Was I really ever worried that there would be nobody to greet me in Madang? Did I really think I was going to skulk quietly into town and then go and buy myself a solitary beer of celebration?
Nothing could have been further from what actually happened here this morning. An estimated five thousand people came down to the harbour to greet me to Madang. About twenty canoes, paddled by people in traditional costume, escorted me the last half mile to the dock. A helicopter buzzed overhead, shooting video and photos. Once on dry land I must have shaken about 1000 hands, everybody wanting to touch me and congratulate me. It was phenomenal. I feel like I have 5000 new friends.
After officially finishing my row around 11pm last night, I spent the night on board the Kalibobo Spirit. I wasn’t allowed to step onto dry land until customs officials could be on hand to clear my paperwork, but spending another night at sea was no hardship – the Kalibobo is a luxurious cruiser. I walked into my cabin and felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. After a very long, hot and exhausting day, it was sheer luxury to have a hot shower and then sink gratefully into bed – quite possibly the most comfortable bed that I have ever slept in.
Not that I had much time to appreciate it – I was asleep within about 2.3 seconds, and the next thing I knew it was 5.30am and time to get up for my ceremonial arrival.
We towed Brocade back out to sea and after a quick phone call to Mum I took up my oars again, and re-rowed the last segment of my row. The first local people to congratulate me were a few fishermen, out early in their outrigger canoes, who formed an orderly line to pass close to my boat and shake my hand.
They were just the first of many. As I neared the harbour a flotilla of about twenty canoes, all decked out in traditional garlands of leaves, came out to join me and escort me to the dock. I hope you’ve seen the photos that Mum posted earlier, and seen how splendid the boats and their paddlers looked. Everybody was smiling, especially me. I kept stopping to wave to the crowds, who waved back enthusiastically. I wish I could find a way to row and wave at the same time, but I’m still working on it.
As I got closer to the dock the crowds on the shoreline thickened. Schoolchildren in uniform created blocks of colour. As I rounded the corner towards the Madang Resort the harbour wall was absolutely packed. The estimated number is five thousand people, and I don’t think that is any exaggeration.
We completed the formalities on the dock, and then I was free to step ashore. I was met by the Governor of PNG, who explained the meaning of the traditional garlands and string bags that various well-wishers placed around my neck. As we moved through the crowd everyone was reaching out to shake my hand or touch me. It could have been overwhelming to be surrounded by such a crush of humanity after 46 days at sea, but in fact it felt great.
Sir Peter Barter, former PNG Governor and my new guardian angel, guided me to a PA system and I said a few words. A group from the Technical College, standing beneath a very impressive banner depicting me, my boat, and words of congratulations on my environmental mission, sang a song about PNG – possibly the national anthem. There was more handshaking and gift-giving, and then Sir Peter extricated me and showed me to my room at the Madang Resort, from where I can see my boat, now moored in the lagoon. There has been a steady procession of people all day, coming down to see the boat, and as I’ve walked around the resort yet more people have shaken my hand and congratulated me.
Tonight I’m having dinner with the Governor and Sir Peter, and the diary is already filling up fast for the rest of my month here. There’s a lot I plan to do – diving, exploring, meeting people and giving talks about my adventures and environmental mission.
It has been a day to remember, for sure. Spectacular. Thank you to everybody who has played a part – everybody here in Madang, the Governor Sir Arnold Amet, Sir Peter Barter, the staff at the Madang Resort, Alan Murray at Murray PR, and of course my wonderful, indefatigable invisible crewmate – my mother.
And thank you also for all the messages of congratulations that have been rolling in from all over the world. Thank you for your love, empathy, kindness and support during this third and final stage of my voyage. I feel very lucky that you are there for me through the highs and the lows, the trials and tribulations, and at last the final joyous celebrations at the successful conclusion of this 4-year/250-day, 8,000-mile, 2.5 million oarstroke epic adventure. It’s been… special.