Monday 16 September 2013

At sea – Loh to Santo

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

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

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

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

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

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

A coconut drink never tasted so good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smooth seas, fair breeze and  farewell Mission 3

Rob Latimer
www.msm.org.au

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

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