2017 Ships Log

Bringing her home #2

21st Oct 2017
Hi Folks,
It’s been a few days since our departure blog and about time we brought you up to date on the journey thus far.
We are now through the Grand Passage via Petrie Reef having managed through the first day of solid 25 knots of wind with decent seas. With the wind abeam on day 1 it made for good reaching and some adjustments of stomachs for a few of us. Since that brisk initiation into open sea sailing things are settling into a routine and the weather has all the while calmed down to only about 10 knots and is almost astern – allowing us to pole out the staysail and enjoy less apparent wind.
Some highlights and revelations over the last few days are:
– Continuing to get to know each other. A yacht is very close proximity at best and our personal traits and habits are all exposed, with Jonno’s (proud) family heritage in flatulence evident even outside in 25 knots.
– Singing spontaneous ‘Scripture in Song’ verses with full gusto together.
– Realising that this isn’t just a Men’s Camp but also a Men’s Shed – we regularly consult the workshop for tools and Ray for advice on fixing and tweaking things aboard, we almost know where all the tools reside now! Jobs have included steering sheave lubrication, engine brake enhancements, stay adjustments, traveller car pin repairs, etc. Often jobs are done with 3 or 4 heads down a hole or out on deck together.
– Stopping at Petrie Reef was a welcome change where we snuck in the lee and out of the swell and did ourselves a spot of fishing. Rob pulled in two nice Mackerel which we cleaned up immediately and ate for dinner. Jonno has bragging rights for the big one that got away.
– We are getting hints of Gwilym’s cooking prowess as the seas have settled, which keeps us all cheery indeed.
– Just a while ago Cam and I were watching a large seabird swing past and then dive for a sizeable flying fish, and then immediately after a large tuna jumped well clear of the water, apparently after the same fish but looking like it wanted the bird!
– The night sky is brilliant out here – I thought our bush sky was bright with stars because it is out of town but when you are miles from anywhere at sea with no moon it is fantastic!! The phosphorescence in the wash makes it all the more special.
– I have a video of Rob and Gwilym laughing that I’m pretty sure will go viral – will post it upon return.
– The third hour of a night watch is harder than the previous two combined.
– Cam is teaching us the Navchart Plotter and Auto Helm which is great for building confidence for us during watches. Rob says there is no better crew member than the AutoHelm – yep, never complains, always works, doesn’t need food!
Righto – sea you later!
Jonno

Barry Stewart, Phil Wicks liked this post

Bringing her home

Apologies for no blog on Thursday. We had a couple of busy days preparing Chimere for the voyage and set sail on Thursday morning tired but keen to get going.
We dropped our mooring lines at 7:37 in the morning and spent some time familiarising the crew with the boat. Outside of Mele Bay we sailed into a choppy and confused sea with a 25 knot wind from the southeast. It was fast sailing but not so kind on the tummies of most of the crew. As a result no one had the desire to sit at a bouncy table typing on the laptop. It was in bed or on watch thank you.


Even so we set a brisk pace and bye and bye everyone got their sea legs and eventually their sea tummies too.
By Friday midday the weather moderated, the seas smoothed out and Chimere became a pleasant place to be. The direct course to the Grand Passage at the top of New Caledonia would have taken us about 4 miles south of Petrie Reef but since we were passing in daylight we diverted to pass close by it’s northern coast to try and catch our dinner.

Rob and Jonno quickly caught 2 very good looking mackerel and then engaged in a fight with several much bigger fish all of which chomped through the trace wire and got away with our lures. Fishing lesson 101 get strong steel trace wires! It is a grand thing to catch a fish at 4 in the afternoon and be eating it by 6pm. Jonno and Rob did the filleting, Gwilym made a great salad and sweet potato mash, we all did some cooking and had a superb meal.
We are now about 30 miles away from the Grand Passage still make good comfortable progress with full sail under a clear star filled night. Yes a sailor’s delight!

Cheers,

Cam.

Ready to return

Port Vila to Melbourne

Wednesday 18 October 2017

 

It was back on Monday 2 October that Chimere returned to Port Vila. It followed the conclusion of Mission 4 and a week-long sail south from the island of Vanualava. This is where most of the medical and dental team left the ship, choosing to fly home the fast way. It all seems ages ago now.

I’m now sitting at the Sydney airport – in transit home to Melbourne – after taking the Wednesday afternoon Air Vanuatu flight out of Port Vila.

Chimere is in the hands of her return-skipper, Cam Heathwood, and crew … Ray, Rob, Jonno and Gwilyn (it’s Welsh) … spending her final night on a mooring in Port Vila harbour.

After re-fueling, topping up the water tanks, paying the port and berthing, plus of course making everything (literally) ship-shape, the lines will be caste off for the last time early tomorrow morning as they set a course for home.

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks and it seems a bit strange doing a Ships Log from so far away, but then the last six months have been full of surprises and so nothing is really that unusual any more.

On the topic of re-fueling … with tanks getting low we chose to top-up with 80 litres in Luganville, on our sail south, after the evacuation of the Ambae folk. At the time we estimated we had around 100 litres left in the final tank; about a day and a half’s full-time use. So I was interested to receive a text from skipper-Cam a short time ago informing me that they had just filled up with 1,296 litres. That’s 104 litres less that our 1,400 maximum holding capacity. Without the extra 80 litre top-up, we would have had just 20 litres in the tank on our return to Port Vila – which might have been a bit too close for comfort ?!

Supporters Tour

Of course the “Supporters Tour” has kept me busy over the past couple of weeks, or at least between 6-16 October, with 18 people joining us in Port Vila for a fun time of adventure and “local engagement”. With Chimere tied up at the Waterfront and my dear wife Linda staying with the group up the hill at the Melanesian Hotel, it was also a chance for me to spend some time off the boat, enjoying the comforts of clean linen, air conditioning and balcony views.

By all accounts everyone had a great time on the Supporters Tour, with the key activities including The Village Experience Tour, (including complimentary use of the BEST Public Toilet in the South Pacific), The Day Sail (aboard Chimere), The 3 Hour Tour and the full day Church and North Efate tour; with lunch at the Olory Beach Restaurant.

A massive thank you to everyone who signed up for the tour and for making it such a success.

Thanks also go to Ari, that wonderful travel agent from HelloWorld Pakenham, who has been so generous with her time and skills. Her continuing support of MSM has been invaluable. If you are considering travel – anywhere – then we’d certainly recommend you call Ari for a chat.

Looking back on some highlights of the Supporters Tour…

… it was certainly a thrill to see and experience the Best Public Toilet again … particularly how well it has been maintained, with local lady Asel playing a big part in this !!

The Village Experience Day showed just how things have developed over the past four years since the first Supporters Tour in 2013. There was the welcome, the singing, the food, the custom teaching & activities, the handmade dress (for the ladies) and shirt (for the men) plus the inclusion of a range of other local tours, including the Tanna Coffee factory and snorkeling at “Top Rock” – making for a very full day

Then there were the two “Day Sails”, from Port Vila around to Hideaway Island, with a “few” local Ni-Vans invited to come along; all designed to enhance that “local experience”.

To ensure the cost of transport from the village wasn’t an issue, a bus was arranged to transport everyone the hour from Paunangisu to Port Vila, with the expected number being around 12 – maybe 15 – a bus full.

In the end total numbers came in at 40 on the Tuesday and 35 on the Wednesday, with only 10 these being what you’d call “white-folk” tour members. I suspect that once the word got out in the village it was hard to turn them away.   Fortunately a swag of them were little kids, who didn’t take up much space, with someone later commenting on Chimere’s harbour exit and return that we looked like a “refugee ship”.   It certainly had the feel of the Lolawai evacuation exercise, (refer to Ships Log “Boat People of Ambae”, 30 Sept 2017) just without the luggage, plus pig in a bag and bats in the fridge.

Despite the numbers, or maybe because of the numbers, it was such a fun and memorable day. An experience all will remember for some time to come.

Of course, it all eventually had to come to an end and so after a 4:00am wake-up call on Monday, the Supporters Tour members returned to Australia on the 7:00am flight. With all the “tropical relaxation”, there’s no doubt some will be returning to Australia in order to catch up on some sleep.

Return-crew now aboard

Monday morning might have seen the Supporters Tour members fly out, but the afternoon saw Air Vanuatu’s big plane return from Sydney with Chimere’s new crew of five. The task of preparing Chimere for the return voyage starting almost immediately.

Eddiy

Eddiy, our “regular” boat painter, sander and now polisher, has been helping out in the maintenance department and even came out on the two Day Sails to assist where needed.   He met us at the Waterfront on our return from up north and was keen to start “paying off” the seven day’s work he owed us under our earlier agreement whereby we’d bought him a solar unit for his island; so he could earn money from charging mobile phones and devices.

With the money he’d earned from earlier work, Eddiy was able to get a passport, and with the aid of his work references was recently accepted under the “farm worker” aid program.   This program has the dual benefit of enabling Ni-vans to earn good money from hard work – which few seem afraid of – while supplying reliable labour to Aussie farms.

Last week Eddiy thought he might be headed to Queensland in a couple of weeks to carry bananas, but as it turned out he ended up at the airport at the same time as me this afternoon. We initially thought we’d be on the same flight.

However, after receiving his passport and boarding pass, Eddiy discovered – along with 15 other similar blokes – that he was going to Katherine. Katherine !! in the Northern Territory. “You really are in for an adventure Eddiy” I said as we discussed his specific travel plans – Vila to Brisbane (on a Virgin flight leaving around the same time as my Air Vanuatu plane) – then a flight to Darwin – then a bus down to Katherine …

Eddiy is not one to show a lot of emotion, but I could tell he was excited on the inside, as I explained that the Port Vila to Brisbane flight was probably an hour shorter than the Brisbane to Darwin flight.

While in the queue I also had a chance to chat with the labour-hire agent; the guy who had recruited all the blokes, secured the farm work-contract and sorted out all the travel details. A kiwi guy named Danny. By way of introduction I explained to Danny that … “my friend Eddiy here has done work on my boat and we did a reference for him … “

Seeing the way he interacted with each of his 15 fellows, speaking to them in Bislama, I could tell Danny had their interests at heart. I continued our conversation after he’d done his last handshake and good-bye to each individual in the queue and it was like he was seeing off his own sons. I’m sure he had a tear in his eye as he explained that “these guys have a good 7 week contract … they’ll be earning $22 per hour and should be able to rake in $1,000 a week”  

“What about a bank account?” I asked. “I understand they are paid in cash?”

“No. The first thing they’ll all do when they get to Katherine, will be to open a personal bank account, and they’ll get a Debit Card. And they’ll be paid directly into that account.” Explained Danny.  

It was reassuring to hear and after 15 minutes of chatting (it was a slow queue with two international flights leaving around the same time) Danny and I were good friends. I even discovered that he’d done a Hort Sci degree at Massey University whereas I’d done a Hort Com degree at Lincoln University, Christchurch just a few years before him.

(Having heard and read the occasional “bad story” about certain farm worker experiences I made the point of checking out Eddiy’s agent Danny on my return to Australia.   From all I’ve read he seems one of the best. Check him out at … www.nougro.com )

 

Morning Tea Farewell

As the clocked ticked on my remaining time in Vanuatu, the Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu, Pastor Alan Nafuki organized a farewell morning tea for me yesterday, which was a great privilege. Many people came, even Kalmarie, Roger and Margaret from Paunangisu Village, plus Richard Tatwin and others I have got to know well, and work closely with, over the years.

Pastor Obed Moses – now president of the country – wasn’t there of course, but I was keen to leave a gift for him; a religious stole made by Yvonne from North Ringwood Uniting Church, along with an MSM Mission 2017 shirt.

“We will go up to the President’s residence and deliver the present personally”, exclaimed Pastor Alan.

So after a few phone calls Alan announced … “11:00 o’clock we see President Moses”.

 

Meeting president Moses

Leaving the morning tea around 10:45am and the remaining plates of sliced fruit for others to enjoy, Pastor Alan drove the relatively short distance to the Presidents compound parking at the shop across the road. We then made our way past the guards at the front gate (after a brief chat) and into the front office, where we were directed to the “waiting chairs”.

The air conditioning was cool and there were quite a few men in crisp black suits and highly polished matching shoes. Conversations and instructions were given in hushed tones and then at exactly 11:00 o’clock we were shown into the President’s office to handshakes and smiles all-round.

Our 20 minute conversation covered a range of topics, with particular focus on the National Oral Health Survey that PCV Health and MSM were coordinating on behalf of the Vanuatu Ministry of Health and why it was so important as a foundation for establishing a national strategy in this vital area.

President Moses spoke more about Vanuatu being a “Christian Country” and that this is something now, more than ever, they needed to hold onto and reinforce; in accordance with the country’s constitution.

At the end of our conversation, feeling somewhat under-dressed in my sailing clothes, I was able to hand over my gift and get the obligatory “happy-snap”.  

A big thank you to Pastor Alan for being the “key” that opened the President’s door and also of course to Pastor (President) Moses for making time at such short notice to see me. I feel very honoured

In parting, I wished President Moses well for the remaining 4 years and 10 months of his tenure as president, on behalf of North Ringwood Uniting Church, MSM and the people of Australia.

 

PVP meeting

In order to reflect on the Supporters Tour and the priorities looking forward, time was made for a Paunangisu Village Partnership (PVP) meeting, attended by Kalmairie, Margaret, Roger and me.  

The village expressed a desire to uphold their end of the partnership agreement – as a two-way relationship – and talked about the possibility of a singing, cultural & mission tour to Melbourne in the next 18 months.

The building of a shop near the Best Public Toilet was discussed, plus improved signage and ways to better market the facility with a view to taking it to the “next level”

Kalmairie even mentioned that … “now that you, Robert, are Man-Paunangisu, next time you come to Vanuatu we need to find some land in the village for you to build your Kastom house, so you have a place to stay each time you come home …”   This really took me by surprise and I felt honoured by the gesture. Looks like my shopping list will include a “bush-knife” next time I visit the village.

Back Home to “normal life”

It’s now Friday morning 20 October and I’ve been back in Melbourne a day and a half. There’s been a lot of sleeping, with the garden and lawns around home looking a bit overgrown … to put it politely. It’s also a lot colder than what I’m used to, although not having that feeling of “constant perspiration” is a welcome relief.

Adjusting back to “normal life” here in Australia typically takes a few days … particularly under a barrage of (mostly depressing) news – both local and global – plus “urgent” media reports and conversations on such trivial, first-world issues as “same-sex marriage” and “fluid gender identity” … save me !?

In contrast, Vanuatu, with its lack of material wealth and sophistication, seems remarkably well-adjusted and down-to-earth – capable of teaching us an awful lot about the important things in life.  

Let’s just hope and pray that with the passage of time, we don’t inadvertently drag the people of Vanuatu down to our level. To a place where, as a country, we seem to have forgotten (or are hell-bent on white-anting) the foundations on which we derive our freedom and way-of-life. And where a cohesive community of caring people is fast being replaced by a selfish society of individuals, standing for little of substance yet willing to fall for anything.

Time spent amongst the people of Vanuatu, particularly on the outer islands, helps put things into perspective … particularly when their primary concerns are about food and water security, paying for kid’s education, relieving toothache, affording necessary transport, rebuilding after cyclones (or managing the impact of volcanic eruptions), obtaining pain relief in death and medical care more generally. Again, there is a lot they can teach us…

 

One day out of port

As I write, Chimere is making good time, having completed their first day at sea. By tomorrow they will be past New Caledonia’s north coast and entering the Tasman Sea. Track their location by visiting www.msm.org.au

Smooth seas, fair breeze and ready to return

 

Rob Latimer

Bringing her home – 2017

This blog begins the voyage home for Chimere after more than 4 months of [hyper]active service throughout the lovely islands of Vanuatu.
The last 3 days have been a conglomerate of meeting new blokes, travelling together, arriving in Port Vila and being greeted by Rob Lat and Martin Burgess, before finally meeting Chimere herself at Yachting World, Port Vila. Our activities since arriving have included unpacking and repacking pretty much everything (food, supplies, tools, equipment, dinghys) and provisioning for the return voyage including fresh food, water, fuel. Chimere has been thoroughly checked from bow to stern, masthead to keel, engine serviced, halyards run, steering adjusted, dinghy repaired and cleaned out. Out course and best timing for sailing have been negotiated, explained and plotted, along with weather apps consulted to prepare us for what lies ahead.


Of great significance in our journey has been meeting and getting to know our crew, who are:
– Skipper: Cameron Heathwood, seasoned pilot, ocean racer and cruiser who would rather be on a boat somewhere (oh, he is!).
– First Mate: Rob Lott, crusty sailor, constant friendly evangelist and teacher of us all in almost everything.
– Second Mate: Ray Clark, chief fixer of complicated stuff, adviser, boat owner and….Dad really.
– Bosun: Jonno de Puit, ships builder, cyclist and Laser sailor, about to learn heaps.
– Chief Cook and Baker: Gwilym Seibel, passionate food purveyor and connoisseur, always up for a laugh.
Some highlights from the last few days include:
– Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu – letter of support received for exemption from port dues – currently being negotiated.
– Rob Latimer having a 20 minute private audience with the Vanuatu President – Pastor Moses.


– Experiencing the drop in centre that Chimere is and meeting many interesting and interested folk.
– Sending Cam up the mast for some cool photos (and some odd jobs),

`
– Going to the friendliest fresh fruit and veggie markets for supplies and a great feed.
– Seeing brown faced smiles wherever we go and meeting yachties from the world over.

Planning to be up early tomorrow and away heading west across the top of New Caledonia through the Grand Passage.

Catch you tomorrow.

A day on the water!!

A personal best for Chimere… 40 on day one  and 35 day two
The Day Sails to Hideaway Island with a large number of friends and Our Paunangisu ‘family’ was a great success.  For most it was their first time in a yacht and to the small island just out of Port Vila

A big thanks to the Chimere catering division, the Chimere sailors and the very kind weather

Big day in Paunangisu

Best Public Toilet in the South Pacific is still the best !!
Village Experience Day comes to an end

One more sleep

Thursday 5 October 2017
Waterfront seawall, Port Vila

 

The “Supporters Tour” begins tomorrow. What’s that I hear you say?!

In keeping with past tradition and in conjunction with our friendly travel agent Ari, we have organised a 10 day holiday package that is both a fund-raiser for Mission 2017, but also a chance for “supporters” to enjoy a more grassroots Vanuatu holiday experience, without sacrificing too much on comfort.

The itinerary includes a “Village Experience Day”, trips out on the Port Vila harbour aboard Chimere, visits to the local medical clinic, church and market, plus an opportunity to experience life through the eyes of the locals

Around 20 people have signed up for the “Tour” and so it’s been a full-on task to get Chimere in a tidy state and to put the finishing touches to the itinerary, including the printed “Tour Pack” each person will receive on arrival

I was making inquiries two days ago with various contacts about Eddiy Bule, the man featured in earlier Ships Logs, who we hired on a daily basis earlier in the mission, to assist with sanding and painting aboard Chimere.

“He’s back on his island, but I will let him know you are here” said his friend and employee at Yachting World who own the Waterfront here where we tie up. Then an older man, John, got my attention today and introduced himself as Eddiy’s father, “Yes, Eddiy is son of my brother” …
“So that means he’s your nephew? You are his uncle?” I inquired. “No, I’m his father, his other father. That’s the way it is here.” John replied. Not a bad system really. All part of it “taking a village to raise a child”.

Then, 10 minutes ago I had a call from an unidentified local number … “Ello, Robert ‘ere” I answered … “Ello boss, is that you Robert? It’s Eddiy” came the reply

“Eddiy, great to hear your voice. Where are you?” I continued

Eddiy then went on to explain that he was dropping into the Waterfront each day recently and finally one of the people here asked … “why do you come each day?” and he said he was wanting to know when Chimere … and “his boss” as he now calls me, returns.

Seeing that we weren’t about he headed to the island of Emae, a short distance north, to assist with the re-building of a church building. “I will be back in a couple of days, I will call you then” insisted Eddiy

Some further background to Eddiy is that a month or so ago we bought a small solar system for Eddiy in return for a promise to work 7 days aboard Chimere before she returns to Australia. It was all drawn up on paper and signed by Eddiy and skipper Jon of Mission 3 fame and so Eddiy is obviously keen to keep his side of the bargain.

In other news today there was an Australian Air Force transport plane fly over after presumably dropping aid for the people being evacuated of the island of Ambae. In addition there is what was described on the VHF Channel 16 as “Australian War Ship” anchored way out in Mele Bay, for the same reason as the plane. Great to see, and a wonderful use of a “war” ship …

Being tied up so close to the “bar and grill”, Chimere’s cockpit could double as another restaurant table, with the chatter of patrons (increasingly well lubricated given it’s now 9:00pm) and the clink of plates and cups sounding like it already is. I was automatically thinking … “what a rowdy bunch of Aussies” … then after catching a few “bros”, “A” and discussion about a woman prime minister I figured these are rowdy Kiwis … “Sweet as bro, yeh cool man, another beer … thanks man” …. Not me, that’s the New Zealander …

Tomorrow is a big day … with my darling wife Linda also coming on the Supporters Tour … so it’s not just Chimere that’s been getting a clean-up?! I might also get the opportunity to trade my bunk for a real bed up at the Melanesian …

Smooth seas, fair breeze and one more sleep

Back in Port Vila again

Monday 2 October 2017
Waterfront seawall, Port Vila

 

A series of tacks between Malekula and Ambrym Islands through the night, then a long tack to get into the lee of Epi in the early morning, then saw us on a steady course to Efate and our eventual destination Port Vila.

The wind held from the East- Southeast at around 20 knots and with moderate seas we were able to make up time, with our speed regularly hitting over 8 knots

Devil’s Point was rounded in daylight and from there it was a steady 1-2 hour slog into the wind with the lights of Port Vila in the distance.

Once in the harbour we picked up a mooring around 7:30pm, finally turned off the engine and breathed a sigh of relief – the four medical missions for 2017 were now at an end.

It didn’t take long for bags to be packed and for Barry and Annette to take their leave via a short dinghy ride to the shore. Their prompt departure can be put down to Barry’s wife Andrea having flown in earlier in the day and Annette’s husband Martyn meekly waiting ashore for the safe return of his wife.

Meanwhile, onboard, Cathy and Matt cooked up a lovely dinner and sleep soon followed.

Tuesday
The day dawned sunny and with plans set for a sumptuous breakfast together ashore at Jill’s Café, (at the amazing sleep-in hour of 9:00am) we first made arrangements to bring Chimere to the sea wall.

This is always a nervous time, that involves first, backing Chimere (straight) towards the solid seawall while, second, picking up a mooring line at the bow and shore-line at the stern. The lines fore and aft are then tensioned to keep the stern just the right distance from the concrete wall.

In the end it was a text book landing, with Matt taking charge of the bow, Cathy of the stern and the Yachting World staff in their boat helping at all points.

Breakfast was indeed a decadent feast compared to what we have been used to for several weeks aboard and it was great to catch up with Andrea and Martyn.

The rest of the day just seemed to disappear, with the dental and mission equipment and supplies being retrieved from Chimere’s foredeck in the afternoon, interspersed with ongoing cleaning, tidying and for some reason, a regular urge to lie down and fall asleep.

Oh, there was also Wellan’s bag of fresh fish, placed in our freezer up in Sola, Vanualava, what seems ages ago now. This was an impulse-purchase Wellan made off a local banana boat fisherman as we all stood in the shallows waiting to head out to Chimere for the last time before heading home. “Hurry up Wellan!” someone yelled in Bislama … “He doesn’t have change of a 1000 Vatu note!” called back Wellan. Solution … “Buy more fish Wellan !!” Which quickly had Wellan climbing into the dinghy with a bigger than usual bag of fish to be placed in Chimere’s freezer for the return voyage. I’ve no doubt that’s a fisherman’s sales tactic used the world over – and not just by fishermen!

Barry and Andrea generously hosted a dinner for all available team members and partners – still in Port Vila – up at the Melanesian Hotel – and it was great to catch up with Wellan, Barkon and Bob again, plus of course Martin and Deb. Richard, sadly couldn’t make it along because of a recent death in the family.

Wednesday
With the Supporters Tour starting in two day’s time, and around 20 people coming over to Port Vila to enjoy something of the “local experience” it was now time to give thought to all the many loose ends that needed to be addressed.

This took most of the day, with time also shared with fellow yachties and new best friends from a yacht also tied up at the waterfront – Amos & Anat Raviv, off their yacht “Amosea Island”. Their stories of sailing from Israel, of family, and of life generally were fascinating and Barry, Andrea and I had a lovely coffee and cake aboard their beautiful yacht before Barry and Andrea headed off to the airport to visit the volcano down on Tanna for a couple of days.

In reflecting on Barry’s short time in Vanuatu, he could almost be described as a volcano-chaser, having sailed past the Gaua volcano, Mt Garet, evacuated 29 people from the newly-awakened Ambae volcano, seen close-up from at sea the glow of Ambrym’s two volcanos Mt Benbow & Mt Marum and is now heading down to Tanna’s Mt Yasur to stand on the rim and look into its exploding cauldron of molten earth.

Living on the edge Barry ?!

It’s now Thursday 5 October – a public holiday, Constitution Day ! So things are even sleepier than usual … but there’s a rumour (my friend) the President will be speaking somewhere today, so I’m going to check it out. And I’m also meeting with Kalmaire from Paunangisu Village to iron out any last-minute details for the Village Experience Day next Monday and the Supporters Tour generally.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and time to head south

Rob Latimer

Time to head south

Sunday 1 October 2017
At sea, between Luganville and Port Vila

After yesterday’s excitement, the still, sunny warmth of the morning saw each of the crew emerge in their own time. Unusually there were six other boats anchored around us off the Beachfront Resort, making it a delicate procedure last night to pick our way through the crowd by torchlight, finding a spot a respectful distance from others, but still in a deep, safe spot close to shore.

Matt brought the dinghy, still tethered to the stern, around to the portside and we pumped it up a bit more.

Breakfast was had and around 9:00am, Annette, Cathy, Barry and I headed off to the town wharf-for-small-boats, located around the back of the Santo Hardware and a short distance from the fuel station across the road; a dinghy ride of about 10 minutes at top speed.

Jay met us at the refuelling station to obtain his optical test-case and we briefly discussed the last few weeks of mission activities and his return to work tomorrow heading up the PCV Prevention of Blindness Program in Luganville.

After filling up our four, 20 litre drums with diesel, having an ice-cream – all except man-of-steel Barry it must be said – it was back across the road to the dinghy where we said good-bye to Jay.

Back aboard Chimere, we raised the dinghy to the deck, poured most of the diesel into the tank, had lunch then up-anchored and set sail down the Segond Channel – Luganville to our port and Aore Island to our starboard.

It was 12:45pm by the time we departed and although our 160 mile course would have us heading into the prevailing south-east wind for most of the next day and a half, the wind was mercifully still out of the east ( well off our port bow) and the seas were mild. Consequently, our speed regularly hit 7.0-7.50 knots, with good ol’ Perkins giving us at least half of that.

In the distance, off the port side, Ambae Island could still be seen with its ominous smoke trail, indicating that it was still very much alive and dangerous. Three further trading vessels could be seen heading in the direction of the island, continuing the evacuation that would likely last all week. With the last of the 3G TVL communications we were pleased to learn that the Australian Government had offered assistance and we assume this includes naval and air support plus shelter and food for at least some of the 11,000 evacuees.

The front cover of the local newspaper bought while we were in Luganville read … “VANUATU ‘NOT READY’: PM”, Vanuatu Daily Post. Which is a refreshingly honest statement from a politician, let alone the Prime Minister; Mr Charlot Salawai. But the sad reality is, Vanuatu faces many natural threats such as cyclone, tsunami, earthquake and of course volcanos (of which there are currently seven) and with limited resources even in the good times, they rely on friendly (wealthy) neighbours such as Australia and New Zealand to help out in times of need.

As the sun went down, we were still plugging our way south, with the island of Malekula off the starboard beam, all the while reminding me of the many times sailing the waters of Bass Strait, particularly as thousands of shearwaters, (mutton birds) crossed our bow in a steady stream.

Never before have I seen so many birds in Vanuatu, and I had no idea these birds were found in such numbers here. Then Cathy suggested, “maybe they are migrating south for summer”. Which made more sense, given these birds winter in the northern hemisphere – as high as Alaska I believe – and then return to the same burrow each southern summer, in New Zealand and Australia. It made sense that if this was October, and the birds needed to be south in time to breed over summer, then they would be passing through here about now.

The birds kept flying, from north east to south west, and our view of them only stopped when the sky was finally dark.

Despite the rocky conditions, Annette prepared a wonderfully tasty curry and kumala feast with the last of the mince as Matt and I started a 3 hour on, 3 hours off, watch through the night, with Cathy, Barry and Annette sharing duties as desired.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and time to head south

Rob Latimer

Boat people of Ambae

Saturday 30 September 2017
Asanvari, Maewo

 

Having made our promise to assist Chief Justin with the evacuation of his list of 28 people from Lolowai (Ambae Island) to Luganville (Espiritu Santo Island) – a journey of around nautical 55 miles – we first had to make it to Lolowai.

The agreed pick-up time was 8:00am, so we were up and away from beautiful Asanvari around 6:00am for the 10 mile hop across. There was still no sign of Chief Justin, who was expected to return from his “research-mission” trip yesterday afternoon, so we assumed he ended up staying the night in Lolowai. My many phone calls to him throughout the late afternoon and evening remained unanswered, but I assumed he was … “out of credit” … a familiar message everyone hears on their phones here.

We arrived at Lolowai around 7:45am, and made it into the narrow pass around the stern of patrol boat 02 RVS Tukoro, after first radioing our intentions on Channel 16. Entering the bay we saw two coastal traders already loading people and their belongings. One a red landing barge with her ramp down on the main beach below the hospital, the other a black vessel only it’s mother could truly love, anchored a little way off the beach, using its large dinghy – back and forth – loaded each trip with what seemed like perilously little freeboard. We were familiar with this black vessel, because it was tied behind us at the commercial wharf in Luganville a couple of days earlier when we’d refilled with water. We’d got to know Captain John and half expected to see him again this time.

Meanwhile, things appeared calm onshore, although there was a large number of people and their personal belongings onshore at the main beach, obviously waiting to be loaded onto the two ships and more that would inevitably come throughout the day. Otherwise it was a gloriously sunny morning, in one of the best anchorages to be found.

The phone rang, it was Chief Justin. “Hello Robert, I called a few times, I have your fruits, bananas and things, here for the petrol”
“Good morning Chief Justin, where are you?” I inquired.

“I am here in Asanvari. We came back last night. Where are you? ” came the reply

“I’m in Lolowai, as we agreed yesterday, for the 8:00am pick-up. Is everyone ready onshore do you know? Who was the contact person?_I replied

”Sorry tumas, it was very busy yesterday and we came back late. The contact man in Lolowai is a man called Lesley Mera, I will give you his number, he is expecting you. And my brother, Anthony is on the patrol boat Tukoro”.

I reassured Chief Justin that it didn’t matter about the fruit and 10 litre fuel container, but that I would call him once I’d got everyone aboard.

Knowing there would be delays in loading everyone, my “drop-dead-departure-time” to get away from Lolowai, was around 9:00am, in order to return to Luganville in daylight; and of course have time to unload everyone.

Finally, after maybe six or more trips to and from the landing beach, it was around 10:30 that we finally made our way out of the short Lolowai Bay channel, over the coral, and into open water,

All aboard Chimere was ready to receive our guests. Everything was packed away, we all wore our “official” MSM and PCV shirts. I even dug out some yellow fluro vests I’d bought at one time, in order to convey a greater sense of confidence and reassurance … plus I got to wear my “Captains Cap” … for the same reason … any other time it had just been a bit of a pretentious joke. Given the number of caps that seem to blow overboard, the latest cap I had been wearing said “Knackered Sailor”, which even I though a bit inappropriate given the circumstance.

The loading process started with maybe 5 phone calls to Lesley. The first around 7:45am along the lines of … “Good morning Lesley, I have been told you are the man in charge … how many people are there … and is everyone ready?

“Yes, good morning Robert, we are just finding a couple of vehicles to transport the people and their things, maybe we be there at 8:30”

Around 8:45am and still no sign of our passengers, my next call … “hello Lesley, we need to be away at 9:00am, are you nearly here … remember it’s not the main landing beach under the hospital, it’s the beach around the bay, under the trees, close to where we are anchored?”

“We are nearly there, just a few minutes”

Meanwhile we had two visits from the Maritime Police tender off the patrol boat to check on our purpose, intentions, contacts, that we understood the process of providing a list of all the people loaded and registration at the other end etc, and that we were in fact taking everyone to Santo, not places like Asanvari (where we’d come from that morning) where there was a perceived Tsunami threat in the event of an earthquake.

The men off the patrol boat were very respectful and professional, great blokes and one of course was Chief Justin’s younger brother Anthony. “Tank yu tumas for what you are doing, we really appreciate your assistance” each of them said.

“You guys have got a big job, how many people are you evacuating? I asked.

“About 11,000 people. We will be here till next Friday. Yes, it’s a big job. Tank yu tumas for your help”

Finally our people arrived at the beach and we began the process of loading – luggage first. Fortunately, the many medical transport missions we have conducted around the islands has made Chimere and her crew proficient at moving people and stuff.

But I hadn’t fully realised, 29 people (yes, 29, not 28 as originally suggested) have a lot of stuff! Not just bed-rolls, woven mats, carry bags, stripy bags and back-packs, but bags of rice, bags of bananas, bags of miscellaneous stuff, and a piglet in an old sugar bag. I first realised it was a piglet when someone stepped on a bag in the dinghy as were coming off the beach and the bag squealed something dreadful. “It’s a pig!?” I exclaimed … to the laughter of all.

Oh, and there’s the request I’m not likely to here again for sometime … “do you have a fridge that I can put my bats in?”. Yes, that’s right “bats”, not cricket bats, but tasty flying fox bats. Two of them in a plastic bag – dead mercifully.

Around 10:00am, with Chimere crowded with people, all finding their spot for the journey – mostly women and babies in the cockpit, boys and men up the bow and children and older women and men on the foredeck as I was gaining confirmation from Lesley that … “is this all?” … there was the call, there are two more people.

“where are they?” I half pleaded.

“They come soon” was the reply.

I returned to the beach with Lesley, as the big black coastal trading vessel left the bay loaded down with people and belongings, to hand over the written “final list of names” to the land-based police, who were assisting in the evacuation.

“Where are the two extra people I asked Lesley. We need to go. Are they coming now? Do they have much stuff?” I asked as we landed on the beach, the crowds of people (and piles of gear) increasing as more and more small banana boats began appearing to evacuate family and friends

“There’s the truck now, with the extra two people” called Lesley as we went off to let them know we were leaving and that they should put their stuff in the dinghy pronto. No wonder they had their own truck … they had a lot of gear … but we were so far into the process, it was now just a case of … “load it on, let’s go”

Meanwhile, as I stood in the shallows holding the bow of the dinghy, a French journalist from Noumea, who’d apparently come in on yesterday’s flight, approached me again for information on the situation and what we were doing. She then lifted her video camera onto her shoulder and pushed a microphone forward – this really was a one-woman travelling media unit – “can you tell me what you are doing ere …”

My impromptu “media commitments” complete … and more importantly, the dinghy loaded, the final-final list handed over (and photographed on my iPhone), Lesley and the two extras onboard, we made our way back to Chimere for the last time.

Chimere was still high in the water as I approached, which was a good sign, albeit down in the bow because of the big crowd and with a list to starboard on account of the gear on deck, but overall she looked good.

It was then a case of passing the last of the stuff up from the dinghy and tying her astern – there was definitely no room for the large dinghy on deck !

I did my “welcome and instructions” speech, covering everything except the… “brace position”, “tightening your safety belt”, “stowing the tray table” and “putting your seat in an upright position for landing” … but there was definitely a section on toilet use (and avoiding abuse), lifejackets, always hanging on when moving around and “look to the crew for instructions”. I think I might have said, the crew are in fluoro vests, but then as someone said to me earlier … “they’ll know who we are because we are the white ones” mmm… very true

It was then time for a short prayer … for safety and for those whose lives are being affected by the volcano and the emergency service personnel who are working so hard.

It was then time to up-anchor and away.

Out from land, we gained clear air and set the sails. It was then time to put up awnings as shelter from the sun for those on the foredeck. Cathy and Annette in their official PCV shirts, did amazingly with handing out drinks and snacks, and Cathy took charge of the piglet-in-a-bag, hanging it from a frame at the mast and providing some shade

The sail across to Luganville was a mixed bag … starting at 8 knots plus, with a steady trade wind up our stern quarter, followed by no wind, then wind on the nose, then a return of wind on the beam and slightly lumpy seas. It was these lumpy seas that coincided with me having a couple of hours sleep below, as Matt took charge.

My return to deck was greeted by Matt’s comment … “been a few sick boss” … Sure enough, there were a few suffering in silence, gazing out to space, lying listlessly, or with heads over the toerail.

Up on the bow and foredeck “the lads” were moistly laughing and joking when they weren’t sleeping.

The sun set as we approached the entrance Luganville harbour, with a general feeling of excitement and expectation settling over the human cargo, knowing that this part of their journey was soon at an end.

Chimere’s crew were also pleased the eight hour journey was at an end, it must be said, but as the “drop-off” wharf got closer and the sky grew darker the concern about docking in the dark grew. Fortunately we had been here before in filling the water tanks, but of course that was in daylight.

All the lines were made ready, the sails dropped and all fenders deployed on the port side as we made our approach. “Oh, the dinghy behind!!” came the call … “someone shorten the lines!”

With only one boat at the wharf, and the black ships mentioned earlier on our tail, in the end our “landing” was very respectable, with many hands there in the torchlit darkness to take our lines.

In fact on shore there was a marquee, men with clip boards, officials in fluoro vets (just like me), police, media with video cameras and crowds of others. Once secured a policeman came aboard and thanked us for our assistance and Lesley came over to organise the disembarkation through a roped off corridor to ensure the crowd and the evacuees didn’t mix. The luggage was then man-handled piece by piece into a sizeable pile, no doubt to be claimed and removed soon after.

The big black vessel made motions to dock in front of us and was getting closer and closer, but the system of people removal required that everyone needed to pass through the roped-off corridor, and they could not dock until we had departed, the “gate” being at our side.

An official man with a mega-phone, then began yelled very loudly something like “Yu NO STAP LONG PLES HIA !!!” … “Yu WAITEM NO MO” in short … DO NOT DOCK HERE … YOU MUST STOP & GO AROUND & WAIT”

By this time the black ship was very close but finally got the message and thought better of docking in the vacant space ahead of us.

Soon after all this we made the final checks … 1. Bats out of fridge 2. Pig-in-bag off boat 3. All bags collected 4. Sign final release with clip-board man concerning numbers delivered, vessel name, captain etc.

Around this time Jay, the PCV Luganville eyecare worker came down to the wharf to meet us in order to pick up his “test case”, but as he described later in his quiet way … “there were a lot of people and the security wouldn’t let me near. But I saw you drive away and the other boat had to wait for you to first unload”

Once away from the wharf we tooted our horn at the big black boat in fun and headed away to a quiet anchorage off the Beachfront Resort, our regular spot, passing the impressive tall ship “Tenacious” (out of Southhampton) tied up at the cruise ship wharf. Tenacious being a three masted, 200 foot sail training ship run by the Jubilee Trust for people with disabilities and a vessel we passed in March when she was anchored off Refuge Cove, Victoria.

The anchor down, Barry prepared a rice and out-of-the-can meal (chunky beef I think) and we sat around and relaxed, discussing the events of the day. It truly was a day to remember

Tomorrow, permission was given for everyone to sleep in, with our big plan being to buy more diesel – our supply getting short on account of the day’s activities – and start heading south to Port Vila where we are due on Monday or Tuesday.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and the boat people of Ambae

Rob Latimer