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Back in Port Vila again

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.

Tuesday
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.

Wednesday
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

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

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

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

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

End of Mission 4

End of Mission 4

(back at) Sola, Vanua Lava

Sunday 24 September 2017

A bit over 2 weeks ago four volunteer sailors, six medical volunteers, plus five local Ni-van medical folk – 15 people in all – came together for the start of Mission 4.

Talk about an eclectic group. But despite our many differences, we each shared a common goal of bringing medical, dental and optical care to the people of Vanuatu, while also conducting the vital National Oral Health Survey on behalf of the Vanuatu Ministry of Health.

Like a cross between Survivor and Big Brother, Mission 4 has been no different to the earlier missions. Life aboard a boat, in close confinement with almost total strangers, miles from anywhere, is a test of patience, endurance and tolerance; an experience through which you can learn more about yourself and others … or alternatively cry … “get me out of here!” … which fortunately no one did!

It was a peaceful anchorage last night at Vureas Bay, but with the promise of rain squalls, strong wind gusts and no chance of anyone sleeping ashore, we needed to find bunks for all 15 inside Chimere. It was full capacity and we nearly had to put the NO Vacancy sign out (there’s always room for more) and as a side-benefit it enabled me to once more sleep in the large dinghy on the foredeck, after first securing a tarp over top in the fashion of an A-frame tent.

In the end it was a bit wild and woolly with gusts down from the mountain, accompanied by rain, making you appreciate the qualities of our dear Chimere and the good holding-ground in this little corner of remote west-coast Vanualava.

Our purpose for stopping at Vureus was to locate a young boy, now a young man, named Adison, who had gone to Australia 12 years ago for facial reconstruction surgery. In 2009 and again in 2013 we had dropped by so that Graeme Duke and Richard Tatwin could do a follow-up medical examination and take photographs of his development.

Finding Adison has always been an issue, given the problems with communications and travel in these parts. But fortunately Richard was able to weave his magic late yesterday while ashore, and arrange for him to be delivered by truck to the nearby beach around 6:30 this morning.

In addition, there was Juliette with the dislocated jaw we’d found at the Sola clinic from two days ago. As it turned out she came from this side of the island too, the nearby village of Vatrata, and so rather than catch up with her upon our return to Sola this afternoon, she too was delivered to the Vureas Bay beach for pick-up early this morning; saving her the cost and risk of a ride back to Sola on the back of a truck with roads made extremely slippery from the rain.

With the pressure of meeting the daily “clinic-set-up” itinerary is now behind us, there was a bit of sleeping-in aboard today; including me. But by 7:00am, or thereabouts, Richard and I were heading down the coast in the small dinghy to the beach where a small group of people had gathered; including Chief John (from yesterday) little daughter and father Godfrey with an arm full of green vegetables for me.

Once ashore, all the introductions were made and it was decided that I’d take the extra six people back to Chimere in two groups so as to reduce the chance of getting our patients and guests (too) wet.

So it was for a time that Chimere had 21 aboard, including a local woman who attached herself to the group all the while holding her face as if in pain. “Just a bit off tut-ache, she needs some extraction”… explained Richard

Yes, she was in pain. Lots of pain. But pretty quickly, dentist Wellan had one of the dental chairs removed from the bulk-bag on the foredeck and with injection in hand, and with Chimere gently lolling up and down at anchor, and no sign of rain squalls, he found his target in the woman’s gum as she sat reclined, mouth wide open. It’s a sight I’ll long remember, with half a dozen others gazing on, or taking happy-snaps.

Two extracted teeth later she was again holding the side of her face, but this time packed out with a cotton wool pad to soak up the blood.

Young Adison’s father, Silas, also had a dental check-up, while Graeme made an assessment of Adison, now age 17. In summary, his face is growing normally, although his eyesight remains poor.

As for the lady with a dislocated jaw, she had her check-up and rather than opt for the brute-force, knee on chest, push it back into place option (my solution) those onboard with professional qualifications in this area recommended further anti-inflammatory medications and corrective surgery in treatment in Luganville which we will seek to arrange in the next few week

Time was ticking by and so with all the medical work completed it was back to the beach – six guests + me. Low freeboard for sure, but no one got wet because the wind was from behind and I went super-slow. On the beach it was emotional good-byes and Tank Yu Tumases all-round as we realized the finality of the moment.

Now, whose this coming along the beach towards me. It’s Chief Gra-ham !! I’d left a couple of messages on his mobile phone, and had all but given up thinking I would see him again after our chance meeting a few days earlier in Sola

“Hello Chief Gra-ham” I called, shaking hands while inviting him out to Chimere for a drink of coffee or tea.

Arriving back at Chimere there were some quizzical looks in my direction, along the lines of … “I thought we were up-anchoring?” The confusion was understandable, given I’d left with six passengers to then return with one … but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

“It’s Chief Gra-ham … put the kettle on !”, I yelled, as we clambered aboard and did the introductions

“Do you need a checkup Gra-ham? … body, eye, tut?”

At this stage Jay was called on to get his eye test-case out and assess Graham’s eyes … the verdict being he was able to prescribe and supply 2.50x reading glasses. A great result.

Now it really WAS time to up-anchor and so after hot-chocolates all round, I raced Chief Graham back to land for an emotional farewell. Oh, but not before getting Graham to take a group photo of us all on the foredeck – the official “after shot”

The sail south around the bottom of Vanualava, to Sola, was always going to be a challenge, given it was largely into the prevailing weather. In the end everyone held up well with the final approach to Sola, with the wind on our beam being a very pleasant thing.

We chose the lease-rolly part of the Sola anchorage and after food, rest, a wash, plus some cleaning up it was time to get the Ni-Vans ashore and plan tomorrow’s exit.

Those flying out of Sola tomorrow are Wallen, Barry Stewart, Graeme Duke, Jeremy Duke and Matt Latimer, with new passenger, and co-owner of Chimere Barry Crouch flying in to join us for the trip back down to Port Vila.

The plan at this stage is to set sail late afternoon tomorrow for a night-sail to Port Olry on the north east coast of Santo. From here the remaining four Ni-Vans, plus Martin and Deb, will catch a truck south to Luganville and home.

The remaining crew, plus new-man Barry Crouch, will then start the leisurely 6 day sail back to Port Vila.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and end of Mission 4

Rob Latimer

It’s hard to leave paradise

It’s hard to leave paradise

Saturday 23 September 2017
Vureas Bay, Vanualava

Things are winding down.

Our last official clinic and Oral Health Survey session for Mission 4 was yesterday at Ureparapara. So today was a big sleep-in day. Instead of getting away from the anchorage at 6:00am, it was a very sociable 8:00am by the time we were making our way out of Dives Bay; all the while gaping at the sheer green cliffs that surrounded us on all sides, except for the narrow strip of water before us.

Just prior to winching up the anchor we were joined by Chief John and (wood carver) Andrew in their canoes offering us a bag of fruit each and a heart-felt thanks and farewell.

Our meeting this time was so brief, yet the afternoon clinic yesterday was extremely well attended. Wellan’s oral health talk to the 50 or so gathered at the meeting-house at the end of the day was also listened to with great attentiveness. The message to brush your teeth with “wan Colgate” … was mentioned many times.

The sail south, back to the island of Vanualava – this time on the west coast – always had the potential to be problematic. That’s because the wind nearly always blows from the south east, and after a few days of this the seas begin to grow, making sailing back into these conditions very uncomfortable.

Fortunately, the wind had abated sufficiently over the last few days for the seas to settle and at the same time it had veered more “east” of south-east, meaning that we could hold a good course, in reasonable comfort. In fact for half of the time we had the engine off, making 7 knots and more with just the sails. Wellan, our Ni-Van dentist, had a go at the helm and did an great job.

After about 35 miles, our eventual destination was Vureas Bay. On the way, however, we made a stop-off at the appropriately named Waterfall Bay, where a large river, tumbles 15-20 metres onto rocks and then into a beautiful lake, before then flowing into the nearby sea. The whole thing is just so picturesque it has the makings of a scene from Lord of the Rings or Narnia.

The snorkelling on the nearby coral was also amazing and Martin once again gave the cry “turtle!” to which there was a chorus of Finding Nemo quotes along the lines of “Hey duuuude, ask him how to get to the EAC” and “Make sure you find your exit buddy”.

Consequently, after a couple of hours playing in, under, in front and on top of the waterfall, it was hard for everyone to say goodbye and return to the dingy for the ferry back to Chimere.

 

It was then a short hop down the coast to Vureas bay, and although the wind was right on the nose, we hoisted the “iron headlasil” and had a very pleasant motor (no-sail) to our anchorage.

A quick dash ashore, which I tell you about tomorrow.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and it’s hard to leave paradise

Rob Latimer

Anchored back in the volcano

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

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

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