Lutheran Shipping

By Berthold Jaeschke

Berthold Jaeschke served in Papua New Guinea between 1933 and 1966. While there, Bert was a captain and skipper of several mission boats. This is one of his letters about Lutheran shipping in Papua New Guinea.  Dear Friends, The boat station of our Lutheran Mission at Madang is situated on Craged Island, formerly known as […]

Berthold Jaeschke served in Papua New Guinea between 1933 and 1966. While there, Bert was a captain and skipper of several mission boats. This is one of his letters about Lutheran shipping in Papua New Guinea. 

Dear Friends,

The boat station of our Lutheran Mission at Madang is situated on Craged Island, formerly known as Ragetta; this island forms part of the Madang Harbour. The scenery around here is very pretty – the town on the mainland has a background of high blue mountains. The far distant Bismark and Finnesterre Ranges, and around the outer part of the harbour are numerous small coral islands, green with coconut palms and other trees. Behind these islands we can clearly see, from our house, the buildings of the Nobonob Girls’ School, which is about 1,400 feet above sea level, and further along the coastline we see the roof of the Amron Seminary shining in the sunlight. The harbour is nearly always calm and looks so peaceful, but along the beaches are wrecks of wartime vessels, and in one place the wreck of a crashed aeroplane, all grim reminders of the war.

At the boat station, Nazadamon, the third missionary’s residence is now being built; there is a workshop, native labour quarters and a house for the native passengers. This is the site of the pre-war boat station too, and our home is built on the same spot as the pre-war house which was destroyed during the war.

A few miles out of Madang is the Nagada Harbour and here, hidden away among the mangroves are the remains of our pre-war “Total”. When the Missionaries returned to the field after the war, the loss of this ship was very keenly felt and for several years the Mission had only very small inadequate vessels with which to carry on the work. But now, as you all know, we have the new ship “Simbang” and for two years this ship has been the means of providing better and more adequate transport of supplies to outstations, and more comfortable travelling for European and native passengers.

The “Simbang’s” overall length is 82 feet, the net registered tonnage is 70.94 tons and she is powered by Twin Gardner Diesel Engines (English) each developing 110 B.H.P., cruising speed is approximately nine knots. She has accommodation for twelve European passengers and is permitted to carry a maximum of 93 native passengers.

The ship’s personnel consists of a European skipper, a European engineer, and 12 native crew. This crew is divided up as follows: 2 assistant engineers, 2 cooks, and 8 deckhands, but all of them give a hand with the loading or unloading of cargo as far as they are free to do so. “Simbang” has a skipper’s cabin on the bridge deck, engineer’s cabin, three passengers’ cabins, twin-table dining saloon, gallery, washroom and toilet and shower room on the main deck. The native crew is accommodated in the foc’sle, about 20 native passengers in a compartment below deck and the remainder of the native passengers on the hatch and main deck under a canvas awning. A cooking recess is provided for them, and two toilets.

Ship’s equipment includes cargo winch and derrick, operated by an auxiliary engine, electricity (110 volt D.C.) fans, toaster, clothes iron, teleradio, kerosene pressure stove, freezer, and running water. When deck cargo is carried, viz. inflammable fuel, cattle, horses, pigs, goats, jeeps, tractors etc. the number of native passengers is reduced according to the space left to them. We also use our smaller ship “Maneba” for shorter trips and to help with the transport of passengers at times of native conferences etc. Both vessels run to a timetable which is prepared and set up at our annual Field Conference each year. This timetable provides for at least one round trip per month for the “Simbang”. The average trip south (via Finschhafen and Lae) takes about 11 days, and the northern trip, to Karkar, Bunabun and Bagabag takes 2 days. Also included in the timetable are trips to transport pupils to and from schools, teachers, and pastors to and from their respective refresher courses, delegates and visitors (several hundred of them) to and from the major native conferences and then to our own annual Field Conference. These trips may keep the ship or ships away from home as long as three weeks at one time. Then too, we have to count on extra trips for shifting cattle or collecting logs and emergency trips once in a while. If at all possible, these trips are scheduled to coincide with the full moon so as to give us better visibility at night.

The Monday before the round trip is usually loading day at our Supply Centre on the mainland. All passengers, European and native, present themselves in the afternoon. At 1:30am Tuesday the “Simbang” sails from Nazadamon, and enroute to Finschhafen, calls at Biliau, Yara, Wasu, Sio, Sialum; this takes two days. On arrival at Finschhafen we discharge passengers and then proceed to take building materials to the nearby site of the T.B. Hospital and the Seminary, at Butoiweng, then return to Finschhafen to unload supplies and to load up with copra, which we take to Lae, calling at Buac native hospital and Bukawa on the way. A whole day is put in at Lae unloading and loading, and refuelling the ship, then we proceed to Zaka, our most southern station, which is ten hours travelling time from Lae, we call at Malalo and the new sawmill site on the way. When we have unloaded at Zaka we go on to Morobe Harbour nearby, to spend the night. Sunday morning, we leave for our return journey to Lae, and we have church service on board, with Europeans and natives participating. Another day is taken up with loading at Lae, and then we travel back to Madang, calling at the same places we did on the way down.

In preparation for the north trip, we usually load supplies on Tuesday morning and at noon we depart for Kurum, arriving at approximately 3:30pm unload the supplies for Kurum Plantation and Gaubin Hospital and load the ship with copra and cocoa. Early next morning we go to Bunabun, then to Kinim, back to Kurum and return to Madang.

Apart from the native passengers who are pastors, teachers, delegates, and pupils, perhaps the largest number are sick natives, accompanied by their families or guardians, seeking treatment at the Mission hospitals. At every stopping place along the coast there is a large crowd of hopeful natives awaiting transportation. Some want to visit their relatives who are pupils at distant schools, young lads want to come to the town seeking work and many natives are only too willing to pay their fares if the space would permit taking them. Each missionary in charge of a station gives or sends to the ships’ personnel a Passenger Voucher on which he lists the names and particulars of those natives he considers are eligible for transport, and nearly always the list is too long, and many have to be left behind. It is quite pathetic, sometimes, to see mountain natives who have come to the coast for the first time, as they board the ship, their fear of the water is very obvious.

Often as we leave an anchorage or harbour with some native evangelists on board travelling to their field of labour, we can hear their many relatives and friends on shore weeping loudly as the ship takes their loved ones away, for they know that it will be many years before they can hope to see them again, the holidays of the native evangelist are few and far between.

When the ship is loaded with mission workers, native delegates, teachers etc. the passengers often choose the early daybreak hour to have their devotional service on board, and it is a joy to listen to the singing of the men’s voices only, because I think the native woman’s voice is very shrill and often seems to spoil the singing.

The missionaries on outstations are usually at the beach or harbour to meet the ship when it arrives. They seem to enjoy the chance to chat with the European passengers and crew and one of their first questions is to ask for the mailbag, and no wonder, because some of them receive mail only once every three or four weeks. They often spend the evening on the ship and have tea with us if we anchor there for the night; sometimes the ships personnel and European passengers spend the evening at the home of the missionary if it is near the anchorage or harbour.

Most of the anchorages which our ships use to serve our coastal stations are surrounded to a greater or lesser degree by reefs which make it impossible to enter them with safety at night. But it is possible to leave most of the anchorages at night though, some only with the aid of shore “leading lights” provided, of course, we are not blacked out by teeming rain. Therefore, our trips are timed so as to reach our first anchorage for each day soon after dawn. To serve up to three stations in one day is all we manage. When leaving places such as Kurum, Wasu, Yara and Biliau the local missionary sees to it that lighted kerosene lanterns are hung up on the two markers indicating the passage. As long as the vessel lines up with these two lights we know that the ship must clear the reefs which border both sides of the passage. Then from our watches and a given slow speed, we determine when we are out in open waters; at this point we signal back to shore with our torches and let them know that the lights are no longer required, and a final “goodbye”.

We have been very richly blessed with calm seas and good weather, and in the past seven years our ship has only been delayed by bad weather on three or four occasions. There are some seasons of the year when travelling is far from comfortable, and the sea is rather rough, many of the European passengers get seasick, and many natives too. The native has a unique method of easing seasickness, they dip the end of one of the ship’s ropes into the ocean and suck it – I am sure such a method would have an adverse effect on a European traveller! On occasions when the sea is not calm it has sometimes been impossible to unload cargo at some anchorages, such as Bukawa, Kinim, Zaka, and Bunabun, because the unloading has to be done by the ship’s dinghy and local canoes which take the cargo ashore, and large breakers and a rolling sea makes this impossible.

When our ship nears Madang on the return journey, our families can hear the village natives on the other side of the island calling “Sail -O Simbang” and they know we are nearly home. When we enter the Harbour, we blow the siren and can see them waving as we pass Nazadamon and take our passengers around to the Mission wharf on the mainland before returning to our homes. How very richly we have been blessed with our Heavenly Father’s guidance and protection during our travels, and we ask you all to remember this work in your prayers, for we need them all.

If you would like to consider the opportunity to serve as a volunteer in mission, serving in practical ways, teaching English, teaching in the seminaries and institutions of our partner churches, or in local churches, you are invited to phone LCA International Mission on (08) 8267 7300 or email For more information, go to

Read more stories about volunteering at

Share this Post!

About the Author : Erin Kerber

0 Comment
LCA International Mission