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

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