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

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