2013 Mission 3 Log

We’re hav’n fish tonight…

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Still at sea, west coast Santo

As we continue to plug south the 185 miles to Luganville, the highlight of today would have to be the landing of a 10kg Wahoo, or MahiMahi.

The seas were calm and the wind had got up to the point that we’d turned the engine off – we were doing about 6-7 knots and all of a sudden the line in the fishing rod went … zzzzzzzzzzzzz … it caught everyone’s attention because it’s the first time we’ve heard that sound on this mission … in fact on any mission from what I understand.

I grabbed the fishing rod and after untying it from the side rail tried to wind it in but the line kept racing out – a good sign of a big fish, but then I saw I was running out of line and pretty soon there’d be a problem.  Matt at the helm brought us up into the wind and Sally hauled on the sheets to slow our progress.  Gibson donned some gloves and began hauling on the line to make it easier for me to wind the reel, while Bob and Cathy raced forward for the gaff … “what’s a gaff?,” called Cathy … “In the anchor locker … long pole with a hook on the end”, I yelled … Bob held up the boat hook,  “No, in the locker, for landing fish !!”

By this time Chimere was wallowing in the sea with Gibson and I wrestling the line onto the reel, little bit by little bit.  David had his camera in hand and after rustling through the anchor well Bob returned with the gaff and stood expectantly on the stern platform.  The fish came to the surface, all greens and yellows – all very beautiful … and tasty.  Bob lifted it aboard with the gaff …

There’s the dinner bell … I’ll be back

Mmmm, that fish tasted good … with sweet potato and island cabbage

Getting back to the landing of the fish … Bob and Gibson took charge of the cleaning and filleting with everyone having some involvement, so it was very much a fish by committee.

In other news, we got through last night pretty well with David and Sally – husband and wife team – taking the first 3 hours, followed by Matt and Cathy and so on.  My job was to sleep, try and send the evening’s Ships Log on HF radio on SailMail (which after trying for hours caused me to give up) and be available for sail and other work as required.

Early morning revealed we were in sight of the top of the island of Espiritu Santo (Santo) and miraculously I had an active internet signal, so I took advantage by sending off the Ships Log.  Since then, there’s been no coverage all the way down the west coast of the island.

All day we’ve been heading down the coast with the mountain range on our left and sea on our right.  The sun was out and things were pretty warm, especially when the wind died off.

Bob and Gibson made up a shelter on the foredeck in front of the dinghies with a small tarp and slept, played the guitar and sang for much of the time.  For Matt, Cathy, David and Sally, it was much the same, with sleep being one of my favourite things – catching up on the deficiency of the past couple of weeks.

With just 7 aboard it seems kind of quiet now that the medical team have said their farewells.  No doubt they are all finding their way home as I type.

There’s not a lot more to report.  I’m just hoping I can send this off on the airwaves tonight – if not, I expect to have internet access by tomorrow morning.  There are some wonderful photos from the past couple of weeks too which we’d like to share with you and once we drop anchor in Luganville – hopefully tomorrow morning – I’ll send them away.

The seas are currently slight, but the 10-15kt breeze is on the nose, so we are motoring into it at and making about 5kts.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and we had fish tonight

Rob Latimer

www.msm.org.au

Farewell to Chimere

As I write this note the MSM website informs me that Chimere is making good progress southward on the start of its return journey home.
Without a doubt living aboard a 53ft yacht – OK, 54.5ft if you add Barry’s addition to the stern – with 10 other people is enough to test anyone’s patience & endurance. To the credit of each, and everyone doing their ‘bit’ and putting others first, we have survived surprisingly well. And dare I say it enjoyed the whole experience immensely. Except maybe for those bumpy rolly bits.
And so when the Team broke into two – crew and medical team – today there were mixed feelings of regret, joy, and amazement. We had survived a busy 16-day program and achieved most, if not all, our goals. To visit as many island, enjoy the company of every one we met, and provide much needed dental, eye, and medical care has been a privilege. To work with such a great team is an unforgettable experience.
We woke as usual around 6am with the sun already up, and ate a more leisurely breakfast before final packing of bags and last minute tasks – referral letters for patients, on board photo shoot, copying of our photos, etc. Today all the medical team and Desal Dave are leaving.
And then it was off to the airport to catch the midday ‘milk-run’ flight that includes most of Banks and Torres islands, or at least those with runways.
Now when I say “airport” I mean a grass strip extracted from a jungle clearing with a small building that doubles as checkin counter, arrival and departure lounge, luggage storage, control tower, etc. Each has its obligatory business class club lounge in the form of a soft patch of grass under a nearby shady palm tree.
Getting to the airport was a novel experience and a first: ‘water taxi’. The crew had to sail Chimere around the top of the island of Loh to the east side where the runway was sited. The swell decided to add its farewell in its own generous way!
To quote Rob we found a parking “bay” and dropped anchor only 500metres from the runway. The dinghy ‘water taxi’ was loaded with our bags and sent ashore were a helpful bunch of local lads carried them the last 200m to the terminal building. Next, we were transferred to dry land having bid our farewell to Chimere.
It’s not often you need to sail to catch a plane!
Our small twin engine aircraft arrived on time and gear was stowed aboard and final tears and farewells were shared amongst crew and team.
Our flight took us over many of the islands we had recently visited. Loh where we had spent the last few days; Toga where Ruth and Nancy and Graeme could retrace their  bushwalk of the previous day over the jungles of Toga; then the extraordinary shape of Ureparapara with its towering semicircular nest of mountain peaks and verdant jungle. Further to the south we crossed over the ‘Reef Islands’ and landed on MotoLava.
“Can we hop out and stretch our legs?” Ruth asked the captain. And so we did. A truck/ute pulled up. “I recognise that ute” said one or two of us. Sure enough it was Patrick and his unreliable ute without brakes or starter or radiator or door handles, that we had met several days prior! Patrick informed us that his radiator was now fixed. “But still no handbrake?” enquired Barry. “No”.
We flew low over Motolava and the adjacent island of Rah where we coud identify the villages and anchorages we had attended. Then a brief low level flight across to Sola where the airport is situated near to the small Torba Province Hospital where we had run a clinic one week ago. From Sola we flew over Losalava, and Dolap and finally over the Segond channel and Santo where our journey with Chimere had commenced. In 2-hours or less we had covered much the same route we had taken two weeks to complete! A memorable way to revisit our route.
On arrival in Santo we gathered our bags and preparf for a 4-hour hang over until our next flight. Graeme wanted to book in the luggage so we had time to make into town to visit Rob’s pamplemousse slurpee cafe, but we were offered seats on the earlier flight to Port Vila leaving now. Yes please; lunch can wait. Better to arrive early. Graeme rang Tony, our friendly bus driver in Vila, and cousin of Richard Tatwin. Yes he can pick us up at 4pm when we arrive.
Our first task upon arrival was to exchange money at Fung Wey where Tony said the rates were best. He took our dollars and exchanged them for vatu, the local currency. 88vatu to the dollar. Then on to our hotel for our first long shower in 2-weeks and a night out at Chilli Restaurant down on the waterfront.
Farewell to all and keep following the blog.
In heaven there are smooth seas, fair breezes, and no more farewells.
Off-duty Cub Reporter (AKA Graeme Duke)
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Farewell Mission 3

Monday 16 September 2013

At sea – Loh to Santo

In the end it was a race to the finish line with the full day clinic in Loh one day, a full day clinic in Hui the next and a real good try at a full day clinic at Toga with a serious amount of sailing in between each. The medical team did an epic job yesterday, with some remaining at the top of Toga (I always want to write “party” after that for some reason) and some walking the full length of the island to deliver much needed attention to those in greatest need at that village.

As for the ‘anchorage’ at Toga, it started out being dodgy and just got worse and worse as the day progressed.  It was a combination of wind and fast running tide, oh, plus a 2m swell that had us rolling from side to side like nothing we’ve had before.

In the end we set a small sail to help steady us which seemed to help a little.

The drop off and pick up of the team in the dinghy was also right up there with our trickiest maneuvers, requiring the navigation of a very narrow path though the rock and fringing coral reef into a hidden lagoon behind.  There were at least three hard rights and hard lefts and the deep section of the channel, when the tide was at its lowest, was less than half the width of the dinghy; the opening involving the breaking swell , mentioned above.  It was a good thing we had our trusty friend Atchin aboard plus health worker Zebulon who could guide us in and out.

While the clinic was in full swing, Atchin set himself the task of finding us some fruit ashore.  “I will find us some coconuts and fruit” he declared, and sure enough a few hours later there he was onshore, with friend/relative, Kenneth, attempting to lift a local outrigger canoe off the coral ledge and into the sea so as to delivery his cargo out to the boat.

The initial thought was , “Oh, he’s not going to attempt that, surely!”  Quick, man the dinghy.  I zipped over to the shore before they’d got too far with launching the dugout canoe and by just hovering off the rock ledge they were both able to stand waist deep in the waves, load all the stuff aboard before leaping in over the bow.

A coconut drink never tasted so good.

The anchorage became so bad, in the end we lifted the anchor and just hovered offshore – finding the wave action less violent a little off shore.

With the medical team united aboard along with all their gear and the sun showing every sign of setting – real soon, we high tailed it to our usual anchorage on the north side of Loh, arriving with just enough light to find a secure spot.

The night was pretty uneventful and by all accounts  everyone got some sleep – for many their last night aboard. Everyone was up with the sun and by 7:30 breakfast was done – although Bob and Gibson remained sleeping on their bunks in the forward cabin till sometime later – sometimes their sleep seems to border on hibernation! There was a lot of bag packing, photo downloading, tidying and exclamations of … “does any one know where I put…” and “has anyone seen a …”

Those remaining aboard – Matt, Cathy and myself suggested we should have a cabin inspection – to check everyone would get their bond back – but for Matt, he was eager to relocate from the saloon pilot berth into “the doctors cabin” – a whole cabin to himself !!  He’s certainly deserved it.  Although on check-in he was looking for the chocolate mint on the pillow and  a properly made bed.

By 8:30, our last sail together began, as we up anchored and made our way around the top of Loh and into the bay just off the main village. We were more familiar with the surrounding now and despite the fact that the SE wind blows directly into this place, we were able to find a nice sandy bottomed corner behind a fringing reef and as it turned out, about 200 metres off the end of the grass runway.

For all those going home – Barry, Graeme, Doug, Ruth, Nancy and David – airport transfers never looked like this before – a dinghy ride to a white sandy beach, over turquoise water, then a 3 minute walk to a very long grass paddock and a shed with a sign outside that read … “Loh Airport”

Bags were checked and weighed, along with each passenger, with the 3-step departure ladder rolled out to where the plane would finally come to rest – just long enough to let people off and unload and load the bags.

Amongst the arriving passengers of course, were husband and wife team David and Sally Spencer, who would be assisting with the sail south to Pt Vila and then remaining aboard for the return voyage to Australia in early October.

So as introductions were being completed we watched the twin engine Air Vanuatu plane taxi to the end of the long paddock and wind up for takeoff; that included an impressive, hard bank to the right when it seemed altitude was just enough to clear the trees at the end of the runway.  (Oh, and Chimere’s mast at anchor off the beach)

It was all over pretty quickly and pretty soon we were back on board doing domestic chores, all the while explaining how everything worked to newcomers David and Sally.  Atchin was with us all this time – he’d organized a few of his mates to carry the bags, and so after a while we returned him to the beach and walked with him up to the clinic to drop of some donated clothes and say good-bye to Zebulon.  There was also Atchin’s 40 litre drum full of water which he’d filled up when we’d gone to Hui two days ago – there being little to no water in the main village at Loh on account of the dry weather.
With everything stowed and lashed and farewells done, we finally weighed anchor and commenced our voyage south around 4:30pm. It’s now 10:00pm and the sea is lumpy, but a lot kinder than it could be.  The wind also is moving slightly east of south east which is making our trip south quite tolerable.

The departing team members will overnight in Pt Vila and head back to Australia tomorrow. As for the new team members, David and Sally, from reading the regular Ships Logs, they seem to know as much about the boat and where and what we’ve been doing as I do … it’s a bit spooky, to quote Dame Edna. They’ve already done the first watch – 6-9:00pm and have retired to  their cabin … dubbed “The Honeymoon Suite”.  Matt and Cathy are
currently on watch, till 12:00 midnight and I’m officially “floating” … I think I’ll go back to bed soon, this tying at the nav table with the rocky seas is starting to get to me. Oh, and Bob and Gibson are hibernating in the forward cabin  no fishing tonight.

Again, a big congratulations to Mission 3.  A wonderful job, with such a diverse array of people thrown together in the confines of the boat – all with a common goal – working together and taking on new skills and tasks, just to ensure overall success – great job!

To the support team back home – our webmaster Liz and admin man Mike – also, thanks so much for your ongoing efforts.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and  farewell Mission 3

Rob Latimer
www.msm.org.au

PS  I have been trying to send this Ships Log for the past 10 hours on the HF Sail Mail with no result – we now have TVL internet reception … Yeh!

To read older Ships Log posts go to …
http://msm.org.au/category/2013-ships-log/

Toga Island – we did the best we could.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Back at Loh Island, Torres Group

The Torres Islands are famous for their coconut crab.  Whenever we’ve mentioned we are going way up north, people (down south) say, “Oh, you must have coconut crab … ”

Well, after buying one back on Mission 1, (at Emae Island) and then deciding to let it go, after it had already made a break for freedom on the deck by wriggling out of its tightly bound vines, we somehow took two aboard yesterday at Hui Island – not sure how or why … maybe in return for some much-needed medical attention.   (Yes, I was right … Ruth said they were caught by an 8 year old – the grand daughter of an older woman … Nellie, in the remote village of Yaqana, where Graeme, Ruth and local health worker Zebulon made a house call yesterday.  I heard a little more about the catching of the coconut crab at dinner – apparently Graeme asked the little girl how she caught the crabs and she said she put her hand into their burrow making sure to keep her hand at the top of the tunnel.  Then, when she felt the crab she pushed her hand over the top of the crab to its back so she could safely grab on so as to drag it out.  Her mother then reinforced the fact that you must keep your hand along the top of the hole.  And this is an animal that, with one false move, could easily take a figure off)

Anyway, this time the crabs were wrapped up like island cabbage, with leaves and vines, (very secure) and as I type this Ships Log in my cabin, I can hear Nivans, Bob and Gibson, plus local healthcare worker Zebulon and our old boatman friend Atchin up on deck laughing and talking Bislama as they crack open all the cooked pieces of the two crabs.  It’s a labour intensive process.  In the galley, Cathy and Nancy are putting all the other bits of dinner together – and the bell has just been hit once, indicating dinner is immanent …, Oh, that’s the bell going many times … I think Cathy is impatient for the boys to bring down the crab, I’m not sure what 5 bells means … when I called out an explanation, Graeme called out “abandon ship” … but I’m sure he was joking, after all, that’s my department.

As we sit here at anchor, a quiet spot mercifully – back at the top of Loh Island (what we have dubbed Atchin’s anchorage, on account of him directing us here in 2009)  the ship really is a hive of activity.  Graeme is finalizing the mission stats on the computer in the saloon.  Dave, Barry, Doug, Nancy and Ruth have all been busy freshening up and packing their gear away – this being the last night aboard for most – and as mentioned Cathy is hard at it in the galley.

After a big day’s sail, Matt is relaxing in the cockpit and I’m sitting on my bunk typing.  We’re all waiting for the wonderful dinner – our last dinner together – and also as mentioned we have Zebulon and Atchin aboard; they’ve been with us all day and later we’ll run them ashore so they can walk back to their village.
Yesterday really was a successful day at Hui.  They get visited so infrequently and were just so appreciative.  The showing of ‘Finding Nemo’ was also a real highlight and being able to take Chimere well into the bay – effectively just off the white sandy beach, meant the transport back and forward in the dinghy was not such a chore.
Gibson stayed ashore last night, (more friends and family) along with Zebulon and Atchin on account of his uncle (his other father) living here … as one of the chiefs … chief Michael.  Although it’s just a 2 hour sail from Loh, Atchin hasn’t seen his uncle since July last year, about 14 months.

Oops, there’s two bells – dinner is on, back soon …

Back again.  It was a lovely dinner, after which Zebulon gave a speech of thanks and appreciation and I even scored a toast as the captain, for keeping everyone safe etc.

We then delivered Zebulon and Atchin ashore.  How they walk on that coral is a mystery to me.  Atchin had no shoes and Zebulon some thin rubber thongs.  I took them in with Matt on the search light and as we entered the channel, with coral outcrops everywhere and the glassy green-blue water sparkling with the light, the place seemed just alive with jumping fish.  We saw one quite big fish, long and thin make a horizontal dive in the air for a smaller fish, attracted by the light, which just missed Matt who was holding the torch.

Like many other days, today started early.  We picked Zebulon, Gibson and Atchin off the beach at 4:30am and were away around 5:00am – out through the small entrance of the bay, in the dull morning light, with every piece of technology available – chart plotter, radar, search light and extra eyes upfront.  In the end we shouldn’t have bothered – there was Atchin casually waving a few fingers above his head, this way and that, to indicate the right way out.

Once out, we set a course south towards the island of Togo and made surprisingly good time against the SE wind – the sea being a bit calmer than we’d expected.

The team mostly remained in bed and Cathy organized some toast and a cup-a-soup for those who wanted one as they emerged.  Unfortunately the good progress made early was negated somewhat as we came out of the lee of the islands – first Metoma, Tegua and then Loh.  As we left Loh astern, the wind and sea had built and we’d had to do several tacks to remain close to the coast.

Heading down the coast of Togo Zebulon mentioned that if it was too hard to get down to the south east corner of Toga – where the main village is located – then maybe we should give it a miss.  I called Graeme up into the cockpit and asked some more questions of Zebulon and Atchin – they confirmed what we kind-of already knew – that the landing was exposed to the SE trade winds, was onto rock and there was a very small beach there – onto which surf broke.  We’d just passed a village on the north coast of Toga – and one with a supposedly sheltered anchorage and s it was decided – we would go ashore here to run a clinic and a small team comprising Graeme, Ruth and Zebulon would walk the 5 km to the village in the south – our original target.
In the end it all worked out well, however, Matt, Cathy and I had a time of it looking after the boat; the effects of the offshore wind and tides that run around the island created what would have to be our worst rolling yet.

Future logs will have to report the onshore and other activities of the day – the need for sleep is starting to render me a bit useless.

But in closing I should say that with this being our last night, it’s been fantastic to see how the team has worked together – through the good and the not so good, to deliver a very professional service, with a high degree of safety.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Toga, we did our best

Rob Latimer

www.msm.org.au

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Hui knows where?

Saturday 14 September 2013

Hui Island, Torres Group

Six o’clock and there was Zebulon and Atchin waiting ashore as planned.  A quick zip across in the dinghy and they were soon aboard, with the anchor raised and our course set for the northern island of Hui by 6:45am.

Most in the medical team remained in their bunks as we made our way out of the sheltered lee of the island and set the sails for the fast ride north.

Cathy had breakfast ready for everyone, but the up and down, side to side motion of the boat didn’t  lend itself to serving food, let alone eating it.  After an hour, toast was attempted, which went down very well.

Around 9:15 we nudged our way into the small anchorage on the east coast of Hui, a place we visited in 2009 and which still gives me a certain anxious feeling with an abundance of rocks, coral and surf to heighten the senses.  This morning it was sunny and warm, with Atchin on the bow waving his arm to give directions – sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left – and then a closed fist to indicate we should drop the anchor on this particular patch of sand.

It was indeed a lovely piece of white sand on which to drop an anchor and as we gazed ashore it looked like with stumbled onto the set from Gilligan’s Island – the lagoon, with palms, turquoise coloured water, a smattering of huts and the constant rumble of the distant surf and the splash of the waves on the white sandy beach 200 metres further on.

Being Saturday, kids abounded in the shallows and when they eventually ventured out to the yacht we invited them aboard for a cold drink of water, then when it was time to leave we stretched a long rope out the stern of the dinghy for them to hang on as we motored ashore.  At one point there were 11 hanging on as the 25hp motor labored at high revs to maintain a decent speed – not quite water skiing but a good second best.

The clinic was up and running by 9:45am with numbers peaking in the morning and then tapering off in the afternoon.  At one point Graeme and Ruth went missing and it was explained that they were doing a house call some distance away.

In the early afternoon I made inquiries as to whether there was sticky clay in the nearby hills, with a view to gaining interest in the idea of mud brick stoves – the verdict, was that they thought there might be as so off I went with Zebulon and a man called Jacob, who showed some interest.  To cut a long story short, we ended up making a few bricks and the interest in the Low Smoke Stoves appeared  high.

The close of the clinic and return of all the gear aboard was backed up with the transport of the generator and projector ashore for a showing of Finding Nemo and “How to make a mud brick stove”, plus of course a Healthy Teeth talk from Bob and a healthy Body talk from Graeme – whose Bislama it must be said, is very convincing!

The chief of the village, Chief Michael is an uncle of Atchin, with both Atchin and Zebulon deciding to remain ashore for the night, along with Gibson.

Everyone is now asleep aboard, it’s 10:15pm and I need to send this message off before I fall asleep.

Tomorrow plans to be another big day – up at 4:00am, away by 5:00am, bound for the island of Toga; our last clinic for this tour – assuming we can get ashore.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and on a sunny day this place looks like paradise

Rob Latimer

www.msm.org.au

Loh and behold …

Friday 13 September 2013

Loh Island, Torres Group

So here we are, approaching the top end of Vanuatu; the 85 island-chain archipelago spread out 800-900 km north to south.

This is the fifteenth island visited so far, across the three missions, with probably another two islands to go … Hui in the north and Toga to our south.

Going back a step.  Last night’s sail up from Ureparapara was something of a dream run – as planned.  We managed about 1 hour of pure sailing, then in order to maintain our speed to arrive here at Loh around 6:00am, we turned on the motor … affectionately known as the iron headsail.  This kept the speed at around 6 knots and our action before the rolly sea a bit more stable.

Barry, our all-important tut doctor, declared it one of the best night’s sleep he’s had, Nancy emerged with the sunrise as sparky and chipper as ever, with Graeme, Doug and Ruth also looking refreshed as they got stuck into a breakfast of cereal, milk, fruit and toast.

Dave, Matt, Cathy and I shared shifts through the night to keep things on track and it must be said we were looking forward to getting the medical team ashore so that we could grab a few zz’ds.
Like many islands, Loh has a few villages, the main one being on the “weather coast”, or where the SE trade winds blow ashore – not the ideal place to happily drop anchor.  We like sheltered, calm spots, and whilst there is one of these around the top of the island, to anchor there would have meant a long walk and cartage of gear.  So I was always a bit anxious about whether it would be an easy start to the clinic, or a difficult start.

In the end it worked out to be relatively easy.  Whilst it as a 1-2 metre swell running we found a nice sandy spot to anchor in the middle of the bay – just off the village – and set about making three dinghy trips of people and gear ashore through the waves onto a white sandy beach – something we haven’t seen too much of in these parts, the region being mostly black volcanic rock in origin.

The team were all ashore for an 8:30am start, which was the best result we could have hoped for.
Radio communication via VHF late morning revealed that it was a busy clinic and no doubt we’ll hear more when they return shortly.
Back on the boat, the pitching and yawing got a bit much after a couple of hours and so we relocated to one side of the bay where it was definitely calmer, but the proximity to coral heads did cause us to snorkel over the side on a bit of a research mission to be sure.

By lunch time two local boats had come past, and from each we gathered as much information about anchorages, weather and local conditions as we could.  The consensus being that it would be good to more around to the north of the island where it was calmer and a safer place in the event that the weather should turn nasty – not likely from our current forecast.

Further radio communications onshore revealed that local health worker, Zebulon would like to run clinics on the nearby islands of Hui and Togo if possible – something we’d expected and why we’d allocated 3 full days in this region.
Details of these further missions are yet to be revealed because radio communications around the top of the island, where we are now anchored, do not extend to today’s clinic.  In last speaking with Graeme on the radio it was agreed that at the end of today’s clinic he would hire a local boatman to bring the medical gear and team through the coral-ridden channel that runs between this island and a very small adjacent island (on which the airstrip is located) the northern outlet of which we are sitting peacefully at anchor.

It’s a place we stayed at in 2009 and which we dubbed “Atchins Anchorage” after the name of the local man … Atchin, who spent some time aboard helping us with local information.  My initial inquiries suggest that Atchin is still on the island and there’s a remote possibility he might be joining us tomorrow, if indeed we head north to Hui.

With nothing but the ship to look after, Matt, Dave, Cathy and I have had a day of cleaning, sleeping, snorkeling (to check the location of the anchor and to scrub Chimere’s increasingly dirty bottom) and cooking.

We expect the medical team to emerge from the small channel off our bow, sometime around 5-5:30pm … about now.  It’s a channel
requiring a lot of local knowledge and fortunately the tide is on the rise so their prospects of making it through soon are good.

In soaking up some wonderful sunshine and real tropical conditions this afternoon, it got me reflecting on the process of seeking volunteers for such a mission as this, and how the right people just seem to have fallen into place at the right time over the past 6 months.

So many valuable skills and so much experience – some to sail the boat, looking after all the mechanical and operational systems and some to run the clinics offering dental, optical and medical coverage with such a high level of professional service delivery.

As a simple example, on the boat side of things … a few days ago there was no charging of the batteries when the main engine was operating and in addition, the engine rev counter was not giving a reading.  All things which Dave quickly pinned down to the alternator, with a new V-belt being found in stores and fitted in half an hour or so – the result – all fixed and working.  We’ve already mentioned Dave’s make-shift high pressure hose for the watermaker – I’m pleased to report that it’s still operating, although ongoing tightening of the hose clips is required. David has now moved from “Dental Dave”, with his help of Barry with patient suction, to “Desal Dave” for his ability to keep freshwater coming out of the pipes.

In having Matt onboard, I think of him sadly having to pull out at the last minute prior to the 2010 mission on account of a cricket injury.  Aboard for this year’s mission, his sailing ability and experience mean that at times the operation of the boat can just be left to him – I’m glad he was able to make time to come this time.  I recall several times over the past two weeks, as we’ve set course for yet another island, slipping back into my bunk for a kip, knowing everything was in good hands.  Then there are other times when we’ve been reluctant to drop anchor and I’ve taken the dinghy into a new landing while Matt keeps Chimere hovering in the shallows off shore; in the case of our landing at Merig for up to an hour.

Then there’s Cathy, brought up on trailer sailors she certainly knows her way around a boat and has quickly become accomplished in many of the key functions onboard, in particular  – anchoring, tacking, engine starting and stopping, food planning and most important of all, the galley and the preparation of meals and the making of bread.

On the medical side of things, North Ringwood Uniting Church has contributed a dentist in Barry, plus two doctors, Graeme and Doug, and a nurse Ruth – all doing an amazing job.   Then there’s optometrist Nancy – always cheerful, always up for a new challenge, and getting married in a couple of months!

A few hours ago, as we were starting to wonder when the medical team was coming back from the village, the VHF radio suddenly burst into life – it was Graeme informing us that part of the team were making their way around the top of the island in a local boat and part were walking through on the track next to the coral channel.  We looked and sure enough, there on the horizon was the boat and already onshore were a few bodies waiting to be picked up.

Aboard the small boat was Atchin and once aboard we had a wonderful time recalling the activities of 2009.

So the plans for the next couple of days appear to have been developed.  We pick up Atchin and the local health practitioner Zebulon at 6:00am onshore (they’ll walk through from the village) and we’ll head north the 2 hours to Hui where we’ll run a clinic all day.  (We’ll then return to this anchorage for the night)  Then on Sunday we’ll go south to Toga, where all reports suggest there are a few people in great medical need.

Doug has seen me typing and asked me to send a special message for his son Andrew Utley:

Hepi britday long Yu.  Papa blong yu, proud yu fella havim gud day
Nambawan
Love
Papa Doug

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Atchin’s anchorage once more

Rob Latimer

www.msm.org.au

Galley Blog

13 Sep 2013

Loh Island

During our first week aboard Chimere, while Rob and I were anchored off Santo, I had numerous people observe that I was the incoming ‘galley wench’. While not a term I find endearing in any way, I now understand where the unflattering nature and slave-like connotations come from!

Feeding 11 people three meals a day, prepared in less than one square metre of standing space, is indeed a task in itself. Add to this continually changing plans, frequently unstable anchorages (or a conveniently heeling/rolling yacht when underway) and the eternally steaming hot galley and you’ve got something akin to both a physical and intellectual endurance challenge. Limited bench space and seemingly unlimited dishes, pots, pans, and episodes of needing to access the fridge, freezer or utensils under said bench space creates a whole new aspect to ‘boat tetris’ (as our family refers to the phenomenon of carefully and progressively moving people around the cabin space of a boat order to get everyone where they need to be at any given time). Thank goodness for a patient team and a sense of humour!

While inspiration, fresh produce and consequently food variety have run low at times, I think it’s fair to say no one has starved – although there may be more than a few of us keen to get away from one (or two) pot wonders and dive into a nice fresh, crisp salad! Have no fear, however, the generosity of many villages has staved off the dreaded scurvy and we’re downing pamplemousse, coconuts and the ever-amazing tropical bananas almost as quickly as they are provided. The excellent addition of a vitamiser to Chimere’s galley tools collection quickly created a team favourite: chilled, minced pamplemousse to liven up our breakfast cereal each morning.

A couple of key things that I have learnt in my first few weeks as ‘galley wench’ aboard Chimere:

– Eleven people go through a LOT of mugs and kettle loads each day!
– Frequent dishwashing, salt water and concentrated detergent is not a combination friendly to hands (as a few of us have discovered).
– Cheese is everyone’s friend and makes any meal better (but who didn’t know that already!)
– Cooking dinner quickly is much easier when not interspersed with retrieving and resetting the anchor several times (thank you Ureparapara!)
– Do make sure you pop out of the cabin briefly every so often while cooking to grab the odd breath of fresh air. Similarly, don’t shower or swim before preparing meals and expect to stay fresh – it’s not going to happen!
– Baking a couple of loaves of fresh bread a day is a relatively simple (Thanks Linda) and satisfying task, however don’t let ANYTHING distract you from the 5-10 minutely tin-turning routine, or it’s all over!

Finally, after too many nights of eating my own preparations, interspersed with the occasional meal cooked by someone else (and our lovely meal at Sola Yacht Club), I can wholeheartedly confirm that it’s true – food really does taste better when it’s cooked by someone else!

Cathy West

A place to blow you away

Thursday 12 Sep 2013

Ureparapara, Dives Bay

This really is an amazing place – a bay inside a circle of mountains that forms the rim of a long ago once-active volcano.

Talking with Chief David about whether he’s been up the steep slopes and whether anyone has traversed the ridge and he agreed that it was very steep and that it would take 2 weeks to walk around the ridge – he seemed to speak from experience, but it was a challenge if ever there was one?!

We arrived yesterday in good time after a comfortable sail from Mota Lava.  There were three other boats anchored in the harbor on arrival, including David on Shandon, (neatly attired, eventually) who’d left Mota Lava a few hours before us.

Our welcoming committee consisted of two dugout kayaks and a traditional outrigger canoe, here to show us where to anchor and to learn more of who we were and where we’d come from.  As is our custom, we invited all comers aboard and put the kettle on.
One of the leaders was John who listened intently to our story and welcomed us with the comment that they’d been expecting us.

Meanwhile I noticed a canoe tied up next door at  Shandon and David was chatting with the man.  Later, in talking with David, he said that the man in the canoe had asked whether the other yacht, our yacht, had Captain Rob aboard.  He said yes, it was Captain Rob and so when the man in the canoe duly climbed up our side steps  he was keen to be reacquainted.  His name was Andrew and he had a beard which contained a platted goatee.  He had a kind of familiar look about him and then he declared that he’d given me a stone carved pig several years ago … 2009? I inquired,  yes, 2009, he said.

I ducked below and brought the small stone pig on deck for all to see, along with a rough carved wooden bowl, also given to me by Andrew back in 2013.  It was a great reunion and Andrew declared that he now carves mostly wood, and that he does much better work now.  This was confirmed later when he gave me one of his lovely carved fish in exchange for the chisel, file, rasp, hammer, glue, sandpaper and saw I gave him from the ships workshop – all surplus items from our perspective, but extremely valuable to Andrew who makes his living from selling his wares to passing boats – and as he said, he doesn’t have a saw yet – now he does.

The afternoon was spent carting gear ashore in readiness for a full day’s clinic tomorrow and after dinner we attempted the showing of a movie; something of an anti-climax, to say the least, given it was heavily promoted … “Finding Nemo Tonight” and then after starting so late, the speakers being left on the boat and when they did arrive we couldn’t get the sound to come out … it was all a bit embarrassing, but everyone seems to take things like this in their stride

In the end we were back on the boat around 9:45pm, rather than closer to 12:00 midnight if the movie in fact had gone ahead.  (not such a bad outcome in any event)

Whilst sheltered, the wind gusts in the bay were still quite strong, putting weight on our anchor, and in the confines of the small anchorage we dragged a couple of times causing us to have to re-set – a process involving starting the motor, lifting the anchor and then driving around to find a better place laying the anchor out again; mindful of the other yachts, depth and coral shelf close in.

In the end we came inshore of the other yachts, anchoring in 8-10 metres of water instead of 22 metres, thereby enabling us to increase the holding power of the anchor with a similar amount of chain being set.  The only downside was the closeness of our stern to the nearby coral – but it was calmer.

It was a lazy kind of start to the day today, with all ashore for the clinic around 7:45, for an 8:00am kick off.  The crowds built early but then tapered off prior to lunch with the day being considered overall as quiet.
Bob gathered together around 25 students from the local primary school and gave them a Healthy Teeth talk … they appeared very attentive and hung on every word – Bislama words – delivered with passion and conviction
Gibson helped optometrist Nancy with the taking of patient medical histories with doctors Graeme and Doug handling an array of cases with not a Medicare Card in sight.

Some cricket gear from the Santo Rotary Club was handed out, along with a selection of clothing.  Pretty soon Matt had the stumps positioned in front of the church door with the batter facing the wide open expanse of the “village square”  and was laying down some bouncers.  The pitch wasn’t responding to spin, but there were a few local lads who showed promise in the batting department.
By 5:30 we were all back onboard preparing for tonight’s sail to the islands further north … The Torres Group – lashing down, stowing and generally clearing the decks.

The Torres islands are about 50 miles to the north west, in the direction of the Solomons,  with the plan being to get away around 10:00pm and arrive off the island of Loh for 6:00am – everyone having been rested from a good night’s sleep in their bunks, gently caressed in their slumber by the roll of the sea and the swish of the passing waves … well at least that’s the plan!!  I don’t think many aboard bought it though.  They believe the destination, but they’re a bit wary about the other stuff being “survivors of day one” as they are.

It’s amazing to think that tomorrow is Friday and the bulk of the team will be flying out on Monday !!
Smooth sea, fair breeze and Loh by morning

Robert Latimer
www.msm.org.au

PS   It’s now 11:30pm and we’ve been going for about one and a half hours.  The wind is steady from behind at around 15-20 knots, the sea has a gentle roll, we have the mainsail double reefed and the jib fully out and we are clocking a lazy 6kts under a silver moon.  The engine is off and the quiet creaks and groans of the rigging, the passing waves and those loose items you wish you knew about earlier gives a feeling of the boat being alive.   All the medical team really are asleep !  Maybe my plan will come to pass.    We’ll be there by sunrise.

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Mota Lava to Ureparapara

Wednesday 11 Sep 2013

At sea, en route from Mota Lava to Ureparapara

It’s only a 2-3 hour sail, but I thought I’d grab some time to write a Ship’s Log, while Matt and David take care of the ship.
Wind is from the stern at 20 knots, the engine is idling away and we have headsail up skipping along at about 7.5 knots.  The sea is a bit rolly, with the 2-3 metre swells coming up from behind, but it’s a nice action.
Nancy, our … “look into my eyes” … medico, is lying on her bunk … the big bunk she shares with Ruth.  I think Nancy is asleep.

Then there’s Bob and Gibson, I think they too are asleep up front after their night ashore – chilling with friends and family … there’s a lot of family and they are on every island it seems.
Capability Cathy is hopefully relaxing somewhere on deck after knocking up a bowl of lunch for everyone in a galley that had become a bit too warm.  Ruth has found a nice comfy spot in the cockpit to watch the waves go by, (free from the ill effects of the movement which is a wonderful thing)  while Doug reads a book and Graeme enters medical stats from all the clinics onto a spreadsheet – he loves spreadsheets and declared that the 3 or 4 different ones that have evolved over the past few years need to be consolidated into the one … a simple one!

Our resident tut (tooth) doctor Barry is also in the cockpit, soaking up the lovely tropical sailing conditions.  We need to keep him fit and well … particularly after the physical work and focus involved in pulling so many teeth.  I was sitting next to Graeme as he plugged in the numbers and I think 4 teeth from the one patient was the record so far.  With about 90 extractions so far from 120 patients.

Our anchorage was really good last night.  About 4-5 miles along the north coast of Mota Lava from the main village and the small island of Rah.  Although it was windy, the wind came offshore and the sea was still.

Our problems with communications persist.  In the end last night’s Ships Log was send via the HF radio after an hour of trial and error with every frequency combination I could try, even though the Telecom tower I was accessing two days ago so successfully in Sola, 15 miles away is located on this very island, up the hill less that 1 mile away.  I really thought the coverage here would be better as a result!

Joining us in the anchorage was solo UK yachtsman David on Shandon – we first met him in Luganville a week or more back and then caught up over the last couple of days at Sola where we found him anchored when we arrived.  David’s been travelling the world’s seas for 18 years now and he flys home to the Uk for about 6-8 weeks each year.  His all-over-tan status was confirmed by everyone aboard, because although he anchored a fair distance from us, the dress sense of a solo yachtsman – or this one in particular – does not extend to the wearing of clothes – at least not while aboard in remote anchorages.  In company, David’s colourful “wrap-rounds” of fabric pass as suitable island attire, as they might wear in Fiji, but all speculation about the possibility of undergarments has now been set aside.   There is no truth to the rumour that Chimere’s binoculars were used to confirm any of the above.

With so much happening, it has been hard to find time to fully document everything each day.  Graeme and Doug have been great in writing up the Ships Log, because whilst my intentions are good, after dinner, sleep for me has been hard to fight.  I’m very much a morning person and so come 9:00pm I’m normally starting to fade, out here, with so much sea air about,  I fade even quicker.

Yesterday, Tuesday 10 September, was a full day clinic here at Mota Lava.  The day before that was also a full day clinic at Sola, Vanua Lava, plus a mud brick stove demonstration and a community movie night (we showed the favourite Ice Age again) which had us aboard around 10:00pm Monday night.

In reflecting on how well the team has formed into an effective unit, I suppose yesterday stands out as a good case in point.
After the movie showing the night before, the sailing team of Matt, Dave, Cathy and me were up at 4:00am to work through the pre-departure tasks – retrieve the stern anchor, stow everything low, put up the lee clothes, close all the hatches, check the course and then pull up the anchor.

We were away by 5:00am and with everything in good hands I slipped back into bed.  It was Cathy that came to wake me around 6:45am and seeing my initial alert response started out with … “it’s OK, everything’s fine … just checking where we should anchor … we are already here”

A temporary anchorage close to the village was found and the medical team were all up and about at 7-7:30am having breakfast as Bob, Gibson and I took the dinghy in through the coral reef to organize the transport of gear ashore, which was all completed by 8:00, with the team ashore for the brief walk to the village.  The tide was dropping fast and so the crew took Chimere further down the coast in search of a better place to stop for the night.

Thinking we were close to the best anchorage we dropped the pick and Matt and I went the short distance to shore where we found a group of 4  local blokes involved in a Red Cross funded water reticulation program – all willing to come out to the boat and help us find the right anchorage.

Later, after we’d anchored, another man appeared on the shore – Chief Richard, who we brought back for lunch and tea.  We showed all 5 men the mud brick stove video and gave them a copy, plus a mould and instruction manual.   It was a happy time and all committed to giving it a go.

Mid afternoon, Dave, Cathy and I did the 20 minute dinghy ride back down the coast to the clinic to see how things were going – radio communications not extending that far.  We discovered that the local 4wd couldn’t make it to where the yacht was anchored.

In fact the track only extended a short distance down the coast and after all it was a 2hr walk – for a local!  At this point Barry said he’d like to walk, he liked walking, but I think part of the issue was that he wasn’t keen to get back in that 4wd ute again – not after seeing that the brakes consisted of a man with two rocks who jumped out to put them under the wheels and it constantly needed pushing to start.

So it was agreed, David, Cathy and I would zip back down the coast to the yacht, up anchor, bring Chimere to the coast off the village, where we would “hover” just long enough to get everyone and everything back aboard.   The tide was now back in, but light was fading fast and time was running out.

In the end we made it with minutes to spare, as darkness seems to fall quickly here, with our snorkeling activities earlier in the day revealing a patch of gravelly sand – a good place for the anchor to hold –  where we’d dropped a small white buoy as a marker for our return.

The evening meal was another wonderful affair knocked up by Cathy – curry and rice with most retiring to bed early.
This morning it was pancakes for breakfast and then out for a snorkel before heading away north – which brings me to where we are now – just about to enter the island of Ureparapara.  An amazing extinct volcano that you literally sail into the middle of.  Check it out on Google.

Enough from me for now … we are thinking of showing a movie ashore tonight … including a health talk  – “looking after your teeth” and “healthy body”

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and an earlier night than expected

Rob Latimer

PS  We tried to show a movie tonight, but due to there being a community talk and presentation on family violence in the local meeting hut our commencement was delayed nearly 2 hours, then we discovered the speakers had been left on the boat, then when we’d got them we couldn’t get them to work.  By the time this problem was solved the kiddies were facing an 11:00pm finish … not to mention the grown ups.  So we showed a short film of our trip here in 2009 while I gave a commentary.  Getting back to the boat through the breaking waves on the local beach was a wet affair for most – particularly torch-man David up front who took several waves in the face for the team!!  What a guy.

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101 Ways to Enjoy Breadfruit.

10 September 2013

Mota Lava Island

Breadfruit is a curious plant: it takes like neither bread nor fruit. Mota Lava, our current island, seems to be covered in breadfruit trees. These are huge, sparsely leaved trees with their spherical studded green fruit with yellow flesh dangling from its branches. They hang from their long narrow stalks like hundreds of small limpit mines floating in the air, and threatening, like a tropical version of Newton’s apples, to fall on some unsuspecting passerby to which the tree had decided to take a disliking.

We have now discovered many ways to eat breadfruit. They can be roasted, smoked, boiled, dried, or added to just about any vegetable or fruit. Ground up and combined with coconut it makes quite a tasty lap-lap. On Mota Lava where cyclones have been known to raze villages and decimate food sources these fruit are dried, peeled and stored as emergency rations. The ‘fruit’ ends up as hard as a rock cake but still edible.

And the people of Mota Lava are just as intriguing as their staple fruit.

Early this morning Patrick came on board for a breakfast meeting to discuss the transfer of the medical gear to the clinic. Even though he is not a village chief he has contacts. After said meeting and said breakfast we made our way ashore to a rather uneventful, almost disappointing landing on terra firma. There was no crashing surf to overturn the dinghy, there were few hidden rocks to navigate, there was no coral reef or slippery rocks to jump onto, there was no long climb to carry the gear. It was simply a quiet white sandy beach with tiny waves lapping at its shore. Yes please, more of these landings we thought but did not state in front of Robert.

Within a short period of time Patrick and rounded up some locals, one of whom was Freman who owned a ‘truck’ (or 4WD ute in Aussie parlance). This was to convey the team with our gear to the clinic. Now when I say “truck” I mean the semblance of a 4-wheeled vehicle with little tread on the tyres, no brakes, no starter motor, leaky radiator, and doors that could only be opened from the outside door handles. As we discovered later, the leaking radiator required regular topping up from a large water container stored under the bonnet next to the rusted air-con compressor. But this was not our first problem.

Unfortunately the motor had stalled whilst the truck was facing downhill towards the beach 20-meters away. “Everybody out, please” he requested. Push starting the truck required four locals to push the vehicle backwards up the hill to a flat area where the vehicle could be turned around to face the opposite direction and push-started. “OK, we go. Hop in.” Most of the team decided an early morning walk to the clinic, no matter how far, was the safer option.

Like Freman there are always interesting characters here in Vanautu, many of whom visit the clinics.  For example, there was Marie who came for a simple check-up. At 72-years she was thin and aged with no substantial medical problems despite her 10 children and 26 grandchildren! She doesn’t have time to be unwell.

Then there were two cute little albino Ni-Van girls, who needed sunglasses and spectacles to correct poor vision that is often associated with the condition. And there was the school principal and the teacher who had both come for a check-up and were more interested in our education posters and the copies we left at the clinic for them to use as educational class room material. The principal’s daughter came too, but she was less impressed at Doctor Doug’s prescription of frequent saline nasal rinses for her chronic nasal infections!

Born in 1927 on this same island, Salatxial [sic], had seen a lot during his life and career: building and setting up new schools for the colonial powers, experiencing the freedom independence in 1980, and World War 2, plus several cyclones – “Yes, 1939 cyclone much worse than in 1979!” We had no reason to disagree with this assessment. “And, oh yes, in 1944 soldiers wanted to put benzene supply up on the hill but all the village chiefs said ‘No’ so they didn’t.”

Sandy and Abigael were two of the clinic nurses, and most helpful during the day. Abigael turned out to be the daughter of Zebulon the larger-than-life character and clinic nurse we met 4-years ago up in the Torres islands, whom we will hopefully soon meet again. She had no seen him for 3-years. When asked if she had any message for her father she replied, “I love him very much. And hug.” with almost a tear in her eyes. Graeme offered to pass the message but maybe the hugs he would leave to the girls.

Then there was Harris, a new and first-time grandfather, whose first words at the clinic today were: “Where is the girl with the picture?”
“That’s me!” replied Ruth. You see, four days prior, whilst running our clinic at Losalava (on Gaua), Ruth had taken a photo of a newborn called Alice. It had been a chance encounter for her to be invited into the 1-bed maternity ‘ward’.
Alice’s mother Brianna asked Ruth if we were going to Dives Bay [on the island of Ureparapara]? “Yes, next week, why do you ask?”
“That is my family village. Can you take a photo of baby Alice to my family and friends? I miss them.” “Sure.” The phot was duly taken to be printed and given to the family.
Then today whilst we were working on another island (called Motalava) Alice’s grandfather, Harris, turns up on his way from his home island (Ureparapara) to Sola asking for the “Girl With The Picture”, aka Ruth. Somehow he had heard that somebody from a medical clinic had taken a photo of Alice and was going to deliver it to his home village. It was a joyous event as we acquainted Harris with (a picture of) his first grandchild for the first time!

The last patient of the day arrived with a cloth over her eye just as we were packing up. She hovered in the distance and Graeme with his insightful medical scent for trouble thought “Hmm, maybe wincing and holding a cloth over the eye is not usual NiVan behaviour?” She seemed reluctant to come any closer than observe from a distance. Graeme introduced himself and invited her to have a check-up.
“What is wrong with your eye?” As she removed the cloth it revealed a blood-shot and very painful looking left eye. Nancy later checked it out and found there were severe abrasions to her cornea (front of the eye) but hopefully with simple treatment it would heal without permanent eye damage.
“What happened? Did you fall? Did someone hit you? Did you get a stick in your eye?” Was it a stone? Did you get sand or dirt in your eye?” were Graeme’s excessively leading questions. He gave her no time to reply. After the interrogation had ceased she plucked up the courage to say one word: “Breadfruit.”
“Breadfruit?!” asked the perplexed doctor.
“Yes, breadfruit, him he fall into eye.” She had been attempting to knock the ripe fruit from the branches above and copped one right in the eye.

There are, after all, 101 Ways To Enjoy Breadfruit.