2017 Ships Log

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 🙂 


Bringing her home #7

27th October 2017

Hello Folks,

In the 24 hours to 9am this morning we achieved 196nm – quite a thing for Chimere as she would normally average 140nm. As mentioned yesterday this is courtesy of favourable winds and current and seas. Well the broad reach continued all night and into this afternoon. At 3am I got up for a shift and there is Rob, standing in front of the wheel. It’s dark but I can see a twinkle in his eye and a bit of a wry smirk across his mouth (both of which are pretty normal for Rob). I climbed the companionway and looked at the chart plotter – flop, 9.4 knots! “Yep, and I got her up to 10.2” says Rob “even got a photo…… she’s like a horse heading for home”

[best Rob L could manage 🙂 ]

The broad reach is the fastest point of sail and is around 135 degrees off the wind. Every windsurfer lives for broad reaches, that’s all you want. My Laser loves a broad reach, she gets excited and up onto the plane and hums a tune to me when we reach together. Yesterday we had a gentle broad reach all afternoon and evening, we were making good with 8 knots with the big reacher and main aloft, a current of about 1 knot which we measured when swimming, and good ‘ole ‘Perky’ assisting. It made for extremely pleasant sailing because the sea was pancake flat. Overnight that breeze picked up so Cam and Gwyl changed out the reacher for the jib and staysail.

After sunrise this morning the breeze picked up much more than forecast and the sea picked up a few notches too. We saw some fantastic little Storm Petrels today – dancing along the large moving waves with incredible skill – goodness knows where they live. Cam spotted a large shark in an adjacent wave, with fin out of the water – hmmm, half a day from our last swim. The waves were pretty big and rolling up behind us, sometimes breaking as Chimere slid slightly sideways down the face. At one point I turned to Rob to let him know I felt a bit scared – he said Chimere is big, heavy and well built, so we’d be alright. And then a minute later he said he’d be scared mountain biking downhill through trees and rocks which are hard when you land on them, that put it into perspective for me. Cam, Rob and Ray take it all in their stride and their confidence helps us newbies.

Today we turned on the water maker, which converts sea water to fresh water through reverse osmosis. It makes about 6 litres a minute. After an hour and a half Cam checked the water tank to find a fair bit of fresh water sloshing around the midship bilges because of a leak in the system. After a few ideas with all heads down holes we formed a chain and bucketed out what must have been close to 500 liters of water, at least the bilges got a rinse.

Fish for dinner again tonight, with sweet potato and onion mash – that Mahi Mahi will go a long way.

Heading your way,
Jonno and the gang.

Bringing Her Home #6

26th Oct 2017
Friends and Family,

Today has been a day of great progress on the water – despite the winds being relatively light we have had good wind angles and good current and some assistance with good ‘ole trusty Perkins (85 quality diesel horsepower). Right now we have the main and reacher filling with wind on the starboard aft quarter and are moving at 8 knots on a flat sea with virtually no rolling – gorgeous! It’s our first Starboard tack since Vanuatu.

Earlier today we were enjoying a calm sea when Cam noticed a large piece of white flotsam ahead – we headed over for a look while Rob enthusiastically lunged for the fishing line and had a lure in before you could say “who farted?”. On approach we could see that it was a large single use canvas bag and there were a few little fish hanging around under its shade. Suddenly we noticed some large flashes of colour below and Rob just went off – “Mahi Mahi ohhh look at that they are GORGEOUS ohhh”.

Mahi Mahi or Dorado or Dolphinfish are a deep sea fish known for their extreme beauty and great eating – their fins are iridescent blue, they are blue / purple on top with metallic gold sides with blue dots, these fish were about 1.2m long. They are known for living in groups up to 100 around even small pieces of flotsam – they are stunning really, look them up. They are a real prize for fisherman and Rob has been dreaming about them for ever. After a few laps around the bag Rob latched onto one and was reeling it in. It fought hard and jumped into the air several times. After a while he stopped winding and we had a go at wearing out the fish by driving the boat forward for 10 minutes or so. Eventually it was lying on its side so we got in to the boat, onto the gaff and on board. We tried the method of sedation using rum over the gills, and it worked a treat. After a photo shoot Rob spent about 2 hours preparing what is a lot of fresh fish, which we enjoyed tonight.

We stopped for another swim today – more amazing blue that seems to go for ever. This was after our more mature folk had a water fight with buckets on the deck.

Our Chief cook Gwylim has been treating us to a great variety of food so far including curried fish, chunky beef on pasta, vegetarian on pasta, coleslaw tuna salad, green salad, bangers and mash with onion gravy and Sri Lankan ‘Hoppers’ this morning – a combo of pancakes and fried egg. Today we baked some fresh bread and had hot bread and jam for lunch.

My sailing history is in dinghies, windsurfers and cats with a bit of yacht sailing with relatives in Sydney so this has been a real learning experience. It’s been great to sail with blokes who have raced the oceans and cruised the world and they are wise and patient in their teaching. I’ve learned about different bits and pieces like running back stays, the boom preventer and the barber hauler (which is not someone who pulls your hair out).

We are aiming for an arrival in Sydney before a Southerly which is forecast for Tuesday morning – will keep you posted.

This image showing the Chimere doing 9kts, which must be close to maximum. I think they are riding the EAC … dudes!
Rob Latimer

Bringing Her Home #5

25th Oct 2017
Monday was a very big day for us at Chesterfield – after the last blog we were lounging around in the evening wondering if we should go and try to spot a turtle on the beach, whilst we were all tired we agreed it was a chance of a lifetime so we seized the day and trundled off to our sand cay armed with torches. We trudged through the soft coral sand for probably half an hour before spotting a fresh set of tractor tracks up the beach, followed it up and there she was – a giant grey turtle shovelling sand with all flippers, sending it behind her with impressive strength.

Before I go on we would appreciate some help please. We aren’t completely sure that these are Loggerhead turtles because we think they have large longitudinal grooves down their backs, but these guys have smooth shells, but they are huge – at least 5 foot long and a very high and pronounced hump at the front, all dark grey in colour. Look them up and give us some options.
Anyway this female had laid her eggs and was filling up the hole which was probably 7 foot diameter with strokes of all flippers about 6 or 7 at a time. Then she would lay her head down and rest, often for a few minutes, before continuing. We left her for about 20 min before returning. She continued for a while and then turned around and headed for the water. These things are very fast and manoeuvrable in the water but definitely not on land, they must be 100s of kilos! We got to bed after midnight and slept in.
Next morning we were doing jobs like washing clothes all together on deck when Gwylim pointed an extra large turtle. After watching it rolling around on the surface for a while we noted there were three of them there – a large female and two smaller males – one on her back and the other waiting for a turn. We hadn’t come here expecting to see some turtle copulation!
That afternoon we got Chimere all ship shape for cruising, because the wind had picked up, and left the reef as a few other boats arrived – so blessed to have it to ourselves.

I want to share a few numerical insights with you all, because they are vital bits of information:
1. Our average age is 59.4 (as of today, which is Ray’s Birthday – “Hip Hip….Horaaay”)
2. Yesterday 4 of us went to the sand island, we all went for a swim, 2 of us skinny dipped.
3. We have caught 3 fish so far – easily enough for a few meals.
4. We are 8 days in and over a third of the way home. (the rest from here is just sailing).
5. 3 of us have thown up over the side.
6. At Chesterfield Reef we saw many islands. 1 of them had 1 Coconut tree sapling, and another had 3 coconut trees, that’s all.
7. Cam has been up the mast 2 times, at Pt Vila and Chesterfield Reef – I think he likes it up there.
8. Right now our Course over Ground is 200 degrees and speed is 6.5knots, in about 15 – 20 knots of wind.
9. 1 of us has a real beard, there are a few on the way now, but the Skipper seems to be giving up the chase every day. He is the cleanest, organised and sweetest smelling member on board, by far.

Last night it was rough and dark and we were pitching pretty hard, then Cam said “…..right now I wish I could cuddle up to Suzi……” Bugger – that made me think the same about my Robyn. A few hours later Ray and I were on watch in the dark when a Red Footed Booby flew up behind us to say g’day, after a few attempts it managed to land on the back davits (rails to hold the dingy up on the stern) for a rest, however it kept sliding off in the wind and would come and land again. It was very happy with itself! A minute later another one came, landed up wind of it and then slipped back and bumped the first one off and they both fell into the gloom together. This happened a few times, until the first one wouldn’t let the other on again – better than TV!
We are spending time sharing about our lives and our story with God – it is a blessing to be sharing a boat with such a quality bunch of God’s blokes.
Happy days folks – heading your way.

[Photos kindly provided by previous visitors]

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,

[Photos kindly provided by previous visitors]

Bringing her home #3

23rd Oct 2017
G’day readers,
This last period has seen us progress from the western end of Grand Passage through to 20nm east of the Chesterfield Reef. During that time the wind has continued to ease and vary in direction and we have had a number of sail changes in an effort to max out the power from the sails. The wind has come from the NW, W and SE so we have gone from poling out the staysail to reaching and close hauled with some motor helping us along.
Right now it is 4.20am and Ray and I have been sharing a pretty special experience – the sea is glassy, there is no moon and some stars are showing up and are reflecting off the water. Add to that a large presence of phosphorescence and you see the wash lightup brightly – AMAZING!
Yesterday afternoon the wind dropped enough for us to cut the motor, drop the sail and stop for a swim. Ray has been commenting on how blue the water is out here, and to dive around in it only reinforced that. It is SO blue. We were swimming in about 1500m of water and to look down into what appears a never-ending blue with goggles is pretty special.

A couple of other things to note:
– On the night of the 21st Cam saw the lights of two ships, interestingly they were from different places but were both 351m long.
– Porridge with banana, sultanas and peach with honey tastes pretty good.
– Gwylim (the singing chef) continues to deliver with an onion gravy bangers and mash enjoyed by all last night.
– We had an ‘all hands’ knot tying session on deck yesterday, practicing bowlines, clove hitches, rolling hitch and a variety of other knots. Cam showed us how he can tie a bowline loop with a flick of the wrist and a crack of the rope – THAT’S WHY HE IS THE SKIPPER!
– We are learning more of the navigation system which is a fancy RAYMARINE chart plotter and it is interesting to note that currents can play an important part in your progress against a course. Last night we changed sails in the dark during a wind change and I must say I couldn’t pick the direction without the compass and chart plotter.
– The auto helm continues to steer us along without complaining.
When the sun rises soon we will be close to arriving at Chesterfield Reef – hanging out to see the place. We are seeing increasing numbers of birds as we approach.
All the best,

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!

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!



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, 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.