be some 26,000 metres to the south-east. Starting out on Saturday, 13 January, we would expect landfall by dusk on Sunday.*

* The reader even the least-bit acquainted with mathematics will realise that taking 36-odd hours to travel 26 kilometres means that we would travel at roughly one-tenth a metre per second, quite similar to the brisk pace of the three-toed sloth (Bradypus spp.). People: suspend disbelief!

The Open Sea.

Putting to sea from Tamrannoch, we found the water to be quite calm, dark blue, and apparently devoid of fish. Prof. Krogstad was unable to sound the bottom, making the depth at least 20 fathoms (the length of our sounding cable). We made good time, headed variously east and south-east. There were a number of islands, many appearing inhabitable, that flanked our course; these will need to wait until the greater economic potential of the mainland has been tapped.

Of interest to the Caledonian reader living in the eastern portions of Our Fair Isle, there is a large island due east of the Duchy of Primverness, with diverse and unique features. However, we weren't close enough to capture any images.

The day and night passed without difficulty. Fare on board our steamer was fortifying, if basic. None of us developed that scourge of the open seas, sea-sickness, and we spent our night below-decks playing bridge by lamp-light.

Sunday dawned at sea, with increasing sights of clouds and haze to the east. We were still right on schedule, and as we plied eastward, we enjoyed tea and strolled about the less-soiled above-decks areas.

By late afternoon, we sighted land for the first time. An island, roughly a quarter of a kilometre east-to-west, and twice that in the opposite direction, appeared off our port bow. We passed within half a kilometre or so, enough for all three of us to survey the area with telescopes.

And what a sight! Like a vision from Dante's Hell, the island was strewn bric-a-brac with the most bizarre assortment of materials any of us had ever seen. We could make out some of the natives, in gross detail, who were evenly divided between building the unusual structures, and walking about, no doubt enjoying social intercourse.

The population density on this island was such that, being extremely outnumbered, we decided to continue on to the south-east, to a point of land just beyond.

The point (which Mme. Bellambi dubbed "Point Anarchy") was nearly identical in population and behaviour to the island just passed. Outnumbered (and non-sequitured), we turned south by south-east, giving these natives a wide berth. I offered the supposition that the two tribes had split themselves into an island clan, and a mainland clan, and that the gulf between them was likely a site of ongoing battles. We didn't tempt fate.

Soon we sighted an island, running east-west in it longest dimension, perhaps a kilometre. It was made up of three land masses, perhaps remnants of prior volcanic activity. As we approached, the beaches and cliffs appeared quiet, and bereft of life. After some 20 minutes surveying from the ship, we understood why: full-out warfare!

Consider the rowdiest Guy Fawkes, or Independence Day, or New Year's fireworks display you have ever seen. Now, picture it ten- and hundred-fold, in non-stop pyrotechnic action. Fortunately, we sighted no naval vessels, but before any sprang upon us, we reversed course for the north-east.

No sooner than the Island of Armageddon (my suggestion for a name, thank you) slipped behind, another small atoll appeared off the port bow. Even from our distance, we could hear the reports of cannon and artillery fire. Telescopic inspection revealed a number of persons (in various uniforms, or none at all, as best as we could tell) engaged in testing of arms. They directed no attention at us, which was all for the best, I feel. We continued on to the north-east.

By this time, we were starting to wonder: is the south-western coast of the mainland engaged in some civil war? What would be the conditions on land? Are the Bizarre Builder Clans that we initially saw involved in this conflict? Are the natives homovores?

The mood of the expedition lifted when we sighted our eventual landing spot: a lovely point extending out from a bay, surrounded by sandy beaches. No sign of Dali-esque construction, nor unrestricted warfare. With that, we dropped anchor, and planned to spend the night on board, and set out in the morning.

Our gracious sea-faring host has been most accommodating to this point, to my surprise, I am happy to report. Travel by tramp steamer is much under-rated, but I cannot recommend it for anyone of delicate constitution. Note, though, that Mme. Bellambi and myself did manage without much difficulty.

As the quote reads, "When he reached the New World, Cort├ęs burned his ships. As a result his men were well motivated." We plan no arson, of course, but as the steamer will be leaving us after our going-ashore, we will find ourselves highly-motivated to overcome the obstacles on the mainland.

Next: On to the Mainland!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Kate,

I am agog - I may die never knowing what exploits the intrepid team managed to conjure from such improbable circumstance.

Please press on, and, importantly, please continue your spellbinding narrative. I have wondered (or perhaps, wandered) about this manland - is it all its cracked up to be - but press on, press on - your audience eagerly awaits.

Aaron Aldwych