Monday 8 June, 9.27pm (anchored at Esema, Efate)

Our new (private) name for the blog – “Medical Sailing Miniseries.” Do you think it will catch on?

We couldn’t manage to transmit anything on sailmail, wireless internet or phone across Saturday night and Sunday morning, although we were still receiving messages (nothing to do with the competence of the operators of course). Everything apart from the supermarket had closed down from Saturday lunchtime through to Monday morning for the Sabbath break, so we figured that communications had closed down with everything else and we’d get on our way and try again later. A gentle north-westerly meant that we were sailing straight into the wind, so we motor-sailed under the main and staysail up to a peaceful anchorage at Esema. We arrived just on sunset with a full moon rising – a perfect spot to swim off the sweat of the day.

The staysail halyard was fouled somewhere up top and the sail couldn’t be either dropped or furled, so as we anchored Bob shinned up the mast to see what was going on. Now, there is a comfortingly substantial ladder from the deck up as far as the first spreader. After that, you have to hoist yourself up on hook things running up the sides of the mast. As Bob clambered far over our heads, we heard his voice trailing back down to us, “Aw, I hate heights!”

After freeing the snarled halyard from the furler at the sail head, he made his way back down as far as the spreader and sidled out sideways on it. “We used to jump from here!” he said. “What, into the water?” I asked, thinking that the alternative looked like a very bad idea. “Yeah,” he grinned, “But it looks a lot further away than it used to!” He looked down, arms and legs spreadeagled to hold himself in position. “Nah, I don’t think I will.”

While all this had been happening, residents of a small village on shore had paddled out to meet us in their traditionally-made dug-out canoes, one of them singing all the way at the top of his voice. Taking my eyes off Bob while telling him he’d better not because we needed him in good condition to drive the boat, I turned to photograph the ingeniously made outrigger canoes and their occupants. At that moment there was a huge splash behind me, and I turned to see Bob’s grinning face surfacing in the water. I asked him how he thought he was going to get back on board. “I hadn’t decided about that yet” he said. We thought we’d better retrieve him and so lowered the ladder.

Our visitors told us that they are farmers (“gardeners”) from a village on shore. After a bit of a chat, the singer, Kenneth, said that they had a church service scheduled for the evening but couldn’t run the generator because the fuel hadn’t arrived. He asked if we could let him have a couple of litres of two-stroke. We handed over some fuel (and some chocolate) and promised to take up his invitation to visit the village in the morning. I told him I’d like to go to church and asked if he thought if I would make it on his canoe. He looked at the canoe, which is the width of the tree from which it was made – about twelve inches – looked at me, and he and his young nephew who was doing the paddling both laughed. I suggested they could carry me on the pack rack which was made up of half a dozen sturdy sticks lashed between the canoe proper and the outrigger, and they just looked at me in disbelief and laughed still harder. When I next suggested that Kenneth leave his nephew on Chimere and I paddle the canoe in his stead, they laughed very hard indeed. They thought I was joking! Watch this space – I am determined to paddle one of those boats if at all possible, although come to think of it, I haven’t actually seen a woman on one.

I am convinced we’ve hit paradise. The day dawned clear and balmy, and as we made our way out for a pre-breakfast swim, the harmonies of an energetic and beautiful song echoed out to us across the water from Kenneth and a mate who were pottering about amongst the mangroves. Children paddling their outriggers came to greet us, also singing. Later, Jim took Jen and me in the dinghy to visit the village as promised. Kenneth walked us through what we would call “jungle” and what they call their “garden,” which perfectly states our relative relationship to it. It yields everything they need for survival, and we watched as Kenneth climbed up and picked a papaya for us, a couple of coconuts and some “island cabbage,” which description fits many varieties of greens. He husked the coconuts on the spot, ready for us to take back on board. We later used all these ingredients, along with a mud crab brought over to us in a canoe later in the day, to make a simply wonderful dinner entirely made up of local produce, most of which had been picked or caught today.

While Jen and I were still up at the huts talking to the women and children, and a lovely young girl was filling a delighted Jen’s hands with flowers that she had been quietly hankering after to brighten up the boat, Jim was taking care that the dinghy didn’t get caught up on any of the coral shelves that can make short work of an inflatable. As we made our way back to him, Jim was singing “Advance Australia Fair” to Kenneth and his musical mate. I looked at him with a complete lack of comprehension: “What?!” In response to the look, Jim said laconically “Well, they asked me what songs we sing in Australia.” Kenneth and his mate were looking like they wouldn’t be going for Australia’s latest hits any time in the near future.

We took the dinghy across to visit another part of the same community living on a nearby island, and were greeted with the same warmth and kindness that characterises the people of this part of the world. A very pregnant woman was showing us the guest houses they have built for people who like to come and look at turtles, and although she was young I was certain from the way she was walking that her back would be sore. I asked her how it was, and sure enough, it hurt. I briefly showed her how she could be more comfortable by changing the way she uses her back, and reflected once more how much difference some simple knowledge can make.

Back on board “Chimere,” things have settled into two overlapping work teams. Bob, Jim and Tony do the lion’s share of the physical work of sailing and maintaining the boat with Jen helping out and me asking a lot of questions. Jen and I are energetically engaged with ensuring that everyone is well fed and things stay in good order in the eating/living area. Tony manages to to quietly support whatever aspect of work is happening with competence and quiet good humour.

As I write this, sitting up on deck with the full moon out, a soft breeze blowing and the mosquitoes nibbling gently at my ankles (just joking), Tony is doing his nightly wind-down which consists of plugging in his ipod, gazing out over the water and humming in a sleepy if rather tuneless fashion.

There aren’t too many secrets on board – the person writing the log definitely has the advantage! Up for an early start tomorrow, the destination depending on the wind – “Either thirty miles or fifty miles” says Bob with a grin, as he disappears off to his bunk. We’ll let you know when we get there.

Ann Shoebridge