Monday 14 June 2010 3:30pm SW Bay
It rained most of the night. Not heavy like it can sometimes be, but consistent, wetting rain. The Easterly wind got strong at times. Our holding ground is good here and the wind is offshore, so it is comfortable. Several times I got up in the night to investigate anchor chain noises but there were no problems. This morning the medical team had to get to Lawa about three nautical mile north from here. Chris was to join the team for today’s work so her instructions were to be on the beach at half seven to join the local fast boat.
Paul and I took Chris ashore in the dinghy. Because of the rain the track up the cliff was very slippery so Chris waited with the boat. I went up to the clinic with the mobile phone so Richard could ring Don Macraild. The team was ready to go and had plastic poncho rain coats on. Each took a box and made their way down the cliff by a different and safer route that we hadn’t known off till now. As we left Rosie and Isabelle sidled up and asked if the boat crew could look at the clinic while they are away and make any repairs possible. In particular the guttering is broken and there is no water in the tanks.
On the beach Paul watched with delight as the “school  bus” arrived carrying about a dozen happy young students. The “bus” was actually a little plywood run about and was the daily means of transport for these school children. Other children walk many miles and cross a river to get to school.
Down on the beach we loaded all the medical team gear into the fast boat. The boat operator announced that his boat engine was playing up. Could Carl have a look at it? (Carl is now famous for fixing engines throughout these parts – people actually come to the boat asking for Carl on arrival. How do they communicate like that?) So acting as Carl’s agent, in his absence, I booked the boat engine in for tomorrow morning.  With a less than reassured feeling about the performance of the fast boat, we waved the medical team off. Richard has the VHF radio in case of trouble. The village isn’t that far away. Far enough to be not visible from here but it is an open ocean coast and I was happy I wasn’t taking our dinghy that far. Mmm I shouldn’t think things like that. Things can change.
Paul and I got back on board Chimere in time to enjoy a beautiful cooked breakfast, loving prepared by Carl. When everything was cleaned up, all 5 of us went ashore and broke into 2 teams. Martin, Grant and I went to the clinic to attend to repairs there, while Carl and Paul went off in the direction of the Church to have a look at the generator. Martin stood on the clinic table to reach the guttering while Grant passed tools and materials up to him. I went off on the prowl for some fencing wire. I found some barbed wire and carefully took out the barbs to be left with a useful length of wire. This was used for the worst bit of guttering where the timber roof beam ends were too rotten to hold nails. The job turned out to be straight forward but the difference is that the clinic has gone from no water storage to having a tank back in use. The other tanks on other nearby buildings were in a terminal state. They were originally corrugated iron tanks and once leaks started they were covered in chicken mesh and rendered in concrete. Progressively rust would peel off the inside of the tank and block the tap. The young nurse (Chris’ newest best friend from a few days ago) explained this problem in such a sweet, yet matter a fact, way that told of an acceptance of many things we would described as difficulties by us but to the islanders is just part of life.
After finishing off what we could, Martin and I walked off in search of Carl, Paul and Grant (Grant had set off earlier). We found them with the offending generator at the point of reassembling all the bits after carefully cleaning them all. Just when they were ready to test the reassembled package, the malaria nurse and another man came down to us and earnestly asked for Andrew. They explained that Richard had been trying contact me to see if I could transport some sterile water, as their supply was exhausted and they were in immediate need of more. The nurse said he had sterile water which was good and when I asked how do we get it to them he said “in your dinghy”. I knew I should not have had thought those thoughts about being glad not to be driving the dinghy up the coast.
Martin and I left the others to the generator problems and left with Chenchen (sp?), the nurse. We picked up the sterile water and returned to the dinghy and motored back to Chimere. Grant came as far as that in order to retrieve the small dinghy for their use. Martin and I put another petrol drum in the dinghy plus a bottle of water and some food. If we ended up in New Caledonia we intended to have sustenance en route. With those simple preparations we set off with Martin at the tiller. Martin got the dinghy up onto the plane and we flew along going with the waves and with the wind behind us. Chenchen provided navigation advice and pointed out the names of villages along the way. It took a bit of getting used to because when he wanted Martin to go in a particular direction he would say “Straight, straight” and his hand had a slight angle to it as he said “straight”. He said “straight” often yet we zigzaged through the off shore reefs. Martin was very relieved to have his help because some of the reefs were not clear. Visibility today is very poor. Everything is grey and light rain obscures most features. As we got close he said “Straight straight” which meant a sharp right turn followed a little later by a left turn. Martin wisely slowed down which prompted Chenchen to implore him to “go fast, go fast” Martin obliged and we did a slalom through the tight windy gaps in the reefs with Martin concentrating on those subtle changes of angle in Chenchen’s hand. As we got nearer, we came under a cliff and there were enchanting little coves protected behind rocks with beautiful aqua coloured water as still as still.
A little further on, the cliff gave way to a pebble beach where we pulled the dinghy up. This village has a strong fishing tradition and many small boats were anchored behind the reef. The village is the largest in this area with about 700 residents. It is the first village we have been to with a formed road running through it. We took the precious sterile water and other things out of the dinghy and clambered up the steep road to the village set on a plateau overlooking the ocean below. The clinic was set up in a substantial concrete block building and they were obviously busy. Word was sent off to the patient who needed a jab and Martin and I just watched proceedings for a while. Chris was in her element working alongside Mary Grace.
We arrived just before the lunch break so we joined them for lunch of fish and coconut  soup and pumplemoose and  pawpaw then set off back to the boat. The trip back was wild. We could see the reef more clearly now as the tide was lower. Chenchen was trying to say something over the roar of the engine when Martin yelled “is that a reef?”.  Chenchen calmly said “yes that is a rock”. Martin had already made a steeply banked turn to miss it. The rest of the trip was made slamming into the seas and wind. Chenchen seemed to sit serenely opposite me and Martin was squared away in the stern holding the tiller and starring forward. But I seemed to be at the mercy of the constant slamming and found I vibrated back along the hull towards Martin together with the contents of the boat. Eventually I found a posture a bit like a praying mantis with legs and arms stretched out both holding myself on and stopping the loose items from moving. We dropped Chenchen ashore thanking him for his help and joined the others who had now returned to the boat.
The shore crew was a bit glum at not fixing the generator. The motor ran properly but a critical bit was missing on the generator side and now Carl was thinking maybe he better go back and disable it properly so it was safe. The small outboard that we thought was fixed yesterday displayed the tell tale signs of a sticking needle in the carby. So the three sorry fellows had to row back to Chimere. One thing about our crew is they know how to handle disappointment. Food. In fact food is the answer to everything. When you are happy; have food. You don’t need a reason; have food. In fact while I have been typing up the log, Grant has been sitting on the settee with hand stuck in the muesli container, Paul has made a brew of coffee and a very short time ago Carl made lunch.
When Martin and I returned to Chimere just now I noticed the empty Barco knife sheath. “Where is the knife?” I enquired, thinking I would put it away as it is my favorite knife. My enquiry was answered with a studied quietness and downward gazes. “It went overboard this morning when we loaded the tools into the dinghy” Paul explained after a time, breaking the news as well as he could. “But that was my favorite knife” said I, feel suddenly very low. “well it was sticking out of the pocket on the side of the tool bag and it just got caught on the rope and went over the side; we saved the sheath for it though” Paul elaborated, knowing the situation required soothing down. A little while later when I got over it, Paul was heard telling Grant that it was his fault and that he should take more responsibility for his actions. Life was back to the normal banter. Since then I have been writing up the log and, unknown to me, Grant and Paul have been skin diving and have just surfaced with the knife! A great effort.
So life is quiet for the time being, the medical team are still at work, we are running the generator and doing odd jobs. Soon we will go ashore to find the men that we had arranged to show the mud brick scheme to. Our earlier efforts in this direction were interrupted by the mercy dash. The men ashore showed us some special red clay they found. The found it for the pottery project but it would do well for the mud bricks. My only concern is that the clay probably came from miles away. But we will find out when we go ashore.
Tomorrow is the wedding day. I was going to do my washing today. It is still ashore with the tools. So that is something else to attend to in what is left of the day.
Fair winds, smooth seas and a change of direction.
Andrew