Threading a needle between reefs, we entered Buka Passage, and soon became aware of a crowd gathering at the landing to greet us. With a strong current running against us, Capt. Frank Allica turned the ship in the channel, then backed her expertly into her berth using her bow thrusters to steer.
Ashore, singers and dancers greeted us, followed by a formal welcome by local officials. Traveling with us was Sir Peter Barter, Papua New Guinea’s Minister for Inter-Government Relations, who told us he had long dreamed of a day when a foreign passenger ship would call at Buka, a symbolic step toward opening up the area to brighter economic prospects. This was the day, and islanders and passengers all made the most of it, dancing together surrounded by a large, approving crowd.
Embarking in small buses, we were next taken to a secondary school where we received an ovation from students on arrival, loudly repeated when Capt. Allica asked the sixteen World War II veterans among us to stand. After they sang the national anthem and recited the Lord’s prayer, they joined us in visiting a nearby botanical garden before we returned to the ship to end the afternoon.
In gathering darkness, Clipper Odyssey took her departure out the passage to the northeast. On the navigation bridge it was professionally silent as usual but out on the starboard bridge wing, I could hear every word of a rolling chorus of greetings and good-byes from people gathered along the Bougainville shore in total darkness as we, glowing, passed by just a shiplength away.
“Captain, they’re still cheering,” I said, as the channel began to widen.
A long and a few short blasts on the ship’s horn was his immediate response, a farewell that I was sure they could also hear back in town, two miles behind us, as we headed out to sea. (continued)