One day blurs into the next…

Well, I think everyone was expecting a smooth ride around from the west and certainly it started out that way, then we came out from the lee of the island the full force of the SE trade winds hits you on the nose along with the swell that has built over the past few days. Read more…

Monday 9 September 2013

Sola, Vanualava

Yesterday, or was it the day before, we were on the west coast of this island …  at Waterfall Bay and the day before that at Vureus Bay.

Then it was time to come around here to Sola – the main provincial headquarters – where there is a hospital and where we were to conduct another clinic.

Well, I think everyone was expecting a smooth ride around from the west and certainly it started out that way, then we came out from the lee of the island the full force of the SE trade winds hits you on the nose along with the swell that has built over the past few days.

For about 2 hours there it was one tack after another, backwards and forwards, just to gain a few miles in the direction we wanted.

It was Sunday, that’s right, just yesterday, and we’d got away from the sheltered Waterfall Bay anchorage around 5:30am – a most unchristian time of day – our plan being to make the island of Mota by late morning to run a clinic there in the afternoon.  Mota is one of those small islands with a fringing reef and a rock edge on which to land and a coral shelf on which to anchor temporarily.  Our plan was to head across to the sheltered bay at Sola – a distance of just 8 miles – to spend the night.

It was probably around the fourth tack, climbing up and over the waves that a new plan emerged.  As much as were desperate to do a clinic at Mota, with a weary crew, hungry and tired medical team, it was decided to scrub Mota off our list.  In the end we would have got there with just a few short hours to unload, conduct the clinic and then re-load.  So it was that we headed straight to Sola.

We dropped anchor at around 12:00noon and who should be in the anchorage but David, the solo UK yachtsman on Shandon, whom we had met
at Luganville a week before.

The idea of going ashore was initially floated for just a few;  to check out the hospital, the facilities and the running of the clinic tomorrow – but the idea gained traction and pretty soon everyone was ashore for a walk.

Aboard Chimere, our broken high pressure hose – for the watermaker – was still a problem to be solved with Dave, now nicknamed Desal Dave
searching through our spare parts and workshop for pieces of the potential solution.  As each attempt at fixing the hose, which runs at 1500psi, using low pressure hose and hose clips failed, Dave seemed to become more determined.  In the end a solution was achieved which has survived a 1 hour water making session this afternoon so hopefully it hangs out till be get some spare parts.  In the meantime the shower police are in full swing.

In the end it was a much needed relaxing afternoon aboard yesterday, with Cathy – or as I think she’ll become knows … Capability Cathy – whipping up another lovely meal with the aid of some willing peelers and choppers.

Most aboard had a good sleep at anchor last night, with Bob and Gibson staying with Gibson’s uncle ashore … but when a grey day dawns and the
first sound you hear is the grind of the electric toilet laboring to a halt followed by the predictable click of a breaker switch … you could safely say that the rest of the day has been put on notice.

It was a late start for the crew – all ashore by 8:00am, leaving Matt, Dave and Cathy – and me – to work on the boat, cart water, catch up on paperwork – and even read an email or two, given we are in range of a Telcom Vanuatu tower.

It was a full day at the clinic with Barry seeing the last patient after 5:00pm. Dave and Matt met a chap ashore called Robert who owned the “Yacht
Club”; a set of bungalows located back from the beach maybe 30-40 metres.   We ended up having dinner there tonight.  Meanwhile I found a chief George, who was also a leader in the local Anglican church, and in addition to running a mud brick demonstration this afternoon we agreed to run a movie for the community  tonight.

It’s been a big day all-round and now at 11:00pm, with everything stowed and lashed down we are ready to get away early tomorrow in the direction of Mota Lava – the island further north  – this really will be a dream sail.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and  what day is it?

Rob Latimer

To read older Ships Log posts go to …

A quiet day at Sola
By Cub Reporter No2

English yachtie David joined us to board the dinghy to go ashore. He had a pile of pharmaceuticals he was donating to the local Torba Provence Hospital, previously called  Torba mini-hospital.

We set ourselves up, the dental team inside next to the empty medical ward and the eye and ‘body doctas’ under the spacious verandah. Local nurse Nancy had put displays of hibiscus on the rail with three different flowers on each other by means of a wooden skewer so it looked as if one had grown out of the other. A nice touch she does everyday.

The eye clinic was busy all morning and had to call for more sunglasses as many eyes suffer from UV damage. Patients pay 200 Batu (about AUD2.50 ) for the ‘prescription glasses’ but get them for free if they cant afford this. Medical and dental treatment is free. The nurses here are a happy and competent group although Dr Graeme dampened the day of one when he picked up a prolapsed mitral valve not too serious at present.  Most patients are so grateful and listen carefully when we outline means  reducing blood pressure (don’t cook in salt water) and avoiding ‘sic suka’ (diabetes) by eating less rice, coconut milk, sugar and ‘rubbish kaikai from Australia’ (sweet biscuits). However one group of local yokals were incredulous when we told them they had to stop smoking AS WELL AS drinking less kava. Unfortunately Janet –who had the severed extensor tendon in her right hand, did not appear. Perhaps they decided to wait until after her sister’s wedding or she was too scared of the air trip to the hospital….perhaps we will never know. So we left the referral with the customs officer Henri who seemed a reliable person.
Meanwhile back on the boat Desalinator Dave was not about to be beaten by a leaking small high pressure hose. So after trading a clamp or two from other parts of the boat and surrounding the leaking hose with three coverings of progressively larger hose he subdued the beast to a functional dribble. So we are showering again!

Medical Sailing Mini-series

There are a variety of miscellaneous activities going on as I write this paragraph. Nancy and Cathy are labouring in the kitchen, Ruth and Doug relaxing with a well-earned cup of tea, whilst Matt and Dave are trying to fix our broken on-board desalination plant. Read more…

Sunday 8 September 2013

Sola, Vanualava

As I write this sitting in the saloon the sun is setting over the hills of Sola on the northern tip of Vanualava. The shafts of sunlight cut through the valleys to the northwest giving a stunning but hazy outline of the hilly ranges beyond. It has been a tiring day.

There are a variety of miscellaneous activities going on as I write this paragraph. Nancy and Cathy are labouring in the kitchen, Ruth and Doug relaxing with a well-earned cup of tea, whilst Matt and Dave are trying to fix our broken on-board desalination plant.

And yes we occasionally undertake medical and dental activities as well. In an earlier blog we have outlined how each clinic runs. Each clinic has its own unique aspect with several individual stories. Several stories have already been related in previous episodes of the Ships Log, some with fictitious names but the stories are true.

See story of Adison in “Vureus bay medical Festival“, and Janet in “Who Cares about the Election” and Fanny in “Lost Island of Merig.”


And then there is the small child Nera (not her real name) on the island of Merelava …

Nera’s mother came to the clinic from the neighbouring village of Laekwel with two of her four children and wandered into a throng of waiting patients. She was too afraid to come to the clinic but curious enough to take a look. Mary agreed for the older child to have a checkup. Ruth noticed her 18-month old baby Nera and encouraged her to come in a have a checkup too.

“She cannot see. No need to check her” mother replied. So it took some encouraging to get her to bring Nera. It was clear this little girl was unwell. She had a severe facila deformity that had affected her nose, eyes, face, and impaired her vision. It was clear she had been born with a frontal encephalocele. This is similar to the problem that two other children had been discovered with and had had repaired in Australia – Adison in 2007 at the Royal Childrens Hospital, and Faelyn in 2012 at Monash Medical Centre.

Mary had already been told by another doctor that the baby could not be treated. It is also likely that the parents felt the congential deformity was some form of punishment or retribution upon them. We explained through George the local nurse and interpreter what the problem was and asked if the father could come to the clinic in the afternoon.

Mary and Nera returned later in the day with the husband and we sat them down to slowly explain what the illness was, what we could possibly offer in the way of treatment. This would involve an application to ROMAC for funding support, complex arrangements for passports, travel and  accommodation. Travel from their island of Merelava is not as easy affair – if they are lucky a boat may come once in every two or three months. Even if all this was successful a full medical assessment would be required, and even if corrective surgery was feasible it would take 6-9 months to complete. This is not what mum and dad were expecting to hear, but they appeared keen to pursue whatever options might be available.

So it’s anything but smooth seas and fair breeze for this family. Yes we are a Medical Sailing Mini-series.

On Board Cub Reporter.


Saturday 7 September

Waterfall Bay, Vanualava Island

After a good night’s sleep up early to be ready for our clinic in Waterfall Bay on the west coast of Vanualava, famous for its magnificent … waterfall. More about that later. The dental clinic took centre stage (literally!) so the team could gaze out over  the ocean. Actually it is because this was the best lit area for Barry, Bob and Dave.

Have we told you about Dave? We thought he was a Fleet (vehicle) Manager signing on as sailor, but he is also a diesel mechanic. Now we find out he actually is a Dental Instrument Sterilizer Extraodinaire and is now in training as a dental assistant. Barry said he is a good ‘sucker’ … a dental joke there.

The eye clinic (Dr Nancy and Gibson) and the ‘body doctas’ (Graeme and Doug) set up in the community hall/restuarant  while nurse Ruth roamed around the village recruiting patients and assisting everybody else. However, before we could start Chief Kerely and his wife Elizabeth gave us a warm welcome. Later most of the village came with another thank you speech and followed by a 12 verse welcome song to the tune of ‘God save the Queen’! This version was very moving.  As was the hibiscus flower that was placed behind each person’s ear accompanied by a handshake and greeting.

While nothing is mundane here, there is always something of greater interest. This time it was the chief’s daughter Janet who had a cut on the back of her left hand. (digging up yams)   It had been closed with sutures by the local clinic nurse a week previously and antibiotics had prevented any infection. However her inability to straighten her middle finger meant that the ‘string’ (tendon) had been severed and needed surgery as soon as possible. This could only be performed in Luganville on the island of Santo. It could not be repaired in her village or on her island.

The chief and his wife were grateful and concerned considering the social and financial complications of treatment, in spite of the fact we said we would cover airfares. It finally emerged that Janet was to be bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding the following Friday, the first wedding in the family with 500 guests invited.

There were the usual very brave children at the dental clinic and everyone seemed so warm and friendly. However a 2013 Health Department poster on the wall told another story: statistics for violence against women showed  physical and sexual abuse over 41% on some islands. Some victims are as young as 15 years. All is not well in paradise.

After coconut milk and pamplemouse and cheese biscuits for lunch, it was off to the waterfall. This amazing waterfall with two torrents of water tumbling 20 metres over volcanic rock into a deep swimming hole on the edge of the beach. Most of us swam and sat under the cascade, while a few nameless monkeys climbed up the gigantic and slippery rocks behind and directly beneath the falls. Later three mermaids were found basking on the warm rocks. The waterfall is impressive, and this is only the dry season. Apparently during the wet season the water shoots over the pool to the beach.

Around this time someone realized Chimere’s fresh water converter was malfunctioning due to a leaking high pressure hose. Fortunately we were right next to an unending fresh water supply and Rob had earlier unblocked and relocated the village water supply pipe from above the falls. We were able to fill our fresh water tanks from the village pipe, flowing at 20L/minute. In the absence of a spare hose Dave set to work on repairs. Stay tuned for more updates on this endeavour.


After dinner Colin from a neighbouring catamaran came for a medical consultation on behalf of his sick wife. We had met their delightful 10-year old daughter (who will be a bridesmaid at the wedding) and 8 year old son earlier and discovered they had been sailing the world for 4 dry seasons. Colin was still remotely running his electrical supply business in Bosham, southern England.

Coincidentally Ruth pointed out we have a painting of Bosham in the saloon on Chimere!  It’s a small world after all.
Then it was off to sleep ready for another(!) early sail tomorrow hoping for smooth seas, fair breeze and a comfortable run up the coast.

On-board Cub Reporter #2.

Vureas Bay Medical Festival

What with water activities, roller coaster rides (of the sea water variety), jungle adventure walks, rock climbing, multicultural culinary experiences, local costumes customs and dancing, and friendly new faces everyday, you could be forgiven for thinking MSM is one big Disneyland theme park. Except that it is all real. To quote Fiona (2011 VBPB team member): “You know, you’d pay a lot back home for a ride like this!”

What with water activities, roller coaster rides (of the sea water variety), jungle adventure walks, rock climbing, multicultural culinary experiences, local costumes customs and dancing, and friendly new faces everyday, you could be forgiven for thinking MSM is one big Disneyland theme park. Except that it is all real. To quote Fiona (2011 VBPB team member): “You know, you’d pay a lot back home for a ride like this!”

For example, after our Thursday morning clinic at the village of Dolap we were invited by Levi the local Anglican minister to witness the first open display of their kustom (sic) dances. These were a long and colourful affair involving a percussion and rhythmn band, many colourful costumes and masks and headgear, lots of stamping, jumping, and running.

It was explained that these dances represented the history of the people of Gaua, the significance of the environment birds, fish, plants, animals, then the arrival of humans and arrival of Bishop Patterson followed by the stabilising influence of Christianity on the local community.

“Only half-an-hour.” we were promised, but it was each dance that took 30min to prepare and execute. Levi was keen for us to help to market his village crafts, food, dances, and activities and create a cultural festival aimed to attract other yachties for local commercial purposes. To quote Rob: “We do more than fix teeth and eyes.”

Thus our departure (for Vureus Bay) was delayed and after a pleasant cruise up the coast and across to the island of Vanualava, we arrived after sunset but with enough light to avoid bumping into two other yachts or the coral reef. Cancel this afternoon’s clinic!

Unbenown to us the Vureus Bay community had just completed their annual 4-day  cultural festival. Clearly this ‘cultural festival’ idea was becoming popular! Although we were disappointed to miss their festival this turned out for the best. Had we arrived the day earlier (as planned) the clinic would have been competing with the local economic endeavours! Reliable methods of income are rare in these remote parts. So it was that the clinic day was revised to an all-day Friday affair, and this news was spread to surrounding villages.

We awoke to a fine, sunny day with a gentle cool off-shore breeze. The clinic was held in the, now vacated, “festival ground” – a small grassy area surrounded by several beachside thatched bungalows. In line with the festival theme we offered many sources of entertainment for the locals.

There was a dental clinic set up on the recently constructed festival ‘stage’ where Barry performed extractions, examinations, and fillings to the amazement of the onlookers whose ‘Oooh’s and ‘Aaah’s could be heard.

Across the ‘common’, in the ‘restaurant’ hut, the medical and eye clinic was setup. Blood pressure and glucose measurements (“One, two, three, ouch!”), and visual tests were watched with awe and curiosity, especially after the entire local primary school arrived for ‘check-ups’.

In the centre of the village green Bob and Graeme ran impromptu education talks on “Helti Tut” (Health Teeth) and Helti Bodi (Healthy Body). Over 100 school children were screened for dental and visual problems.

‘For those more interested in a ‘hands-on’ activity Rob ran the mud brick stove demonstration for the benefit of the adults, school principal, village chief, and dozens of curious kids, complete with DVD and DIY mud brick construction.

There really was something for everyone here at the Vureus Bay Medical Festival! Some happy customers had regained their eyesight, or cures to simple ailments, whilst others were noted to be walking around with sore jaws but thankful hearts.

At the end of every day there is always the tedious task of re-packing all the dental and medical gear, transferring it to the beach, into the dinghy and returning it all to the yacht. With the assistance of dozens of locals and 20 or more kids all the gear was transferred to the beach and the dinghy re-launched into the surf to their excitement and shouts of glee.

Many beaches in Vanuatu are black sandy volcanic soil beaches. The grains of black sand are larger than ‘white’ sand – so large they look more like dunes of poppy seeds! But sand is sand, no matter what its colour, and that means one thing: castles.

Graeme yelled out to the local kids. “Let’s build a house?” and commenced furiously pilling up sand with his hands, but the response was stunned curiosity. None joined in. One or two even said “No.” It was as if they had never built a sand castle before!

Graeme commenced building a second sand castle and yelled to them all: “The first ‘house’ is the island of Merelava, this one represents Merig. More sand!” As the third ‘island’ was constructed he announced “And this one is Gaua!” Curiosity got the better of 2 or 3 who came over and helped piling up sand.. “More, more.” we yelled.

“Now we will build Vanualava.” Graeme yelled. And with that all the children were yelling and laughing and building sand castles everywhere over the beach, yelling “More!”. There must have been twenty or more ‘islands’ being constructed. Some of the girls decorated their islands with branches and flowers, whilst the older boys were determined their ‘castle’ would be the largest. Rob showed how to build a retaining wall against the rising tide. For an hour or so they were happily digging, building, and decorating their ‘islands’, yelping with glee as the waves crept closer to the awaiting ‘islands’.


One particular highlight for us was to catch up with young Adison and his father Silas. Adison had been found by the VPBP team in 2006 and through the assistance of ROMAC he had come to Australia for 9-months of major reconstructive facial surgery to correct a severe congenital disease that had deformed his face and nose and affected his eyesight to the point he had been ostracised and unable to attend school. We last caught up with Adison on the first MSM mission in 2009 and it was time to check his medical progress and it was wonderful to see him again, growing more confident, accepted and loved, and now able to attend school. Thanks to the hard work of many individuals and the God who claims “I am your healer.”

And so it was that the Fifth Day of the Vureus Bay Festival and Beach Mission was inaugurated.

Smooth sands, fairs and festivals, and let’s have some more fun.

On-board Cub Reporter.

Late nights and early mornings!

If we hadn’t figured it out before, it was around now that it became apparent that running dental clinics alongside eyecare clinics introduces a whole new logistical element that needs to be taken into account when planning where we go and the timing between each village/clinic Read more…

Wednesday 4 September
Losalava, Gaua

Having arrived yesterday and conducted an afternoon clinic, it was now a simple case of ferrying the medical volunteers ashore around 7:00am to start work as soon as the first patient arrived.

The plan was to get away around 11:00am, shoot around to the other side of the island, West Gaua, or Dolap village, and conduct another clinic there in the afternoon.

If we hadn’t figured it out before, it was around now that it became apparent that running dental clinics alongside eyecare clinics introduces a whole new logistical element that needs to be taken into account when planning where we go and the timing between each village/clinic

There are also the x-factors that seem to just pop up – like the weather and tides, evacuating Fiona, an impromptu stop at Merig, a clinic building that has two empty water tanks because both have  leaky taps that can’t be fixed etc etc

On the topic of the watertanks, the health worker, Stephen Nako had shown the problem to a yachtie who had passed through some time back and he had generously bought three new brass taps when he’d got to Santo and posted them back to the clinic with a note saying that another yachtie will be able to install them for him.  Well, we were that yachtie.  To fix one tap we called for a willing, small young boy to be lowered on a rope into the tank so as to screw a nut onto the threaded tap shaft which we inserted from the outside; complete with lots of sticky sealant stuff.  In the end a skinny man jumped in and it was fixed in a matter of minutes

The other tap was pretty straightforward to fix and there were leaking taps on two additional tanks we simply ran out of time to fix.  The guttering on the front of the clinic was largely missing, and this had led to the front of the veranda decking rotting, along with the stairs I’d built when I was here 4 years ago.  This time I asked if anyone had any cement, and again health worker Stephen came through with the goods.  He carried a bag of cement from his nearby house and got some chaps to bring two bags of (black) sand from the nearby beach.  He even had a shovel and trowel which enabled me to cement some (found) concrete blocks in place to make stairs at the front and end of the veranda.  Plus there were a couple of lengths of ridge iron, removed from a nearby shed that we bent into guttering and attached to the front of the building that whilst it didn’t look pretty it will at least protect more of the veranda from rotting and direct more water into the tank (now repaired.

Meanwhile, inside the clinic building, the medical team continued their tireless work and between patients, crew member Dave – who has taken on a role of dental support worker, his specialty “suction” – took a multi-metre to the solar electrics atop the building to establish there was a problem; one we could not fix.

Speaking of David, reminds me that yesterday he and Matt walked Fiona (who we had evacuated from Merelava) up to the grass airstrip to find the man who arranges bookings on the plane that does the milk-run route through certain islands each week.   I say “walk”, but whilst it was a walk for Fiona, it was something of a jog/run for David and Matt.  Fiona, remember comes from the incredibly steep island of Merelava, and when she hit the relatively flat tracks of Gaua, she was off!

After buying the ticket to Santo for Fiona, Matt and David made their way back to the clinic building and somehow came across a school full of children.  In talking with the teacher about our visiting medical team it was decided the children should go.   I heard this on the handheld VHF radio we sometimes carry.  It went something like … “airport team to medical team … returning from airstrip now, but we look like the pied piper with a couple of dozen kids following us back to the clinic for screening of teeth and eyes”


One quite amazing meeting today was with David and Anika Livingston and their new baby.  We’d met David and Anika in very sad and distressing circumstances three years ago.  Their little baby had a hole in the heart and the eyecare team were arranging for the little baby’s transfer to Australia through the Rotary Club for life saving surgery.  The baby had died a short time after we met them and they were just so thankful for the assistance provided, specifically the flights from Pt Vila back to their island of Pentecost so they could bury their baby.  It was wonderful to meet them and now Anika is a teacher at the local school and David does casual work and looks after the baby.

In the end we go away from Losalava around 1:00pm and it ended up taking about 3 hours to get around to the otherside of the island.  Consequently we just had time to take the equipment ashore and prepare for the next day’s clinic – a half-day session on account of having to make our way to the island further north – Vanualava.

I should also mention that this island of Gaua has suffered considerably as a result of the resident volcano, Mt Gerat, which became very active 2-3 years ago resulting in the whole west coast being evacuated for more than a year due to the ash and risk of explosion – after all the volcano lies beneath Lake Letus, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in the South Pacific.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, two boaties we met in Santo – Ken and Joy off Trinity Castle, had been in Gaua a week before and had met with Anglican minister Father Levi who had shown them the rust on the roof of their brand new church – further effect of the volcano.  As I say, we got to know Ken and Joy very well – Ken, who knows a lot about the workings of boats, actually diagnosed the electrical problems we were having on Chimere and made the necessary repairs.

They had Cathy and me over to their lovely boat for dinner and had asked that if we were going to Gaua could we please take some paint and brushes, plus a car battery for the church’s solar panel.
Now I’m not sure that Ken is overly religious, but he could see the wonderful work Levi was doing in his community and felt it was a shame that after all they had gone through and the work involved in building the church over many years, that the roof should now be rusting.

For the MSM team it was a special thrill to be making this delivery, but before we got to the west coast to make the delivery, Dr Doug from our medical team returned to Chimere declaring that all the roofing screws at the Losalava clinic were starting to rust and that we should find a way to paint them.  At the time I don’t think Doug was aware that we had two big, donated drums of paint aboard … and so that’s how about 3 litres of paint, a wire brush and two paint brushes were deployed – attending to the roof of the Losalava clinic building.  (I conscripted two local lads to help with that while work was going on elsewhere)

Smooth seas, fair breeze and late nights and early mornings!

Robert Latimer

To read older Ships Log posts go to …

Merelava to Gaua – And finally stepping foot on Merig

It was now time to negotiate “the Merig landing” in earnest. And as I approached the rock ledge over which each wave rose and spread, I called out to Adam and by now a gathering of men and boys, “does the boat go right up onto the ledge?!” Read more…

Tuesday 3 Sep 2013

Departing from Merelava turned out to be something of a textbook exercise in anchor retrieval and quiet, early morning exits; the team of Cathy, Matt, Dave and yours truly are now a well oiled machine!
In large part the medical team remained in their bunks throughout the procedure and maybe asleep, although the sound of the engine, anchor winch and the winding in of 100 metres of chain is hard to muffle or sleep through.  Although as Oscar Wilde would have said, … “there is only one thing worse than the sound of a noisy anchor winch at 4:30 in the morning and that is NOT hearing the sound of an anchor winch”  … as only those who have had to manhandle 300kg of chain aboard one metre at a time, when the anchor winch has died, can attest.

I should also mention that we picked up an extra passenger at Merelava – her name was Fiona and she was suffering from an undiagnosed eye condition that, at the age of 20, has prevented her from remaining a teacher.  Cathy kindly donated her pilot berth in the workshop – affectionately known as “Bunnings” and amidst much sadness from family (mother in particular) Fiona came aboard the night before in the late afternoon light, having dinner aboard with us.

Of course the 35 mile hop to Gaua and the village of Losalava was going to take us past the island of Merig – a wee dot of a rocky outcrop covered in green vegetation of all types.  We’d heard that 20 people live on the island and for us there was a certain amount of disappointment in not being able to stop and offer medical care on the last two occasions we’d passed by – 2009 and 2010.

In 2009 I’d asked Richard Tatwin, how do we know whether there’s a medical issue on the island and he’d said … “if there was a problem they would have lit a fire”
In 2010 we’d sailed very close to the island and even made motions to drop anchor.  We’d been close enough to see the young lads on the jagged coastline jumping from rock to rock in the direction of the “landing spot”.  We then had borne away and headed for Gaua as time constraints and the practicality of it all became apparent.

So as we approached the island I began to get the feeling that 2013 would be our year.  We’d attempt a landing.  Quickly we got together a selection of the donated goods we’d taken aboard – some from Santo Rotary club, some from North Ringwood Uniting Church and some we’d just bought for the purpose – fishing gear, books, clothing, sports equipment, flippers, goggles, snorkels caps, medical supplies … there were several bags!

As we came into the lee of the island and the sea levelled out we lifted over the smaller of the dinghies and made a preliminary dash to where a man was standing high on a rock, the sea swell coming in and out below his feet.  There was Bob, Gibson, Dave and me aboard and hovering just back from where the waves hit the rocks Bob explained to the man we would come to know as the Chief – Chief Adam – why we had come and that we had a few things for them.  And were there any medical or dental issues needing attention.  The answer was … “yes, one old lady with a sore hand and a range of other smaller issues … nothing too bad though”

After handing over the bags of goodies to Adam, who seemed just so pleased that someone had stopped at his island (islet really) we returned to Chimere to get “The Doctor”.
More medical supplies were quickly bundled up and we returned, all the while with Matt at the helm of Chimere quietly keeping her hovering in the one place, stern to the wind, with the engine in reverse at low revs.

It was now time to negotiate “the Merig landing” in earnest.  And as I approached the rock ledge over which each wave rose and spread, I called out to Adam and by now a gathering of men and boys,  “does the boat go right up onto the ledge?!”    The answer seemed obvious, YES, but having always avoided situations like this in the normal use of a dinghy, I must have been seeking some final confirmation.   Picking the next wave I lifted the motor to half position and gunned the revs just keeping in front of the advancing wave.  Bob threw the bow line to the men on the rocks as the wave and dinghy came to rest high on the rock ledge.  We each clambered out as the dinghy was quickly manhandled forward; the wave retreating off the rock ledge underneath us.

I must say, a brief thought occurred to me … “how are we going to get this thing back into the water”.  Then I noticed one of our ships fenders in the water, drifting away on the waves.  I tried to reach out for it, but everyone was yell … “No No No … the boy will get it”.  I then looked behind to see a young lad, maybe 13 race past and leap from the rock ledge into the crystal blue sea – something he’d probably done many times before – maybe not for ships fenders, but this guy seemed as natural in the water as on land.  Fender retrieved and the boy back on the rocks, there was more laughter, handshakes and back slapping all round.

As for Gibson, he’d remained on the island from our last visit and somehow fell under the front of the dinghy as it advanced forward – partly from the force of the wave and partly from the men pulling the bow rope, and as I jumped out and looked under the dinghy there was Gibson madly trying to clamber backwards with hands and feet, legs splayed wide looking up at the centre-line of the dinghy aimed right up the middle of him.  Something like the scene from Toy Story when the truck wheel stops just over Woody the cowboy doll; just short of crushing him.

After joyful introductions all round we made our way over the amazing rock formations, then down onto of all things a white sand beach, totally hidden from view, then through the jungle to the village clearing.
The goodies we had brought were well received and while Bob did a “caring for your teeth” presentation and Gibson checked eyes, Dr Graeme worked his way through the sore hand, pulled muscles, blood pressure testing and drug explanations.

I asked an old man, Absalom – father of Chief Adam – when the last boat came to the island – he had to think hard – “maybe March” he said  (6 mnths ago)  And when will the next boat come?  I asked … “Maybe 3 months” came the reply.

One man said he’d come for Christmas … 2012 … and was still here 9 months later – no chance to get off, and he only lived at Gaua, our intended destination, 20 miles away.  When I mentioned this later, back on Chimere, Cathy asked … “did you offer him a lift?”  and I had to admit, it never occurred to me.  Then I think Ruth said … “he would have asked if he wanted a lift off the island” … which I’m sure is true.
Our time on Merig was all too brief.  After an hour or so, we began making the usual good-bye signs, but not before Chief Adam made a heart-felt speech, “tanking us Tumas”… many times… for taking the time to visit and offer assistance.

It was with sadness, but a real sense of achievement that we made our way back to the dinghy.  They were also heart-felt good-byes with a feeling that we’d known these people for a long time even thought it was little more than an hour.

The boys easily slid the dinghy back into the water on an advancing wave and while it hovered between waves Bob, Gibson, Graeme and I quickly clambered aboard and motored clear of the next wave.
Back onboard Chimere Matt had maintained a ringside seat for everyone by keeping Chimere in the sheltered lee a couple of hundred meters offshore.

The dinghy lifted onboard, the horn sounded and we were once again on our way.
Arriving at Gaua, Losalava late morning, we entered the coral entrance to a wonderful anchorage and ferried all the gear ashore in time to conduct an afternoon clinic.
It was here that we had rebuilt the stairs to the clinic back in 2009 and judging by the look of things not a lot of maintenance had been done since.  A list of repair requests was drawn up including tanks, gutters, solar wiring, decking and yes, new stairs … which in 4 years had sadly all rotted – refer to gutters above (or there adsence).

But all that would have to wait till tomorrow

Smooth seas, fair breeze and finally stepping foot on Merig.

Robert Latimer

To read older Ships Log posts go to …

How many days has it been?

We are now at Losalava on the island of Gaua. However, here is a part of a Ships Log from three days ago, when we were at Merelava, just 35 miles to the south east Read more…

[New pics posted in Mission 3 Gallery – admin]

Sunday 1 & Monday 2 of September 2013

Losalava, Gaua Isand

Whilst communication from Chimere to the outside world has been poor, to non-existent over the last 2 days, it hasn’t been from want of trying.

For some of the time circumstances have just overtaken our ability to write things down and then there has been the lack of telecommunication towers on the nearby islands  to keep us connected and able to email messages.

The HF radio Sailmail system is still playing up, however, I did manage to get a weather forecast last night and an email from co-owner Barry Crouch.  With Barry having to pull out of Mission 3 on account of work commitments, his brother-in-law David kindly stepped up to take his place and after the poor weather on the first night and a few other challenging issues we were unsure whether Barry might have known something we didn’t .  Hopefully David will still be speaking with him by the end of the trip.

When we consider what has been packed into each day, it seems amazing to think we have only been on the boat, as a team, since last Friday night; just 4 days.

To maximize the value of our time here we tend to want to cram the most into each waking hour, and then to top it off, maximize the number of hours each day we are awake.  Eventually though, sleep becomes unavoidable.

We are now at Losalava on the island of Gaua.  However, here is a part of a Ships Log from three days ago, when we were at Merelava, just 35 miles to the south

Merelava, Sunday 1 Sept 2013
With the wind still up and the sea a bit on the rolly side we  got through the night OK;  Matt and Dave taking in turns to wake and check our position and that the anchor was still doing its job.

We have found that the tide runs back and forward along the coast here.  When coming from the direction of the wind all is fine.  The two act as one and the boat stays nicely in line with the elements.  When the tide goes the other way   the two create opposing forces that has us at 90 degrees to the wind and waves resulting in the uncomfortable rolly motion mentioned above.

It was an early day for all, with most up with the sun and getting into their various tasks before the designated, after-church meeting on the rocky point off our stern to have everything portered up the incredibly steep slope to the village.  There was Barry sorting out his dental gear with assistance from Bob.  Graeme running around making sure the right drugs were loaded and optometrist Nancy planning the day alongside Gibson.  Dave and Matt were given the job of making a flipchart presentation holder out of ply wood for all the A2 sized laminated healthy posters.  Then all the while there was Cathy making sure everyone was eating their breakfast and that sufficient food was packed for lunch.

Matt and I stayed aboard the boat to keep watch and attend to a surprising number of things – one of which was to use the dinghy to set a stern anchor to hold us fore and aft to the wind and waves, thereby solving the tidal flow issue mentioned above.

Dropping everyone off at the rocky headland to our stern was the first test of the day; not only 9 people, but all the gear – a mountain of it.  Fortunately a large group of young, strong lads had been recruited to help carry the mountain of gear up the hill and they squealed and giggled embarrassingly as our folk were half lifted and half pushed from underneath to get them from the level of the dinghy to the level of the black, volcanic rocks.

The tide being out, the 2-3 metres wall of rock ahead of us at first seemed insurmountable until small footholds and handholds were pointed out.  Holding the dinghy in one place required me to maintain the forward throttle to keep the bow, (protected from the sharp rocks and barnacles by a tarp) firmly up against the rock face.


It’s currently late in the evening, with Doug, Graeme, Matt, Gibson, Bob and myself having returned earlier from showing a movie up in the village.  It was a big night in Tasmat Village – we showed the movie Lion King and before the start of the main feature Graeme gave a heath talk, (all good clean family-friendly content) Bob spoke on keeping your teeth healthy and Doug gave a devotion involving some actions out front with three people linking arms to signify our close relationship with “PapaGod” and his “PikininiSonJesus”

Showing the movie brought back memories of when we did the same thing back in 2009.  At that time, while Ice Age, was keeping the children entertained, we were negotiating the evacuation of the young woman Linda Sor, who required a caesarian delivery in about 2-3 weeks.  They hadn’t seen a boat for many months and so Linda and her new baby faced a very uncertain and doubtful future.

This time there was no such concerns and being able to use the large church structure meant that more people could be accommodated; and whilst it wasn’t capacity, there would have been a good 50-60 in attendance.

I mentioned the church structure; it really is an impressive building, given the steep environment and that all level ground has at some time in the past been created by hand into terraces out of the forest and jungle.  But back on the boat, as we contemplated the complete absence of the very nice black-sand beach that had made things a bit easier to come and go from shore back in 2009 and 2010, Bob said, “you know they dive for the sand to make the church”.

The image was hard to comprehend, but maybe 50 years or more ago when the church was built, there was no sandy beach – it being formed only in the last 10 years as a result of a substantial land slip down the local valley, and so to get the sand to make the concrete to make the church, men and boys dived close to shore and filled bags which would then be lifted to the surface by other men in canoes.  It was all then carried up the mountainous slope, one bag at a time.

Monday 2 September
All the equipment was up at the village, so it was a relatively simple case of ferrying everyone to the rock landing spot on the lee of the nearby headland.  The tide was out again, so there was much pushing and pulling to get everyone up the shear volcanic rock surface, but it was now the second time we’d all done this so confidence was starting to show.

I stayed aboard to keep watch and catch up on a few tasks, one of which was printing off some photos of the last time we were here for several of the locals.

Around 12:30 Matt took my place and I had a chance to have some lunch with the team and meet some familiar faces from last time, in particular Linda Sor, who was all smiles and happy to say hello.

I discussed the mudbrick stove idea with a few of the men, including the chief, because sadly we’d learnt that the batch we’d made with much effort and community involvement back in 2010 didn’t last so long.  It was hard to establish exactly what became of them but the impression we got was that they took up some important level ground where the young people wanted to play some games – consequently the bricks came second.

Not to be put off I once more sold the virtues of the Low Smoke Stove idea and handed over our demonstration DVD which might have a greater impact.
It was then time to begin the task of carrying everything down the steep path to the waiting dinghy.

Once aboard, there was time to have a swim with the many locals who had made their way out to the boat (swum) including three lads who had been particularly helpful.  They got to choose some flippers, goggles and snorkels from the onboard, giveaway collection – to say they were happy was something of an understatement.  As light was starting to fade and they’d swum to shore, there must have been some lingering doubt, because one of them swam back to the boat to confirm that, Yes, they could indeed keep them.  This return might also have had something to do with another friend, lad number 4, who had also helped and “maybe he could have some flippers too?”

It was then the time of the young women, who swam out together, one girl holding a parcel above her head in a delicate procedure.  This turned out to be a generous gift of nuts, wrapped in green leaves, which had been laboriously cracked sometime earlier.

Evening saw another wonderful meal created by a committee headed up by Cathy, with the stern anchor continuing to do its job in keeping us in a nice straight line.  I should note that our earlier swim gave us a chance to inspect the anchors and by the way the stern anchor had found its way around a gigantic rock, there was absolutely no way it was coming out or being dislodged; not at least if pulled in the current direction.  With departure planned for 5:00am the next morning, this was useful information, we’d have to position ourselves directly above it, or a little behind in order for it to be retrieved.

Also on the topic of swimming, I couldn’t resist, as the local lads were all diving and messing about – one with a wooden handmade spear gun it should be said – accompanied by most of our team, I threw all the available brushes and brooms overboard for everyone to do their worst on the accumulated slime and barnacles below the waterline.  Call it exploitation, but they did a good job, one lad swimming completely under the boat only to reappear on the other side.

As we got to bed, the plan for the next day was for the sailing team to get us away, quietly, efficiently and with a minimum of fuss, while the medical team continued to sleep quietly in their bunks – destination Losolava on the island of Gaua where an afternoon clinic would be conducted.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and saying good-bye to Mere Lava.

Robert Latimer

To read older Ships Log posts go to

Patient peculiarities – A Doctors Perspective

Being new to the team, I found myself wandering aimlessly around mid morning. Fortunately nurse Ruth was quick to diagnose his blood muesli bar level falling dangerously low. Two units infused by mouth had immediate effect. Read more…

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Understanding  patient complaints and explaining treatments is made much easier here because of the great community spirit and cooperation.

And as in Australia, men are often helped by their wives.

Doctor to male patient: ‘Any other sickness?’

Male patient shaking head: ‘No.’

Wife to husband: ‘Tell the doctor about your crook back!’ (Or, locally ..’Yu tellim docta bad bak bilong yu!

Being new to the team, I found myself wandering aimlessly around mid morning. Fortunately nurse Ruth was quick to diagnose his blood muesli bar level falling dangerously low. Two units infused by mouth had immediate effect.

While conducting the clinic we noted the generosity and futility of aid given. Three large water tanks given by an NGO sat empty in spite of excellent rainfall. All three had taps that leaked; fortunately this meant that they were empty and not breeding mosquitoes as mesh was missing from the inlet and overflow pipes. With one the roof guttering had as well. Fortunately the sailing crew used the plumbing department of Chimere to rectify the situation. At the same time steps were repaired and rusty roof screws steel brushed and painted by the village men with roof paint we had on board for another island.

Each day is full of new experiences and encounters  big and small.

New cub-reporter – Dr D.

News from Losalva

We interrupt this news bulletin for a message from our sponsor: MSM Construction Company, non-proprietary and unlimited. Read more…

Wednesday 4 September 2013

We interrupt this news bulletin for a message from our sponsor: MSM Construction Company, non-proprietary and unlimited.

They certainly provide service with a smile or three, and all their work comes with an extensive 10-minute guarantee. None of their customers have ever complained. They provide construction services for almost any problem. You have a problem MSM may be able to fix it. Do you have sick eyes? Or sick ears, teeth, gutters, roof, stairs, plumbing, electrical, masonry, or sick carpentry? Call MSM on channel 16 and ask for Rob the Builder. No job is too hard for this guy!

So let’s ask a recent customer for his opinion? Only this morning Rob and MSM were discovered at the Losalava Clinic in the island of Gaua (otherwise called Santa Maria). An anonymous reliable witness stated: “Klinik hemi kaput befo. Rob fixim gud. Hemi gudfala tumas.” Our hidden cameras in the pamplemousse tree captured the MSM team at work fixing sick bodies, extracting loose bricks and teeth, cleaning the roof and scaling teeth, repairing wounds and broken masonry steps and verandah bearers and gutters, inserting new taps to the empty rain-water tanks, and reconnecting solar power.

But wait that’s not all. With every job you will receive a presentation on the benefits of low smoke mud brick stoves with free instructional DVD and booklet, and sunnies.

And how expensive is this service? Not all. One lobster and a box of pamplemousse and fresh vegetables is at it cost this happy customer. So when you have a task that looks too difficult, call Rob on channel 16. That number again is One-Six. You won’t regret it.

Smooth contracts, fair constructions and now back to our regular program…

Onboard cub reporter

Old Acquaintances Shall Not Be Forgotten

When Patricia and Graeme first saw each other there was a moment’s hesitation before recognition and Patricia (like so many excited NiVans do) let out a mighty ”Oooooh!”then burst into laughter. A handshake was not enough – she hugged and embarrassed Graeme! They had only met for one day but it was like old friendships renewed and stories were shared about family and events. Read more…

Losa lava, Gaua Island

It is now only 4-days into Team 3 activities and already we have renewed many old memories and friendships and made several more. Here is a selection.

Take Patricia and Linda and John on Merelava. We first visited this small isolated extinct volcano in 2009 and again in 2010. Patricia was then the island’s only Nurse. The only nurse, and only midwife, child care nurse, physiotherapist, doctor, social worker, pharmacist, etc. Patricia is a lovely friendly and capable woman who lives on the other side of the island in the village called Big Sea. Why Big Sea? Maybe because it looks west across the Pacific away from the rest of Vanuatu with nothing between it and the USA! Patricia has since retired, one year ago and has since handed over the medical care of the island to George, a capable and intelligent young fellow. We were not sure she would make the 8km journey to the clinic?

When Patricia and Graeme first saw each other there was a moment’s hesitation before recognition and Patricia (like so many excited NiVans do) let out a mighty ”Oooooh!”then burst into laughter. A handshake was not enough – she hugged and embarrassed Graeme! They had only met for one day but it was like old friendships renewed and stories were shared about family and events. Patricia brought her husband and one of her six grandchildren along for the day. We reminisced about the contrasting beauty and isolation of her home island, her ‘retirement’, and now peaceful lifestyle.

There was the event of Linda (see ships log 2009) who required emergency evacuation to have a caesarean section because this is impossible on Merelava and a normal birth may have killed both mother and baby. Linda is a shy and giggly mum and very grateful for the assistance provided back then. This story had a sad ending because the baby died soon after birth from an unknown illness.

Infant mortality is commonplace in communities that lack obstetric and paediatric care that we take for granted. Anika and David were a sad example (see Ships Log 2010 on the island of Pentecost). They were new parents with a beautiful little girl called Rowena who had a congenital heart problem. She had been seen by a passing doctor months before who did not know the problem, or had no means to assist. When we met her she was in a bad way – she was in heart failure. The young parents were devastated to hear this news. They were shattered but grateful we were willing to try. Within a couple of months passports, visas, medical care, transport and accommodation had been arranged in Brisbane for corrective heart surgery and Anika and Rowena were booked to fly to Port Vila and on to Australia. Shortly after take-off from here home island Rowena died in her mothers arms. There tears everywhere. So many had been hoping and praying. Why would God let such an event occur? Would we ever see the parents, David or Anika, again? (Probably not until we returned to their home island of Pentecost down south.) And if so, what do you say? Would it bring back to their minds a nightmare they would rather forget? Anyway the last place we expected to see them was up north on the small island of Gaua.

David and Matt had been off on an errand to book an airfare for Fiona, who needed a specialist check-up – but that’s another story, and informed us via the walkie-talkie that they had a group of school children in tow all wanting eye checks by their teachers who turned out to be none other than Anika and David from Pentecost. This time it was we who were over-whelmed with surprise and excitement. Once again there were hugs (including man hugs for David!) and almost tears of joy. As Graeme was gripped in the bear hug he whispered to them “I was sad and sorry to hear about Rowena.” Why were they so happy?


David and Anika told us some of their story. They knew that many people had been praying for them and trying to help them as much as possible. This still overwhelms them despite the sadness of their loss. They were grateful not angry. Thankful not sad. Why? Because God had given them only 12months ago another beautiful (and healthy) girl called Muana. David went on to explain: Muana means ‘God First’ in their language/dialect. They had been overwhelmed by the care and compassion shown to them by God’s people in their home village, in Port Vila, and Melbourne and Sale (Victoria) they wanted to put ‘God First’. They said they had been blessed.

Now Muana is the cutest little girl you can imagine. Short soft curls of black hair, soft cubby arms and legs, big dark eyes, and a friendly and placid manner with 50 or so ‘brothers’and ‘sisters’in the primary school her parents work at.


Smooth baby bottoms, renewed friendships, and who could have better parents than Muana.