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It’s amazing the difference a day makes

It’s amazing the difference a day makes

Friday 21 August 2009 (22 deg 50 min S, 167 deg 38 min E)

After a healthy concoction prepare by “Ocean-chef Tony” and a good night’s sleep at anchor, we’re underway again. It helps that the wind is now closer to 15 knots, rather than more than twice that and the seas are much reduced.

Many thanks to Ugo Bay and the Isle of Pines for their sanctuary.

However, we are getting a lesson in tidal flows at the moment, with one of our speedometers (the one that has a small thru-hull propeller) is reading a speed of over 5 knots and the GPS speedometer is reading close to 2 knots, suggesting we are battling a 3 knot current; something we anticipated because the tide is currently on the ebb and it moves from West to East when it does that, and we are sailing from East to West; right into it. It’s not something that is a big problem out in the ocean, but close to land the effect is magnified.

And yes, we are still close to land, (passing painfully slow out the right hand windows) although we have been able to lay a course roughly south west, in the current breeze, which should see us hitting either north head, or south head at Port Jackson in the fullness of time – all things being equal of course.

We continue to download weather maps to see what is heading our way, but at the moment we have all sails up, plus the “Perkins Topsail” and I’m informed our speed has climbed from 2 knots to 5.5 knots. The hope is to turn the engine off ASAP, but we just want to be sure of rounding the southern tip of New Caledonia as swiftly as possible.

Not a lot else to report. As slow as our current (excuse the pun) progress is, we feel good about finally laying a course for Australia and home!!

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Australia here we come.


A Brief New Cal stopover

A Brief New Cal stopover

Thurs 20 August, 6:21 PM (Isle of Pines, New Caledonia)

It seems sou’westers are the same the world over … wet, cold and uncomfortable. So it was that we spent last night battling to get around the bottom of New Caledonia, into weather that would make you homesick for Bass Strait.

From the relative shelter of the Loyalty Islands, which lie to the east (and in the lee) of New Caledonia, we tacked 75 miles south to Walpole Island, hoping to then tack kind of west out into the Coral Sea.  But it was not to be.  The strength of the south westerly kept our track more northerly than we’d like, so early morning we decided to travel on a few miles and make a stopover on the Isle of Pines.  Not the resort side, but a small bay on the east side called
Baie de Oro (Which Tony says means Bay of Gold)

Because we haven’t cleared customs, quarantine or immigration into New Caledonia, there’s no thought of us going ashore, but just to be safe, I’ve hoisted my (enormous) French flag.  Looks like something off Hornblower … come to think of it, if it was on Hownblower I’d be a target!

On the food side of things, we’ve been sharing it around a bit.  But I must say, Tony is showing himself to be a dab hand in the galley.  He knocked up a wonderful dinner last night, under what must be described as “difficult conditions” and today upon arrival at this turquoise and white sand paradise he had an omelet with beans, fresh tomatoes and toast whipped up in 30 minutes.

As a newcomer to ocean sailing Kevin is doing famously.  Although he says he should have read the fine print on the travel brochure before signing up.  I asked him for a response to his first 3 days at sea and he said … “interesting”.  I asked for some more specifics, and he said something about all the bruises from simply moving around and wishing he could take a leak in under 30 minutes.  (You might have to use your imagination here, but combine several layers of clothing, including wet weather gear, constant boat movement, always needing to keep one hand for the ship and the effects of gravity and you begin to understand his frustration and why bottling it up is often the best option).

Justin … “had a wonderful first 3 days” and that’s a direct quote. He wet his bed last night too … or more to the point … his bed got wet.  Having successfully sealed the hatch on the front cabin, he paid less attention to his own, resulting in something more than the occasional drip making it’s way in.  Justin also nearly saved our lovely big red bucket from going over the side, as we pounded through some lumpy seas, but he chose instead to keep his feet dry.      The bucket came loose from it’s position at the mast and was floating down the scuppers in the direction of his waiting arms, but before it could make the distance to the cockpit, another wave came by and lifted it up, out and over the handrails … into the Big Blue.  And Justin’s feet remained dry.

Terrence has maintained his quiet, thorough way aboard and is the first to reach for the washing-up bucket when the dishes start piling up in the evening. He’s making good progress through his books too and if sailing on Chimere isn’t enough he’s half way through Eric Hiscock’s landmark work, “Around The World in Wanderer 2”.  Like all of us, Terrence has pulled out the winter woollies, with this particular tropical paradise best enjoyed behind thermals.

At the moment, Tony is up to his shoulders in the pantry, head buried amongst the boxes of food.  Stacked up behind him … a couple of tins of tuna (no we haven’t caught any) a tin of chick peas, two sachets of tomato paste, a packet of pasta, some fresh onions and oil … is this guy good or what …
Apparently, Tony, our own answer to Iron Chef … or as we call him  “Ocean-Chef Tony” is cooking here, just like he does at home, although Tony says he’ll get into trouble if I write that …

After what I’m sure will be a wonderful night’s sleep (tonight) we plan to exit here early tomorrow and try again to get around the southern point.  The wind has gone a bit more southerly and so we will (hopefully) be able to set a westerly course and then take advantage of whatever comes along from the Highs and Lows we expect to meet as we inch our way to Sydney.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and wonderful Isle of Pines!


Mission reflections

Mission reflections

Wednesday 19 August 2009, (22deg 19min S, 168deg 38min E)

We are now about 270 (480km) miles from Port Vila, and about 25 miles south east of The Isle of Pines at the bottom of New Caledonia.  The little dot of Walpole Island is about 18 miles ahead as we make slow going into a rather brisk south westerly and lumpy seas.  Before we get to little Walpole, however, we intend to take a sharp right, sometimes referred to as a tack, so that we will be heading roughly in the direction of Australia – not quite Sydney, but somewhere south of Brisbane all being well!!

We expect the wind to move more southerly over the next few days, thereby allowing us to lay a course more to our liking.  Brisbane is nice, but we really do want to clear customs in Sydney.

As we complete the Medical Sailing Ministries tour of duty, we’ve invited participants to reflect on their involvement.  I’ve included three below:

RICHARD TATWIN – Ni-Van director of the Vanuatu Prevention of Blindness Program

Just a short reflection of the outreach trips using the yacht. As the first timer on the yacht, truly a great experience and definitely would like to do
that again.  The yachting ministry has given me a lot of ideas for future ideas and I truly want to thank God and all at the Sailing Ministry for
giving me the opportunity to help my people this way. May God continue to bless the awesome ministry the yacht is doing.

JIM CARPENTER – Chimere crew on the second medical mission, Santo to Ambae, June 2009

I received a telephone call from Rob Latimer advising me that he had been talking with Warwick Hodge a fellow financial planner.  Rob was planning to take his yacht “Chimere” to Vanuatu to support a team of eye specialists.  His plans were well advanced but he had one missing link in order to achieve his
goal.  He needed a qualified master to run the yacht in his absence.  Warwick suggested he contact myself, and at that time Bob Brenac and I had been discussing the possibility of having a long ocean voyage once again.

I contacted Bob and told him what Rob had in mind and asked him if he would be interested.  The two men contacted one another and we agreed  to meet on board “Chimere” at Pittwater.  We committed ourselves, Bob to assist with the delivery, and Bob and I to run the yacht with four other crew in Rob’s absence
for a period of 5 ½ weeks.

On our way home we discussed the project and felt it would be a very worthwhile and interesting project. In reality the exercise proved to be much more than we originally thought visiting villages which remain the same as when Captain Cook visited.  Basic accommodation; no electricity; TV; DVD; computer; washing machine, gas, or cars, etc. etc.

One of the major problems for the villages was no access to medical doctors, dentists, etc. – everyday care we take for granted.  These visits strengthened my view that we were supporting a great cause for the people in the villages of Vanuatu and I feel very strong in my  conviction that we had contributed to a great undertaking for these  people.

MARTIN PURCELL – Chimer delivery crew, Sydney to Tanna, May 2009 and crew on second medical mission, Santo to Ambae, June 2009

Could I please just say what a pleasure and a privilege it has been to work and live with a wonderful group of unlike minded people.  Beautiful human beings from such a diverse range of cultures, upbringing, work and life experience and economic background. I refer to the interaction between everyone who got themselves involved, the sailing crew and medical volunteers, the Ni-Van staffers, the locals who were there, both benefiting from and giving active support and providing services directly to the optical and medical clinics that  were being set up in the villages of Vanuatu.

I would also like to recognise that whilst all of us active frontline participants were “doing it tough” and basking in our glorious existence (some more so than others I have to admit on behalf of the ships mollycoddled crew), there was a mountain of effort, goodwill and individual expense that showed up, much from unseen and unsung  quarters that without which the outcomes would have been less effective and far reaching or even compromised out of existence. Big
Hello and Thankyou to the backroom support network of admins, comunicators, medical supplies, transport and vessel preparations.

Lets do it some more……….

Highest Regards and Best Wishes to All

Again, many thanks to all those who have been involved and to those who’ve shown so much interest and provided their encouragement and support along the way.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and Australia here we come.


Night shift flashbacks

Night shift flashbacks

Tuesday 18th August 2009 (Lat/Long  20deg 11min S, 168deg 05min E)

We finally lowered the Vanuatu flag this evening.  It was looking faded, a bit tattered on the leading edge and the eyelets were reinforced with thread and twine.  But she’d done some work and carried her battle scars proud.  It’s now time to give her some rest.  At one point we were referred to as “the boat with the big flag”, on account of most other cruising boats flying such tiny national colours, but we are now closer to New Caledonia than we are to Vanuatu, so it seemed the time was right.

We are about to go into our second night at sea after leaving Port Vila.  Our first day’s run was about 135 miles.  We thought it would be a higher number on account of the great speeds we were doing through the night, but today we’ve been running the engine to keep our speed into a 15 knot headwind.  Luckily the seas are only 1-2 metres.  Our hope is that we miss the predicted south westerlies as we round the bottom of New Caledonia in 1-2 days.

The mention of the night shift aboard Chimere must have prompted past crewmember and doctor, Graeme Duke, to suffer flashbacks prompting him to pen the following:

Ah, the memories of those 2AM shifts…

What! Is that the time?….Did I sleep?…..How do I get into my clothes with all this rolling and pitching?….I should have just slept in them…..I’ll wake up Mike for sure!…..How did I get two legs in the same trouser leg!…. How do I get one out?….. Just as well I don’t have to shave!…Where’s the loo?…..Which way to the helm?……It’s pitch black: where are the stars? Where is the horizon? Where is the moon?….Better get the wet-gear on, it’s
raining again….Why aren’t we moving?….I can’t see where we are and we’ve been in the same position on the GPS screen for hours! Are we going ’round in circles?…..Oh, it’s becuase Rob keeps pushing the ‘zoom’ button and changing the scale on Ray(marine)…Wow, look at  that phosphorescence!…..Hey, the clouds have gone, and just look at the those stars! …..Hey Rob, why is it I can see white clouds across  the sky in the middle of the night when there’s no moon?….Oh, it’s the milky way, is it? Never seen it that bright before!

Wow!…..Another ten to port? OK boss….Rob, go and get some sleep – there’s nothing out here to run into except those same old waves that keep coming back…I am sure I met that wave a few minutes ago? Ah now, I definitely recognise that wave; he hasn’t changed a bit since  we last met. Still full of himself and trying to be a wet blanket….Hey Rob, which direction are we heading?….OK, “second star on the [starboard side] and straight on ’til morning”….Time for a cup of hot tea and vegemite toast? Ah what looxsury!

Graeme Duke

Smooth sea, fair breeze and is it really my watch?


Away at last

Away at last

Monday 17 August, (17 deg 51 min S   168 deg 13 min E)

Customs and immigration cleared, diesel tanks topped up, some last minute shopping done and it was away this afternoon at 3:30pm.  Our course is pretty much south, with our first objective being to round the southern tip of Mare island in the Loyalty Group, part of New Caledonia.

At the moment we are doing around 7 knots over 1-2 metre seas with the wind coming in from the south east at around 15-20 knots.  All sail is up and the sun is going down to our right.  It’s a lovely sight.

Sitting here typing away, the motion is starting to go to my head.  I hope I don’t regret eating those cracker biscuits and bananas (and a beer) about an hour ago.

I’ve just drawn up a schedule of watches with each of us taking a 2 hour watch throughout the night … “what’s this?!!  2-4am!!?”  someone cried.  Afraid so,  everyone gets a turn.  Nowhere to anchor for the night out here.

No more news at this stage.  Time to catch some sleep.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and may these conditions continue


One more sleep …

One more sleep …

16 August 2009, Port Vila

Small dinghy lashed to the foredeck, starboard side.  Big dinghy lashed to the foredeck, port side.  Water tanks all full.  Loose items put below, lashed down or thrown out.  Extra food bought, sails checked and new rubber seals attached to the deck hatches.  Long range weather forecast downloaded.  New crew member, Kevin, picked up from the airport mid afternoon.  Final crew member, Tony, arriving on the “12 o’clock special” tonight…

So the list of final tasks are ticked off one by one. Not that Kevin and Tony are “final tasks”, but you get what I mean.

Tomorrow, the final, final, final, list is quite short.  So short in fact that we plan to untie the ropes a day early and get away ASAP.  The most important task tomorrow morning will be catching a bus to the Customs office (no mud now, it’s sunny), getting the forms stamped, then catching another bus back to Immigration with all the passports and Departure Cards to get them stamped.  We can then fill up with duty free diesel – and away.  Oh, I forgot, we’ll squeeze in a trip to the market (early) for some fruit and veg.

The weather forecast for the next few days isn’t ideal, as in 20 knots from the east with flat seas and sunny skies, but it’s not bad either, like 30 knots from the south with 3-4 metre waves on the nose.  It’s more “friendly” than “angry” which is good.  Kind of south east at 15 knots, with manageable seas and then hopefully going north in a few days when we round the bottom of New Caledonia. (That last bit was more wishful thinking)

Picked Kevin up from the airport this afternoon.  I take a minibus because it’s only 150 Vatu (about $1.70AUS), rather than a taxi, which is more like 1500 Vatu, (or $17AUS)  They end up at the same destination, just that with a minibus you might have to take a few detours, as the driver delivers people to where they’ve asked to be taken along the way.  I generally get into conversation with the driver and we have a laugh about whatever’s happening along the way.  Today, my driver explained that he was from Ndui Ndui on the island of Ambae.  Where Jessy is from and where the second medical team in June ran a clinic.

On the way back from the airport I explained to Kevin my preference for the cheaper minibus option and of course for the next 15 minutes we stood there in the shade chewing the fat waiting for a bus to come by.  Lots of (expensive) taxis, but no buses.  Then a bus with a “Parcel Pickup” sign on the side came to the domestic terminal and I figured it wasn’t taking passengers.  Five minutes later, as it made its way through the carpark in the distance, I gave it a wave in the hope that it might indeed be taking passengers.  I thought it was driving on, but then at the last minute it turned and came back our way.  As it came close I was astounded to see who was sitting in the passenger seat – Dick Hopkins – the teacher I met in Sola on the island of Vanua Lava just 3 weeks ago, who was also overseeing the building of a school on Mota, funded by the Australian group Life Aid International with whom I’d made contact before leaving for Vanuatu in early July.  (sorry about the length of that sentence)  Dick couldn’t believe his eyes and quickly explained to the driver, his brother, who I was and the details of our meeting up north and how I’d left a disk full of low res photos which he had tried to email from Sola back to Australia, from the only working connection on the island – at the school where he taught.  It was a very happy reunion and of course they would take us into town – at no cost, as it turned out, at the insistence of Dick’s brother.  Dick explained that his trip to Port Vila was to be a short one, but the persistent rain up north had prevented the planes from landing – still.  We parted like long lost cousins, lots of hand shakes and smiles all round and still marvelling at such a coincidence, of our chance meeting.

Having experienced just so many coincidence in this country, I’m sure everyone here must be related to everyone else and the emphasis placed on relationships here just acts like a magnetic force to create and make us aware of links and associations which we miss or don’t have time to uncover in our usual busy lives.  Not sure if that makes sense, but it’s a bit like finding things you look for, or value.  Here people value relationships, so they look for them and consequently, find them.  If you don’t look, you don’t find.

Kevin’s initial reaction to the place is that it’s just so “friendly”, and “calm”.  Grant it, we are experiencing a “Sunday” here in Vanuatu – which is particularly quiet time – although coming back from the airport there was a road block with masses of people, police waving us off into a new direction and lots of parked cars – “what’s all this”, I asked Dick and his brother, (thinking road accident, or riot)  “It’s a Presbyterian Church rally and celebration” – silly me, why didn’t I think of that.

As for Justin, he slept nearly 12 hours last night – straight through – and is being tortured by a crossword in an old newspaper on board and just called out, “7 DOWN, to Degenerate, or lose vigour.  Or 29 ACROSS, everyday speak.”  Something tells me Justin has just come home.

Tony arrives in about 3 hours – I think I’ll knick out and pick him up too.  Even though, as crew member with Bob on the June tour, he said he’ll be fine to find his own way to the boat – he’s almost a local.  I’m keen to discover who I’ll meet next on one of these local mini buses.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and one more sleep.


Is today Saturday?

Is today Saturday?

Saturday 15 August 2009, (Port Vila)

Slept in till 8:00am this morning – outrageous!  I had breakfast, checked out the amazingly sunny morning, tried another banana (still not ready) then Terrence said, “…is it Saturday today?”

Not knowing which day it is … that’s a sure sign we should be away and heading home.  We’ve been tied up here at the wharf too long!

Don and Meg MacRaild (the founders and tireless workers for the Vanuatu Prevention of Blindness Project) dropped by late morning.  They have been battling for a week or more to secure visas for a young girl, Lerika, and her aunt Sarah, to travel back to Australia with them so that Lerika can have a life-saving heart operation.  Lerika’s condition was diagnosed a year or more ago and it’s taken a lot of negotiating to get this far, but an operation in Brisbane is planned and funded – the last step was arranging the paperwork through the Australian Consulate here in Port Vila.  At this stage, the less said about the bureaucratic ordeal the better, but the desired outcome – 3 month visas – was achieved in the end.  We wish Lerika all the very best for the operation, a speedy recovery and safe travels.  Certainly she’ll have a lot to tell her family and Pentecost Island village when she finally returns later in the year. [check update on Lerica here]

As reported earlier, Graeme Duke, our crewmember come doctor-afloat, flew home to Melbourne from Loh Island towards the end of July – (back into 14 hour workdays and 11 days straight in an Intensive Care ward without a break) and has reported back to people who sponsored his “walk4icare” bushwalk back in May.  You may have received his email.  If not, I’ve included it here:

Dr Graeme Duke
I have now returned from the Team 3 tour of the northern (Banks and Torres) group of islands.

I thought you might be interested to read where your donations have “gone”.

We sailed over 600km and ran 15 clinics on 7 different islands and saw over 800 patients! And there were 38 referrals for eye surgery (cataracts & pterygiums), 13 surgical referrals, 2 obstetric referrals, 7 dental referrals and 2 TB referrals. Some will be operated on this month, others are likely to wait several months or even a year or two before we can get them out for surgery. Any form of travel and access to healthcare is very limited.

Your donations have gone to assist in the travel expenses of:

1.  Linda from Merelava to Santo for her Cesarean delivery, there being no doctor or hospital on her island. (I have not yet heard if she has delivered but she is due about now!)

2. Opthalmology patients needing cataract or pterygium surgery in Santo, travelling from the islands of Merelava, Loh, and Gaua.  For more info check out the website and read the blog posts and view photos.

By now you should have received your donation receipt, if you requested one.

Thanks for the part you played.

(on behalf of the medical and project teams)

Back on the boat …

I picked up Justin-son-of-Bob today at the airport.  For some reason I had a 2:00pm airport pickup time in my mind, but in fact the plane was due to land at 1:30am, but came in 20 minutes early.  Seeing the tail of the Vigin Blue plane sticking above the terminal roofline I asked an offical looking man at the entrance when I arrived, “have the passengers started coming through yet?” … “They all go, already gone”, he said.  mmm…  A quick glance around … it’s not a big airport, and there was Justin, phone in his ear tracking down a few numbers, probably to find out where I was.  We recognised each other instantly from our brief meeting back in May when he came to see us off and we shook hands as he hung up his phone as he said, “dad says g’day”.  “Welcome to Vanuatu, sorry I’m late”, says me.

So now we have 3 aboard, two more coming tomorrow – Kevin and Tony.

We did a stock take of the food situation today, Terrence and I.  Still a bit of stuff in the pantry.  I cooked dinner again tonight and asked Justin in the course of our conversation about boats, past trips and near misses, “ever cooked aboard a boat Justin?”  “No, I don’t think I’ve had that job, but bake beans on toast sound pretty good”.  If ever there was doubt that I’d truly picked up THE Justin-son-of-Bob at the airport, it was dispelled at that moment.

Having seen a fair swag of tinned bake beans and spaghetti still in the hold I suspect Justin will be a happy camper for the next 2 weeks.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and it’s time to go


Nothing happened today

Nothing happened today

Friday 15 August 2009, Port Vila

[view the new photos sent in by Dick Hopkins on the Torba Province Trip – Admin]
So here we are.  Terrence and I, tossing up as to who’s going to cook dinner.  Taking it in turns to make the tea, and working our way through the list of jobs.

Big news today, I replaced a deck fitting.  I knew you’d enjoy that.  It’s a simple piece of bent stainless with a thread on each end which pokes through the deck and holds the pulley which holds the sheet which holds the end of the staysail.  Terrence attached a hook on a wall to hold his jacket and then we both attached a “bat car” to the bottom of the mainsail.  Like I say, things are going mild here.

After checking out Immigration, getting all the departure cards and arranging for a “One-way letter” for Kevin I caught a minibus down to the Customs office.  This is a small blue building around the bay to where the big ships pull in.  It’s also in the middle of a construction site and with the rain, there was about 2-3 inches of liquid mud, all the way to the front door, caused by all the trucks coming and going mixed with all the rain.

The Customs man gave me a heap of forms to fill out prior to clearing – which we hope to do next Tuesday.  It should also enable us to get duty free diesel from the local wharf.  As far as I know, we don’t have to do anything with Quarantine. At least not here in Vanuatu – I imagine the Australian Quarantine will make up for it though!!

I mentioned the “One-way letter” before.  That’s what I call it, but it’s essentially an application I’ve got to make, as the skipper of a boat, on behalf of any crew member who flies in on a one way ticket, with the intention of sailing out.  I think it’s designed to ensure people go home again – after all, it is an island paradise after all, and the authorities don’t want a bunch of free-loading Aussie (or any other country for that matter – New Zealand for example) alternative life-stylers sponging off the island villages in an effort to escape the capitalist system which enabled them to get here in the first place.  That’s my theory.  Anyway, it costs about $50 for each crew member and I’m told a crew member won’t get through the airport without an officially stamped letter.

After buying a 7kg watermelon the other day at the market, half of which is still in the fridge, (they take a while to eat you know) I thought I’d branch out today, so to speak, with bananas.  Do you know how many types of bananas there are?  Lots.  Would I choose the tiny sweet ones, which looked like they should have been eaten yesterday, or would I go for the giant hotdog sized ones which look like they could be used for crowd control?  Maybe I should lean towards the slightly green ones which will ripen over the next few days, or the ones with lots of black scabs on the outside but which are still pretty good on the inside?  I must have walked around that crazy undercovered mass of frenetic activity for 10 minutes or more, clutching my handfull of, by now, warm and sweaty coins.  Admittedly, I was also checking out the tomatoes and cucumbers, but when I finally made my choice of a nice hand of middle sized, slightly small, but to my eye, quite ripe and uniformly yellow bananas, I thought I’d done well and came away pretty pleased with myself – had I bought the best bunch of bananas, or what?!   Well, let this be a warning to you all.  You can’t always judge a banana by the pajamas it wears.  I ate one after lunch today and I’m not sure how to describe the feeling.  Let’s just say a banana should be sweet, soft, flavoursome, satisfying … well this one wasn’t.  It kind of stuck to the inside of my mouth like clag, gave my teeth a fluffy texture and took ages to extract from between my molars.  Maybe they’ll be ripe tomorrow.  In any case I’ll eat the next one a bit slower.

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention, more exciting news … Terrence has moved cabins.  Change is as good as a holiday he says.  He’s going to give the bunk vacated by Mike a go.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the fore peak cabin (that’s the one right up the front).  Terrence’s new cabin shares a wall with mine and for some reason, as he shuffled off to bed just now Terrence said, “now no snoring”.  So who knows how long the change of cabin will last?

Stay tuned for more exciting action

Did I mention, the sun came out as well.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and really, nothing happened today.


Farewell Family & Friends

Farewell Family & Friends

Thursday 13 August 2009, (Port Vila)

They say all good things must come to an end.

And so it was for the 16 family and friends, who took up the 7 day holiday package, staying at the Melanesian and coinciding with the end of the Medical Sailing Ministries (MSM) work for 2009.

This Ships Log is supposed to be about yesterday – Wednesday.  But because it is now early Thursday morning and I’ve just come back from seeing our guests off at the airport for their 7:00am flight back to Oz, the sadness of seeing everyone go is still fresh in my mind.

It was wonderful to have so many people come over to share in the “experience”, that IS Vanuatu. In particular, my ever-supportive wife Linda. But it’s hard to say good-bye, and I know it’s a challenge for Linda, not having me at home for such a long period of time, coupled with the uncertainty of me being at sea.  But we are well prepared for the return crossing, our crew of five are experienced and we expect good weather conditions at this time of year.

All being well, we’ll clear Customs and Immigration next Tuesday (18 August) and if the weather is favourable we’ll get away immediately, arriving in Sydney by the end of the month.  Be nice to beat the 11 day crossing time we set in May, but of course that was to Tanna Island, a day’s sail south of here and about 240km closer to home.

So now it’s just Terrence and me; at least until the week-end, when our three extra crew arrive, Justin, Tony and Kevin.

Our current list of tasks include:
– sorting the food currently onboard,(including donations of leftover food from our departing guests)
– buying extra food as required
– filling up with water and fuel
– stowing and lashing down loose items
– sealing the deck hatches (really sealing this time, so that NO water drips on the bunks!!)
– fitting a new deck fitting (the one broken on our sail from Sola, Vanualava to Mota Island)
– more to be added shortly

For those who’ve been following the saga of my right foot, it’s healing nicely, tanku tumus, complements of Cephalexin and Paul Graham’s diligent change of dressings.  My onboard course of pills runs out in 5 days, by which time the ankle should be fully healed, but I managed to buy a couple more packets of the capsules over the counter at the local pharmacy.

On the dental front – Kim Warby, our “holiday-maker dentist”, had a meeting at the dental unit of the Port Vila Hospital yesterday, along with our Andrew and Joe from the Presbyterian Church.  This followed a visit to the Vanuatu Prevention of Blindness Eye Clinic in the Vila suburb of Freshwater, where some old dental equipment was installed some time ago, but which is not functioning.  From these visits, Kim will be able to make an assessment of the current services on offer here in Pt Vila and help in the development of a plan.  A long-term plan which includes the establishment of a new, functioning dental clinic at the Freshwater site, the recruitment and training of local Ni-vans to run the program, the acquisition and ongoing maintenance of machinery, funding, utilisation of Aussie dental volunteers and the development of a mobile unit to be used in the provision of care to the outer islands.  It’ll be a big, ambitious plan, with small steps being taken initially to ensure it is sustainable and successful.  The eye-care program will be used as a useful template in this regard.

As for the weather.  It’s set in again – grey, with a mix of drizzle, rain and showers, oh, and a bit of mist and low cloud thrown in for good measure.  The kind of day when you wish someone in the Port Vila Government could fix the pavements, gutters, potholes, puddles, mud, traffic and pedestrian flow of the downtown region.  It’s bad on most days, but on wet days it’s dreadful.  If there is such a thing as a “Pt Vila Central Development Master Plan”, then it’s a well kept secret.  What currently exists is enough to give a town planner with a gram of ability and foresight a severe headache.

Along with the holiday makers, our crew member Mike Clarke bid us farewell at the airport this morning – after more than a month aboard.  He’s a lot furrier now than he was a month ago.  Enough to type-caste him as a shepherd in a nativity scene Christmas Card I’d say.  It is very impressive, and apparently grown with no artificial additives or stimulants.  But whilst the beard has become very attached to Mike, I don’t think he’s so attached to it.  In fact it did well to survive the clippers a week ago.  I suspect it’s still on for the benefit of family and friends back home – let’s hope Australian Customs and Immigration have a sense of humour when they check the photo in his passport at Tullamarine airport.

In reflecting on Mike’s time aboard, there was efficiency, quality and a high degree of service – plus a constant smile, forbearance, an eye to detail and a complete absence of seasickness.  Most of these characteristics will be put to good use once more when he resumes “normal” life amongst his work colleagues next week, in the concrete jungle of Melbourne.  As a word of warning to Mike’s work colleagues, if you find him detecting windshifts, recording wave heights and his gps position, swaying backwards and forwards while standing still, walking barefoot, or swanning around in board shorts and t-shirt, be patient, these conditions will pass in time.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and farewell family and friends


The Chimere Day Cruise

The Chimere Day Cruise

Tuesday 11 August, Pt Vila

All aboard, all aboard.  Travel Vouchers?  Got ya Travel Vouchers.  Move down the back of the boat.  Careful on the ramp.

So began Vanuatu’s newest adventure sailing experience … as 19 people clambered (and in some cases, this was an accurate description) aboard Chimere for a day’s sail to Hideaway Island.  Our biggest concern was the weather, which had been slowly improving over the past day or so.  But when a rain shower passed over around 9:00am, all eyes went skyward to see whether this was a one-off, or the start of something bigger.

Fortunately, it was a one-off, and before long the sun peaked through the grey canopy and the risk of sunburn became the biggest danger of the day.

Before anyone ran the risk of getting burnt by the sun, however, it was necessary to actually get aboard, which was done by way of the wooden plank from the concrete seawall up to the bow of the boat.  The tide being in, this made for a steep climb, but to make things a bit safer, I’d managed to secure 2 boarding planks, which were lashed side by side, making it a veritable highway, albeit at a rather steep incline!

Once everyone was aboard, (and an approximate head count made), it was then a case of extracting ourselves from the seawall.  Over the past week, new boats have been coming in constantly, so we are packed in side-by-side, basically separated by the width of a rubber fender, lined up like sardines in a tin, some bow-first (like us) and some stern-first.

Fortunately, the marina tender boat hovered around to make sure all went to plan, helping us remove the stern-line whose other end was attached to mooring bouy.  Once underway, to the strains of the Gilligan’s Island theme song, (“A three hour tour …!?”) and we’d sorted out who was going to play the roles of The Professor, Therston Howell the Third and Ginger, it was smooth sailing out of the inner harbour and off in the direction of the open sea.

Now when I say, “sailing”, the noise of the motor could clearly be heard, but before long we had the jib and staysail flying proud and in the interests of the purists we shut down the motor to reveal the true sounds of the sea – the lapping of the passing sea, the wind in the rigging, and the giggles and laughter of the passengers spread out on the deck like litter on a beach.  And I mean that in the nicest possible way – it was a lovely sight.

Out in the harbour the wind picked up and a gentle swell could be detected as the 15 knot south east breeze carried us along on a smooth course.  “What about the mainsail?” someone said.  Well, yes, we could put that up, but with 19 people spread around and everything going so smoothly, it seemed prudent to keep moving parts on board to a minimum.  And the boom does have a reputation.  And anyway, someone’s found it to be a nice place to recline, on the sail and between the “lazy jacks”.  (ropes that keep the mainsail neatly resting on the boom)

After a couple of hours sail, we were safety at anchor in Mele Bay, next to Hideaway Island, with some people choosing to go ashore in the dinghy for a swim and snorkel some electing to stay aboard and relax under the foredeck shade cloth.  Lunch followed, with generous servings of watermelon, pamplemousse, banana and pawpaw, bought from the PtVila market.

The home leg was a bit more lively, as we sailed (and motored) into the wind, but no one got wet, no one lost their lunch and no drinks were spilt – which is a good definition of a pleasant day’s sail I reckon.

Those aboard were, Sue and Frank Martinu, Paul, Rae-Ellen and Lachlan Graham, Andrew, Nila and Heather Latimer, Linda Latimer and me, Dorothy Pooley, Barry and Anne Newman, Kim Warby, Jenny Wiseman, Mike and Robyn Clarke, Terrence Mackaness and Lorraine Beyer.

With all the yacht traffic of late, we were keen to make sure our vacant position on the seawall wasn’t filled in our absence.  But Elsie, the lady who runs the show, assured me we were quite safe, and that Moses (the boatman) would help us back in upon our return.  Sure enough, as I lined up our 5 metre wide, 25 ton Chimere, into our spot, which looked all of 14.5 metres wide, there was Moses and his deckhand in their small boat ready to pass up our stern line.  Our trusty MSM crew of Terrence, Andrew and Mike, plus press-ganged recruits – Paul, Lachlan and Kim took care of the bow lines and the side fenders and all went to plan. (no doubt, much to the relief of the yacht-owners either side of us!!)

It was a textbook, seawall landing, to end a textbook wonderful day afloat.

After another lovely evening socialising it was a welcome pillow that finally greeted my head around 9:00pm.  (apologies to those at my table who witnessed me falling asleep from around 8:30pm.)

On a more sober note, while we were all enjoying ourselves, the skipper of the yacht Windcastle, which arrived two days ago, (and which is moored 3 boats up from us), is mourning the death of his wife. They sailed the seas together and apparently she was unwell when they arrived at the island of Epi, just north of here, but then suffered a reaction to some medications administered from their first aid kit.  It is such a tragic situation.  I haven’t had a chance to meet him, but you can just imagine the loss and devastation he must be feeling.  Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

As our Aussie visitors face their last day in Pt Vila, our thoughts on Chimere are turning to the homeward voyage, with the list of necessary tasks growing and three new crew expected this week-end – Justin (son-of-Bob) on Saturday, and Tony (of Medical tour 2 – Ambae – fame) and Kevin (a very recent recruit, I’m yet to meet) on Sunday.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and a happy “Day Cruise”.