Back in Port Vila again

Monday 2 October 2017
Waterfront seawall, Port Vila


A series of tacks between Malekula and Ambrym Islands through the night, then a long tack to get into the lee of Epi in the early morning, then saw us on a steady course to Efate and our eventual destination Port Vila.

The wind held from the East- Southeast at around 20 knots and with moderate seas we were able to make up time, with our speed regularly hitting over 8 knots

Devil’s Point was rounded in daylight and from there it was a steady 1-2 hour slog into the wind with the lights of Port Vila in the distance.

Once in the harbour we picked up a mooring around 7:30pm, finally turned off the engine and breathed a sigh of relief – the four medical missions for 2017 were now at an end.

It didn’t take long for bags to be packed and for Barry and Annette to take their leave via a short dinghy ride to the shore. Their prompt departure can be put down to Barry’s wife Andrea having flown in earlier in the day and Annette’s husband Martyn meekly waiting ashore for the safe return of his wife.

Meanwhile, onboard, Cathy and Matt cooked up a lovely dinner and sleep soon followed.

The day dawned sunny and with plans set for a sumptuous breakfast together ashore at Jill’s Café, (at the amazing sleep-in hour of 9:00am) we first made arrangements to bring Chimere to the sea wall.

This is always a nervous time, that involves first, backing Chimere (straight) towards the solid seawall while, second, picking up a mooring line at the bow and shore-line at the stern. The lines fore and aft are then tensioned to keep the stern just the right distance from the concrete wall.

In the end it was a text book landing, with Matt taking charge of the bow, Cathy of the stern and the Yachting World staff in their boat helping at all points.

Breakfast was indeed a decadent feast compared to what we have been used to for several weeks aboard and it was great to catch up with Andrea and Martyn.

The rest of the day just seemed to disappear, with the dental and mission equipment and supplies being retrieved from Chimere’s foredeck in the afternoon, interspersed with ongoing cleaning, tidying and for some reason, a regular urge to lie down and fall asleep.

Oh, there was also Wellan’s bag of fresh fish, placed in our freezer up in Sola, Vanualava, what seems ages ago now. This was an impulse-purchase Wellan made off a local banana boat fisherman as we all stood in the shallows waiting to head out to Chimere for the last time before heading home. “Hurry up Wellan!” someone yelled in Bislama … “He doesn’t have change of a 1000 Vatu note!” called back Wellan. Solution … “Buy more fish Wellan !!” Which quickly had Wellan climbing into the dinghy with a bigger than usual bag of fish to be placed in Chimere’s freezer for the return voyage. I’ve no doubt that’s a fisherman’s sales tactic used the world over – and not just by fishermen!

Barry and Andrea generously hosted a dinner for all available team members and partners – still in Port Vila – up at the Melanesian Hotel – and it was great to catch up with Wellan, Barkon and Bob again, plus of course Martin and Deb. Richard, sadly couldn’t make it along because of a recent death in the family.

With the Supporters Tour starting in two day’s time, and around 20 people coming over to Port Vila to enjoy something of the “local experience” it was now time to give thought to all the many loose ends that needed to be addressed.

This took most of the day, with time also shared with fellow yachties and new best friends from a yacht also tied up at the waterfront – Amos & Anat Raviv, off their yacht “Amosea Island”. Their stories of sailing from Israel, of family, and of life generally were fascinating and Barry, Andrea and I had a lovely coffee and cake aboard their beautiful yacht before Barry and Andrea headed off to the airport to visit the volcano down on Tanna for a couple of days.

In reflecting on Barry’s short time in Vanuatu, he could almost be described as a volcano-chaser, having sailed past the Gaua volcano, Mt Garet, evacuated 29 people from the newly-awakened Ambae volcano, seen close-up from at sea the glow of Ambrym’s two volcanos Mt Benbow & Mt Marum and is now heading down to Tanna’s Mt Yasur to stand on the rim and look into its exploding cauldron of molten earth.

Living on the edge Barry ?!

It’s now Thursday 5 October – a public holiday, Constitution Day ! So things are even sleepier than usual … but there’s a rumour (my friend) the President will be speaking somewhere today, so I’m going to check it out. And I’m also meeting with Kalmaire from Paunangisu Village to iron out any last-minute details for the Village Experience Day next Monday and the Supporters Tour generally.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and time to head south

Rob Latimer

Time to head south

Sunday 1 October 2017
At sea, between Luganville and Port Vila

After yesterday’s excitement, the still, sunny warmth of the morning saw each of the crew emerge in their own time. Unusually there were six other boats anchored around us off the Beachfront Resort, making it a delicate procedure last night to pick our way through the crowd by torchlight, finding a spot a respectful distance from others, but still in a deep, safe spot close to shore.

Matt brought the dinghy, still tethered to the stern, around to the portside and we pumped it up a bit more.

Breakfast was had and around 9:00am, Annette, Cathy, Barry and I headed off to the town wharf-for-small-boats, located around the back of the Santo Hardware and a short distance from the fuel station across the road; a dinghy ride of about 10 minutes at top speed.

Jay met us at the refuelling station to obtain his optical test-case and we briefly discussed the last few weeks of mission activities and his return to work tomorrow heading up the PCV Prevention of Blindness Program in Luganville.

After filling up our four, 20 litre drums with diesel, having an ice-cream – all except man-of-steel Barry it must be said – it was back across the road to the dinghy where we said good-bye to Jay.

Back aboard Chimere, we raised the dinghy to the deck, poured most of the diesel into the tank, had lunch then up-anchored and set sail down the Segond Channel – Luganville to our port and Aore Island to our starboard.

It was 12:45pm by the time we departed and although our 160 mile course would have us heading into the prevailing south-east wind for most of the next day and a half, the wind was mercifully still out of the east ( well off our port bow) and the seas were mild. Consequently, our speed regularly hit 7.0-7.50 knots, with good ol’ Perkins giving us at least half of that.

In the distance, off the port side, Ambae Island could still be seen with its ominous smoke trail, indicating that it was still very much alive and dangerous. Three further trading vessels could be seen heading in the direction of the island, continuing the evacuation that would likely last all week. With the last of the 3G TVL communications we were pleased to learn that the Australian Government had offered assistance and we assume this includes naval and air support plus shelter and food for at least some of the 11,000 evacuees.

The front cover of the local newspaper bought while we were in Luganville read … “VANUATU ‘NOT READY’: PM”, Vanuatu Daily Post. Which is a refreshingly honest statement from a politician, let alone the Prime Minister; Mr Charlot Salawai. But the sad reality is, Vanuatu faces many natural threats such as cyclone, tsunami, earthquake and of course volcanos (of which there are currently seven) and with limited resources even in the good times, they rely on friendly (wealthy) neighbours such as Australia and New Zealand to help out in times of need.

As the sun went down, we were still plugging our way south, with the island of Malekula off the starboard beam, all the while reminding me of the many times sailing the waters of Bass Strait, particularly as thousands of shearwaters, (mutton birds) crossed our bow in a steady stream.

Never before have I seen so many birds in Vanuatu, and I had no idea these birds were found in such numbers here. Then Cathy suggested, “maybe they are migrating south for summer”. Which made more sense, given these birds winter in the northern hemisphere – as high as Alaska I believe – and then return to the same burrow each southern summer, in New Zealand and Australia. It made sense that if this was October, and the birds needed to be south in time to breed over summer, then they would be passing through here about now.

The birds kept flying, from north east to south west, and our view of them only stopped when the sky was finally dark.

Despite the rocky conditions, Annette prepared a wonderfully tasty curry and kumala feast with the last of the mince as Matt and I started a 3 hour on, 3 hours off, watch through the night, with Cathy, Barry and Annette sharing duties as desired.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and time to head south

Rob Latimer

Boat people of Ambae

Saturday 30 September 2017
Asanvari, Maewo


Having made our promise to assist Chief Justin with the evacuation of his list of 28 people from Lolowai (Ambae Island) to Luganville (Espiritu Santo Island) – a journey of around nautical 55 miles – we first had to make it to Lolowai.

The agreed pick-up time was 8:00am, so we were up and away from beautiful Asanvari around 6:00am for the 10 mile hop across. There was still no sign of Chief Justin, who was expected to return from his “research-mission” trip yesterday afternoon, so we assumed he ended up staying the night in Lolowai. My many phone calls to him throughout the late afternoon and evening remained unanswered, but I assumed he was … “out of credit” … a familiar message everyone hears on their phones here.

We arrived at Lolowai around 7:45am, and made it into the narrow pass around the stern of patrol boat 02 RVS Tukoro, after first radioing our intentions on Channel 16. Entering the bay we saw two coastal traders already loading people and their belongings. One a red landing barge with her ramp down on the main beach below the hospital, the other a black vessel only it’s mother could truly love, anchored a little way off the beach, using its large dinghy – back and forth – loaded each trip with what seemed like perilously little freeboard. We were familiar with this black vessel, because it was tied behind us at the commercial wharf in Luganville a couple of days earlier when we’d refilled with water. We’d got to know Captain John and half expected to see him again this time.

Meanwhile, things appeared calm onshore, although there was a large number of people and their personal belongings onshore at the main beach, obviously waiting to be loaded onto the two ships and more that would inevitably come throughout the day. Otherwise it was a gloriously sunny morning, in one of the best anchorages to be found.

The phone rang, it was Chief Justin. “Hello Robert, I called a few times, I have your fruits, bananas and things, here for the petrol”
“Good morning Chief Justin, where are you?” I inquired.

“I am here in Asanvari. We came back last night. Where are you? ” came the reply

“I’m in Lolowai, as we agreed yesterday, for the 8:00am pick-up. Is everyone ready onshore do you know? Who was the contact person?_I replied

”Sorry tumas, it was very busy yesterday and we came back late. The contact man in Lolowai is a man called Lesley Mera, I will give you his number, he is expecting you. And my brother, Anthony is on the patrol boat Tukoro”.

I reassured Chief Justin that it didn’t matter about the fruit and 10 litre fuel container, but that I would call him once I’d got everyone aboard.

Knowing there would be delays in loading everyone, my “drop-dead-departure-time” to get away from Lolowai, was around 9:00am, in order to return to Luganville in daylight; and of course have time to unload everyone.

Finally, after maybe six or more trips to and from the landing beach, it was around 10:30 that we finally made our way out of the short Lolowai Bay channel, over the coral, and into open water,

All aboard Chimere was ready to receive our guests. Everything was packed away, we all wore our “official” MSM and PCV shirts. I even dug out some yellow fluro vests I’d bought at one time, in order to convey a greater sense of confidence and reassurance … plus I got to wear my “Captains Cap” … for the same reason … any other time it had just been a bit of a pretentious joke. Given the number of caps that seem to blow overboard, the latest cap I had been wearing said “Knackered Sailor”, which even I though a bit inappropriate given the circumstance.

The loading process started with maybe 5 phone calls to Lesley. The first around 7:45am along the lines of … “Good morning Lesley, I have been told you are the man in charge … how many people are there … and is everyone ready?

“Yes, good morning Robert, we are just finding a couple of vehicles to transport the people and their things, maybe we be there at 8:30”

Around 8:45am and still no sign of our passengers, my next call … “hello Lesley, we need to be away at 9:00am, are you nearly here … remember it’s not the main landing beach under the hospital, it’s the beach around the bay, under the trees, close to where we are anchored?”

“We are nearly there, just a few minutes”

Meanwhile we had two visits from the Maritime Police tender off the patrol boat to check on our purpose, intentions, contacts, that we understood the process of providing a list of all the people loaded and registration at the other end etc, and that we were in fact taking everyone to Santo, not places like Asanvari (where we’d come from that morning) where there was a perceived Tsunami threat in the event of an earthquake.

The men off the patrol boat were very respectful and professional, great blokes and one of course was Chief Justin’s younger brother Anthony. “Tank yu tumas for what you are doing, we really appreciate your assistance” each of them said.

“You guys have got a big job, how many people are you evacuating? I asked.

“About 11,000 people. We will be here till next Friday. Yes, it’s a big job. Tank yu tumas for your help”

Finally our people arrived at the beach and we began the process of loading – luggage first. Fortunately, the many medical transport missions we have conducted around the islands has made Chimere and her crew proficient at moving people and stuff.

But I hadn’t fully realised, 29 people (yes, 29, not 28 as originally suggested) have a lot of stuff! Not just bed-rolls, woven mats, carry bags, stripy bags and back-packs, but bags of rice, bags of bananas, bags of miscellaneous stuff, and a piglet in an old sugar bag. I first realised it was a piglet when someone stepped on a bag in the dinghy as were coming off the beach and the bag squealed something dreadful. “It’s a pig!?” I exclaimed … to the laughter of all.

Oh, and there’s the request I’m not likely to here again for sometime … “do you have a fridge that I can put my bats in?”. Yes, that’s right “bats”, not cricket bats, but tasty flying fox bats. Two of them in a plastic bag – dead mercifully.

Around 10:00am, with Chimere crowded with people, all finding their spot for the journey – mostly women and babies in the cockpit, boys and men up the bow and children and older women and men on the foredeck as I was gaining confirmation from Lesley that … “is this all?” … there was the call, there are two more people.

“where are they?” I half pleaded.

“They come soon” was the reply.

I returned to the beach with Lesley, as the big black coastal trading vessel left the bay loaded down with people and belongings, to hand over the written “final list of names” to the land-based police, who were assisting in the evacuation.

“Where are the two extra people I asked Lesley. We need to go. Are they coming now? Do they have much stuff?” I asked as we landed on the beach, the crowds of people (and piles of gear) increasing as more and more small banana boats began appearing to evacuate family and friends

“There’s the truck now, with the extra two people” called Lesley as we went off to let them know we were leaving and that they should put their stuff in the dinghy pronto. No wonder they had their own truck … they had a lot of gear … but we were so far into the process, it was now just a case of … “load it on, let’s go”

Meanwhile, as I stood in the shallows holding the bow of the dinghy, a French journalist from Noumea, who’d apparently come in on yesterday’s flight, approached me again for information on the situation and what we were doing. She then lifted her video camera onto her shoulder and pushed a microphone forward – this really was a one-woman travelling media unit – “can you tell me what you are doing ere …”

My impromptu “media commitments” complete … and more importantly, the dinghy loaded, the final-final list handed over (and photographed on my iPhone), Lesley and the two extras onboard, we made our way back to Chimere for the last time.

Chimere was still high in the water as I approached, which was a good sign, albeit down in the bow because of the big crowd and with a list to starboard on account of the gear on deck, but overall she looked good.

It was then a case of passing the last of the stuff up from the dinghy and tying her astern – there was definitely no room for the large dinghy on deck !

I did my “welcome and instructions” speech, covering everything except the… “brace position”, “tightening your safety belt”, “stowing the tray table” and “putting your seat in an upright position for landing” … but there was definitely a section on toilet use (and avoiding abuse), lifejackets, always hanging on when moving around and “look to the crew for instructions”. I think I might have said, the crew are in fluoro vests, but then as someone said to me earlier … “they’ll know who we are because we are the white ones” mmm… very true

It was then time for a short prayer … for safety and for those whose lives are being affected by the volcano and the emergency service personnel who are working so hard.

It was then time to up-anchor and away.

Out from land, we gained clear air and set the sails. It was then time to put up awnings as shelter from the sun for those on the foredeck. Cathy and Annette in their official PCV shirts, did amazingly with handing out drinks and snacks, and Cathy took charge of the piglet-in-a-bag, hanging it from a frame at the mast and providing some shade

The sail across to Luganville was a mixed bag … starting at 8 knots plus, with a steady trade wind up our stern quarter, followed by no wind, then wind on the nose, then a return of wind on the beam and slightly lumpy seas. It was these lumpy seas that coincided with me having a couple of hours sleep below, as Matt took charge.

My return to deck was greeted by Matt’s comment … “been a few sick boss” … Sure enough, there were a few suffering in silence, gazing out to space, lying listlessly, or with heads over the toerail.

Up on the bow and foredeck “the lads” were moistly laughing and joking when they weren’t sleeping.

The sun set as we approached the entrance Luganville harbour, with a general feeling of excitement and expectation settling over the human cargo, knowing that this part of their journey was soon at an end.

Chimere’s crew were also pleased the eight hour journey was at an end, it must be said, but as the “drop-off” wharf got closer and the sky grew darker the concern about docking in the dark grew. Fortunately we had been here before in filling the water tanks, but of course that was in daylight.

All the lines were made ready, the sails dropped and all fenders deployed on the port side as we made our approach. “Oh, the dinghy behind!!” came the call … “someone shorten the lines!”

With only one boat at the wharf, and the black ships mentioned earlier on our tail, in the end our “landing” was very respectable, with many hands there in the torchlit darkness to take our lines.

In fact on shore there was a marquee, men with clip boards, officials in fluoro vets (just like me), police, media with video cameras and crowds of others. Once secured a policeman came aboard and thanked us for our assistance and Lesley came over to organise the disembarkation through a roped off corridor to ensure the crowd and the evacuees didn’t mix. The luggage was then man-handled piece by piece into a sizeable pile, no doubt to be claimed and removed soon after.

The big black vessel made motions to dock in front of us and was getting closer and closer, but the system of people removal required that everyone needed to pass through the roped-off corridor, and they could not dock until we had departed, the “gate” being at our side.

An official man with a mega-phone, then began yelled very loudly something like “Yu NO STAP LONG PLES HIA !!!” … “Yu WAITEM NO MO” in short … DO NOT DOCK HERE … YOU MUST STOP & GO AROUND & WAIT”

By this time the black ship was very close but finally got the message and thought better of docking in the vacant space ahead of us.

Soon after all this we made the final checks … 1. Bats out of fridge 2. Pig-in-bag off boat 3. All bags collected 4. Sign final release with clip-board man concerning numbers delivered, vessel name, captain etc.

Around this time Jay, the PCV Luganville eyecare worker came down to the wharf to meet us in order to pick up his “test case”, but as he described later in his quiet way … “there were a lot of people and the security wouldn’t let me near. But I saw you drive away and the other boat had to wait for you to first unload”

Once away from the wharf we tooted our horn at the big black boat in fun and headed away to a quiet anchorage off the Beachfront Resort, our regular spot, passing the impressive tall ship “Tenacious” (out of Southhampton) tied up at the cruise ship wharf. Tenacious being a three masted, 200 foot sail training ship run by the Jubilee Trust for people with disabilities and a vessel we passed in March when she was anchored off Refuge Cove, Victoria.

The anchor down, Barry prepared a rice and out-of-the-can meal (chunky beef I think) and we sat around and relaxed, discussing the events of the day. It truly was a day to remember

Tomorrow, permission was given for everyone to sleep in, with our big plan being to buy more diesel – our supply getting short on account of the day’s activities – and start heading south to Port Vila where we are due on Monday or Tuesday.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and the boat people of Ambae

Rob Latimer

In the shadow of the volcano

Friday 29 September 2017
Asanvari, Maewo

The day began very slow and sleepy aboard Chimere; Asanvari is that kind of anchorage.

Having arrived just on dark last night there was no chance to go ashore to meet with any of the village leaders, but around 7:30am the first canoe could be seen heading our way from the main beach.

“Save a pancake” I said to Cathy in the galley, “we might have a guest”.

Our visitor introduced himself as Chief Justin and in a very humble and obtuse kind of way presented a problem … “that you might be able to help us with … but only if it’s not too much trouble … and if you can’t that’s fine … ”

As it turned out there was a boy in the village who had hurt his arm playing soccer and they needed to take him over to the Lolowai Hospital on Ambae. Plus they needed to bring back people being evacuated on account of the volcanic activity … and … “what we were after was some fuel … some petrol”

“Yes, we can help with some petrol, and maybe our nurse could have a look the boy. We’ll bring the fuel over in the dinghy shortly”

As he was leaving we asked Chief Justin how many people they were intending to bring across to Asanvari and he said around 150, with tomorrow set as the date for evacuation of the whole island.

“Would it be useful if we took our boat over to assist?”, we asked.

He agree this might be a good thing and we exchanged phone numbers when we met on the beach a short time later, after Cathy determining that the boy was fine and that the local nurse Olivette had done a great job bandaging up the graze.

After giving Chief Justin 30 litres of petrol (supposedly in exchange for some fruit … bananas, pamplemouse and especially mangoes) we waved him good-bye. Meanwhile the island of Ambae, 10 miles away was reasonably clear and silent, although as volcanologists would probably agree, looks can be deceptive. Apparently last week the explosions from the top of Ambae could be heard 20 miles away and were sending rocks into the sea several kilometres away; locals could see the splashes when they hit the water.

no images were found

Meanwhile we all enjoyed the snorkelling and the nearby waterfall, with our host (Chief)Alex showing us around and making us feel welcome. Also, Martin, a young boy of 10 (and brother of the boy with the sore arm) took Annette, Barry, Matt and Cathy on a guided tour of the village.

Mid-afternoon, I received a call from Chief Justin to say that he had spoken with the regional disaster coordinator and there was a view that Asanvari and the whole region of south Maewo and north Pentecost was still too close to Ambae to send evacuees, on account of the tsunami risk in the event of earthquake.

So the request from Justin was … “could we evacuate people 28 people to Santo … Luganville, tomorrow?”

This would mean going back to where we had started. But at least the wind would be from the behind.

“Yes, we can assist, we can be there at 8:00am tomorrow morning.”

Chief Justin was supposed to come back in the banana boat this afternoon, but we’ve seen no sign of him. Likewise, we haven’t been able to raise him on the phone … but that’s not so unusual in these parts.

The rest of the day was spent tidying up Chimere in readiness for the 90 minute sail across to Lolowai in the morning and the welcoming aboard of 28 people. From Lolowai to Luganville should be around an 8 hour sail, so we’ve organised some in-flight food for our guests. Just have to sort out the entertainment now.

In chatting with “waterfall chief”, Alex, he recalled the mud brick demonstration I did in the village back in 2010 and expressed interest in seeing it again. This involved an enjoyable walk up the mountain to obtain the clay, all the while learning more about this fascinating guy and the politics and history of the region.

As a past-meteorologist, journalist, radio station founder and business man, Alex is certainly not your average Ni-Van! After making 5 very handsome mudbricks and leaving him with an instruction manual, plus a mold we’d made from onboard materials, Alex promised to send me a photo of the building he intends to make from the bricks.

Barry led the charge in making dinner … a very tasty spag bol … after which he declared “there are no more condiments left in the galley”. Suggesting he might have been unclear which herb, spice and sauce to add, so he’d included them all.

With a big day ahead it was an early night for all.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and in the shadow of the volcano

Rob Latimer

Take me back to Asanvari

Thursday 28 September 2017
Asanvari, Maewo

[sailmail thought it was snailmail and took over a day to arrive]

After a gloriously still night on the mooring at Aore Island Resort, with the lights of Luganville across the Segond Channel, it was an easy departure around 6:00am. No need to winch aboard the chain and anchor, just a case of lifting the mooring line off the bow cleat and dropping it into the water.

Our destination this day was the beautiful anchorage at the village of Asanvari on the southern tip of Maewo Island. Sixty miles away and around 10 hours sailing, assuming we could average 6 knots and 12 hours at 5 knots.

The one thing we didn’t want to do of course was arrive in the dark and have to rely on the chart plotter and moonlight to determine where to drop the anchor.

In the end the sailing conditions could best be described as “varied”, with a brisk 25 knot south east wind keeping us on our toes for the open-water stretch between Luganville and Ambae, then very little wind in the lee of Ambae, then brisk conditions again from the eastern tip of Ambae to the sheltered west coast of Maewo.

Having mentioned the island of Ambae, I should also mention that it is currently in a state of heightened alert on account of the resident volcano reaching Category 4 on the five-point danger-scale. Fearing a major eruption, evacuations have started taking place and we saw from a distance the Vanuatu patrol boat picking people up along the north coast and dropping into Loloawai at the eastern tip of the island.

Our course along the north coast of Ambae might have appeared to be a case of “volcano chasers”, but it was the most direct and comfortable route to Asanvari, given the winds blow from the south east most of the time. It will also position us better for the serious run south to Port Vila in a couple of day’s time.

After some fast sailing at the beginning of the day, then some slow sailing into the wind after lunch, in the end we made it to the Asanvari anchorage at exactly 6:00pm, with 15 minutes of daylight up our sleeves.

It was quite a relief to find a sandy bottom in 13 metres of water in which to drop our anchor. After the lumpy seas experienced earlier, the stillness of this sheltered bay is fantastic, with the sound of a waterfall over the stern the only real noise from onshore. Above us, the stars are shining and the reflection of the half-moon on the water is enough to illuminate the dark outline of the distant headland and the high, jungle-covered island interior

Cathy and Annette had dinner ready for our arrival (great work !!) and after a 12 hour sail everyone seems ready for sleep.

There’s a gentle breeze outside now, but the stillness of this anchorage means we could almost break out the pool table?!

Captains orders for tomorrow are to … sleep-in at leisure … followed by a swim ashore to the waterfall … some snorkelling, plus a visit to the village to meet the people Mission 3 got to know while they were here running a medical clinic and Oral Health Survey about a month ago.

We might even spend tomorrow night here too.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and take me back to Asanvari …

Rob Latimer

Please can we have some water?

Wednesday 27 September 2017
Moored off Aore Island Resort (near Luganville)

After getting away from beautiful Port Olry at the scheduled time of 6:00am we headed south down the east coast of Santo towards Luganville. As expected, the wind and the waves were on the nose, but still we could maintain around 5 ½ knots. As a bonus we were able sneak inside some nearby islands, where sea conditions were sheltered, giving us a chance to also view some lovely anchorages and on-shore properties, some of which looked like resorts.

Being such a popular cruising region, we saw more yachts in just a few hours than we had in the past couple of weeks. There was also a large cruise ship arriving at the Hog Harbour, Champagne Beach, anchorage as we sailed past; a sign that we were truly back in civilisation.

Around 1:00pm, on arrival at Luganville, we made our way to the commercial wharf in order to find a hose to fill up our water tanks; our tanks being empty and the watermaker high pressure hoses having broken as mentioned in yesterday’s Ships Log.

Getting access to the hose naturally involved us tying up at the wharf, always something to raise your blood pressure, but as it turned out there was a Chimere-sized gap between two island trader ships, right there in front of us. To the amused entertainment, laughter, yells and waves of the various ship’s crews and wharf workers, we first hovered stern-to the breeze a short distance off, yelling greeting and questions back and forth, then we made our approach.

In the end, there were many willing hands to grab our lines to make us secure, and our fenders certainly earned their keep against the rough concrete and steel that passed as a wharf. It must be said, this was a very “industrial” area and in stepping ashore there were potholes, tripping hazards and discarded rubbish aplenty to ruin your day. But amidst it all there were the curious, always-happy locals, and despite the obvious differences between us and our vessels, we shared a natural sea-faring bond. It was also clear that very few yachts tie up here.

“Do you think maybe we could get some water? We have run out” we asked a particularly helpful man, who turned out to be “captain John” off the vessel behind us.

“Should be no problem. The man to ask is in the car over there” came the response

After explaining our requirements to a man in a fluro safety vest … along with who we were, where we’d been, what we were doing etc etc, he felt he needed to go off and talk with his boss, who had gone to lunch and was not here. “But I will go and find him and come back”.

The nearby hose had already been laid out on the ground from the shed to the quay-side by a helpful deckhand off one of the trading boats, but the lock on the tap had prevented him from being any more helpful.

In the meantime we chatted with the local blokes, sharing anchorage horror-stories and learning about each other’s vessels and lives.

We invited Captain John aboard for lunch, (laid out below by Cathy and Annette), and through the discussions we learnt that his older brother was a dentist who works in Luganville and has spent the last few weeks travelling around on another yacht delivering medical services to remote communities. The group’s name was Pacific Yacht Ministries.

John explained what he would do if we weren’t given water for our tanks, but fortunately the man in charge was happy to unlock the tap for us and soon the water flowed.

After a couple of hours it was time to leave and by tightened one line and easing off on another, we soon had the bow away from the wharf, sufficiently clear of the vessel in front, to fast-forward out of there before the onshore wind blew us back. “Retrieve lines !!” came the call and again, with the assistance of a big crowd onshore we were away to cheers, yells and hand waving all-round.

With no work to perform we motored across to the Aore Island Resort where we picked up a mooring and went for a swim and snorkel

Tomorrow, our goal is to make it the 60 miles across to Asanvari on the island of Maewo. Another 6:00am start. At least we won’t have to retrieve an anchor, just unhook the mooring line and drive away.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and please can we have some water

Rob Latimer

Beautiful Port Olry

Tuesday 26 September 2017
At anchor, Port Olry, North Santo

The 80 mile overnight sail from Sola ended up being far smoother than I’d anticipated.   The seas were calmer, our speed faster and around 12:30 this morning we actually had to cut things back to around 4 knots so as NOT to arrive at the narrow harbour entrance (between two islands) ‘too early’ and in the dark.  The ride was also quiet, with the engine being given a rest for much of the time.

It seemed unfair.  All the time we are trying to make the boat go as fast as possible, then occasionally there are times when going slow is the prudent, most appropriate thing to do.

It was therefore around 6:00am, as the sun was rising, that we arrived, making our way through what looked like a narrow gap between two islands, but which was, as Matt pointed out, wider than the entrance to Sydney Harbour.  In the end it was a good thing we arrived in daylight because the chart plotter eventually showed us tracking through the headland on end of the smaller island, rather than through the middle of the entrance; which was clearly made of seawater.  This inaccuracy is not unusual in the more remote areas – in fact most places out of the major towns and where cruise ships tend to drop anchor

As the morning sky grew lighter, in anticipation of the sun’s appearance, so the five Ni-Vans began to make an appearance from their various bunks and sleeping spots.  Laughter, joking and chatter increased with the excitement of arrival and the satisfaction of having made it through the night, mostly asleep.


Jay took a turn at the helm and having grown up with canoes in a remote village on the north coast of Ureparapara, he quickly gained a feel for Chimere’s ways and in holding a straight course.

Around 7:30 we finally dropped anchor in the quiet, turquoise waters of Port Olry.  Calling it a “port” probably makes it sound a little grander that it really is.  Certainly there’s a road, back to the main town of Luganville further south and past the very popular tourist stop-off point “Champagne Beach” and you can buy baked bread after about 4:00pm most days, but it’s still a sleepy kind of place centred around a glorious curving white-sand beach and amazingly coloured water.

There are beach bungalows for hire.  Some built into the large trees which are surrounded by manicured lawn just above the beach sand-line, making this part of town look like a film-set for a Lord of The Rings sequel, “Hobbit Town by The Beach”.  To top it all off there is a restaurant and bar named “Serenity Restaurant” serving cold drinks – yes, even Tusker beer … apparently – overlooking the waves, the sea and the sand in the far distance Chimere at anchor; and by late afternoon four other yachts – as I say it’s a popular place.

A woman called Angelique seems to run this place and from my observations did everything but rake the leaves on the lawn.  She even had her two gorgeous kids, around age 4 or 5, collect plates and glasses from the tables.

We are now down to five people rattling around aboard Chimere – Barry Crouch (co-owner of Chimere) who arrived just yesterday by plane into Sola, Annette, Cathy, Matt (the older) and myself.    The bulka-bags remain silent – lashed to the foredeck, along with the diminished supply of medical, dental and optical consumables and “tooth brush giveaway kits”.  There are no teams to transport ashore, no large meals to prepare and no more controlled but slightly frenetic activity.  Idly sitting here in this quiet and picturesque anchorage, with time even to go snorkelling, there’s almost a sense of guilt about it all… I said almost.

In heading back to Port Vila, we were a bit unsure which way to go.  As it turns out, the breaking of a high pressure line in the water maker, at the very same time that all water tanks are empty, kind of sealed things.  We will head directly to Luganville – around 35 miles – tomorrow in order to fill the tanks at the public wharf.  The alternatives are – run water drums from a beach somewhere, or wait for a heavy downpour of rain?!  A hose from a wharf kind of won the day.

In terms of timing, we’re just glad it happened now, not 2 weeks ago with 15 people aboard, all wanting showers,  cups of tea and needing to wash clothes !!

Whilst I have around 40 litres of drinking water in spare drums on deck – that will cover tomorrow’s needs, I didn’t have the two required high pressure hose in “spares”.  A bit of an oversight there.  We had two short high pressure hoses, but not the long ones.  We’ll have to get them sent across

While lounging around on the white sand feeling guilty for not working, we met a German couple in their late 60s, Volker and Dorothea, who were renting one of the treehouse bungalows.  They appeared well tanned and after a brief discussion we discovered they were both doctors and had devoted much of their life to travel.  This latest trip was taking them on an island hopping  tour of the Torres islands (further north) Motalava, Vanualava, Santo, Gaua and Ambrym – most unusual for the average tourist.  But these were not your average tourists.  They spoke passionately about the 20 years in which they owned a yacht, travelling from their home in Hamburg to the Caribbean and around Europe and Scandinavia.

They jumped at the chance to come out to Chimere for lunch and over dinner, at the “Serenity Restaurant” ashore they spoke about the places they had been and the people they had met over they years.  “I have been to all but 7 countries in the world, and all the states in the USA” said Dorothea quietly.  “We drove for 5 months around Australia, and Tasmania is beautiful”. And their powers of recall were amazing … the salmon catching bears of Kamchatka Peninsular,  the tribes people of Angola,  markets of Saana in Yemen … even getting around the need to be married to enter Saudi Arabia by getting a letter drawn up by the authorities in Jordan to say they were but the papers hadn’t arrived yet.  The discussion was like having a talking Wikipedia of Travel at our table and as Dorothea explained, at the age of 9 she started her travels on a bicycle, which led to hitchhiking at 15 (because you could go further) and no doubt aeroplanes soon after.   As we left them their next dream was the possibility of buying a yacht in Australia or New Zealand, partly to visit some of the remaining countries on their list including Nauru; although as Aussies we had our suggestions  as to how they might get there?!

They say the most dangerous part of flying is the take-off and landing.  It’s much the same with dinghies.  Particularly when boarding off a beach, through the waves, in the dark.  What could possibly go wrong?    All five of us got wet, but none more so than Annette and Matt who were on the other side of the dinghy from me.  To give you an idea of just how wet they got … well at one point in that critical sand–wave-boarding “transition stage”, as the depth of the water increases beyond the knees and the dinghy is pushed forward over the next advancing wave (to avoid it breaking over the bow)  and everyone is supposed to jump aboard, all I could see of Matt and Annette was their head and shoulders…. oh, I could also see their hands and forearms as they clung to the rope around the side of the dinghy.

“Wait, not everyone’s aboard!!” came the cry … “tell me something I don’t know” thought Matt and Annette!!!

Once aboard, and the laughter had subsided we agreed that if you are going to get wet at 8:30 in the evening you want to do it when the water temperature is 29 degrees and the air temperature about the same.

Back on Chimere we each dried off, had a hot drink, soaked in the beauty of the surroundings and retired to our bunks early.

Tomorrow we head south to Luganville and the big smoke

Smooth saes, fair breeze and beautiful Port Olry

Rob Latimer


Just a reminder that Graeme’s (unauthorized) mission blog and news about Vanuatu activities can be found here …

And team member, Annette Vincent, has a blog running here …

Comings and goings

Monday 25 September 2017
At sea, between Sola and Port Olry (Espiritu Santo Island)

Bags were packed, electronic devices (and their chargers) were retrieved, past Vatu loans and reimbursements were settled and final farewells were made.

Flying out of Sola on the mid-day (Monday) plane were doctors Graeme and Jeremy, dentist Barry and sailor Matt (the younger)

Flying in to join the good ship Chimere is my co-owner Barry Crouch. A man whose generosity and support of MSM extended to him buying half of Chimere six years ago and believe it or not he’s only been aboard – for a sail – for just four days in that time. So it’s a great joy to be able to have him aboard for the next week as we work our way south back to Port Vila – enabling him to get some personal enjoyment from his half of the boat.

The five Ni-Van Amigos are remaining aboard for this last and final 80 mile leg that will take us to the north east tip of Santo, to village of Port Olry. From here it’s an easy drive south to the main town of Luganville and from there a (cheaper) flight back to Port Vila. Although in Jay’s case he will remain in Luganville as he heads up the PCV Health eyecare program there.

Just when we thought it was a simple case of moving people and bags to and fro and preparing Chimere for sea later in the day, a call came through from Richard early in the morning to say that there was a lady with toothache, who missed the clinic the other day and could we prepare the foredeck again for surgery.

Things were still a bit rolly and so after discussions with Barry we thought it might be better to set up onshore under a tree. But after Barry had done a bit of a test run he admitted that the dentist with the injection is rolling at the same rate as the patient, so it should be fine?!

The extraction took longer than anticipated with a small amount of curved broken root persistently holding on till the last.

Good news was the lady, Jenny, went away smiling … sort of.

After waving good-bye to the four returning volunteers, it was just a short hour-long wait for the arrival of Barry Crouch on the next flight.

It was then out to Chimere and a chance to soak in the surroundings. The five Ni-Vans joined us around 3:00pm and by 4:00pm we were on our way south west in the direction of Gaua Island and Port Olry beyond; our morning destination.

Before the sun sank as a red ball in the west (volcanic ash in the air can do that) we’d had two glorious hours of tropical sailing, racing along at 7-8 knots over lumpy but not too uncomfortable seas.

By 6:30pm it was dark and with Deb asleep in readiness for her later watch it was 11 of us in the cockpit having chop suey, prepared earlier in the day by a band of food-choppers, led by Deb.

The crescent moon glistened on the calming seas and one by one people went below to their bunks.

In the lee of the island of Gaua the wind has now calmed off, along with the sea, and we are motoring along at around 5-6 knots. In a couple of hours, as we head more into clear seas, it should become windier and we might even be able to turn the engine off.

There’s not a lot else to report, other than Matt is on watch from 9-:00pm-12:00 midnight, Martin is on watch between 12:00 – 3:00am and I’m on from 3:00am – 6:00am, our expected arrival time, oh, and that dinner was delicious

Smooth seas, fair breeze and comings and goings

Rob Latimer


PS Have you seen the news that the nearby volcano of Ambae has woken up again and evacuations of those living in the danger zone (approx. 5,000 people currently) have commenced. The earlier village of Lolawai is on Ambae and we intended to travel through the area on our way back to Vila