Monday 3 Aug 2009 (15 deg 53 min S, 167 deg 29 min E.  20km off Nth East coast of Malakula)

Last night’s dinner at a nearby restaurant, to celebrate Mike‘s birthday and the end of Chris and Jo‘s wonderful time aboard was an exercise in survival – akin to running a movie night in a far off village.  Not the food, or the restaurant – they were fine.

The main obstacle was the rain.  It just poured down.  To give you an indication of just how much, we took the dinghy ashore around 6:00pm and pulled it high up the beach.  I’d come ashore in my bathers, with a plastic bag of dry clothes and a towel under my arm in an attempt to at least arrive at the restaurant somewhat dry.

We returned to the dinghy around 10:00pm for the short trip back to Chimere in the dark.  Terrence asked casually as we waded across the lawn towards the dinghy, “did you pull the bung out?”.  Well, “no”, I didn’t.  As it turns out, almost everytime I’ve pulled a bung out of a boat, I’ve forgotten to put it back again when I return, leading to a mad panic … “where is that thing?” as the water pours into the boat.  Well in this case I should have taken the bung out, because it was so full it was overflowing.  It took us about 10 minutes to empty it – in the rain of course.

Suffice to say, it was a wonderful dinner!!

Along with Mike’s birthday, today saw the return of my brother, and 50% shareholder in Chimere, Andrew.  He flew in on the late night special from Sydney  to Pt Vila – arriving at around 12:00 midnight, and then caught the early bird 7:00 am flight from Pt Vila to Santo this morning.  Once again, our cricket star, eyecare specialist and all round beaut bloke, Richard Tatwin, came to the party, doing all the picking up and dropping off.

So it was that around 7:30am this morning, as the rain eased, Mike and I caught a small taxi (they’re nearly all small) into town.  Mike hopped out at the grocery store for some last minute things and I carried on to the airport, hoping to meet the flight, due to land at 7:55pm.

My driver, Ronald Liat, was an older man.  Laid back, calm.  We then stopped off at the petrol station and in conversation I said something about needing to get to the airport, but then I looked at his petrol gauge and I had to agree … “good idea blong you to filum up with petrol!!”

Back on the road again and my calm driver was no more.  It seemed fast on the flat, faster on the bends.  Then it occurred to me, I used the words “airport” and needing to “get there”.

I then put his mind at rest and clarified the situation … “I just meetum plane, him come from Vila.  NO catchim  plane”,   … “Ohhhh” said Ronald, and we both laughed and he returned to a respectable speed, along with my pulse rate.

Being our last day in Santo, there were a few final tasks we were hoping to knock off.  Chief amongst these was the fitting of the solenoid (which Andrew had brought from Sydney) to the anchor winch so we could pull up the anchor with risking a hernia.

Chris had this under control, as one of his last “fix-up” jobs – oh, and also fitting the new salt-water foot pump in the galley (which Andrew had also brought from Sydney.  There were other spare parts Andrew brought from Sydney, but I digress)

For regular readers of the Ship’s Log, there was also our ongoing interest in Linda, (refer earlier Ship’s Log – We don’t just do eyes) the pregnant woman requiring a caesarean operation within 2 weeks, whom we evacuated off Mere Lava.  We sailed her the 6 hours to nearby Gaua Island (Santa Maria Is) and from there the Vanuatu Prevention of Blindness Program paid for her (and mother’s) flight to Santo, where she was to stay  with relatives.  We were keen to learn whether Linda had delivered the baby and to pass on a bag of baby clothes and other goods which Mike had brought from some folk at North Ringwood Uniting Church.

A final, final task, was to pass on a DVD of Ice Age to the brother of Paramount Chief John Star, who we met in Tolap, West Gaua.  Now, we were all taken with John Star (read past Ships Log – Servant Chief) and so when he said he liked the movie Ice Age very much, but only saw half of it, because he came late to our screening of it in his village, I said I would do all I could to get him a copy.  We took John Star aboard as a passenger, transporting him to a nearby island for a meeting of chiefs in Vureus Bay, Vanua Lava, but he said he would be in Santo in September, but in any case, he had a brother Solomon, who lived in Santo and who drove a taxi – I could leave it with him.

So in addition to boat parts, Andrew also carried in his bag two DVDs from Australia.  Ice Age and Ice Age 2.  (why stop at one DVD I thought, if he liked the first Ice Age, he’ll like the second)

“What’s he going to play it on?”  inquired Andrew.  A fair question I thought.  “But Andrew, that’s not my issue…” I pointed out.  “I just said I’d try and get him a copy”

So with that background, let me return to the final stages of my taxi ride to the airport with Ronald, who told me, in the course of our conversation that he was French educated (in Santo) and he … “not so good at English”.  I reassured him that his English was a hec of a lot better than my French, or Bislama for that matter.

“Ronald, do you know a man called Solomon?  He drive taxi and brother of Paramount Chief John Star – West Gaua”, I inquired.

“I know of a Solomon, yes maybe,” he replied.  But he didn’t know where to find this Solomon.

We reached the airport, Ronald dropped me off and then asked, “you need lift back to Beach Front”.  “Yes”, I said, “but I don’t want to hold you and I can’t make any promise.”  “That OK”, said Ronald.

The plane hadn’t arrived (read past references to Island Time) and as I sat there in the small terminal building, Ronald walks up with my torch, my special little pocket LED torch. “Oh, tanku tumus!” I exclaimed.  “It must have dropped out of my pocket.  Tanku”

“I find him on floor of taxi” said Ronald.  “Tanku tumus” I said again.

“I find Solomon brother in law” said Ronald.  “Really, is he here?” I asked.  “Yes, he here.” Said Ronald.

Just then, a man dressed in a (mighty fine) Wallabies jumper came up and introduced himself.

“Hello, my name is Edmond Hary and I am Solomon’s brother in law, Solomon the brother of John Star.  I am president of the Torba Province.  I can make sure a parcel is delivered to John”

I tanku tumussed the taxi driver Ronald again, and then I started chatting with Edmond.  “So what brings you to the airport?” I asked

“I am based in Sola, as president of the whole Torba region, and my flight cancelled because of the rain.  I must come back Wednesday”, said Edmond

“So you can take this parcel and make sure it gets to John Star?” I confirmed 100%.  “Yes, no problem” said Edmond.

I then went onto explain to Edmond, the sort of work we have been doing in transporting medical volunteers and Ni-van medical people from island to island.  I explained that’s how we met John Star.  He was in a village where a clinic was run, and we’d met him.

Edmond had mentioned that he was based in Sola, so I said that we’d gone there and that I knew Franklin, the nurse practitioner from there, and had met Dick Hopkins from there – the teacher.  I said we’d gone across to Mota Island, and the weather had been horrible.  I even said we’d transported a pregnant woman, called Linda, from Mere Lava to Gaua, so that she could come to Santo for an operation.

Edmond then said … “I am from Mere Lava, Linda is my daughter.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  “You mean Linda, who is having a baby, who we took off Mere Lava, is your daughter?” I said in disbelief as I we laughed and shook hands again

“And your wife is…?”

“Rose”, said Edmond and Andrew (who had by now disembarked from the plane and had been introduced all round) simultaneously.

Andrew then had to explain that although he’d just got off a plane he actually knew about Edmond’s daughter and wife being taken off Mere Lava because he’d read about it in Sydney on the website!

“So how is Linda?  Has she had the baby yet?”  I asked.  “No, not yet” said Edmond.

So what sort of coincidence is that?!

My taxi driver Ronald, who picked me and Mike up at random on the side of the road,  finds a man at the airport, Edmond, who’s the brother in law of Solomon, brother of John Star and this Edmond is the father of Linda the woman we evacuated off Mere Lava and the husband of Rose

And to top it off, there sitting a few seats away in the small terminal, was our German backpacker, electrician mechanic MSM inductee – Simon. (Refer to past Ships Logs)  He had intended to travel south to Tanna when we waved him good-bye in Sola a week earlier, but had instead stayed in the Santo region and was catching a flight to Pt Vila.  I introduced Simon to Andrew and it was as if they’d known each other for some time through all the references in the Ship’s Log and on the website generally.

On our way back to Chimere we dropped Edmond off where he was staying, met Linda and Rose and hand delivered Linda’s parcel – we even took some photos which we hope to put on the web soon. [Photos are up – see Tour 3 Northern Islands Gallery – admin]

Right now, we’re six hours into our 300km sail south to Port Vila.  The wind, which initially promised to be from the South West, then East, then North East, is actually South East – right where we want to go.  At least it’s stopped raining, the moon is out and the sea is kind.

Mike and Terrence are on watch, I’m next in an hour or so, then Andrew’s after that – so I’d better catch some sleep.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and happy birthday Mike!

Rob