Thursday 14 May, 10.28pm (anchored at Lanakel)

After a good night’s sleep, punctuated by regular checks on the anchor to ensure our position remained secure, we awoke to a gloriously tropical day, which prompted us to dig out and erect the deck awning. This works a treat in keeping the sun off the deck and the air circulating through the boat. It was then a case of turning on the generator to recharge the house batteries, after being steadily depleted over the past week or more.

While the generator is running we have 240 volts, so we took the opportunity to charge all the electrical gear on board as well as dust off the bread maker. That’s right, a bread maker!! It was a late minute purchase in Sydney and my darling Linda stayed up late to prepare dozens of bags of flour and what ever else goes in, so we didn’t have to contend with a 20kg bag.

Kathy took charge of operations, and after about 3 hours we had 3 lovely loaves of bread. Two cooked in the oven, after first being mixed in the machine, and one which did the full 2 hour cycle. Never has bread tasted so good!! And it’s all but gone now too.

By now it was lunch – which accounted for most of the bread – and time to re-launch the dinghy off the deck and try again with clearing customs. Hopefully the office would be manned this time! So, dressed in our finest blue shorts and team MSM shirt Martin and I wandered up to the customs building and, hey presto, there was a man at the desk typing away. “Hello” … “Hello” ,the usual greetings with smiles and hand shakes all round. “You off the boat?” “Yes, are you the man we need to see to clear customs?” I returned

So began the form filling and stamping, which was surprisingly straightforward.

“You working on the other side of the island yesterday?” I inquired. “Yes”, said our new best friend, “I see you come in early morning so I … (at this stage he brushes one hand against the other in an upward swinging direction) … I outa here over to Whitesands”.

What could I say? This man obviously enjoys his job. We all laughed out loud (which I discovered last year is “LOL” in text speak – for all you non-hip folk) I went onto explain the sort of work we were planning to do and eventually he gave us the right forms all duly stamped, and from what he said I got the impression that boats were normally charged a fee, but he wasn’t going to charge us because we were doing volunteer work. We thanked his very much.

“Do you need to come out to the boat to check everything … all the stuff?” I inquired further. “Yes, I do. Maybe now, maybe tomorrow”. he said. “But you need to go to Immigration and also quarantine. They are not here. Not in the same building. They are down the road.”

So we agreed that Martin and I would walk down the road to the quarantine and immigration office and then come back and take Mr Customs out to look over the boat. So Martin and I set off. My feet were hurting from yesterday’s walking, so after about 400 yards we’d found no additional government offices, so we dropped into the local co-op store and asked for directions. “Those places long way up road on hill, maybe mile, praps more. Maybe you go back to Customs and ask for lift” … “What a good idea” I said, we shook hands and LOLd together. So back we went. We met the customs man at the door to his building … “hop in ute and I’ll take you there”. “That would be great if you could do that. Thank you” we effused. So it was that we had our first Toyota (indestructible) Hilux ute trip. Martin in the back, and me in the front … I had the hat after all.

And man, was it a long way!! We wouldn’t have walked there and back before nightfall.

The drive gave us a chance to get to know Mr Customs, (and I wish I could remember his name), better. Apparently he was a hot soccer player for the region in his time. Once at the Immigration building our friend waited on the grass while we filled out some more forms with a nice lady in charge of this department. “You do medical work?” she inquired. “Well, sort of, we are doing some transport for them” … “I have a bad knee and I need my eyes tested, can I see them, when are they here?” Sure, I volunteered … “I think they’ll be working at the hospital tomorrow and Saturday morning”. “Thank you for that, I will come then” she said.

Once all the passports were signed (and she said it was OK if Martin signed the immigration forms for the other 3 crew – “Of course, they are on the boat”) it was back in the ute and a stopoff at a farm house which turned out to have a room with the word we identified as representing quarantine above the door. There was no one in attendance, so, “maybe you do that tomorrow” … “no problems”, we agreed, “we do that tomorrow”

By now it’s pushing 4:15pm and when we arrive back at the water’s edge, our customs friend parked his ute and we agreed that maybe he come to the boat tomorrow – we close at 4:30. “No problems, we do it tomorrow”. We shook hands again and agreed tomorrow would be fine. “Do you have a boat?” I asked in a general kind of way. “No, we don’t have a boat” “So how do you normally get out to visiting boats?” He smiled and it was clear that it was per medium of the yacht’s dinghy. So much for hoisting the Q flag and waiting for customs to come aboard. As for me calling them on the VHF for the past 2 days? I might just check tomorrow whether they have a radio.

Stay tuned for Episode 3 of clearing customs, immigration and quarantine.

Tonight we went ashore for a meal at a local resort. Bob stayed on board, guarding the fort and eating freshly baked bread too I think. Bob also did the taxi service for us in the dinghy, there and back. Did a great job too I must say, in darkness both ways, with a need to not only find the beach in complete darkness but dodge two reef outcrops on the final approach.

So ends our first couple of days in Tanna, and the first day ashore for Kathy, Will and Martin. Old salt Bob is very content reading his book, making cups of coffee and watching the palm trees blow back and forth on the shore.

Andrew arrives tomorrow along with the first medical team. Our real work starts soon.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and stay tuned for Episode 3

Rob