2017 Mission 4

Introducing … two new Ni-Vanuatu friends

September 2017,

MSM Vanuatu Mission 4

Since its inception MSM has encouraged Ni-Van workers to be involved in mission, and is delighted this year to be working alongside Vanuatu MOH dental colleagues on the National Oral Health Survey 2017. MSM Mission 4 to the Banks Islands had five Ni-Vanuatu staff in the medical team, including two newcomers, 34 year-old Oral Health Therapist, Barkon Japheth, and 27 year-old dentist, Dr Wellin Jerethy, both currently employed at Vila Central Hospital dental clinic.


(Front l-r, Oral Therapist Barkon Japeth & dentist Dr Wellin Jerethy with Bob and Richard behind)
Japheth, who prefers to be called by his family name, was born on Aore, a small island off Santo, the largest island in the archipelago. His father was a farmer and a teacher, consequently Japheth and his four brothers and one sister attended several schools on Ambrym, Malekula, Efate, and Aore. Japheth remembers growing up adhering to traditional village ways with island food, singing, and dancing. Some of his favourite boyhood games seem remarkably familiar… shooting down a stack of empty cans, hopscotch, skipping, swimming, and snorkelling.

Later as a teenager he enjoyed hunting wild birds, goats and cattle. As an adult he currently plays rugby with a team in Port Vila.


(Japeth attends to an emergency case on Chimere’s foredeck while Matt Latimer looks on)
Japheth undertook Science studies in Port Vila with aspirations to pursue a career in Medicine. After three unsuccessful attempts to gain entry into Medicine, however, his mother, Linda, prayerfully encouraged him to pursue a course of study in oral health therapy in Fiji. Following acceptance into the three-year course Japheth graduated in 2013 and joined the VCH dental clinic in 2014.

Having always enjoyed doings things with his hands, including drawing, Japheth has thrived in his work and particularly loves to help people and make them happy. He enjoys educating patients and gets great satisfaction out of seeing the fruits of his work. His occupation has also introduced him to many new friends.
Japheth attended the survey training course at VCH and had heard a lot about MSM before his boss, Dr Maine Rezel, encouraged him to join Mission 4. He has learnt a lot from the mission and is pleased to have made more new friends. The only downside was a dislike for the motion sickness during some of the rougher sailing legs, but fortunately this was controlled with medication and was not such a big problem as time went by.

Japheth regularly attends the SDA church and the highlight each year is Christmas spent with all the family at his parent’s home on Ambrym.
Japheth does not intend to continue working as a dental therapist. He has been awarded a scholarship to return to study to become a dentist, so that he can offer a greater range of skills to serve the people in Vanuatu.


(Wellin conducts an Oral Health Survey on a child, but on other days was extracting teeth and relieving pain as quick as the injections took effect)
Dr Wellin Jerethy has an interesting story, which motivated him to become a dentist. Born in Tenmaru village in the Big Nambas area in the NW of Malekula, he has two brothers and three sisters. Growing up he remembers handline and spear fishing, climbing trees, swimming and soccer. In the evenings he and other boys would hang out on the beach to listen to the men tell stories over a shell or two of kava. He attended primary and secondary school up to year 8 at Lakatoro, the provincial centre of Malekula. He then moved on to years 9 and 10 at Epauto Secondary School in Port Vila and Malapoa College for years 11 and 12. After completing the Pacific Adventist University Science Foundation he successfully completed the 5-year BDS degree at the University of Papua New Guinea, and was the first dental graduate from Malampa Province in Vanuatu. Wellin was brought up in the SDA church and learned to appreciate the sacrifices his parents made to educate him and his siblings. Both parents were unemployed and had to work very hard doing odd job such as making copra and working in their gardens to pay for the school fees. Wellin said that his parent shaped the lives of all his family and he owes everything to them.

Returning to the reason he wanted to become a dentist, Wellin recalls as a child listening to his mother crying in pain from toothache during the night, and vowed that he would help her. As a second year student he came home already armed with the knowledge to extract his mum’s rotten teeth that had caused her so much pain. He has since made her partial dentures to replace the missing teeth and plans to provide a more fixed solution for her missing teeth. Following his graduation from UPNG Wellin completed his two-year residency at Port Moresby General Hospital before returning home in 2017 to join VCH where he currently works. Even as a student he returned home every year to help people in his home villages and intends to continue this service to his people.


(l-r, Wellin and Japeth relax in the village at the end of a long clinic – pulling teeth and conducting the National Oral Health Survey)
Wellin loves his job and has three major ambitions… to continue serving his people, to undertake a program at Otago University in NZ leading to a Master degree in Clinical Dentistry, and to set up a private dental clinic named after his mother, Alphine, to offer free dental treatment to people on weekends and public holidays. He feels passionate about improving oral health in Vanuatu and is willing to do anything and go anywhere to help make it happen.

Wellin also came to the VCH training and volunteered to join MSM Mission 4 because he wanted to visit islands where there are no regular dental services and to help people in need. He loves his job and feels happy whenever he has the opportunity to help others. He enjoyed the mission, made new friendships and felt part of the family on Chimere.
Thank you Japheth and Wellin for your expertise and contribution to the National Oral Health Survey, Vanuatu 2017, and all the best for the future.

Dr Barry Stewart

Young doctor finds his feet – at sea and on land

27 October 2017

As Chimere continues her return voyage from Vanuatu to Australia we hear from Dr Jeremy Duke … yes, son of the famed, 9-time Vanuatu volunteer, Dr Graeme Duke  … but carving his own path on Mission 4 of the recently completed MSM Vanuatu 2017 mission.   In his own words, Jeremy looks back on his 2 weeks away with new insights …

Come sail with me… a brief reflection from the ship’s junior doctor: 

Feeling a bit seasick? Just down a glass of seawater, said my Vanuatu taxi driver.

Well, I can’t say I came across medical evidence for that one when researching what tablets I was going to bring along. That might not be your preferred method of curing sea-sickness either, so come with me on a brief journey through the Penama and Banks group of islands in Vanuatu’s north, a splattering of odd shaped islands covered in dense green foliage.

Apart from an occasional smoke plume rising into the blue sky, the Ni-Vanuatu (Ni-Van) people are mostly hidden amongst the banyan, coconut, banana and mango trees. That is, until you sail close enough to a village to attract the attention of local children, who upon seeing you anchor will jump in the water to greet their visitors with wide smiles and hand-shakes!

Dr Jeremy Duke and Dr Graeme Duke set up their medical practice for a day’s work in the village … next …
 

Over the 16 days of MSM Mission Four, we ran 7 clinics across 6 islands. While the main aim of the mission was to complete a National Oral Health Survey of the Ni-Van people, we also provided dental, optometry and medical care. 

Now young lady … what can I help you with today …?
 

The majority of our medical care revolved around key non-communicable diseases: hypertension, diabetes, obesity. 

High blood pressure is common – partly due to eating large amounts of salt, and cooking with sea water. How about blood sugar? If it’s higher than 30 in Australia, you’d be onto medications right away – and maybe even score a hospital admission. In Vanuatu, the access to medications by locals is difficult – impacted by cost, varying distance to your local dispensary, and health literacy.

Jeremy Duke and Matt Latimer strike a poignant pose as Chimere sets sail from Luganville on her final medical mission for 2017 with 15 people on board

So what difference can we actually make? Those times when you make a visible difference to someone are extremely valuable, and I’m grateful for our timing, such as …

 

  • … treating bronchitis in a heavily pregnant woman so she can breathe without difficulty
  • … bringing back an asthmatic from a coma
  • … draining an abscess on a 3 year old’s thigh.

 

Is that an insect in that 6-year old’s ear? Only one way to find out… 

But what about when we’re not there? The nurses and midwives who station the hospitals and clinics throughout these islands do a formidable job. There are few, mostly no doctors in these regions, and they are both the front-line and the rear guard, when it comes to diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care.. 

Thankfully, developments of the most valuable kind are underway! I was amazed to see how the baton of dental and optometry work is being passed onto capable Ni-Vans.  Five of our 15-strong team for our mission were Ni-Vans, local people. Although the numbers are small, Ni-Vans are being trained as doctors. The island nation only has enough to staff its central hospitals. We all look forward to the day when we can take Ni-Van doctors out to provide the healthcare themselves!  Providing healthcare in remote parts of Vanuatu was rewarding and fun, but our eyes must look forward – over the white-topped waves, around the network of banyan tree roots, through the cloud peaking the deep green mountain, to a sustainable and truly Ni-Vanuatu health service! 

Thanks for your prayers and support for our mission 🙂 

Jeremy

Bringing her home #4

23rd Oct 2017
Hi there Family and Friends,
Well if yesterday was special then today was magnificent to say the least. We arrived at Chesterfield Reef at about 0830 – look it up on GoogleEarth. It is a vast reef arrangement about 67nm long by 38nm wide containing a huge lagoon about 45m deep pretty much in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It has a variety of sand cays scattered around its perimeter and we are nestled in a group of them in the SE corner. Arriving in light wind we had men up the rat line scouring the horizon for land and surf – Cam gave us the ‘Land Ho’ signal first.
What hit us first was the absolutely iridescent turquoise water over the white sand as we approached the fringes of the lagoon – so much that any birds flying by with white underneath actually glow turquoise – we even saw clouds with a turquoise underside. We have decided that the most appropriate term for the colour is “Turquidescence”.


Once we approached the cays it became most evident that they are absolutely covered in about a gazillion birds including Boobys (red foot, yellow foot etc), Gannets, Frigate Birds and Terns of all types. They are roosting on every low shrubby tree, on the ground, in the grass and on the beaches everywhere. It seems to be the time of year for the young to arrive so there are a multitude of fuzzy fluffballs and attempted first flights alongside parents shading eggs pretty all over the place. The sound of their calls is perpetual and persistent and the fact that they don’t bump into each other without air traffic control or radar is phenomenal. Along with the birds we have enjoyed seeing a variety of fauna such as:


– Loggerhead turtles (yes Loggerhead turtles!!) They are SO big and are laying eggs at the moment – we gave up counting their tractor tracks up the beaches and are thinking about visiting at night to watch them lay.
– Sea snakes in the water.
– Black tip reef sharks, chased by our most wild hunters with spears and clubs.
– Bright red hermit crabs hiding in the shade of anything they can find, in large groups.
– While snorkelling we spotted fish of all colours including blue, yellow, striped yellow and black and bright coral trout.
– And we found gorgeous complete Nautilus shell.


A couple of other things to note:
– Cam is wearing a custom built ‘holiday shirt’ which was lovingly crafted by Suzi from two sarongs from Kupang – West Timor.
– Rob caught a decent Frigate Mackerel (a small Tuna) which has incredible red flesh – we enjoyed wasabi sashimi and curried fish, courtesy of our galley legend Gwylim, for dinner as a result.
– At sunset, we enjoyed some spectacular crepuscular rays and enjoyed learning a new word and a new nickname for Ray.
– We also enjoyed briefing Rob Latimer with a taste of the details of the day and our hopes for him to have a good day in the office, we received a one word reply……..
We will be hanging here for some exploration and relaxation and some jobs tomorrow before heading SW for SYD the following day.
Wishing you were here,
Jonno

[Photos kindly provided by previous visitors]

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

In the shadow of the volcano

Friday 29 September 2017
Asanvari, Maewo

The day began very slow and sleepy aboard Chimere; Asanvari is that kind of anchorage.

Having arrived just on dark last night there was no chance to go ashore to meet with any of the village leaders, but around 7:30am the first canoe could be seen heading our way from the main beach.

“Save a pancake” I said to Cathy in the galley, “we might have a guest”.

Our visitor introduced himself as Chief Justin and in a very humble and obtuse kind of way presented a problem … “that you might be able to help us with … but only if it’s not too much trouble … and if you can’t that’s fine … ”

As it turned out there was a boy in the village who had hurt his arm playing soccer and they needed to take him over to the Lolowai Hospital on Ambae. Plus they needed to bring back people being evacuated on account of the volcanic activity … and … “what we were after was some fuel … some petrol”

“Yes, we can help with some petrol, and maybe our nurse could have a look the boy. We’ll bring the fuel over in the dinghy shortly”

As he was leaving we asked Chief Justin how many people they were intending to bring across to Asanvari and he said around 150, with tomorrow set as the date for evacuation of the whole island.

“Would it be useful if we took our boat over to assist?”, we asked.

He agree this might be a good thing and we exchanged phone numbers when we met on the beach a short time later, after Cathy determining that the boy was fine and that the local nurse Olivette had done a great job bandaging up the graze.

After giving Chief Justin 30 litres of petrol (supposedly in exchange for some fruit … bananas, pamplemouse and especially mangoes) we waved him good-bye. Meanwhile the island of Ambae, 10 miles away was reasonably clear and silent, although as volcanologists would probably agree, looks can be deceptive. Apparently last week the explosions from the top of Ambae could be heard 20 miles away and were sending rocks into the sea several kilometres away; locals could see the splashes when they hit the water.

no images were found

Meanwhile we all enjoyed the snorkelling and the nearby waterfall, with our host (Chief)Alex showing us around and making us feel welcome. Also, Martin, a young boy of 10 (and brother of the boy with the sore arm) took Annette, Barry, Matt and Cathy on a guided tour of the village.

Mid-afternoon, I received a call from Chief Justin to say that he had spoken with the regional disaster coordinator and there was a view that Asanvari and the whole region of south Maewo and north Pentecost was still too close to Ambae to send evacuees, on account of the tsunami risk in the event of earthquake.

So the request from Justin was … “could we evacuate people 28 people to Santo … Luganville, tomorrow?”

This would mean going back to where we had started. But at least the wind would be from the behind.

“Yes, we can assist, we can be there at 8:00am tomorrow morning.”

Chief Justin was supposed to come back in the banana boat this afternoon, but we’ve seen no sign of him. Likewise, we haven’t been able to raise him on the phone … but that’s not so unusual in these parts.

The rest of the day was spent tidying up Chimere in readiness for the 90 minute sail across to Lolowai in the morning and the welcoming aboard of 28 people. From Lolowai to Luganville should be around an 8 hour sail, so we’ve organised some in-flight food for our guests. Just have to sort out the entertainment now.

In chatting with “waterfall chief”, Alex, he recalled the mud brick demonstration I did in the village back in 2010 and expressed interest in seeing it again. This involved an enjoyable walk up the mountain to obtain the clay, all the while learning more about this fascinating guy and the politics and history of the region.

As a past-meteorologist, journalist, radio station founder and business man, Alex is certainly not your average Ni-Van! After making 5 very handsome mudbricks and leaving him with an instruction manual, plus a mold we’d made from onboard materials, Alex promised to send me a photo of the building he intends to make from the bricks.

Barry led the charge in making dinner … a very tasty spag bol … after which he declared “there are no more condiments left in the galley”. Suggesting he might have been unclear which herb, spice and sauce to add, so he’d included them all.

With a big day ahead it was an early night for all.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and in the shadow of the volcano

Rob Latimer

Take me back to Asanvari

Thursday 28 September 2017
Asanvari, Maewo

[sailmail thought it was snailmail and took over a day to arrive]

After a gloriously still night on the mooring at Aore Island Resort, with the lights of Luganville across the Segond Channel, it was an easy departure around 6:00am. No need to winch aboard the chain and anchor, just a case of lifting the mooring line off the bow cleat and dropping it into the water.

Our destination this day was the beautiful anchorage at the village of Asanvari on the southern tip of Maewo Island. Sixty miles away and around 10 hours sailing, assuming we could average 6 knots and 12 hours at 5 knots.

The one thing we didn’t want to do of course was arrive in the dark and have to rely on the chart plotter and moonlight to determine where to drop the anchor.

In the end the sailing conditions could best be described as “varied”, with a brisk 25 knot south east wind keeping us on our toes for the open-water stretch between Luganville and Ambae, then very little wind in the lee of Ambae, then brisk conditions again from the eastern tip of Ambae to the sheltered west coast of Maewo.

Having mentioned the island of Ambae, I should also mention that it is currently in a state of heightened alert on account of the resident volcano reaching Category 4 on the five-point danger-scale. Fearing a major eruption, evacuations have started taking place and we saw from a distance the Vanuatu patrol boat picking people up along the north coast and dropping into Loloawai at the eastern tip of the island.

Our course along the north coast of Ambae might have appeared to be a case of “volcano chasers”, but it was the most direct and comfortable route to Asanvari, given the winds blow from the south east most of the time. It will also position us better for the serious run south to Port Vila in a couple of day’s time.

After some fast sailing at the beginning of the day, then some slow sailing into the wind after lunch, in the end we made it to the Asanvari anchorage at exactly 6:00pm, with 15 minutes of daylight up our sleeves.

It was quite a relief to find a sandy bottom in 13 metres of water in which to drop our anchor. After the lumpy seas experienced earlier, the stillness of this sheltered bay is fantastic, with the sound of a waterfall over the stern the only real noise from onshore. Above us, the stars are shining and the reflection of the half-moon on the water is enough to illuminate the dark outline of the distant headland and the high, jungle-covered island interior

Cathy and Annette had dinner ready for our arrival (great work !!) and after a 12 hour sail everyone seems ready for sleep.

There’s a gentle breeze outside now, but the stillness of this anchorage means we could almost break out the pool table?!

Captains orders for tomorrow are to … sleep-in at leisure … followed by a swim ashore to the waterfall … some snorkelling, plus a visit to the village to meet the people Mission 3 got to know while they were here running a medical clinic and Oral Health Survey about a month ago.

We might even spend tomorrow night here too.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and take me back to Asanvari …

Rob Latimer

End of Mission 4

(back at) Sola, Vanua Lava

Sunday 24 September 2017

A bit over 2 weeks ago four volunteer sailors, six medical volunteers, plus five local Ni-van medical folk – 15 people in all – came together for the start of Mission 4.

Talk about an eclectic group. But despite our many differences, we each shared a common goal of bringing medical, dental and optical care to the people of Vanuatu, while also conducting the vital National Oral Health Survey on behalf of the Vanuatu Ministry of Health.

Like a cross between Survivor and Big Brother, Mission 4 has been no different to the earlier missions. Life aboard a boat, in close confinement with almost total strangers, miles from anywhere, is a test of patience, endurance and tolerance; an experience through which you can learn more about yourself and others … or alternatively cry … “get me out of here!” … which fortunately no one did!

It was a peaceful anchorage last night at Vureas Bay, but with the promise of rain squalls, strong wind gusts and no chance of anyone sleeping ashore, we needed to find bunks for all 15 inside Chimere. It was full capacity and we nearly had to put the NO Vacancy sign out (there’s always room for more) and as a side-benefit it enabled me to once more sleep in the large dinghy on the foredeck, after first securing a tarp over top in the fashion of an A-frame tent.

In the end it was a bit wild and woolly with gusts down from the mountain, accompanied by rain, making you appreciate the qualities of our dear Chimere and the good holding-ground in this little corner of remote west-coast Vanualava.

Our purpose for stopping at Vureus was to locate a young boy, now a young man, named Adison, who had gone to Australia 12 years ago for facial reconstruction surgery. In 2009 and again in 2013 we had dropped by so that Graeme Duke and Richard Tatwin could do a follow-up medical examination and take photographs of his development.

Finding Adison has always been an issue, given the problems with communications and travel in these parts. But fortunately Richard was able to weave his magic late yesterday while ashore, and arrange for him to be delivered by truck to the nearby beach around 6:30 this morning.

In addition, there was Juliette with the dislocated jaw we’d found at the Sola clinic from two days ago. As it turned out she came from this side of the island too, the nearby village of Vatrata, and so rather than catch up with her upon our return to Sola this afternoon, she too was delivered to the Vureas Bay beach for pick-up early this morning; saving her the cost and risk of a ride back to Sola on the back of a truck with roads made extremely slippery from the rain.

With the pressure of meeting the daily “clinic-set-up” itinerary is now behind us, there was a bit of sleeping-in aboard today; including me. But by 7:00am, or thereabouts, Richard and I were heading down the coast in the small dinghy to the beach where a small group of people had gathered; including Chief John (from yesterday) little daughter and father Godfrey with an arm full of green vegetables for me.

Once ashore, all the introductions were made and it was decided that I’d take the extra six people back to Chimere in two groups so as to reduce the chance of getting our patients and guests (too) wet.

So it was for a time that Chimere had 21 aboard, including a local woman who attached herself to the group all the while holding her face as if in pain. “Just a bit off tut-ache, she needs some extraction”… explained Richard

Yes, she was in pain. Lots of pain. But pretty quickly, dentist Wellan had one of the dental chairs removed from the bulk-bag on the foredeck and with injection in hand, and with Chimere gently lolling up and down at anchor, and no sign of rain squalls, he found his target in the woman’s gum as she sat reclined, mouth wide open. It’s a sight I’ll long remember, with half a dozen others gazing on, or taking happy-snaps.

Two extracted teeth later she was again holding the side of her face, but this time packed out with a cotton wool pad to soak up the blood.

Young Adison’s father, Silas, also had a dental check-up, while Graeme made an assessment of Adison, now age 17. In summary, his face is growing normally, although his eyesight remains poor.

As for the lady with a dislocated jaw, she had her check-up and rather than opt for the brute-force, knee on chest, push it back into place option (my solution) those onboard with professional qualifications in this area recommended further anti-inflammatory medications and corrective surgery in treatment in Luganville which we will seek to arrange in the next few week

Time was ticking by and so with all the medical work completed it was back to the beach – six guests + me. Low freeboard for sure, but no one got wet because the wind was from behind and I went super-slow. On the beach it was emotional good-byes and Tank Yu Tumases all-round as we realized the finality of the moment.

Now, whose this coming along the beach towards me. It’s Chief Gra-ham !! I’d left a couple of messages on his mobile phone, and had all but given up thinking I would see him again after our chance meeting a few days earlier in Sola

“Hello Chief Gra-ham” I called, shaking hands while inviting him out to Chimere for a drink of coffee or tea.

Arriving back at Chimere there were some quizzical looks in my direction, along the lines of … “I thought we were up-anchoring?” The confusion was understandable, given I’d left with six passengers to then return with one … but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

“It’s Chief Gra-ham … put the kettle on !”, I yelled, as we clambered aboard and did the introductions

“Do you need a checkup Gra-ham? … body, eye, tut?”

At this stage Jay was called on to get his eye test-case out and assess Graham’s eyes … the verdict being he was able to prescribe and supply 2.50x reading glasses. A great result.

Now it really WAS time to up-anchor and so after hot-chocolates all round, I raced Chief Graham back to land for an emotional farewell. Oh, but not before getting Graham to take a group photo of us all on the foredeck – the official “after shot”

The sail south around the bottom of Vanualava, to Sola, was always going to be a challenge, given it was largely into the prevailing weather. In the end everyone held up well with the final approach to Sola, with the wind on our beam being a very pleasant thing.

We chose the lease-rolly part of the Sola anchorage and after food, rest, a wash, plus some cleaning up it was time to get the Ni-Vans ashore and plan tomorrow’s exit.

Those flying out of Sola tomorrow are Wallen, Barry Stewart, Graeme Duke, Jeremy Duke and Matt Latimer, with new passenger, and co-owner of Chimere Barry Crouch flying in to join us for the trip back down to Port Vila.

The plan at this stage is to set sail late afternoon tomorrow for a night-sail to Port Olry on the north east coast of Santo. From here the remaining four Ni-Vans, plus Martin and Deb, will catch a truck south to Luganville and home.

The remaining crew, plus new-man Barry Crouch, will then start the leisurely 6 day sail back to Port Vila.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and end of Mission 4

Rob Latimer

It’s hard to leave paradise

Saturday 23 September 2017
Vureas Bay, Vanualava

Things are winding down.

Our last official clinic and Oral Health Survey session for Mission 4 was yesterday at Ureparapara. So today was a big sleep-in day. Instead of getting away from the anchorage at 6:00am, it was a very sociable 8:00am by the time we were making our way out of Dives Bay; all the while gaping at the sheer green cliffs that surrounded us on all sides, except for the narrow strip of water before us.

Just prior to winching up the anchor we were joined by Chief John and (wood carver) Andrew in their canoes offering us a bag of fruit each and a heart-felt thanks and farewell.

Our meeting this time was so brief, yet the afternoon clinic yesterday was extremely well attended. Wellan’s oral health talk to the 50 or so gathered at the meeting-house at the end of the day was also listened to with great attentiveness. The message to brush your teeth with “wan Colgate” … was mentioned many times.

The sail south, back to the island of Vanualava – this time on the west coast – always had the potential to be problematic. That’s because the wind nearly always blows from the south east, and after a few days of this the seas begin to grow, making sailing back into these conditions very uncomfortable.

Fortunately, the wind had abated sufficiently over the last few days for the seas to settle and at the same time it had veered more “east” of south-east, meaning that we could hold a good course, in reasonable comfort. In fact for half of the time we had the engine off, making 7 knots and more with just the sails. Wellan, our Ni-Van dentist, had a go at the helm and did an great job.

After about 35 miles, our eventual destination was Vureas Bay. On the way, however, we made a stop-off at the appropriately named Waterfall Bay, where a large river, tumbles 15-20 metres onto rocks and then into a beautiful lake, before then flowing into the nearby sea. The whole thing is just so picturesque it has the makings of a scene from Lord of the Rings or Narnia.

The snorkelling on the nearby coral was also amazing and Martin once again gave the cry “turtle!” to which there was a chorus of Finding Nemo quotes along the lines of “Hey duuuude, ask him how to get to the EAC” and “Make sure you find your exit buddy”.

Consequently, after a couple of hours playing in, under, in front and on top of the waterfall, it was hard for everyone to say goodbye and return to the dingy for the ferry back to Chimere.

 

It was then a short hop down the coast to Vureas bay, and although the wind was right on the nose, we hoisted the “iron headlasil” and had a very pleasant motor (no-sail) to our anchorage.

A quick dash ashore, which I tell you about tomorrow.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and it’s hard to leave paradise

Rob Latimer