Back amongst friends

Lakona Bay, Gaua Island

Tuesday 19 September 2017

It was a rather rolly night at anchor, which was strange given the calmness and shelter of the anchorage. But sometimes it just happens. A lazy swell around a headland, a tidal flow going the wrong way and an offshore wind that holds the boat beam-on. They conspire to form a side-to-side roll that seems to just get worse with each motion.

“We’ve got to fix this roll!” … Matt (senior) and I agreed. Our earlier attempt at laying a stern anchor coming to little.

First things first. And it was a call from onshore to say we should bring the gear to a nearby beach for portage piece-by-piece up the headland to the village meeting place where the clinic would be established.

A catamaran in the bay offered to carry our people to the beach and the owner of the yacht a man named Ritchie, said he knows the woman who was the previous owner of Chimere; from his own home state of Western Australia. Quite a coincidence, particularly given that it was only yesterday that I’d mentioned to Graeme that the previous owner was a doctor who might be interested in what Chimere has been up to since 2009

Once established, the clinic was well attended with a steady stream of eye, dental and “body” patients – plus of course the “National Oral Health Survey”; the highest priority of all.

I made it to the clinic around 10:00am, leaving (senior) Matt aboard to top up the fuel tank and make freshwater; plus a general clean up.

As I was standing around, one old man shuffled in from the edge of the village and after introducing myself and shaking his hand, he asked about treatments offered, in particular eyes. With his hand on my shoulder we then made it carefully to the right spot, me quickly realizing that he was really quite blind. Later in the day I asked Jay how he went and he said that he’d prescribed -5 spectacles, which he had in stock. “Must have made a big difference?” I inquired. “Yes, he can see much more light and make things out better now”, he replied

The village was aware that we were coming (thankfully), but to be sure that the nearby communities had also got the message I made a run up the coast in the dinghy, accompanied by Chief Bruce (sounds like the sort of chief we’d have in Australia?!) one of the many sons of Paramount Chief John Star (of earlier Ships Logs)

Bruce was a strong and commanding bloke and throughout the day we got to know each other well, particularly after the coffee & cake session aboard Chimere late morning, accompanied by a few others.

Travelling up the coast we pulled into two remote communities. At the second we went ashore after weaving through the outer reef at the left, right, straight-ahead hand signals of Bruce and another man – Jimmy, whom we’d picked up along the way. Once ashore we met the locals amidst a cloud of smoke from some serious burning off they were doing. The purpose of the burning, and chain sawing and building, was the construction of a kava bar and meeting space to accompany the adjoining soccer pitch.

The soccer pitch itself was something else. Carved out of the forest it had a kind of surreal quality about it. Almost like the jungle was ready at any time to reclaim the playing field for its own; once more to be covered by trees, vines and coconut palms. I imagine it’s a constant exercise to keep the pitch in order. But each village has a team and tournaments are a regular feature of the yearly calendar, with winners going on to play for the region, island and Province. It’s high stakes and the honour of the village is on the line when others come to visit. Plus of course the opportunity to earn some money from the sale of kava and food

One man I was very keen to meet again was the local Anglican priest, Father Levi Sandy. We got to know him well in 2013 when he requested assistance in promoting a Kastom Festival he and the village were planning to start in 2014.

At the time the village put on a series of dances for us to film, forming the basis for the promotion. In early 2014, Matt (the younger) edited the film and put a promo on Youtube. I then contacted cruising forums and websites around the world, letting them know that it they were sailing around Vanuatu, then they should make sure they put Lakona Bay, West Gaua on their schedule.

That was 4 years ago, and with communications as poor as they are it wasn’t surprising that I’ve heard nothing about the success or otherwise of the event. So it was great to hear that the event has developed into a very successful regional happening, with 2014,2015, 2016 and 2017 getting bigger and bigger.

In our discussions, Father Levi expressed heart-felt thanks. Later in the day, after having a painful tooth extracted by Pakon, earplugs provided by Graeme due to having a perforated eardrum, (plus antibiotics for an infected foot too I believe), he talked to me about his passion for helping the bright and clever children of the West Gaua region pursue their Year 11,12 and 13 education. One of the biggest expenses a parent faces here is paying for education. Beyond year 10 it’s a case of no money, no education, with children from remote regions like this having to board on other islands, where higher education is provided.

To assist parents pay for schooling, Father Levi and a group of prominent people in the village have established the West Gaua Student Association. As it was explained to me, parents can become a member, and their children then have the potential to receive funding assistance, which they must then pay back in later years. It’s a bit like a private, cooperative version of a Higher Education Loan Program. In addition to parental funding, the community tries to fundraise (through the Lakona Bay Kastom Festival) I talked with Father Levi about ideas to boost donations and fund raising and even obtained details of a village development bank account they run for such a purpose. Before we said our final good-byes I gave the “Association” 10,000 Vatu (approx. $AUS120) from the MSM funds (sorry Mike, no chance to obtain prior approval with that one) and said I’d mention the fund in my daily Ships Log in case others would like to make a donation. If you feel called to give something, just flick me an email.

The clinic slowed down a bit in the afternoon and as Graeme continued trying to poke ripe mangoes off a very tall tree with an extremely long stick, others spoke about snorkeling and having a BBQ picnic as the sun went down.

The five (Ni-Van) Amigos had a dreadful night’s sleep ashore, as it turned out. Unbeknown to us they were provided with the local clinic building in which to bed-down, a building with few comforts.

Tonight it is a very different story. Particularly after we re-anchored Chimere into a very sheltered, close-to-shore part of the bay, with a line off the stern to a tree ashore to keep us still. All 15 team members are sleeping aboard, with three Ni-Vans lying on mattresses on the foredeck under an awning, two in the cockpit and the other 10 in their “usual” spots

Our plan is to be up at 5:00am and away at 5:30am. Our destination, the regional town of Sola on the island of Vanualava, about 32 miles north east of here. With everyone aboard for the night, meaning there’ll be no early pick-up from the beach, it will almost be a case of up anchoring and driving away – remembering to retrieve the line to shore of course !

Phone and internet communications via Digicel and TVL are very poor here … read non-existent. We are hoping for better success tomorrow in Sola. Might even be able to get some photos out !!

Smooth seas, fair breeze and back amongst friends

Rob Latimer

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