Time to catch breath

Monday 7 October 2013

Port Vila

As I sit here at the Coconut Palms waiting for the enthusiastic early morning staff to fully stock the breakfast bar, it seems I have very little to do but relax and soak up the sunrise; something staff doctor, by appointment to MSM, Graeme Duke has been prescribing me for weeks.

The Supporters Tour wound up yesterday morning with 30 happy souls, including the last of the Mission 3 crew, Capability Cathy, (who has been mentioned before in dispatches for brave and conspicuous attention to duty – since early September) climbing aboard their Air Vanuatu flight back to Australia.

Return skipper, and carryover volunteer-champion from many a past Chimere command, Bob Brenac, flew in on Friday to join (crewmembers since mid September) David and Sally.  Then yesterday afternoon last minute recruit (and I really mean last minute, as in, confirmed 5 days ago)  Cameron Heathwood flew in on the Brisbane Virgin flight, with return-voyager Carl Warner – veteran of the 2009 and 2010 missions – flying in one hour later from Sydney.

My initial thought after checking out of the Melanesian Hotel – which suddenly felt quite empty and deserted after my return from the airport to work through my final breakfast – was to grab a spare bunk aboard Chimere at the waterfront.   But with Mike Clarke, (fellow MSM co-ordinator) now in Pt Vila and already booked into The Coconut Palms it seemed best to follow him there.  After all, the return crew of 5 has enough work ahead of them getting Chimere prepared for sea without me getting in their way.

Looking back on the Supporters Tour, it’s been very satisfying to hear the positive comments and again, a special thanks to Ari from Excuse2Travel for all her work in the background in making it happen.

After the very moving “Village Experience” at Morinda’s home of Paonangisu at the north of the island (remember how to pronounce it … Pow-nan-isu) last Monday, each person pretty much did their own thing on the Tuesday, with Wednesday seeing half of the team, (plus a few extras bringing the number up to 21), aboard Chimere for a sail around to Hideaway Island for a time of snorkeling, eating, relaxing and socializing.  Included amongst the “extras”  was Ken and Joy off the motor vessel Trinity Castle who played the role of deckhand and I think the term Ken used was “galley wench” … but I may have misheard that.  At the end of the day, however, when it came time to start the engine – which would not start – Ken took on the roles of diesel mechanic and electrical engineer as he first diagnosed the problem as a dead (or dying) starter motor and then pulled off the very last “start” of the starter motor with the aid of a big screwdriver.

Consequently, the next day – Thursday, saw no Day Sail, as we set about pulling off the starter motor and ordering a new one from Australia – which new skipper Bob was able to pick up from the Sydney warehouse at five minutes to five that afternoon and bring over as rather heavy luggage the next day.  Lucky Bob has taken to leaving most of his clothes and belongings aboard and had room in his bag for the 17kg item!

For those not so familiar with dirty things like motors, etc, a hint to the importance of a starter motor can be found in its name … STARTER motor.  Like most things, nothing happens unless they first START, and that’s what a starter motor does … it starts the motor by receiving an electrical charge from the batteries (when you turn the ignition key) which then turns a small gear which then in turn engages with the main motor – thereby starting it and enabling you to drive forward (and backwards if required)   I know we are a sailing boat, but the motor is very useful a lot of the time.

Ken’s screwdriver trick. which he tried only after many attempts at hitting the side of the unit with a hammer, was really one of those miracle strokes that would not work a second time owing to the electrical system suffering what the service man the next day described as … “a catastrophic failure” … not what you want to hear.

Tuesday 8 October
The crew of Chimere are now ready to depart Port Vila.  It’s early morning and I’m back at the Coconut Palms breakfast bar madly typing away with my two fingers.  All the team has to do now is obtain their Customs and Immigration Clearances (after first paying around $175AUS), fuel-up and then lift the dinghy on deck.  The final weather forecast will determine whether they return to Sydney over the top, or around the bottom of New Caledonia.

Special mention again needs to go to Ken, who has worked tirelessly to ensure the new starter motor is fully operational.  His and Joy’s involvement in the work of MSM has really been a blessing and they fully deserve to wear their MSM shirts with pride..

Smooth seas, fair breeze and time to take breath

Rob Latimer


To read older Ships Log posts go to …


How to catch a bus in Port Vila.

Two of our group are named Sue – one was up at 6am for a 1hr morning walk before breakfast, whilst the other took advantage of the opportunity to sleep in and partake of a late breakfast. Some observant members of the group noted an inverse relationship between age and time of rising and arrival at the breakfast outdoor dining area – 7am for the octogenarians and 10am for the younger ones.

Saturday 28th September.

Finding a bus in Port Vila is simple. Stand still on the edge of the footpath, look vague for more than 10 seconds, and one of the local “buses” will pull up before you can say “Where is the bus stop?” The only places that buses do not appear to stop are the few dedicated bus stops! Never mind the traffic either, the drivers stop anywhere. Or even pull up onto the curb and footpath.

These “buses” are really small people-mover vans (seating 8-12) displaying the prefix “B” on their rego’ plates. They are to be found in various stages of cleanliness and structural integrity. Squeeze in, no maximum number. Safety belts not required. And delivery is straight to your front door or wherever you want to get out.

Pick-up Anywhere, Go Anywhere, Stop Anywhere seems to be their motto. And the cost is 150 vatu per person (~ $1.50AUD) for a trip anywhere around town.

Of course if you are dressed in your best or want a tour around the island it is helpful to know someone like Richard’s cousin, Tony (ph: 7746 067), who knows his way around and owns a new 15-seater bus that is clean and has air-conditioning.

So much happened during the last two days it all seems a blur. After a long day of travelling on Friday most of the group took the opportunity to sleep in Saturday morning.

Two of our group are named Sue – one was up at 6am for a 1hr morning walk before breakfast, whilst the other took advantage of the opportunity to sleep in and partake of a late breakfast. Some observant members of the group noted an inverse relationship between age and time of rising and arrival at the breakfast outdoor dining area – 7am for the octogenarians and 10am for the younger ones.

The dining area at The Melanesian is situated in an open-plan but under-cover area around two large pools. Great for relaxing and chatting over our breakfast consisting of fresh local fruits and juices, cereals, waffles, eggs, toast and pastries. Maybe I could sneak a croissant into the bag for morning tea?

Our schedule for the week was clearly laid out in the “Supporters Tour Program” [sic] provided upon our arrival. This informed us that there was morning tea provided down at the waterfront on board Chimere, within 6 minutes walk of our accommodation. Matt and Cathy had placed a bulk order of fresh pastries from the french patisserie in the main street, named Au Peche Mignon. (And just in case there was one squashed croissant in my bag for emergency rations.)

It was a lazy kind of day and by 10:30 we were all aboard under a fine bright sunny sky, looking across the blue and turquoise waters of Futumara Bay (where there was not much activity to be seen) and enjoying an assortment of local fruits and fresh pasteries. Yum.

Cathy catches up with friend Sian

The rest of the day was filled with a variety of leisurely activities of personal choice – strolling through the fresh food market, browsing the local souvenir and duty free shops, the occasional purchase, lunch at Nabawan Café or Jill’s Café, lazying by the resort pool, resting, and – for a few die-hard fans – watching the AFL GF at the Cruising Yacht Club on the big screen. Afterwards the rest of the group met at the Club bistro for dinne. A time to share our first day’s experience in Vanuatu.

“Oh, no it’s 7:40 and according to the ‘Program’ we are due back at the Melanesian by 8pm!” for an “MSM Presentation” from the world-famous low-smoke mud-brick stove expert, Mr Robert O Latimer. “Grab a bus!” Within 2-minutes we packed ourselves into two buses and were heading up the hill and back to The Melanesian.

Rob and Linda welcomed us all at the 8pm gathering, they explained the proposed program planned for the next few days, and Rob presented an informative overview of the Medical Sailing Ministries project and itinerary of the previous 4-months, including many wonderful photos of the places and people they had met during this time.

The MSM team seems to suit Vanuatu and Chimere it just like a Vanuatu Bus – it is a Pick-up Anywhere, Go Anywhere, Stop Anywhere type of service.


Cub Reporter secretly embedded in MSM Supporters Tour.

A moving Village Experience

But more than opening their homes to us, the people of the Paonangisu opened their hearts to us with their greetings, kind words, singing, gifts and in the end, the emotional farewell, handshakes and tears as we made our way back onto the bus at the end of the day. The impact on all of us will be lasting.

Monday 30 September 2013

Port Vila – Supporters Tour,  Day 4

A special highlight of the Supporters Tour was always going to be the trip to the north of the island – to Morinda’s village of Paonangisu (Pow-nan-isu)


The idea of a “Village Experience” began with an initial inquiry to Morinda back in May this year.  “Do you think your village might be interested in hosting a day for those attending the Supporters Tour?”, I asked.

The low-key, quiet, typically Ni-van response was … “yes … maybe”

In the end, the result was far beyond anything any of us could have imagined and the meticulous planning of the local Presbyterian church committee was evident in every aspect of the day.

The sunny weather was kind, along with the involvement of the broader Paonangisu community, who literally opened their homes to our band of 33 who arrived on the big 34 seater school bus just 10 minutes late at 10:40am after the hour and a half drive from Port Vila.

But more than opening their homes to us, the people of the Paonangisu opened their hearts to us with their greetings, kind words, singing, gifts and in the end, the emotional farewell, handshakes and tears as we made our way back onto the bus at the end of the day.  The impact on all of us will be lasting.

The day’s schedule began with a visit to the local primary school, where all the children were hard at work with their lessons – until we got there of course.  It must have been a funny sight for the kids and teachers, as all of us curious white-folk wandered around looking in each classroom and the library then around the playground, coming rest finally under the massive banyan trees.  Morning tea of sliced fruit and biscuits was provided and in a break a few of us took the opportunity to inspect the solar power unit that was being used to run some lights, along with the photocopier and laptops; this was the sort of unit we were keen to buy for the church with funds raised from the day’s tour.

It was then onto the regional clinic and past the police outpost building which we were informed was built with AusAID funds some years earlier.  What the clinic lacked in equipment and facilities, was made up for in capable nursing staff, with another solar power unit also inspected; this time there were two, one for lights and the other for a fridge in which vaccines were kept.

The bus then took us onto the church building, with the big handwritten WELCOME sign clearly visible out the front.  A lot of village folk were sitting around in the shade waiting and there was clearly a sense of excitement and anticipation. As we disembarked from the bus the women were shepherded into one room and the men into another for the purpose of decking us out in our own Island Dress, or in the case of the men, an Island Shirt – all with a
wonderful lime green foliage pattern.  It might have been considered “loud” back in Australia, but here it seemed just right.

As we all emerged from our respective dressing rooms there was a sense that we were jostling for the group photo on the last day of a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, with laughter all around as the local youth singing group burst into song.


The singing was amazing with the harmonies, hand waving and smiles lifting us all.

Welcome speeches by Elder Kalmaire and Elder Morris made it clear that this was indeed a very special day in the life of the village and church – the Presbyterian church appearing to be very much at the centre of village life and activity.

One comment by Elder Morris that resonated with all of us is paraphrased here …“for seventeen years buses have been travelling past our village on the main road [doing the Round Island Tour and other tourist activities] but today is the first time a bus has ever stopped at our village and we welcome you with all our hearts”

After an amazing lunch, prepared by the women of the church, we were then treated to weaving and coconut cutting demonstrations.  It was then time for our large group to be divided up into small groups of five and placed in the hands of a “first-time” local village guide and resident who led their charges through, around, over and into every aspect of the village.  Meanwhile I conducted a very well attended Mud brick, low smoke stove demonstration with bags of clay collected earlier by the men and boys.

In hearing the emotional accounts of the day’s activities back on the bus and later in the evening, one person related the story of their guide who, just before taking his group into his modest house, explained that … “maybe you sleep on a mattress, but I do not need a mattress, all I need is some small money to buy soap, some food, clothes and pay for my children’s school fees.  We are happy with everything we have”

It was a moving experience for everyone.

Pretty soon it was time to gather back in the church, where we were treated to more wonderful singing.  In addition there were farewell speeches and individual presentations of woven bags for everyone.  From our end, we presented a guitar – purchased with funds raised from the day, along with an IOU for the projector and solar panel unit.

Come 3:30pm when it was time to go, the line of people ready to shake our hands and say farewell must have gone for 100 metres.  It stretched from the door of the church all the way down the church path and along the road to where the bus was parked.

There were tears on many faces as we departed, in particular from the little kids who wanted to get on the bus with Cathy and Sian.  They cried so much that Cathy and Sian began to cry which then set off the women standing around the kids who also joined in the crying.  There was also Morinda’s mother who walked beside me the last 50 metres or so to the bus, wiping away tears and not really able to speak.

It was a very emotional time and in talking with Morinda later she said that when the bus had gone everyone met back in the church for a very emotional “de-brief”.

As a postscript, on Tuesday – the day after our return from the Village Experience, we did some more research on solar panels and the best way forward.  Pretty soon we were talking with Batick from VanGlobal Industries in his shop at the back of the Pt Vila police station, who had installed the school and clinic solar systems and knew very well what the church needed.   After further consultations with the church leaders we ordered a system roughly twice the size of what we had originally thought, with the Supporters Tour members eager to contribute more money to ensure it was done property.     Batick
has been in business 8 years, designs and installs systems that meet local requirements, will install it all free of charge and can do it within a few days!

With all that’s been happening this week … this Ships Log has taken me 5 days to write and send … truly a record!  All being well, a summary of other news can be shared more promptly.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and truly a moving Village Experience

Rob Latimer

To read older Ships Log posts go to …

Thirty Something, Friday 27th September

For the ‘thirty somethings’ from Melbourne it was a long day. Many were up at 3am, whilst some took the luxury of sleeping in ‘til 4:30am.
Read more…

“Not a lot happened on today.” one of Chimere crew declared. This opinion appeared to conflict with credible eye witnesses claiming that sleeping-in and breakfast at the French patisserie on the main street required serious effort. Over the past few days Chimere has indeed undergone a spring clean ready for thirty new arrivals today from Melbourne as part of the MSM Supporters’ Tour. So maybe the crew of Rob, Matt, Cathy, Dave and Liz deserved a break?


For the ‘thirty somethings’ from Melbourne it was a long day. Many were up at 3am, whilst some took the luxury of sleeping in ‘til 4:30am. All 30 made it to Tullamarine airport to check-in, pass through security and chemical explosive checks (We will probably never know what Graeme was carrying in that tin canister!), a resuscitating coffee or croissant, and compulsory loo stop, to make it to Gate 10 on time. The Qantas flight to Sydney supplied us with breakfast for those who needed a boost.

How do you keep 30 adults together over two flights and through four different airport terminals? The answer: hire Linda Latimer. Linda was highly organized and we, like a group of “school girls in two straight lines” were ushered through each of these steps in the correct sequence. But by the time we arrived at Sydney Domestic terminal, however, the group of “school children” became unruly and independent, heading in several different directions!

“One, two, three,….twenty-eight! Oh dear, who’s missing?…..OK where’s George and Joy?”

“Oh, they missed the connecting bus to the international terminal.” Like duckling returning to their mother George and Joy turned up a few minutes later, unfazed and unconcerned.

Getting the correct seat on the Air Vanuatu flight was a game of musical chairs, with lots of giggling but without the music. The group seating had been allocated Melbourne and none the couples or close friends were seated next to each other.

“What’s your seat number? I’m 28D.”

“I’m in 25A!”

“Here’s a solution: We’ve all got the last 30 seats in the back of the airplane. So if Peter moves to 30B and Jill moves to 30C and Sue sits in Graeme’s 28D – no you stay where you are Ruth – and Alison moves to 27B, then John can be next to her.” And so on it went for 10 minutes. When the music stopped there were seats for all. But none were in their original seats!

Upon landing at the Bauerfield International Terminal, Port Vila, Rob Latimer with Bob and Dick (from the Eye Clinic) were there on the observation deck to great the new arrivals.

“One, two, three…twenty-nine. Where’s Graeme?”

“I think he’s still on board.” It turned out one of the flight attendants had an eye problem and saw the PCV Health insignia on Graeme’s T-shirt and he had stayed on the plane after all the other passengers had disembarked to suggest a management plan for her eye problem – a common illness found in sun-exposed eyes that causes blindness if not treated, but easy to treat.

Immigration and customs seemed to go smoothly, didn’t it?” someone remarked as greetings and hugs were shared.

“One, two, three, twenty-eight. Oh no, who’s missing this time?”

“Liz and Greg” replied Linda. It had transpired that the customs officer did not like the fact that Liz and put some commercially packaged and sealed sachets of tuna fish in her luggage (as emergency rations when they go to Tanna), and had taken them aside to a private room. And he charged them $30!

The Melanesian is a friendly and well-appointed resort overlooking the harbor and close to Parliament and the Museum. We all gathered at 6pm in the outdoor restaurant area around the pool for a sumptuous barbeque of Aussie food and some local delicacies, such as lap-lap made of ground up taro, coconut and banana. It was great to relax and catch up and meet new faces.

The night ended with a Ni-Van band from north Pentecost Island who sang, danced, and performed some kustom dances and amazing sand drawings with commentary.

By now there were 34 of us with the addition of Cathy, Matt, Dave and Liz from Chimere, but who’s counting? For some it has been a long day.

Thanks to Ari from Excuse2Travel for all the arrangements and bookings to make it possible. And welcome to thirty something supporters.


On-duty Cub Reporter


Supporters Tour Begins

After much planning, preparation and anticipation, 30 excited Aussies flew into Port Vila on the 3:10pm Friday flight. Read more…

Friday 27 September 2013

Melanesian Hotel, Port Vila, Efate Island


After much planning, preparation and anticipation, 30 excited Aussies flew into Port Vila on the 3:10pm Friday flight to be greeted by a very active string band playing live music in the arrival lounge … a standard feature it seems of all planes arriving in Vanuatu.

For most it had been a very early 3:00am start, in order to catch the 7:00am Sydney flight from Melbourne, so by mid-afternoon that dazed, compliant … tell-me-what-I-need-to-do … look was in evidence.   

It was then onto the Melanesian Hotel where room keys were handed out, credit card details taken and bags lugged up stairs and along corridors.


Six o‘clock and it was time for the Welcome Dinner which was accompanied by an amazingly talented string band, who apart from playing nearly non-stop all night, (wearing the briefest of woven cloth around their waists) but also did Kustom dancing and demonstrated sand drawings.

By 9:00pm the look on many faces showed that whilst the lights were on, no one was at home and everyone slid off to bed for a good nights sleep

Smooth seas, fair breeze and go the Supporters Tour!

Rob Latimer