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Return to Pt Vila

Return to Pt Vila

Thursday 18 July 2013

Emae to Efate

With the wind remaining strong and the seas high, the return sail from Emae to Pt Vila was always going to be a bit lumpy; especially when out of the lee of the islands.

It should be said at the outset, however, that everyone got though the experience without injury or permanent damage. Although as the years pass the waves may grow from 4 metres to 8 metres and the water taken aboard by “tricky waves with our name on them”, might climb from around our toes to past our waists.
Certainly we were all very happy to make it into Pt Vila harbour in the mid afternoon, after a 5:00am start and for me personally I was extremely happy to successfully back Chimere into our seawall berth without touching, nudging, scratching, or even causing alarm to the owners of the million dollar yachts each side of us.


A team photo will have to wait until tomorrow I’m afraid. Kristie had a photo taken on her camera soon after our arrival, however, she is treating herself to a night ashore (along with Tony and Christine) and has her camera with her.

Thanks to the nifty spreadsheet James put together we should also have a complete set of mission stats tomorrow; how many patients and how many teeth, presentations, examinations, spectacles, mud bricks made.

The reason this Ships Log is so late tonight is because soon after arriving back, securely tying up and having an informal de-brief ashore over a quiet ale, I returned to the boat and fell asleep; only waking again around 9:00pm.

There is so much we have learnt on this first mission for 2013, and the first to seriously include a dental outreach component alongside the eyecare and general medical. It was certainly frustrating not to be able to stop at the small islands of Mataso, Makira and Tongariki; instead, diverting our attentions to the island of Emae on account of its proximity and safe anchorage.

After all the preparation and modifications, it should be said that Chimere performed extremely well. The new seating and shelter in the cockpit has transformed the workings of the boat and increased the comfort level of everyone significantly. The new sails have been well and truly tested and have performed well.


The new 240v generator is a dream and the ability to make freshwater at a rate of 180 litres per hour has allowed everyone to have showers and be more liberal with the use of water. As well as not have to always be looking for ways to fill the tanks – eg catching rainwater and/or finding a water source on shore and running water drums back and forth in the dinghy – and then hoping the onshore water source is sound.

The sleeping and food arrangements aboard, given we had 10 people for about 2 weeks, worked very well and if the weather had been a bit nicer it might have been even better with sleeping on deck being an attractive option on past missions.

We now have a period of a week or two in which we prepare Chimere for the next mission, which commences on 2 August. As for me, right now, it’s time for bed.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and safely tied up at the waterfront Port Vila

Rob Latimer

All images from the mission can be seen either on the 2013 Chimere or 2013 Mission 1 Photo Gallery pages, including a permanent map record of the route.

To read older Ships Log posts for 2013 go to …

Last day at Emae

Last day at Emae

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Emae Island

It was a late (final) day at the clinic with the last dinghy ride off the beach occurring in the dark with our big spotlight up front ably held by Lyndon as we bounced over the waves back to Chimere.

Now snug and warm around the saloon table, Lyndon has been regaling us with stories of each tooth extraction and filling, plus the response from each patient – some very confident, some in pain, some nervous and all very stoic.


There was also the local midwife who tried to comfort the anxious ones, keenly observing Lyndon’s hand actions and the movement of root fragments and loose teeth as he levered and cut them free with his hand implements.  She would talk in the patient’s ear saying … “it’s coming now … it’s nearly out … just a little bit longer”.    Lyndon observed that each extraction sounded very much like a birthing delivery, with her involvement having the desired effect of calming the patients.

Some of the highlights related around the dinner table tonight – for Christine, was hearing the school sports going on outside while the clinic went on.  It got so exciting that at one point she went out and watched, with the flat races, marked out grass, flags, uniforms and cheering taking her back to her own school sports of the early 1960s There was also the wonderful hospitality of the nurse-practitioner Donald and his wife Locy.  Each day bringing food and drinks for the workers and thanking everyone at every opportunity.

Lyndon was able to do some dental work for both Donald and Locy, with two teachers from the school also coming for treatment.

I leant a bit more about the school next door.  Apparently it includes a French primary school as well as an English primary school, plus an English secondary school.

I was talking to Joseph, from the next village along the coast.  He was very keen to take the mudbrick stove making technology back to his village and explained to me that some children go to French schools, some English schools and that everyone speaks Bislama, as well as the local language common to most Shephard Group islands.  Plus he said
that his village is the only one that speaks Polynesian.  I quizzed him about this and he confirmed it was like the Maori, or Samoans, which just seemed amazing.  He didn’t seemed to know why this was the case.

There was also the sight of seeing  all the children walking along the road to school in the morning; often with a parcel or container with their lunch inside.

Christine described the fear and trepidation of those who were coming to the dentist for the very first time, often in the 30s, or who spoke about dental trauma in their early years.  These patients were sweating a lot, very chatty, pacing up and down,  and extremely anxious.  After Lyndon had dealt with them in his calm, soothing manner, stuck needles into them till all feeling was lost and then probed, dug and yanked as required, they all went away with a big smile, totally thankful and appreciative.

On the mudbrick stove front, today I was introduced to the agricultural teacher at the school and he was very keen for the older students to see the mudbricks;  something he described as “appropriate technology”.  So it was that after clearing some ground, accumulating bags of clay and soil, along with coconut fibre and shovels, we were ready for the 50 students who gathered for the demonstration at 10:30am.   The interest was high and there was a lot of giggling and all out laughter when I conscripted a few of the more attentive ones to help dig and shovel the mud around.

Also with us were the French couple, Jany and Christine Cochain off the yacht Filopre.  Both are retired, with Jany spending the last 6 years aboard, starting originally in France, with Christine flying out to join him from time to time.


I think this is a link to their website.  They showed me some of their photos, particularly of the Galapagos, just amazing.  There was also a photo of a stingray flying out of the water like a dolphin

At the moment we have just finished lashing everything down and preparing for the short voyage back to Port Vila tomorrow.  We intend to up-anchor around 5:30am and hope be tied up at the waterfront in the late afternoon.  The good folk at Yachting World, in Port Vila, have kindly made space available for us at the sea wall and there are a few on board who are looking forward to some “civilization”, in the form of a Tusker and a back-rub.

Apparently internal air flights have been cancelled again, this time due to high winds and low cloud.  And how do I know this?  Well Emae is one of the islands that has a grass airstrip and in the tradition of Fletcher Christian and the HMS Bounty, some noises were uttered earlier today in connection with  selected passengers returning to Port Vila by “alternative means”.  That is, alternative to the good ship Chimere.  Rumours had got around that the return sail might be a bit “lumpy” given the high winds and 3-4 metre swells – outrageous ?! It’s all academic now, however, with their Plan B reverting back to Plan A, and the doctors bag of magic pills being eyed off for a possible cure to the effects any eventual boat movement.  Stay tuned to the final chapter of how everyone fairs.  Fortunately, although strong, the wind should remain well off the nose, making for a fast passage with minimal sail.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and back to Port Vila

Rob Latimer

Extreme dentist Lyndon soldiers on

Extreme dentist Lyndon soldiers on

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Emae Island

Day 2 of the Emae clinic today and business was booming. Lyndon had plenty of customers and those not able to fit in today will be seen tomorrow. One family, when asked how long they had travelled to get to the clinic said 2 hours walk, but later in the day it was discovered that they had come from a nearby island and that part of the trip had taken a further 2 hours. We didn’t discover which island but with the wind and seas still up I hope they are staying put until things die down.


Jon, Ray and James went for a long walk today and in their travels caught up with fisherman Michael from the other night. After trying to sell us pamplemoose yesterday Michael declared that he had another 4 coconut crabs if we wanted to buy them. Ray said he’d need to talk with “the captain”, which we all agreed was a bit of a cop out… so hopefully we don’t have a 12 midnight visit again !!

Morinda gave a dental talk to new mothers and Helen continued with testing eyes and dispensing glasses.

I spent the day aboard Chimere, and even made some very acceptable bread while everyone was away. (Those pre-packed bags of flour are an enormous success Linda. Tank yu tumas)

After gaining a lot of interest in the mud bricks at the demonstration yesterday, it looks like we will be doing it all again tomorrow; this time for the older children at the local school. Also a man named Joseph from the next village along the coast was very keen to do it in his village.

It’s an early start again tomorrow and there are now two extra yachts in the bay – getting a bit crowded after our solitude of the past 10 days. One small 33 foot yacht has come all the way from France; a solo yachtsman whose wife has flown out to join him and his small cat. Yes, a cat. A cat that apparently will prevent him from entering almost every country you can imagine on account of quarantine. (the cat’s name is a word that in French means “little pest” – very appropriate) We learnt all this when we had them over for coffee and fresh bread this afternoon. Their English was a lot better than our French it must be said, despite their protests to the contrary. They even said that they liked the Vegemite I gave them, although it might have been politeness or a desire not to create an international incident. All being well, our French friends Johnny and Christine will join us first thing tomorrow for the ride over to the clinic in the back of the truck; they are keen to see the clinic and mix it with the locals.

Tony was given a very large pamplemoose when healthcare worker Donald drove Tony, Morinda and Helen to another village for a home visit – it was a very large grapefruit and Tony couldn’t resist drawing a face on it and naming it Wilson (from the movie Castaway if you are wondering)

I’ve mentioned the strong wind we’ve been having, well Ray, Jon and James made it to weather coast during their walk and managed to take a photo looking out to sea with the (currently) inaccessible islands of Makira and Mataso in the distance – the wind just hasn’t let up. Back at the clinic, Lyndon and Kristie described the effect of the wind on one very large tree which toppled over, hitting the ground near the clinic with an almighty thump and a rain of twigs and branches, one of which landed on the roof of the rather solidly built toilet; a “facility” that Kristie was building up the courage to visit just a few minutes earlier. I think in a quiet moment Kristie might claim to have been “looked after” when considering what might have occurred.


With tomorrow being our last “clinical day” thoughts are starting to turn towards the return sail to Port Vila on Thursday. The wind remains strong and hopefully it remains east of SE, so we don’t have the weather on the nose. Strong wind is one thing, but strong wind on the nose is quite another – very unpleasant.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and last day at Emae tomorrow.

Rob Latimer

Fang and a full day clinic on Emau

Fang and a full day clinic on Emau

Monday 15 July 2013

Emae Island

Today’s clinic was well attended with a queue forming around 8:00am when the medical team was ready to start work.  A local leader (whose name escapes me) and Donald the health worker, spoke to the crowd prior to commencement and thanked the team for coming and explained the process –those with severe dental pain will be seen first and others will be given a number and booked into a time slot over the next two days.


Recently nicknamed Fang, our extreme dentist, Lyndon certainly had a full day attending to teeth, with around 12 people seen.  This accounted for around 6 extractions, several fillings and a lot of scaling – which is the removal of accumulated calcium deposits called tartar or calculus.  Lyndon claims that the Ni-vans have the hardest tartar in the world and for those who don’t clean their teeth regularly the deposits can be significant, creating a real barrier to further oral health improvement.

Local health worker Donald was a keen student for much of the day, observing what Lyndon was doing and eager to learn all he could to improve the health of the communities on the island under his charge.

Morinda gave a dental talk to the gathered mothers and in the afternoon to the older children at the nearby school.  Morinda also did some fillings and scaling in the second chair set up next to Lyndon’s in the health clinic.

Tony’s doctoring work was described by him as a typical day in the practice, with around 10 patients presenting a variety of complaints – I heard the word “interesting” used, which kind of accounts for most diseases and ailments.

Christine had her hands full taking patient records, booking patients in for their half hour slot and helpfully assisting Morinda with whatever was required.  Kristie is described by Lyndon, (as he meticulously cleans each dental probe, spade and extractor on the saloon table) as an invaluable dental  assistant – a quick learner with a wonderfully, cheerful temperament.  All this despite her stated aversion to teeth.

In other news, the ship’s crew, now down to four with Christine’s effective defection to the medical side, had a full and satisfying day.  Jon bought some taro and island green stuff and cooked up something of a fish curry storm tonight which he claims is bringing out his feminine side.  A self-confessed non-cook to this point in life, Jon acknowledges that the desire to eat has been a strong motivating influence on his recent galley exploits.

I mentioned fish was on the menu tonight, oh and crab too.  It turned out that our new fishing friend, Michael, came good with a catch; 10kg of assorted big fish plus 3 crabs.  It was the crabs that created the “incident”, or more correctly, one of the three crabs – a coconut crab named Houdini.  It all began with the delivery of the fish and crabs.  I’d gone to bed around 11:00pm last night after writing the Ships Log, only to be woken from a deep sleep an hour later by James in my cabin exclaiming that… “there’s  a motor boat revving it’s engine and tied up on the side and asking to speak with the captain”.

I soon realized that it was the fisherman, who jumped aboard with a string of fish, a set of scales and a rice bag with something heavy and wriggly in it.   His father stayed in the small boat at the back next to the outboard and when I asked  “what’s that in the bag”, he excitedly said, “a coconut crab!”


Now, whilst I’m no David Attenborough, I do know a little about coconut crabs.  Such as, they are very tasty, are quite rare, live to an incredible age and have claws that could easily sever a finger.

With the bag deposited on the deck, Michael went through the agreement he had made with the other man, “500 vatu per kilo, not 700 vatu, because that is too expensive”  He then attached the fish to the scales and sure enough, 10 kilos came up on the dial, “and 1500 vatu for the crabs”  two of which were speared and dead and of course the
coconut crab, already making noises to find the exit to the bag.

I should say that the other thing I know about coconut crabs is that we had one aboard once before, in 2009.  It was tied up with vines like a turkey,  so as not to escape, and of course it escaped; walking around the deck in the dark amongst three sleeping passengers.  We never saw that crab again.

After paying our fisherman 7000 vatu, plus giving him four “D” sized batteries and 5 litres of fuel, it was time for him to go.  Naturally he was keen to get his rice bag back again and blithely poked his hand into the bag, whereupon I said something like … “oh, PLEASE be careful”  (who am I to give fish and crab advice to this man?!).  Out comes the crab, all claws and pinchers … “string, rope, do you have some rope we can tie him up?” asks Michael.  Have we got rope.  There was a piece nearby and so a good job was done in trussing the animal up and then hanging the rope from a metal frame at the mast.  We then waved good-bye to Michael, after handing back his set of scales, wire basket, and rice bag.  It was then back to bed.

The wind, as mentioned in earlier Ships Logs, is painfully strong and has been so for the past 10 days and so I get up from time to time through the night to check the anchor.  Around 3:00am I did this and as I shuffled bare foot along the deck, past the coach house, up to the mast, on my way to the bow, I saw the fish and dead crabs on the
deck in a bucket, then glanced at the rope holding Mr Coconut Crab. And wouldn’t you know it, NO crab.   I directed the torch to my toes, nowhere nearby, that’s good.  But where could he be?  Part of me kind of hoped he’d found his way over the side, then the thought of finding him where you least expect it occurred to me.  There wasn’t a lot I
could do, but look briefly around the deck, check the anchor and go back to bed, which I did.

Around 5 o’clock I was woken by a gentle tap tap tap on my door.  “was that someone at the door, or the wind?”  I opened the door and there was Morinda, who quickly whispered … “there’s a coconut crab trying to come in my cabin” … then as I (bravely) made my way to her cabin right up the front, Morinda asked … “do you know how to pick them up?” … I think I whispered something like … “no, they scare the daylights out of me”  or something to that effect.

Sure enough, the half opened deck hatch in the girl’s cabin had several arms of a coconut crab poking in with his body attempting to follow, the scratching sound it made was kind of spooky.  Grabbing a shopping bag I went on deck and after several timid attempts I finally got our crab into the bag which I promptly tied at the top.

It was then back to sleep to grab what was left of the night.

After dropping the medical team at the beach for pick up by Donald in the Health centre vehicle, the ship’s crew of Ray, Jon, James and I were soon after wards walking across the island to the clinic and the topic of Mr Crab came up.  Someone opened up by saying, “so are we going to eat the crab?”,  someone else said, “I suppose we’ll have to vote on it”, to which I reminded everyone that it’s “not a democracy” … to which the two naval veterans heartily agreed.  Jon then said, “I must confess, I do feel a bit bad eating  something that by all accounts is endangered, is probably 30 years old and delivers minimal nutritional value at the end of the day”. “So it’s agreed”, said Ray, “we’re not going to eat him”. “That’s right, we have redeemed him for a small price and now he will be released”.

Like Jon and his cooking, another chance to get in touch with our feminine sides … or maybe it’s been too long at sea.  But later in the day as the four of us released Mr Coconut Crab onto the base of a nearby coconut tree, I’m sure we all had a mushy, warm inner glow. After all they are amazing creatures.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and live long and prosper Mr Coconut Crab

Rob Latimer

Sunday – The Day of Rest

Sunday – The Day of Rest

Sunday 14 July 2013
Emae Island
After a good night’s sleep everyone was up around 7:00am having breakfast and preparing for church ashore.  In the end, Helen, Morinda, Tony, Christine, Lyndon, Jon, James and I took the dinghy ashore and then made the 20 minute walk along the waterfront track to the village of Marae where we were welcomed into the small Presbyterian church building.

Along with wonderful singing and the message delivered in Bislama, there was a general announcement about the medical clinic we will be conducting tomorrow and afterwards all eight of us newcomers were invited to exit the building first in order to then shake hands with everyone as they too left the building.  It’s a wonderful tradition and in the brief encounter with the very young and the very old and everyone in between, in which a variety of words were shared, such as God Bless, or Good Morning, and you look clearly into each other’s eyes, a real sense of community was shared and something of the experience these people have known in this place, on this island, together over the generations; and continue to share now.

After church, we returned to the village meeting space and were soon treated to a lovely lunch of local delicacies, fish, taro, laplap, island cabbage, pumpkin and a few other things I haven’t yet identified.

Around 1:30pm a vehicle turned up, driven by local nurse practitioner Donald,  with “Ministry of Health, Emae Island” written on the door. Donald took us all aboard and returned us to the dinghy landing spot and waited 30 minutes while James, Lyndon and I raced back to Chimere in order to bring back the dental, optical and medical equipment. This was then driven to the clinic on the other side of the island in readiness for the start of tomorrow’s clinic.
Returning to the church service, whilst it was mostly in Bislama and we only took in a few words of understanding, during the clinic announcement the number “7” was heard, which we took to be the commencement time of tomorrow’s clinic.  Later we clarified with Donald about the time of the clinic commencement and he hedged a bit and said, “maybe 7:30 to 8:00am” – explaining that many people will be walking long distances to get there and so they need to start early in order to get back home again in daylight.   So it was decided that we will all be on the beach ready for pick-up around 7:25am.

On the way back from dropping the gear off at the clinic Donald stopped at a road cutting where we discovered some really good clay for the making of mudbricks tomorrow while the medical clinic is in progress.  I’d earlier met with a man called Carlo, (as we waited for the start of the church service) and he too was interested in the low smoke stoves.  He said he’d be at the clinic tomorrow so we should have a good session mixing mud and making bricks.

When we finally returned to Chimere in the mid-afternoon Ray and Kristie described an encounter with a local chap who they initially met when they’d heard a voice calling out from in the water.  Going on deck they discovered a young man floating around in the water.  Once on deck he described how he’d recently lost his spear gun, but asked
if we wanted to buy some fish, crayfish and crabs, which he intended to catch.  Ray settled on a price of 500 Vatu per kilo (about $6) but made it clear that only big fish, not little fish.  This was understood and the fisherman explained that they would not have the disease segutara (sp) which was a relief.   Having agreed on the
“contract”, the man made his way back into the water to swim the 400m or so to shore when Ray noticed that he was only wearing thongs and his mask looked very much second hand.    As mentioned in an earlier Ships Log, we have a supply of flippers, masks and snorkels aboard for giving away and so Ray invited him to take his pick, to which he thought all his Christmases had come at once.

With supplies of many goods getting low on the island, due to the trading boat not having been for some time, Ray was also asked if we had any “D” batteries we could spare; for his fishing torch.

While ashore I asked a few older folk about landing on the islands of Mataso and Makira and all agreed that in weather like this it is virtually impossible.  I noticed at the medical clinic that Donald had a display of various statistics about each village on Emau and also the islands of Mataso and Makira.  The two smaller islands sustaining
around 130 people each.  As for the island of Tongariki, in this weather I got the impression from one chap that you shouldn’t even think about it – the words “rock ledge” and “swells” being clearly understood.  This kind of gelled with a comment from someone on Emao Island the other day who in response to my question about anchoring
and then landing on the island he said…”to land you must remember, 1,2,3 GO”  for effect he repeated it with hand actions … “1,2,3 GO”; the “GO” referring to the fourth wave in the typical set of waves that break on the landing spot.

By way of update, we are still being buffeted by 20-30kt winds and we are lying in a sheltered anchorage with generally flat seas.  In driving to the clinic on the other side of the island, we caught a glimpse of the surf running on the weather coast and it’s not very pleasant.

Whilst we feel for the people of Mataso and Makira, and probably also Tongariki (assuming we can’t get to them later in the week on account of the weather) we are comforted in the knowledge that the people of this island, Emau, will receive some good care over the next few days.

On the communications front, the last few years has seen a spread of radio towers around the islands by two companies – Digicel and Telecom Vanuatu, enabling phone and internet communications to become more widespread.  Whilst in Port Vila 10 days ago I set the ships laptop up with a Telecom Vanuatu internet connection, which, although painfully slow, has enabled the transmission of photos and  emails.  For the past 10 days our old system of on-board communications, using the HF radio, laptop and modem via a service called “SailMail” has been on the blink.  Meaning that we have not been able to send or receive emails using our VKV2313 email address.  However, after 10 days of
hopeless attempts, tonight I finally managed to secure a transmission and received a couple of emails in reply.  So sorry for not replying a week ago to both of you!

From now on we hope to maintain the Sail Mail connection in working order because before long the new internet connection is bound to find a blind spot, requiring the use of the old fashioned back-up method.

After moving ashore for two nights at Emao Island, (due to the rolly anchorage) Helen and Morinda are back living aboard now – evidence of this as a nice quiet anchorage.


Again, it’s starting to get late and everyone has gone to bed early in anticipation of an early start tomorrow.  Speaking of everyone’s beds, I’ll see if I can send through a photo of a few bunks.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and it’s nice to have a day of rest !

Rob Latimer

Mataso and Makira – we did our best.

Mataso and Makira – we did our best.

Saturday 13 July 2013

Emae Island

The day began blowier than normal, overcast and not very promising. The initial idea, after looking at the white caps all around and passing showers, was to declare a lay-day. But after obtaining a 7 day weather forecast which revealed that it was going to stay like this for, well, the next 7 days, the idea of declaring a lay-day kind of seemed a bit silly.

In the end it was around 8:00am that James and I slowly putted off to the beach in the dinghy, slowly gliding her up and over the advancing waves so as not to get too wet.  The tide was sufficiently high enough to enable us to easily weave through the coral reef and there was Helen and Morinda on the beach, surrounded by friends and a few children, packed and ready to be picked up.

After getting Helen and Morinda back aboard the bouncing Chimere it was then a case of securing the dinghy to the stern davits, retrieving the anchor and setting a course for the island of Mataso about 15 miles to the north.  We got away around 8:45am and the distance was covered in no time at all, with the wind astern and a small jib set; plus the motor ticking away in the background. (Refer to Spot GPS track)

The size of the waves picked up as we left the lee of Emao island and on arrival at Mataso we came in close in search of a suitable spot to anchor. Very few people ever visit this island, so little information is available in the cruising guides, however, with high, steep sides and the main village on the weather coast it was always going to be difficult in these conditions.  A break in the reef on the NW side of the island was our only hope and whilst the swell in the lee of the island was less, we were soon met by a swell coming back at us from the opposite direction; having curved around the island from the other side.   The sea was deep close in, making anchoring difficult too, but it was the “wind bullets” caused by the steep slopes and swirling wind that repeatedly hit us at 50kts +, with driving sea spray, that sealed our decision to move on.  We initially thought to move onto the next island north, Makira; the site of our next clinics, however, being a small island with an indifferent anchorage we figured the same problem would be encountered. Consequently, we set our sights on the larger island of Emae where it was known a good anchorage could be found on the north coast.

The thought of a calm anchorage raised the spirits aboard somewhat, with the 3-5 metre swells starting to test the resilience of some.

By mid afternoon we had dropped anchor on a sandy patch amongst a coral reef, with the stillness and calm bringing everyone to life; along with it must be said, a big pot of canned spaghetti with toast and grated cheese.
An advance party of Jon, Ramon, Helen, Morinda, Lyndon and Kristie went ashore to look for a man named Donald – the local health care worker and all-round island leader – so as to inform them of our unexpected arrival  and willingness to establish a dental, eyecare and general medical clinic over the next couple of days; instead of at the islands of Mataso and Makira.

Tony, Christine, James and I remained aboard doing chores or resting.

On return, the shore party told tales of having found a wonderful guy named Donald, of a very well organized and neat island of around 2,000 people and having ridden aboard one of only two (working) vehicles on the island.

Being Sunday tomorrow, and the day of rest, it was agreed that we would set up the clinic, but that treatments would not begin until Monday and continue through Tuesday.  Everyone on the island would be informed tomorrow at church of the clinic; which Donald thought would be very well received given that no dentist had been seen on the island … “for a long time” … which we understood translated into years.

There is a grass airstrip on this rather large island, and at the eye clinic that was conducted here last year a lot of people had apparently asked about the provision of dental care, but sadly they were informed that it was eyecare and general medical care only.  So it will be interesting to see what level of care is required.

Dinner tonight was another one of those pre-prepared and frozen meals made by Joy Harvey from North Ringwood Uniting Church.  After 1½ months the shepherd’s pie was very well received.  Thanks are hereby officially passed on by all !!    James’ latest cake was also well received – a lemon/pamplemoose cake with lovely thick icing – plus sliced banana and pawpaw – amazing.

Everyone has now gone to sleep and after the journey up here and the rolly anchorage at Emao, our latest spot here at Emae is a real blessing.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and a good night’s sleep.

Rob Latimer

Full day clinic at Marou Village, Emao

Full day clinic at Marou Village, Emao

Friday 12 July 2013

Emao Island

It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the water now for a whole week!

Routines have quickly become established – the preparation of dinner, the charging of batteries, the making of water, the transfer of the dental and medical equipment into the dinghy , the set-up and operation of the clinics and the adjustment to the constant movement of the boat.

Having left all the gear onshore yesterday, it was a simple case this morning of transferring everyone ashore in plenty of time to start work by 9 o’clock.  As the last of breakfast was being scoffed and tea and coffee cups were being drained, the call goes up … “all aboard for the 8:35am dinghy to the beach”.  Some take more notice than others, with some wag inevitably calling out, “I’ve just got to have a shower”, or “I’ve got to put my make-up on”. Read more…


With the wind still blowing at 20kts plus and the sea continuing to make for an unpleasant movement here at anchor, we ended up running two dinghy loads into shore, (with minimal wetness) with Ray and Jon going ashore this time, (to stretch their legs), and James and I staying aboard to work through a list of chores, including tidying up and the making of a decent windbreak across the front  of the cockpit.

Onshore Morinda did two dental talks and screened children’s teeth, with the observation that after the very bad condition of teeth in Pt Vila and the island of Efate generally, here the condition of the children’s teeth was much better – no doubt a function of the [extra] distance from lollies, sweets and the fizzy drinks so easily found in the big smoke.

Lyndon was ably supported again by Christine and Kristie, with a full days’ list of patients seen.  He was telling me earlier of a 12 year old girl he saw with 3 undecended deciduous teeth which were being crowed out by the secondary teeth coming through next to them.  With a bit of anesthetic and a lot of skill the three teeth were removed, leaving the girl very much happier.  After a while she returned and just stared at Lyndon as he worked on another patient.  After a while Lyndon asked if she would like to be a dentist and she answered, “yes I would like to be a dentist”.  And maybe she will !

Christine did some valuable work today with some mothers and carers who are struggling to manage some severely disabled children.  Again, a 12 year old, unable to go to school because he is incontinent and has impaired mental development and a 6 year old with epilepsy showing facial and other scars of falls and scrapes.  Based on Christine’s clinical knowledge, some strategies were passed on which may be of value,  but you really feel for the families and carers in such situations; and of course the poor children whose futures  appear so uncertain.  We were able to pass on some of the donated clothes to these families, along with a bag of incontinent pads which had been
donated and were amongst the bags of clothes.


When the clinic broke for lunch and I’d returned to shore to swap with Ray and Jon, I approached my new friend from yesterday, Edmund, about doing a mudbrick demonstration in this village.  He was very enthusiastic and had gone across to the other side of the lagoon to collect the clay in bags.  A young lad paddled a dugout canoe across to bring them back and obviously two 25kg bags of clay were too much cargo, because when I first laid eyes on him only his head was sticking out of the water and his canoe and outrigger were only visible from their submerged outline around him.  This he was supporting and propelling forward with a steady underwater kicking
action and all the strength he could muster.  Progress was slow but he finally made it to the shore, complete with two bags of (now totally sodden) clay in the bow.  The cargo was preserved, but with water, each bag now must have weighed more than 35kg.

In the end the mudbrick demonstration went very well, with Edmund conducting most of it, based on his experience from yesterday’s demonstration.  At the end he declared himself “the teacher”, and I left an extra mold and instruction manual for him to share with the village further inland.

As the clinic wound down James whipped out the white ships violin (bought at Aldi’s a few years back) and did an impromptu concert for all the children.  The school teacher explained that they had been doing the alphabet recently and the word that accompanied the letter “V”, on the picture card, was the violin.  So it was a thrill for many to see one actually played.  Many had imagined it was played like a guitar, but James taught them otherwise.


Loaded up and ready to go by around 4:30pm, there was still some time to watch the sun go down and say a heart-felt farewell on the beach to what seemed like half the village.  The tide was in so the maneuvering through the coral was easier than it had been earlier in the day, with the wind still blowing hard as we left the shelter of the beach.
Onboard, there was a universal “Ooo and Arrr” as James’ amazing banana cake was unveiled , complete with a sugar-brown, tasty  icing.

Jon outdid himself with another wonderful dinner and again everyone soon found their way to bed, tired, exhausted but really content that they’d done some good work today.
Morinda sheepishly asked this afternoon if it would be OK for her and Helen to again remain ashore for the night, knowing that we were keen to be away early in the morning.  With a big smile I sighed, “that’s OK Morinda and Helen” … to which they both giggled.  With our new, wonderful davits on the stern it won’t take us long to launch the dinghy in the morning, race ashore and return them for 7:30am.
Hopefully we can get away by 8:00am.  The crew has told the medical team that they can all sleep in.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and off to Mataso tomorrow.

Rob Latimer

Our man Edmund

Our man Edmund

Thursday 11 July 2013

Emao Island

The Spot GPS recorder will probably indicate exactly when we raised the anchor and said farewell to the wonderful anchorage between Pele and Nguna islands; but I suspect it was about 9:00am

The anchor came up well and before long we were chugging along into the 20kt breeze bound for the Natasariki Pass and Emao Island a short way off. Whilst the distance wasn’t much, our course took us out from behind the lee of the islands and straight into the 20-30kt trade wind which was raising a fair amount of surf on the reef either side of us in the Pass.  The wind came just off the bow at one point as we altered course, enabling us to set the jib and increase our speed from around 3kts to 6kts while at the same time lessening our dependence on the engine; which is always a good thing when on a lee shore.
Before long we were off the coast of Emao, looking for the most acceptable spot to anchor.  Choices were limited with the swell making its way around the coast and causing a sizeable roll, even though we were technically in the shelter of the island.  Like many of the nearby islands, a coral reef extends out a few hundred meters from the shore and from there it drops suddenly to about 15m and then a short distance after that 50-100m.

In the end we decided to launch the dinghy off the stern davits and race into shore to get some local knowledge and instructions, while the “mother-ship Chimere” lolled about in the deep.  On approaching what looked like the best landing spot, a group of men onshore could be seen waving, some it seemed to the left, some to the right and some just up and down.  The reason for their waving soon became apparent as a long net came into view extending a considerable distance through the shallows.  We cut the engine in time and then half drifted and half paddled our way further inshore.  Meanwhile a local chap, who introduced himself as Edmond waded out over the coral – how they do that in their rubber thongs I do not know – and clambered aboard.  He then proceeded to guide Chimere to the best spot to anchor, a little further up the coast and closer to the reef than we’d initially planned; eh, who were we to argue.

After an hour of sorting and preparation (oh, and a cup of tea) it was time to load the dinghy and take in the first load and team members – Helen, Morinda, Kristie, James and me, oh and Edmund.

The plan today was to conduct and eye and dental clinic down the coast a bit at the village of Wiana and tomorrow operate the full day in the village of Merou; our landing spot.
In the end, we set up Lyndon’s mobile dental facility in the hall here at Merou, and Morinda, Helen, James and I, guided by Edmond, walked about 30 minutes north along the coast  to Wiana, where Morinda gave a dental awareness talk and Helen assessed eyes.
James and I introduce the idea of mud brick stoves and we met a local chief, Sandy, who is the brother of Alec who we’ve met a couple of times in Melbourne.  Alec has done farm work under a rural exchange visa in Australia and as a further connection, our man Edmond is the nephew of both Sandy and Alec. The mudbrick demonstration went well and around 3:45pm we started heading back to the original village, this time via the inland route because the tide had by now come in.  Edmond climbed a coconut tree for us and dropped a few green ones for us to drink – he did that without his rubber thongs on.
Returning to the dinghy on the beach we learnt that Lyndon had been busy all afternoon filling and pulling teeth and pretty much had a full book for tomorrow.
Being a bit rolly here at anchor, Morinda and Helen have jumped ship, at least for tonight and tomorrow preferring to sleep ashore with friends and family.
It looks like a big day tomorrow, with Morinda expecting to conduct two dental presentation, Helen to continue assessing eyes and Lyndon working through his appointment book, ably assisted by Christine and Kristie.
As an aside, when we were in Port Vila a nearby yacht, Le Pan, asked if we would be able to distribute a large supply of flippers, goggles and snorkels as we travel around the islands.  They had them aboard for that purpose but were intending to sail straight back to Australia and didn’t think they’d have a chance to.  Consequently, we took them aboard and when I asked Edmond if he’d like to make a selection he initially couldn’t believe what I was saying.  I finally had to say, “e free” , “e no cost” to which he was so very thankful.
Jon excelled again tonight with dinner, ably supported by Ramon; both of whom spent the day aboard making bread, changing the batteries and making water – plus baking more muffins and making the most amazing rissoles containing just about anything they could find.  We each ate them with cheese and tomato sauce inside bread rolls baked by Ray – just amazing !!  Kristie also revived Bob Brenac’s  Soda Fountain and whilst it’s not the most vital part of the dental program it is a bit of fun – and very tasty too I might say.  We remember to brush our teeth afterwards too!

Outside the wind is still a bit blowy and the swell is a bit of a nuisance making for a rolling action.  It’s around 8:00pm and everyone went to sleep some time ago.   My turn now.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and here’s to our man Edmond

Rob Latimer

Up the hill and back again

Up the hill and back again

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Pele & Nguna Islands

As our clinic in the church hall here at Taloa went into its third day, it was time to send a medical team up the hill to the village of Malaliu.

Unfortunately rain squalls became more frequent during the night and persisted for much of the day making tracks and paths very damp, muddy and slippery.   Our travelling medical team consisted of Tony, Helen, Morinda, James and me, with the walk taking about an hour each way.

On arrival, Morinda did a dental awarenenss talk to the school and Helen began testing eyes.  Tony did a few blood pressure tests and overall it seemed a very healthy community.


Interest was high in a mudbrick stove demonstration  and once the word had spread around we ended up with the local chief leading the way, even putting the shovel to shame by getting in and mixing the mud and coconut fibre by hand.  I took a small DVD player with me this time with our “How to make a stove” video grabbing everyone’s attention, particularly the part which showed the completed stove in use.  (Refer to website link)  In watching the video several people recognized a Ni-van chap, Alec who comes from the island we are visiting tomorrow: Emao.  Alec and several of his friends have been in Australia recently under a temporary farm-worker visa  program.

We passed the word around today about our desire to buy some fruit and vegetables and a lovely lady by the name of Caroline sent a message to the next village down  the road, returning with a wheelbarrow full of goodies.


Tonight’s dinner was another Jon special combining a frozen meal and a mix of island vegetables .  This was backed up with choc muffins, banana and custard.  Jon’s long-time navy buddy Ramon suggested that as a retired weapons engineer Jon makes a wonderful cook.

Other notable events worthy of report include an electric toilet that continues to work perfectly (although I may regret having said that), a fantastic watermaker and diesel generator  that allows us to have regular hot showers and deckhatches that  do a great job of keeping out the torrential rain; although it must be said that they don’t work so well if left in the open position – as Tony and Christine discovered yesterday.

Lyndon has been very busy fixing teeth and our arrival back that the boat tonight in the dark was again the result of “just one more” patient sneaking onto his list.  It’s been very satisfying to see people wander in with obvious discomfort, only to leave an hour or two later much improved.

Tomorrow we up-anchor as early as we dare, (after first returning a bread knife ashore which we accidentally put into our bag in the dark tonight on our return) and make our way through the Natasiriki Passage to the island of Emao; a dramatically steep island maybe 10-20 miles away.  Hopefully the anchorage is as good as this one; although I doubt it.


Smooth seas, fair breeze and up the hill and back again

Rob Latimer

Some serious rain today

Some serious rain today

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Pele & Nguna Islands

By Cub Reporter, Ramon Rees

The day, like all days, began with the best of intentions. The medical and dental team and their supporters would head out to set up for the day’s clinic before 0800 with a view to finishing early and taking a well earned break in the afternoon to explore the island a little more.
The previous evening I opened a book, setting the odds of what time the clinics would actually start. By 0630 Chimere was a hive of activity as everyone was busy having breakfast and completing their morning ablutions. Just when I thought I might have got it wrong, a rain squall came through which delayed the departure enough for me to save face.


When the rain stopped, Rob scurried through Chimere, calling out “all aboard” as a way of “herding the cats.” Jon and I eventually waved the intrepid workers off at about 0845 and then started on the list of boat tasks for the day.

There were the routine tasks of charging the batteries and topping up the fresh water tanks but I was also determined to fix an annoying floor board problem in their cabin. Jon intended to repair the depth sounder and try to fix the portable generator, which had let the team down the day before. These tasks were interspersed with a little reading, a few cups of tea and simply enjoying the solitude that came when the others were ashore

Rob and James brought Lyndon and Kristie back to Chimere to sterilize Lyndon’s dental utensils and to have some lunch while Tony and Christine held the fort back on the island with Helen and Morinda. After a delicious repast of 2 minute noodles, thick and hearty soup and some pamplemoose, the workers set off again to complete the afternoon clinic while I had my first attempt at baking bread.

After deciding the portable generator needed help from a Honda dealer, Jon started preparing dinner, having turned Chimere upside down in search of rice. Like many things, it had been stored so securely that it was not to be found until the others returned and eventually stumbled across it in the most logical place of all – above Rob’s bunk. Where else could one expect it to be.  Later we also found the bottle of lemon juice in there so some serious questions are being asked.

It was a lovely dinner and after watching a couple of Ripping Yarn episodes on the computer it was an early night for most.

Ramon Rees


Ships Log

After some overnight showers, the rain became serious at times throughout the day with the paths and everywhere else becoming quite sodden.

The clinic continued here at Tikilasoa, otherwise known as Taloa, with the plan tomorrow being for eyecare worker Helen, dental care worker Morinda, plus doctor Tony, James and I heading up the hill about 1 hour to the nearby village of Malaliu.  Any complex dental cases will be sent back down to Lyndon, who still has a few patients to see, and a stock of the standard spectacles will be taken to meet most situation.

The mud on the track will make going a bit slippy but we are looking forward to working in a new village and have been assured that they are expecting us.  We’ll even take the mudbrick mold and instruction manual with us in case there’s interest in the Low Smoke Stoves.

Tomorrow is our last full day here and the following morning (Thursday) we’ll be away to the nearby island of Emau (also known as Emao) where we intend to run clinics in the villages of Wiana and Marou.  The island of Emau looks fascinating from here.  Very steep in parts with little flat land.

It’s starting to get late and so it’s off to bed

Smooth seas, fair breeze and maybe it’ll stop raining tomorrow.

Rob Latimer