Anchored back in the volcano

Friday 22 September 2017

Dives Bay, Ureparapara


It was a case of “Up at 5:00am, away by 6:00am” … with our destination being the amazing island of Ureparapara, about 25 miles north of Sola where we’d spent a slightly less rolly night on account of re-anchoring closer to shore

After picking the five Ni-Van team members up from the beach and completing a few last jobs aboard, it was actually 6:04am that we weighted anchor and headed out of the bay – known locally as Port Patterson after an earlier Anglican missionary.

The wind was steady from the south east, as it normally is at this time of year in these parts, and so the wind was pretty much on our tail. This gave us the opportunity to dust off the spinnaker pole in order to hold the jib out one side while the mainsail stuck out the other – a classic sailing manoeuvre,

Pakon took the helm for a good part of the leg and did a very good job despite the waves advancing from the stern and a confused chop.

By 10:00am we were making our way into the entrance of the once-active volcano that is Ureparapara, with its jungle-covered razor ridge encircling us on virtually all sides

A good anchorage was soon found and after dropping the Ni-Vans ashore to organised the afternoon’s activities, those aboard loaded the bulka bags of gear into the large dinghy in readiness for the next run ashore – actually a beach, with white-ish sand.

With Annette and Matt (the younger) feeling better, it was Graeme’s turn to take some time out on the bench, which meant that I spent much of my time running back and forth in the dinghy to get this or that, left behind in the rush – a box of giveaway soap, hand-held optom machine, bag of caps, day packs … the list goes on.

In the course of my zipping back and forth, I got to meet several prominent locals who joined me for the ride, including Chief John (who initially came out in his canoe) Chief David and Andrew, the local wood carver who I have met here on two previous occasions.

“I still have the wood rasp you gave me last time” said Andrew. So it was very pleasing to be able to give Andrew a stack of additional tools mostly donated by the Ringwood Men’s Shed in Melbourne, plus sandpaper and epoxy glue.

Once the locals had carried everything up from the beach, it seemed a matter of minutes before the team had seat up their respective stations – reception, eyecare, medical, dental (read: extractions) oral health examinations and oral health survey questionnaires. It was fine to see.

Everyone seemed genuinely sad to hear we would be heading away tomorrow morning, our main task of completing the required surveys complete.

As for the clinic itself, it appeared very busy with everyone working extremely hard … except Graeme of course who was back on the boat resting, leaving his under-study doctor (and son) Jeremy to take charge of the medical side of things

The clinic wound up around 4:30pm and the process of transporting, packing and stowing aboard was put into action.

It was then back to the beach around 6:15pm to share dinner together and put on a movie night – showing Ice Age 1 & 2 to great appeal.

This pretty much ends the formal medical and survey part of Mission 4, with tomorrow seeing us start the journey south; initially to Port Vila, then the return to Australia in about a month’s time.

As a concession to the hard-working team, a sleep-in has been approved for tomorrow. Instead of being up at 5:00am, it’s now 6:00am – a full 1 hour extra in bed.

Our destination tomorrow will be the west coast of Vanualava – including waterfall Bay, named for the obvious (a great place to relax and “frolic”) as a brief stop-over on our way back to Sola where many of the team will fly home on Monday.

Starting to wind down now !!

Smooth seas, fair breeze and anchored back in the volcano

Rob Latimer

A busy day ashore

Sola, Vanua Lava

Thursday 21 September 2017

[more new photos in 2017 Mission 4 Gallery]

I do sometimes go ashore. But generally my focus is on the ship and the overall planning of the mission and so I’m mostly dropping others ashore to do their good work

Today was different. With two crew members feeling a bit poorly … OK you forced it out of me, it’s Annette and Matt (the younger) but they are fine, on the mend and just needed a day’s rest – remember we have two doctors aboard, and everything will be fine – and with nurse Cathy staying aboard to provide care, love and attention, it meant I was needed onshore.

My duties centered around the Sola hospital, about 1km out of town, and the activities of the clinic we’d set up there for the day.

It was valuable to observe close-up the medical, dental and eye folk in action, not to mention the Oral Health Survey exploits, and to hear some of the stories that lay behind each case that presented … a total of 60 medical patients, the same number of dental cases, 40 eyecare cases and nearly 30 Oral Health Survey participants.

There was the lady who was treated by an overseas aid group 4 months ago and in the course of having a couple of teeth extracted they’d dislocated her jaw and despite attempts to fix the problem at the time she has remained that way since. To imagine the implications of this, try pushing your lower jaw forward an inch or so, then try talking, eating, being taken seriously by people you meet and generally functioning normally.

After four months, you can imagine that with inflammation and other complications, the jaw is not going to just pop back into place. And don’t think big strong Pakon and Wellan didn’t try; after ensuring sufficient pain killers were administered.

In the end the lady was just over-joyed at being able to simply chew a biscuit for the first time in 4 months and with a range of medications including anti-inflammatories, pain killers and relaxants it is hoped that by Sunday afternoon when we once again return to Sola that her jaw will be pliable enough to complete the “manipulation”. If not we will either take the woman south to the hospital in Santo, or arrange referrals and flights etc.

Jeremy made a couple of kids scream uncontrollably for a short time today, despite the repeated … “you’re a good girl” reassurances from the mothers concerned. I was just sitting nearby and heard it all play out as Jeremy lanced some boils from the kid’s legs. Within ten minutes it was all over and I saw one of the girls being lifted onto her mum’s shoulders for the walk home, quietly crying as she clung to her mum’s generous curly locks; seemingly well over it all

Of a non-medical nature, I acted as Matt’s (the older) apprentice in assessing the solar system and whilst it could produce power to run the lights it could not produce 240 volts to run things like the microscope and other equipment. Diagnosis … dead invertor

“Do you think you could put a light bulb in the pharmacy room?” came the request from the hospital pharmacist, Micah, via Graeme Duke.

In a short time Matt and I had made our assessment and it seemed feasible to use the box of bits already in the hospital storeroom to run a wire from the bulb in one room, up through the roof cavity and down into the pharmacy room, to which another bulb could be added. No separate light switch, but a light is a light.

Either the roof seemed a lot higher than normal, or the ladder was just too short, but in the end it took Jay’s athletic ability to get up through the man hole into the roof – and safety back down again – so as to thread the wires through the right holes. Matt did the technical bit, wiring up each end and before long there was LIGHT !!

Now you might think it’s just a simple light bulb, but if you can imagine a room with no windows, other than a small dispensary-shelf through which medicines are passed then you have an idea of just how dark the room is. Up until now, when a patient was prescribed medicine, they would appear at the little dispensing hole in the wall – about eye-height, and Micah would then turn on his mobile phone light-app. to both read the script and then find the appropriate medication on his rough set of shelves that line the walls.

So you can imagine just how happy Micah was with his new light when he exclaimed … “This is the first time in 7 years I have had a light in this room!!” SEVEN YEARS in the darkness, unbelievable.

Whilst Matt took the lead with the lights and the wiring, I had a look at the new water reticulation system that had been fitted to the hospital, and much of the town in the past few months, compliments of Red Cross and a range of donors which varied depending on who I spoke with.

It’s a great system that brings fresh water from a long way away, except the tap, or gate-valve, that supplied the hospital off a big-diameter main line – possibly 75mm, was leaking, creating an ever boggy region around the back of the hospital.

“Can you fixim?” asked nurse Sandy, the man who seemed to be in charge of this sort of thing. “I’ll give it a go … where’s the shut off valve?” I asked.

“What do you mean, shut-off valve?” replied Sandy

“You know, so I can fix the tap, we need to shut the water off. Otherwise the water will go everywhere when I disconnect the small pipe from the big pipe. Is there a plan of the system so we can find the cut-off valves?”

After a lot of searching and walking, it seemed no cut-off valve could be found, so my mind then turned to a plug, or stopper to poke in the pipe when it was disconnected from the mains to somehow stem the flow. As it turned out the broken end of a broomstick was just the thing.

From a distance, unscrewing the hospital supply pipe from the main-line must have looked comical. Up close it was very wet and exhausting as getting the broom handle into the pipe and then held there against the pressure took every ounce of strength. Realising my dilemma, nurse Douglas dived in to render assistance, putting his muscles to good use. I was then able to unscrew the in-line valve and re-attach it using Teflon tape and sealant; as should have happened when it was first installed. All the while Douglas is using his strength to continue forcing the broom stick into the “live” pipe at my side. Then came the time to re-connect, with water once again going everywhere at high pressure as we maneuvered the two ends together with cries of “NOW, screw the fitting while I hold it, quick !!”

Once the drama was over, in a typical Ni-Van way, there was laughter, whooping and handshakes all round as the success of the exercise was enjoyed and appreciated. One of those classic bloke-bonding moments

It was then time to wash off all the mud and while I was doing this nurse Douglas asked … “do you think you could have a look at the leaking tap at the staff houses?”

What can you say? After fixing that, I returned with the men to the hospital and it was at this stage nurse Sandy sheepishly volunteered … “just one more pipe if you could maybe have a look at him…?”

This leaking pipe was in a room, next to the pharmacy that had the title “SURGERY” written above the door. Not sure if surgery was ever conducted in this room, but currently it is used to store building materials including concrete reinforcing mesh. As for the leak, sure enough, the disconnected and bent-over pipe from the sink in the corner was leaking and had formed a large, deep puddle in the room. By now I was on a roll and having located the supply line outside on the back wall and turning the in-line hospital gate-valve off (fixed by me an hour earlier) it was a simple case of fitting a stop-value which was in the hospital’s box of tricks.

In other news, there was a 6.4 earthquake today in Vanuatu and a big thank you to everyone who has inquired after our welfare. All good up where we are.

The clinic finally finished around 4:00pm and it was then a case of re-loading everything back aboard Chimere, plus her complement of crew and medicos

We re-anchored closer to the shore in order to reduce the persistent roll from the swell and around this time Deb, Matt and Martin appeared on the beach for pick-up with arms-full of freshly baked bread, including coconut bread, just out of a local oven; a very low-tech, wood fired oven.

Tomorrow it’s off north again, this time to the amazing island of Ureparapara where we actually sail into the middle of was once an active volcano – cool.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and a busy day ashore

Rob Latimer

Chief Graham … what are the chances

Sola, Vanua Lava

Wednesday 20 September 2017

[50 new photos added to Mission 4 Photo Gallery]

Having re-anchored earlier in the day, it was a blissfully still night with all 15 aboard ready for an early getaway – for the next island north, Vanualava.

Finding a non-rolly part of the anchorage meant getting in close to the shore and edge of the bay and when the depth sounder bottomed at around 2.1m early in the evening I thought maybe we were a bit too close, but as the tide came in and the number increased, so my concern lessened.

It’s amazing how the body and mind adjusts to its environment. After finally getting to bed last night around 12:00 midnight I crawled out of my saloon bunk at exactly 4.59am, with just enough time to put on my glasses and check the time on my iPhone which then sounded my alarm – 5:00am. Which meant, time to get this show on the road, or the water as the case may be.

I had initially thought of letting the Ni-vans continue sleeping on the foredeck under the awning, as we simply lifted the small dinghy astern, hitched the large dinghy to a tow-line and drove away. But given all the activity aboard, they were all up and about by 5:15am and it seemed prudent to do it all properly the first time. This meant clearing the foredeck, putting away the sunshade and lifting up the big dinghy and lashing her down.

After retrieving the stern-line from its onshore tree there was little anchor chain to stow before we motored out of the bay; past the two other yachts still fast asleep.

As a parting gesture, local man Stephen paddled his canoe out to say good-bye in the morning light, smiling in the same way he did back in 2009 – our first visit to the bay – when he’d met us in the same manner but joined by his tiny baby at the time, barely able to stand while gripping the wooden side of the canoe.

In the end it was 5:45am, 15 minutes late, by the time we cleared the bay, with sails up setting a course north. Once out of the lee of the land the wind increased, till we were easily making 7 knots under (single) reefed main and full jib.

It was a steady motion and after breakfast most went back to sleep; finding a comfy spot on the deck, in the dinghy, on the coach house, in the saloon, or in someone else’s vacant bunk. With the engine off it was the sound of the waves and wind that reminded us that this truly is a sailing vessel and this was her best point of sail – trade winds on the beam.


Oh, the other sounds of note were the occasional cries of … “dolphins” … ”they’re jumping clear out of the water” … “there’s a fish on the line” … “there’s another fish on the line”

This really was an amazing sail … although the lack of an engine meant the batteries were left depleted after their night’s work, a state that will definitely have to be addressed tomorrow, with two “yellow bars” now showing on the panel.

By arrived 11:00am we were dropping anchor in 6 metres, on sand, in the relative calm of the Sola bay, known as Patterson Harbour.

Around this time two loaves of bread were drawn from the oven thanks to Matt (the junior) and Cathy.

The small dinghy was launched and soon after arriving Richard, Bob, Wellan, Pakon and Jay were dropped ashore to check out their bungalow accommodation and liaise with the local health officials in relation to the next day’s clinic – whether to set up in the local market area … or further out of town at the hospital.

On board, lunch saw to the near-demolishment of the bread, after which Graeme, Jeremy, Annette & I went ashore with all the gear – assisted by Martin and Matt (the senior). With two dinghies and three bulka-bags full of gear and personal belongings it was very apt when Matt asked … “shall I back the Torana out so you can get to the Kingwood…?”

Once ashore a local truck (Toyota 4wd) was obtained to move everything to the clinic – including us folk hanging on (as tight as possible) in the back, Ni-Van-regulation-style

It was around this time, as Annette, Jeremy, Graeme and I were walking along in the direction of the hospital – waiting for the return of the truck – that I saw Graeme ahead talking to a local man in the middle of the road (little chance of being run down here)

I’d hung back to clean the gravel out of my wet shoes under a shady tree, so when I caught up with Graeme and moved to introduce myself with the usual … “name blong me Robert”… I hadn’t even said a word when I looked intently at the man for a brief moment and exclaimed “Chief Gra-ham”.

For those familiar with the film Forrest Gump, it was truly a “Lieutenant Dan” moment, because the last time we had met, in fact the first and only time, was Saturday 18 & Sunday 19 July 2009, (eight years ago) on the west coast of this same island – in Vureas Bay. ( “All aboard for the Vanualava Express” and “A day of rest?”)

“Captain Rob !”, Chief Graham said as we embraced – again, little chance of being run down on this main road.

We then chatted for some time as we walked along about all the things that had happened since he and his people had shown us such hospitality all those years ago; which might have included one of my few kava experiences, albeit a very authentic one with personally crushes roots and calico sieving aboard Chimere late one very dark night

Chief Graham was keen to catch up some more and we explained that we were heading to Ureparapara further north for a brief stop, then on Saturday we would be back in Waterfall Bay and could easily drop down to Vureas Bay to catch up.

Since our last visit, a road now links Sola on the east coast to Vureas Bay, and the even more remote village of Vatrata, on the west coast.

Richard exchanged phone numbers and it was agreed that we would meet again on Saturday.

Stumbling across Chief Gra-ham in this way could never have been planned, but it is so typically Ni-Van, with these sort of encounters and experiences having been repeated over and over again in the eight year life of MSM

Once at the hospital we checked out the details for tomorrow’s clinic and Oral Health Survey and met with local eyecare worker and nurse, Sandy, plus the nurse in charge Douglas. We were also introduced to a solar system that only half-worked, and a new water reticulation system with a leaking connection and tap.
“Maybe you could have a look at fixin’ them … no problem if you can’t ?” suggested nurse Sandy.

Sounds like another job for … “Matt & Matt” … with tomorrow’s Ships Log possibly being headed … “Fixing Solar in Sola” … but I don’t want to put them under any pressure, although if they can pull this one off it’ll be a hat-trick – three solar systems, three clinics on three different islands

Soon after our arrival the two yachts with whom we shared the Losolava anchorage, Good as Gold … and (can’t remember, TBA) joined us here at Sola – the ones who were very late returning from an inland trek – or more correctly, the wife off one yacht and the husband off the other were late in returning from an inland trek. It turns out they had hired two local guides and both had got lost?! And no, they hadn’t run off together.

No surprises for guessing we had tuna tonight and despite the good intentions I still went to sleep after dinner and then woke up with a second wind (plus a cup of strong coffee) to record the day’s events and plan for tomorrow.

On the communications front … I’m glad I bought a Digicel SIM card in Luganville before starting this mission because my usual TVL SIM card has been next to useless – no offence TVL. After buying more credit ashore, and with 4 bars + 3G showing on my screen I duly received a squillion emails – so sorry if you haven’t heard from me for a while.

As sheltered as the Sola anchorage is, wouldn’t you know, it’s a bit on the rolly side too. Although to the team’s credit, no one has really mentioned anything. Maybe we are getting used to it – a bunch of sea-kittens becoming toughened sea-dogs?!

Oh, and did I mention, this is the only spot in Vanuatu which has crocodiles? Yep that’s right, dinkum salties! Apparently they live up the nearby Sulphur River and unfortunately I don’t think we’ll have time to go looking for them – although onboard PCV Health eyecare worker, Jay, has a relative (maybe an uncle, cousin or brother) here in Sola that has apparently offered to take us if we want to go. I suspect time will be against us.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Chief Graham … what are the chances ?!

Rob Latimer

Back amongst friends

Lakona Bay, Gaua Island

Tuesday 19 September 2017

It was a rather rolly night at anchor, which was strange given the calmness and shelter of the anchorage. But sometimes it just happens. A lazy swell around a headland, a tidal flow going the wrong way and an offshore wind that holds the boat beam-on. They conspire to form a side-to-side roll that seems to just get worse with each motion.

“We’ve got to fix this roll!” … Matt (senior) and I agreed. Our earlier attempt at laying a stern anchor coming to little.

First things first. And it was a call from onshore to say we should bring the gear to a nearby beach for portage piece-by-piece up the headland to the village meeting place where the clinic would be established.

A catamaran in the bay offered to carry our people to the beach and the owner of the yacht a man named Ritchie, said he knows the woman who was the previous owner of Chimere; from his own home state of Western Australia. Quite a coincidence, particularly given that it was only yesterday that I’d mentioned to Graeme that the previous owner was a doctor who might be interested in what Chimere has been up to since 2009

Once established, the clinic was well attended with a steady stream of eye, dental and “body” patients – plus of course the “National Oral Health Survey”; the highest priority of all.

I made it to the clinic around 10:00am, leaving (senior) Matt aboard to top up the fuel tank and make freshwater; plus a general clean up.

As I was standing around, one old man shuffled in from the edge of the village and after introducing myself and shaking his hand, he asked about treatments offered, in particular eyes. With his hand on my shoulder we then made it carefully to the right spot, me quickly realizing that he was really quite blind. Later in the day I asked Jay how he went and he said that he’d prescribed -5 spectacles, which he had in stock. “Must have made a big difference?” I inquired. “Yes, he can see much more light and make things out better now”, he replied

The village was aware that we were coming (thankfully), but to be sure that the nearby communities had also got the message I made a run up the coast in the dinghy, accompanied by Chief Bruce (sounds like the sort of chief we’d have in Australia?!) one of the many sons of Paramount Chief John Star (of earlier Ships Logs)

Bruce was a strong and commanding bloke and throughout the day we got to know each other well, particularly after the coffee & cake session aboard Chimere late morning, accompanied by a few others.

Travelling up the coast we pulled into two remote communities. At the second we went ashore after weaving through the outer reef at the left, right, straight-ahead hand signals of Bruce and another man – Jimmy, whom we’d picked up along the way. Once ashore we met the locals amidst a cloud of smoke from some serious burning off they were doing. The purpose of the burning, and chain sawing and building, was the construction of a kava bar and meeting space to accompany the adjoining soccer pitch.

The soccer pitch itself was something else. Carved out of the forest it had a kind of surreal quality about it. Almost like the jungle was ready at any time to reclaim the playing field for its own; once more to be covered by trees, vines and coconut palms. I imagine it’s a constant exercise to keep the pitch in order. But each village has a team and tournaments are a regular feature of the yearly calendar, with winners going on to play for the region, island and Province. It’s high stakes and the honour of the village is on the line when others come to visit. Plus of course the opportunity to earn some money from the sale of kava and food

One man I was very keen to meet again was the local Anglican priest, Father Levi Sandy. We got to know him well in 2013 when he requested assistance in promoting a Kastom Festival he and the village were planning to start in 2014.

At the time the village put on a series of dances for us to film, forming the basis for the promotion. In early 2014, Matt (the younger) edited the film and put a promo on Youtube. I then contacted cruising forums and websites around the world, letting them know that it they were sailing around Vanuatu, then they should make sure they put Lakona Bay, West Gaua on their schedule.

That was 4 years ago, and with communications as poor as they are it wasn’t surprising that I’ve heard nothing about the success or otherwise of the event. So it was great to hear that the event has developed into a very successful regional happening, with 2014,2015, 2016 and 2017 getting bigger and bigger.

In our discussions, Father Levi expressed heart-felt thanks. Later in the day, after having a painful tooth extracted by Pakon, earplugs provided by Graeme due to having a perforated eardrum, (plus antibiotics for an infected foot too I believe), he talked to me about his passion for helping the bright and clever children of the West Gaua region pursue their Year 11,12 and 13 education. One of the biggest expenses a parent faces here is paying for education. Beyond year 10 it’s a case of no money, no education, with children from remote regions like this having to board on other islands, where higher education is provided.

To assist parents pay for schooling, Father Levi and a group of prominent people in the village have established the West Gaua Student Association. As it was explained to me, parents can become a member, and their children then have the potential to receive funding assistance, which they must then pay back in later years. It’s a bit like a private, cooperative version of a Higher Education Loan Program. In addition to parental funding, the community tries to fundraise (through the Lakona Bay Kastom Festival) I talked with Father Levi about ideas to boost donations and fund raising and even obtained details of a village development bank account they run for such a purpose. Before we said our final good-byes I gave the “Association” 10,000 Vatu (approx. $AUS120) from the MSM funds (sorry Mike, no chance to obtain prior approval with that one) and said I’d mention the fund in my daily Ships Log in case others would like to make a donation. If you feel called to give something, just flick me an email.

The clinic slowed down a bit in the afternoon and as Graeme continued trying to poke ripe mangoes off a very tall tree with an extremely long stick, others spoke about snorkeling and having a BBQ picnic as the sun went down.

The five (Ni-Van) Amigos had a dreadful night’s sleep ashore, as it turned out. Unbeknown to us they were provided with the local clinic building in which to bed-down, a building with few comforts.

Tonight it is a very different story. Particularly after we re-anchored Chimere into a very sheltered, close-to-shore part of the bay, with a line off the stern to a tree ashore to keep us still. All 15 team members are sleeping aboard, with three Ni-Vans lying on mattresses on the foredeck under an awning, two in the cockpit and the other 10 in their “usual” spots

Our plan is to be up at 5:00am and away at 5:30am. Our destination, the regional town of Sola on the island of Vanualava, about 32 miles north east of here. With everyone aboard for the night, meaning there’ll be no early pick-up from the beach, it will almost be a case of up anchoring and driving away – remembering to retrieve the line to shore of course !

Phone and internet communications via Digicel and TVL are very poor here … read non-existent. We are hoping for better success tomorrow in Sola. Might even be able to get some photos out !!

Smooth seas, fair breeze and back amongst friends

Rob Latimer

Sunday – morning of rest at least

Losolava, Gaua Island

Sunday 17 September 2017

For some people in the village of Losolava Sunday is their day of rest, for others it’s Saturday; it all depends on your denomination.   There’s a rumour that some fall into the “two denomination” category in order to get both days off, but maybe that’s being a bit unkind.

Nonetheless, it was a lazy start to the day for the MSM team, with 6-7:00am sleep-ins all round; sheer luxury.

Church ashore was at 8:00am, this time of the “Traditional” Anglican persuasion, with robes, candles and bells, plus the expected Melanesian singing; which did not disappoint.

It was decided to set up clinic in the church building itself, after lunch.  So it was that around 12:30pm all the dental, medical and optometry gear had been transported ashore and carted piece by piece the short distance from the landing.

A queue of hopeful patients soon formed under the nearby mango tree, keeping the team busy all afternoon.  About 40 medical consultations and around 20 dental, not to mention eye tests and the dispensing of spectacles.

Tomorrow the clinic will be relocated 5 minutes down the track to the official village clinic building.  A “neutral” piece of ground for those locals who felt uneasy about today’s(Anglican) venue.  As for the PCV Health and MSM, we are truly ecumenical, treating all-comers and in all villages – even those of the French persuasion, Roman Catholics and non-name brands?!

To find out more about the medical side of the mission, go to Graeme Duke’s (unauthorized) MSM blog at …

While most were at the church service (older) Matt ran Chimere’s main engine and generator to both charge the batteries and run the water maker; both of which were getting low.

Returning to Chimere I started the process of making two loaves of bread, plus a slice-cake- like concoction known as “Logan Bread”, packed aboard in batch-sized, easy to prepare bags by Edith West, a  wonderful MSM supporter and also the mother of team nurse Cathy as it turns out.

It was then time to track down the man I was keen to meet, having seen him briefly yesterday when we landed, Chief John Star.  John is a paramount chief and a man I’d met on three previous occasions, (we’d even given him a lift to the next island north, Vanualava in 2009) but we’d only ever met him on the west coast of this island, which is where I’d hoped to see him again this time.  John had “retired” to Losalava, on the east coast to live with his son and family; his son (Jonathan) being a school teacher.

Having found the chief and hosting him and the primary school principal, Mark, out on Chimere, I was able to present him with a gift.  It was an unusual gift in many ways, a carved wooden statue of two dolphins, around 30cm high (about a foot for the older folk).  I came across the statue in Melbourne last year quite by accident and immediately thought of Chief John Star.  At the time  I had no idea how to get it to him, and had it sitting in my office with a Post-It note stuck to it that read – for Chief John Star, Lakona Bay West Coast Gaua – and here I am, able to give it to him in person

And why two dolphins?  Well back in 2009, our first MSM sailing mission to Vanuatu, it was John who had met us on arrival in the remote Lakona Bay.  He was paddling his dugout canoe and wore a cap with the word “Manager” on it.  In the course of showing us where to anchor John tapped the side of his canoe twice and two dolphins leapt out the still water behind him.  I remember being totally surprised and amazed and exclaimed something like … “do that again” … which he did, with the same result.

Four years later on a return visit in 2013, several men of the village put on a kastom dance for us to film, to assist them in promoting a festival they were intending to start the next year. (Matt – the younger – put a video online which you should be able to view by searching “Lakona Bay Kastom festival youtube”)  One of the head-dress costumes in the dance, depicted a model of two dolphins, in memory of the two dolphins who had lived for a time in the local bay.


Hence the immediate connection between Chief John Star and the two dolphin statue

John was delighted with the gift and so that the school principal didn’t go away empty handed, I promised we’d try and fix the leaking tap on a 5,000 litre water tank I’d noticed earlier in the day at the Primary School when I’d walked to John’s home.   Plus some fiberglass resin, matting, sandpaper and miscellaneous bits to help repair a hole in his 1,000 litre fiberglass personal water tank.

Back at the clinic late-afternoon things were starting to slow down, but there was a need to do a dash back to Chimere in the dinghy to obtain an asthma preparation for a woman in late stage pregnancy.

On top of this there was a woman on one of the other two yachts in the bay (definitely NOT a local) who had an infected foot and needed a reassuring word or two from a doctor, (or a word from two doctors – which we have) plus some antibiotics.  There was the added complication that her husband and the wife of the man on the other boat, had gone for a walk to the famous inland jungle  waterfall, which was supposedly a 4 hour roundtrip trek.  “They haven’t run off together” both the remaining wife and husband assured us … several times … which had me thinking Shakespeare and the line “… she protesteth too much”  … but who am I to judge.

By now it was around 7:00pm, pitch black, and their respective spouses, (plus their young local guide Stuart) were at least four hours overdue, given they’d left at 9:00am this morning and the 4 hour round trip estimate was probably really 6 hours after adjusting for Ni-Van distance.

Matt (the older) and I drove our dinghy to a few landing spots around the bay and radioed Richard ashore to see if there had been any word of the travelers, (who didn’t take their own radio, after all they were only going to be 4 hours ?!)    Richard informed me that if they weren’t back in 1 hour that he would inform the local leaders and they would start a night search up the track, but very fortunately, to the relief of everyone, a small light could be seen travelling across the water in the direction of the neighbouring yacht.

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when those two individuals stepped aboard their respective yachts … stay tuned to the next exciting installment ?!

Tomorrow we plan to run another half-day clinic and extend it to full-day if numbers demand.  If things go quiet, we’ll load the “circus” aboard Chimere around  lunchtime for a 1:00pm departure to the other side of the island; a sail of around 3 hours.

Good news from the National Oral Health Survey front is that all the required participants were assessed for this village.

In addition to running the clinic, Graeme has requested the two Matts to have a look at the solar power system at the official village clinic building.  A structure with which past MSM crew members are very familiar, having worked on it  in 2009 and then again in 2013; including taps on two rain water tanks, gutters, downpipes and roof paint, plus the construction of stairs and some veranda strengthening.  The building is starting feel like an old friend!!

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Sunday – morning of rest at least

Rob Latimer

The Ups and Downs of Merelava

Friday 15 September 2017

Tasmat Village Anchorage, Merelava Island

Introduction by Rob Latimer
There’s something very special about Merelava. This is our fourth visit in eight years. Each time similar but each time very different.

First there’s the scale and remoteness of the place. Ninety nautical miles NE of the regional centre of Luganville, out on its own in the ocean, rising 1,000 metres into the air and just 4-5 km wide. A jungle-covered cone, a once-active volcano, surrounded by a sharp, black volcanic rock ledge.

Then there’s the people. A resilient, welcoming, generous bunch who seem incredibly fit on account of the steepness of the terrain and just how physical and challenging everything is here.

On arrival, many of the local kids clambered excitedly over the rocks that rise from the sea near the anchorage, leaving your heart in your mouth, hoping beyond hope they didn’t trip and fall onto the rocks below, or into the sea. But no chance of that. These kids are agile like no others. Following the kids were pigs of different sizes and colours also negotiating the rock-hopping track.

As the kid-numbers grew there was much squealing, yelling and hand waving as we secured the main anchor and then the stern anchor, all the while the wind howled and the rain-showers came and went.

Despite the rough seas off the point, this little corner of the island, fairly close to the rocky coast and below the village of Tasmat, provided a sufficiently calm anchorage, with a sandy bottom of between 5-12 metres, to make life aboard bearable.

On arrival, yesterday morning, the gear and people were transported ashore and with lots of willing hands, the considerable pile of gear was carried up the steep track to the village.

Through the night, torrential rain and wind gusts down off the island in the order of 30-40 knots kept our wind generator operating at maximum capacity. The anchor held well and whilst the rain seemed to have passed, the wind gusts remained strong all day.

Our amazing Survey assistant Annette takes up the story from an on-shore, clinic perspective …


By Annette Vincent – Misfit, Mission 4

I describe myself as misfit on two counts –

1) that I am neither medical nor sailing crew, so counting myself very fortunate if somewhat confused to be included on this mission, and

2) that I am the lone Kiwi among a crowd of Australians!

Seriously, I have been volunteering with Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) in Port Vila along with my husband for 6 months, and I happened to get involved as a recorder for the National Oral Health Survey on the Missions around Efate, so my application to join Mission 4 described me as Nambawan Recorder and Generally Useful Person – and it worked!

Day 2 on Merelava – So far every day has brought some sort of an adventure. Just getting to our clinic today was an adventure. The first challenge (excluding getting up after a night of rocking and rolling in a strong wind and only our sliver of protection) was getting from the dinghy onto the wet and slippery rocks on shore in the still strong wind and significant swell.

Captain Robert did an excellent job of holding the dinghy hard up against the rocks so we could achieve this. All our equipment had been carried up to Tasmat village the previous afternoon, but even with just our own day packs it was quite a hike up a very steep path, with more slippery rocks and tree roots to negotiate – the second challenge. I arrived bathed in sweat – so much for having a shower last night!

However, once there, the warm welcome by the people made it all worthwhile. We achieved the target for the Oral Health Survey, and there were plenty of people requiring medical, dental and optical treatment.

At lunchtime, there was fun and games with the children, instigated by Deb getting the team to do the Hokey Pokey and teach it to the local children. They thought it was hilarious watching us doing it first, but then they had lots of fun joining in. There followed several more games with Deb and Martin teaching the children some and then Greslin, the church secretary, getting the children organised to teach us some. There were plenty of adults sitting around the perimeter of the village communal area, thoroughly enjoying the spectacle.

Richard then started teaching the children some cricket skills. Three cricket bats and several tennis balls appeared, and a short section of coconut tree trunk and a box of soap made adequate wickets. After a few variations on the game, there was great fun with several batters and balls and lots of catching, running and fetching, and of course giggles.

Merelava is a steep cone of black rock, covered with lush vegetation apart from a skirt of bare rock around the base. Not many boats come here because there is no good harbour and landing is difficult, so our visit was much appreciated. The village and the climb up to it are truly beautiful, and although the climb down again was a bit scary, none of us have any regrets about going there. There was minor injury along that path on both the way up and down, with Dr Graeme Duke going for a slide each time and acquiring two minor scrapes. Our local helpers negotiated it with apparent ease while wearing jandals (thongs for those from the West Island) and carrying boxes of our medical supplies! However Kresline told us she had previously broken her leg on that path – wish she had told us after we had completed it not when we were on the worst section!

As we departed on the dinghy, a few small girls waved us goodbye from the rocks – they were so cute that Rob had to do a loop around in the dinghy to get a photo of them. The people are so wonderful, and we had a very special time there but we have other islands to visit, so it is time for farewell.

Fair breeze, smooth seas and the Ups and Downs of Merelava.

Annette Vincent

[images taken on previous trips to Merelava]

Just when you thought

Sunday 10 September 2017

Lovely Lolawai

The ten “sleepers” onboard slowly emerged in their own time between 6:00 and 7:00am to a glorious morning; still seas, a gentle breeze and sun in the sky. Breakfast was a case of grazing to suit.

Richard, Bob, Jay, Wellan and Parkon stayed onshore and we’d be catching up with them later in the day.

The plan was to attend church around 8:00am, after which the dental and medical gear would be transferred to the black-sand beach to our stern, loaded on a truck (4wd) and then taken to a community area for an afternoon clinic – plus of course more Oral Health Surveys

By 7:30am I figured the generator could be turned on without interrupting anyone’s sleep, or the onboard “vibe”; it’s a quiet unit, but the noise is still a bit intrusive. Anyway, the battery voltage was getting lower and lower over the previous 24 hours as laptops, phones, cameras, GPS units, VHF radios, torches, iPads, dental headlamps, and I’m sure other things I can’t remember, sucked AMPS from the battery bank – which is the way it’s meant to be of course.

On the panel the battery monitor had gone from “green bars” to two “yellow bars”, which is just one stop before a single “red bar” and truly uncharted territory.

After turning on the generator, then the breaker switch, I checked the charge-rate on the panel and quickly discovered nothing was going into the batteries. Nothing! No AMPS whatsoever. Most perplexing. I did the usual re-checking of things and eventually ended up at the Xantrex battery charger behind the saloon seat, a trusty unit that has been working faithfully for at least 7 years. Today, however, it showed no lights whatsoever and gave the appearance of being turned off, even though the switch on the wall clearly indicated it was receiving 240v power from the generator.

I pressed the unit’s “On” button and an “Err” message displayed in red, followed by a “CHF” message. A quick look in the manual (yes we blokes do eventually read the manual) revealed the following:

Err = Error
CHF = Charger Hardware Fault, “Call for Service”

At this point things began to look a bit bleak because we rely on this Battery Charger to, well, charge batteries. In short, something that’s essential to the operation of the mission. I quietly excused myself and motored over to Gary, the skipper of the large charter catamaran “Rendezvous” (whose fishing customer came over for medical assistance last night from Graeme) still anchored in the bay.

Gary is the step father of the owner of “The Boatyard” in Port Vila and someone I though could give me a few tips. After the initial … “hey thanks so much to you guys for giving medical care to one of our guests last night”, and then over a coffee, hearing all the things that can and have, gone wrong on a boat where guests are paying $3,000 per day – from blocked toilets and faulty cabin lights to broken alternators and water pumps – he suggested I talk with Bradley at Santo Hardware, or Justin at Port Vila. We discussed some possible strategies, but everything seemed to point to us returning to Luganville overnight, leaving the medical and dental team here to live ashore and then returning tomorrow night for Tuesday morning’s departure to the next island … hopefully having obtained a new battery charger in the process.

Returning to Chimere everyone headed off to church except me, Matt Bryant and Matt Latimer – affectionately known as “Old” Matt and “Young” Matt. Old and Young Matt’s job was to pull the charger apart to see what might be done to fix it … my equivalent of “Calling for Service”

In the end the unit was declared “dead” and so it was agreed that the charging of the batteries will now be done solely by the alternator attached to the main engine, and that we should make a judgement about a quick dash back to Luganville after fully checking the main engines ability to fully charge the batteries.

We then proceeded to turn on the main engine and after checking the charge-rate on the panel it became apparent that here too there was no charge … no AMPS … going into the batteries. There was also no revs showing on the panel – a sure indicator of a dead alternator.
At this point the battery voltage was hovering around 12 and there was possibly another couple of days charge before the lights went out … and fridge, freezer, radio, laptops, phones etc etc …

So where do you get a new alternator in a remote village, on a lonely island, miles from anywhere? As it turns out, at the bottom of the wardrobe in the captain’s cabin (now occupied by Annette and Cathy) all wrapped up in its new cardboard box after being purchased a week before setting out from Westernport (Australia) back in May.

Two hours later we had replaced the alternator … actually, when I say “we” … I did hold the torch a lot and at one point even fed (young) Matt a banana. This was necessary because Matt had squeezed himself under the floor in order to gain better access to the unit on the front of the motor. He might be tall, but he was the skinniest of us all

Finally the main engine … our beloved Perkins … was fired up and the charge-rate showed 40 AMPS going into the batteries … to much jubilation all round.

The result …? We do not have to sail back to Luganville tonight, only to then return for Tuesday morning!! Yeh!! And we can charge our batteries using the main engine alone.

I know it was a mistake to declare out loud that problems often come in “threes”. Here were two big problems in short succession – the dead battery charger and the dead alternator – and again I wondered out loud “I wonder what might be next?”

As it turned out I didn’t have long to wait. Maybe two hours tops. It came as I returned from transporting gear to the beach. The 25hp motor on the back of the large dinghy was behaving “funny”. It seemed to lack power. On closer inspection it was revealed that the back of the boat, the “transom”, to which the motor is attached, was moving. In short, cracks had appeared between the sides and the transom, due to 8 years of metal fatigue in a spot that takes a large amount of stress. Not only when accelerating, but every time the motor is raised and lowered.

On return to Chimere, we lifted the dinghy aboard and Martin and I set about bolting and riveting aluminum angle-brackets in the vital spots, only completing the task in the fading light.

We look forward to inflating the dinghy again and testing it out tomorrow.

In “Clinic & Survey News”…

Doctors Duke & Duke continue to make referrals to each other – although from what I hear it’s a one-way street currently

A total of 12 dental surveys were conducted in just 3 hours, with the occasional rain leading to some pretty wet volunteers
More news and a broader range of mission perspectives can be obtained from the following websites:

Graeme Duke

Annette Vincent

Smooth seas, fair breeze and just when you thought …

Rob Latimer

Is there a dentist in the house

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Beachfront Resort Anchorage, Luganville


The day started sad with the 7:00am departure of Skipper Jon and crewman Mark. They had served their Tours of Duty with distinction, for Mark two tours in fact, so there were mixed emotions as they took the dinghy to the beach for the very last time.

From there it was just a short walk to the main road and a brief wait for a local taxi to come and take them away. (The pre-arranged taxi just didn’t show?!)

As I write this Ships Log Jon and Mark will probably be landing back in Australia.

There was a definite sense of loneliness as I dragged the dinghy back down the beach and into the water. Now there was just me. Not that I’d have long to wait before Chimere would once more be a hive of activity. The new crew and the medical team will all be piling aboard late Friday, ready for the start of Mission 4 early the next morning.

Looking out into the bay, the wind and the waves had definitely calmed down, as predicted. It had also gotten rather crowded over the past two days, with 6 yachts now bobbing quietly at anchor; three having come in during the night.

Returning to Chimere in the dinghy I climbed aboard – and Yes, for certain family members, I did it particularly carefully because I know I’m on my own for the next two days and there’s no one else aboard to giggle at any misfortunes, or even provide assistance if necessary. It was then a case of prioritizing tasks for the next few days … swapping the empty gas bottle, exchanging dollars into Vatu (hoping the rate has returned to the high of Monday) catching up with Richard to confirm the Friday flights from Port Vila for the Government Dental Health who will be joining Mission 4, plus the many little jobs that always need to be done aboard.

No sooner had I put the kettle on … got to have another cup of tea/coffee … and “what’s this??” … “a dinghy approaching off the starboard beam??” … “wonder who they are??”

“AHOY”, came the call from a fellow sailor, (seven years out of Holland) Deep Boel, as he slowed his dinghy to a stop off the stern. “Greetings, heading to town?” I inquired.

“No, we have diverted from Fiji, we are on our way to Papua New Guinea, but my partner Mallika here has had toothache for several days and we felt another two weeks at sea was too much.”

Mallika then spoke up, “We saw the word Medical on the side of your yacht and was wondering if this included dental. I’m taking Panadol and started antibiotics yesterday, but it’s swollen and really hurts”

“Come aboard”

We were soon chatting in the cockpit like old friends, and after a call to Dr Barry Stewart, who was setting up at a nearby school for a day’s oral health surveying, it was confirmed that Mallika would be seeing a dentist by the end of the day, here aboard Chimere. The visible relief on their faces was priceless.


We chatted some more over tea and coffee and as it turned out Dutchman-Deep was a real handy man when it came to boats, and anything I’m sure, a photographer by profession, and Mallika was a Vet. Both had spent seven years getting to this point in their sailing life-adventure which had seen them sailing up the Amazon River, travelling through the Panama Canal, chartering for several years in the Caribbean, exploring the Galapagos and making landfall at the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

After showing Mallika and Deep around the boat … after all, every yachtie is interested in what other boats look like on the inside … we got to lifting the floor panels to explore the engine … “oh that’s a beautiful engine” exclaimed Mallika … What a woman !!

“Is there anything I can do to help with the maintenance on your yacht while we are here?” inquired Deep “I can come back after lunch if you like” . “Are you serious”… I replied?

“Yes, certainly”

So it was that after I’d returned from town having exchanged the money (yes the rate had returned to the high of two days ago) obtaining a full bottle of gas, plus a few groceries, Deep returned to Chimere dressed in his old clothes ready for work.

“It would be good to get the prop-shaft brake working again, maybe we could work on that?” I suggested. This seemed to be a particular specialty of Deep’s, but after lifting the floor boards and having a good look around with the light this led to the observation that there was evidence of salt water in places where it definitely should not be. This naturally led to the water-cooled exhaust system under the galley sink and that was how we discovered the leaking hose clips; a new job for tomorrow … along with the prop-shaft brake, which we are still to address.

The arrival of Barry and Bob brought boat-maintenance to a halt and so Deep went off to get the patient while I went ashore to get the dentist and his assistant.

Pretty soon Barry, assisted by Bob, were doing their thing, complete with dental chair, injection, (dental) hand tools and cotton wool. There was a ceremonial tossing of the offending tooth over the side as Mallika expressed immense relief and appreciation at Barry’s abilities.

Barry and Bob were soon on their way which left me more than happy to take up Deep and Mallika’s invitation to dine aboard their catamaran.

It was indeed a lovely dinner and I also got to meet their cat, yes a cat! Not a sea dog, but a sea cat, aboard a cat-amaran no less. I didn’t get the cat’s name, but after 7 years aboard it is very familiar with life at sea and has its own set of well-established routines and habits. Given quarantine regulations in most countries it also lives almost exclusively aboard.

Rather than head straight back to sea tomorrow, our new best friends will stay another day here at anchor – making sure not to step on land, thereby requiring formal Customs, Quarantine and Immigration entry. The extra day would enable Deep to continue assisting with the prop-shaft brake repairs and for Mallika’s to be sure her tooth extraction has indeed healed.

Anyone who has ever had tooth-ache, and it doesn’t have to be aboard a yacht, 5 days from land and 14 days from the next main port, will know how Barry’s experience and abilities were appreciated beyond measure. Tank Yu Tumas Barry from your two new Dutch best friends

Fair winds and smooth seas is there a dentist in the house …?

Rob Latimer

Ship’s dentist Barry does extraction for Dutch yachtswoman off a nearby boat at anchor, Luganville

A Dutch couple, 7 years sailing the world, diverted from their Fiji to PNG voyage to find a dentist. Dropping anchor next to us they noticed the word “Medical” on the side of our boat and after a few phone calls, Barry Stewart was more than happy to drop in after this day doing the oral health survey to provide treatment.

After a days rest, without going ashore or needing to clear customs, they will be on their way to PNG
One very happy patient and her supportive partner… (not sure about the tooth fairy protocol this far from home)

The Local View

Thursday 31 August 2017

Asanvari, Maewo

Tonight’s blog is brought to you by the PCV Health team –
Bob Natuman, Mission 3 Team Leader and Oral Health worker
Dick Nakat, Eyecare worker
Jay Watson, Eyecare worker
Deb Allen, Oral Health Educator

Medical Mission 3 long yia 2017 hemi makem out wan narfala team blong medical we hemi consist long 4 crew memba, 2 dentis, 2 nurse, 2 Optom mo 2 dental nurse. Team I bin wok start long South Pentecost long village blong Pangi olsem stat blong wok blong team, team I wok folem island long 2 nara station we hemi Melsisi mo Abwatuntora. We hemi north blong island blong Pentecost mo team I bin continue blong mapem aot work blong olgeta long wan narafala island hemi Maewo long village blong Asanvari. Olsem team mifala bin cooperate together blong mekem ol work ia. Ol pipol long evri village we team visit oli very fortunate blong lok mo tekem ol services we mifala I karem aot.

For those who aren’t fluent in Bislama – “2017 Medical Mission 3 is a new medical team which consists of 4 sailing crew, 2 dentists, 2 nurses, 2 eyecare workers, and 2 dental nurses. The Team started working in the village of Pangi on South Pentecost and in another 2 places at Melsisi and Abwatuntura. We continued to work on another island to the North called Maewo in the village of Asanvari. As a Team we have worked together to do all our work. All the people in each village where the team visited are very fortunate for all the services the team have carried out.”

Olsem wan medical team memba long mission ia, mi really enjoyem taem blong mi wetem ol coliques blong mi. Wok hemi gud mo mi really kat wan gud taem. Thankyou long skipper mo ol crew we oli save lukaotem good mifala lo ship. Tankyu long Debra and Annette long ol nice sandwhich lo lunch time yumi stap sail. Tankyu also to everiwan we oli part long mission 3. Bai God nomo i blessem yumi long ol works blong yumi.

Translation – “As a medical team member for the mission here, I really enjoyed my time with all my work colleagues. The work is good and we have a great team. Thank you to the Skipper and all the crew who have looked after us on the yacht. Thank you to Debra and Annette for the nice sandwiches for lunch when we were on the yacht. Thank you to everyone who has been part of Mission 3. May God bless us all and our work.”

Nem blo mi Jay Watson. Mi bin pat lo mission 3 we team I travel mo work long Penticost from South to North mo South Maewo. During long mission mi fil hapi tumas from mi visitim different places mo long wok place everyone ol coliques blo mi I kaen mo friendly lo mi. Tank yu tumas long Debra blo save explainem samsamting we mi no save, ol nara Dentist, Nurse, Bob olsem team lida we i save organism ol good accommodation mo kakai. Mo tu tank yu tumas long skipper Jon mo ol crew we I save lukatoem gud mi long ship. Hope blo lukim yufala next time, mo bai God I blessem yufala long work blong yufala. Ta.

Translation – “My name is Jay Watson. I have been part of Mission 3 who travelled to work on Pentecost Island from South to North and to South Maewo Island. During the mission, I have felt very happy that I have visited different places and work with all my colleagues who have been kind and friendly. Thank you to Debra for explaining the things that I do not know, all the dentists, nurses and Bob, the Team Leader, who has organized the accommodation and our food really well. Also, thank you to the Skipper, Jon and the sailing crew who have looked after me on the yacht. I hope to see you all next time and may God bless you all and all your work. Ta.”
Translated by Deb from Melbourne, who was kindly taught to speak Bislama by these guys, over the 3 years working here in Vanuatu.