Wednesday 20 May, 9.18pm (Port Resolution, Tanna)

After an early morning rain dump which had us scrambling to shut the hatches on deck, the day cleared sunny with a gentle breeze from the south east.

As we bided our time here at anchor, waiting for the medical team to arrive, we each found things to do. Most exciting amongst these activities was Will and Kathy’s horse ride to the volcano, complete with personal guide and cut lunch (from the boat.)

Will takes over the story …

“… after walking a couple of kilometres we were picked up by a 4wd and taken to a fork in the road, and from there we walked a further 30 minutes until we met our guide (and his cousin) and horses, who were trotting towards us. We were introduced to “Brownie” and “Beautie” who would be doing most of the work and given a crash course in horse riding … pull left, pull right, pull back, kick here … it was then a quick trip back to catch the guide’s horse. Pascal, our guide, then led us up to the volcano, initially through lush forest, and then over the ash plain which looked much like a moonscape. About 50 metres from the crater edge we dismounted and walked up to the high points of the crater so we could see in. Just as we arrived there was a massive BOOM and out spewed red hot lava up into the air where it then fell back onto the crater walls. The “feel” of the BOOM was something we had never felt before, it just went straight through you and to be standing over a hole, a crater, that led to the centre of the earth was awesome. The volcano is currently at Level 1, but our guide told us about a Japanese tourist and another guide who stood some distance from where we were when it was at level 4. Their bodies were found some time later and it was discovered that a molten rock had pretty much gone through both of them. It was surreal, standing up there, looking down onto a volcanic wasteland and then by contrast the lush green of the surrounding forest and the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean, amazing.

Our return trip brought us all the way back to the bay, (ie no walking or riding on trucks) most at a canter or gallop. It was a fast return. On the beach, in true movie style, the three of us galloped along the sand at the water’s edge, with the wind blowing in our hair. As it turned out, my horse – Brownie – didn’t like the waves and kept veering up the sand and into the trees. When it was all over, we tried to raise the boat on the radio, but the battery was dead, so after a long bout of yelling and whistling I started to swim. Three quarters of the way there I was met by one of the local fishermen – Sam – in his dugout canoe, I asked for a lift and he happily took me the rest of the way. Payment was made by sharpening his spear with one of our files, plus a gift of some chocolate which is hidden in almost every cupboard onboard. He was very appreciative.

I then dropped Rob and Andrew back onshore in the dinghy before going on to pick up Kathy … plus Pascal and his assistant, Andrew – who I took for a spin in the dinghy, plus a visit to the boat. They enjoyed this immensely. Along with Bob, we all had some coffee … and chocolate … then told some stories … headed back. Pascal thanked Bob for his stories.

So ended a wonderful experience”

I was down below when Bob came down the companionway ladder and through the saloon with the comment, “I’ve got to get a file to sharpen the man’s spear”. It suddenly struck me, “you don’t hear people say that much back home anymore!” Now this man in the canoe had a serious spear … three prongs of steel attached to a long wooden shaft about 6 feet long.

Earlier in the day, as Andrew and I did a trip ashore to seek out some more water, we looked back to Chimere and saw a lone canoe make its way to the side. We quickly raised Bob on the radio and said, “you’ve got a visitor Bob”. After returning with water Bob said, “it was a guy called Stanley who was wondering if we could take a photo of a boy in the village”. Later in the day Andrew and I went up to the village and found Stanley, who explained that one of the boys in the village was going to go to a French school and needed some photo ID, just something small like a Passport photo. Andrew had brought his camera in readiness and once the boy was found we took the photo and said we’d be back. We had passed a roadside stall next to the village on our short walk up from the beach and the lady nearby said to us, “did you get your bananas?” It took us a little while to realise that she was referring to the bananas that we were promised, after we’d divided up our fish, the day we arrived. We said no, and she said, “take these”. We asked if she enjoyed the fish, to which she smiled broadly. This turned out to be the local kindergarten teacher – Marina

Andrew and I returned to the boat with some water and quickly dug out the colour printer and some photo quality paper, linked it up to the computer and hey presto … a selection of photos, which we cropped down to size with some scissors were produced. Later in the day we returned to the village and gave the photos, plus a stack of exercise books and pens we have on board for such occasions (plus some chocolate … complements of Brian Taylor and Cadbury)to Marina. We would have given the stuff to Stanley himself, but the lady we met earlier – Marina – was his sister, so we gave it to her. Marina had three little kids, and one of the extra photos we did was of one of these kids. I’d been playing soccer with him and a few others while we chatted. The little boy had Thomas The Tank Engine pants and I explained that my little boy, Matthew, who is now 22, had a thing about Thomas (still has a thing about Thomas) when he was little – I tested the boy on Thomas’s friends … Edward, Percy, Gordon, Annie, Clarabell et el. I even did my best Ringo Starr voice and sang the intro music. They thought this was a great laugh, but they may have been laughing at me, rather than the performance.

As payment for the photos, Stanley had left a 6 foot long length of sugar cane for us. Being ignorant of such things, someone had to show us how to cut it into pieces and chew on the sweet insides.

The village itself is much as you would expect a village to be – straight out of the text book. Huts on wooden stumps with bamboo frames, woven mat walls and thatched roofs. The ground was well swept, there was no rubbish, there were chickens and piglets running around and every now and then you could see bamboo and wooden racks next to the huts holding pots and other valuable items. The surroundings looked like the tropical plant section of the Botanic Gardens. Every now and then there was a clearing, or a giant tree with roots coming down from the high branches to the ground and in one there was a big thatched tree house. At one end of the village there was an ocean beach, at the other was a lagoon inlet and in the middle there was a big grassy area where kids played soccer or ran around. Every now and then there was a community tap which kids played under, or from which containers were filled.

Apparently Stanley was not in the village because he had gone with a big charter boat as a guide tonight. The charter boat was here before we arrived on Monday and has been keeping a low profile, they’re anchored way out at the entrance to the bay. Our contact with the charter boat has been limited to a brief encounter yesterday when we passed their massive tender, which goes a zillion miles an hour. We were close to the beach at the time and on board were some very well manicured guests who I’m sure would not want to be getting their feet wet when they land. We had just been filling some water containers and I must confess to feeling somewhat grubby. As the two dinghies passed and we gave the standard wave, I felt a bit like Tom Hanks in Castaway, meeting civilisation for the first time …

Late in the day we met up with Don, Richard and the medical team who arrived from three days work amongst the villages between here and Lenakel. They had lots of stories about rugged coastlines, rough tracks and bush toilets and showers they have experienced. Our encounter was only brief as they still had to find accommodation for the night and a meal, with less than an hours daylight up their sleeve. (The fallback position was for them to stay aboard the boat) Tomorrow there will be a clinic in the village near here and we will dig out some more of the boxes of glasses we have transported so that they can be dispensed.

I’m looking forward to pinning one of the medical people down so as to get their side of the story so far. On Friday and Saturday we will be transporting them up the coast a short distance to run medical clinics at Sulphur Bay and Waisisi. We have charts for Waisisi, but I may track Stanley down tomorrow for a few tips on Sulphur Bay – hidden rocks etc. I may even see if he wants to come for the ride – or as a paid guide – depends a bit on the cost.

To top the day off, I even did some washing of clothes. It’s good drying weather and we have access to water, although the man at the “yacht club” asked us not to fill up any more water containers from their tap. He said his tank up the hill was getting low and water from the mountain was not coming down at the usual rate and he had a few guests arriving tomorrow and Friday. It was no real problem … we seem to know so many people at the local primary school and village next door that after a few initial inquiries, Marina walked us down to their tap and no one had a problem with us filling up there.

It really is lovely water.

Looking back on the day, we don’t seem to have done a lot, but we are all very tired. It’s now nearly 10:00pm, Will and Kathy are up on deck trying new ways to catch fish, Andrew’s gone to bed and Bob is still working his way though the book Dynasty. As I mentioned earlier, the book was missing the first 160 pages and he now reckons there’s a few more pages missing so it’ll probably go over the side when he’s finished what’s left.

The weather chart says there’s a change on the way, both in strength and direction. We’ll keep a check on this over the next couple of days, but this is still a wonderfully quiet anchorage. There’s a small swell coming into the bay now, but after Lenakel, I don’t hear any complaints.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and getting to know the locals

Rob