Easing back into the saddle

Monday 4 September 2017
Anchored off the Beach Front Resort, Luganville, Santo

It appears the Blog writing “baton” has officially been passed to me as the new skipper for Mission 4, which by the way is still a few days away from its official start. Jon’s … “Yours Aye for the last time” sign-off to last night’s message kind of made that clear.

So here we are. The three of us sitting quietly in the saloon after a collaborative dinner creation – by Mark and Jon that is – Thai Green Curry on a bed of rice. Jon is reading a book about Captain Cook (of course) and Mark is writing his journal (with a pen, on paper, in keeping with his analogue nature). Chimere is riding nicely at anchor, gently bobbing to the small waves. The constant sound of the wind and the slop, slop, slop of the dinghy tethered to the stern the only real noises.

After my “surprise” arrival last night, (maybe I did forget to tell Jon and Mark the exact time) and too many pancakes (that stuff goes off if you don’t cook it) thickly piled with lashings of plum jam, sleep came very easily. It had definitely been a big day, and thanks go to the security guard at the Beach Front Resort and his strong torch for finally gaining Jon’s attention onboard, because my yelling from the beach, into the wind in the dark, just wasn’t going to cut it. Particularly when I discovered how much fun they were having below cooking pancakes.

I suppose I really should have got Jon’s phone number in advance, to let him know I was coming in on the late afternoon flight. Notice I only said Jon. Mark I knew wasn’t going to have a phone number. I’m not sure he even brought a phone with him. He certainly didn’t get a local SIM card, although he assured me he knows what a SIM card actually is, just doesn’t know what it stands for; either do I for that matter.

After a great night’s sleep, up in the forward cabin we all shared breakfast together, planning the day – as you’d expect.

“Bob, Annette (Vincent) and Barry will be here at 8:00am to pick up the dental survey gear. I’ll probably go with them to set up the survey station”, I said … “what have you guys got planned?”

“I’m going into town later on” said Mark … “And I’ve got the circuit breaker to fit” chipped in Jon.

Not quite as busy as when there’s 9 or 10 medical and dental folk aboard of course; the ship is practically dead by comparison.

As discussions turned to planning for the mission ahead and Jon contemplated his return flight to Australia in 3 days he came out with … “I’m already starting to feel like the third wheel …” Yesterday a rooster, today a feather duster?!

My taxi driver from the airport last night, Solomon, gave me his phone number, so it was him I called when transport was needed this morning. Not that he arrived on time, causing me to question whether he was as reliable as he at first appeared. “That’s longer than 10 minutes?!” I grumbled to Bob. “Maybe it was a Ni-Van 10 minutes??” I said to Bob, who agreed that he could be here at any time between now and who knows when. “I’ll call him” I replied

“He’s talking Bislama Bob?!” … “me no savi … I’ll give you to Bob …”

Bob then got to the heart of the matter. He was having tyre troubles and will be here in 5 minutes. Five minutes eh??!!

After 15 minutes Bob and I wandered the short distance out to the main road with the intention of grabbing the first bus or taxi that was going by. No vehicles. Two minutes passed … “Oh look, here’s Solomon!!” “Sorry tumas … “ he beamed … and all was forgiven

We were soon in town, setting up the Oral Health Survey chairs, table, seats and of course the painted sign right next to the town market. It was then a case of making sure participants were selected at random, rather than those who inquired about “… yu fixim sore tut”

With Barry, Bob and Annette underway with their survey work I found a café further into town where I could take advantage of free WiFi over a very long drawn out black coffee. But not before dropping into the Ministry of Health’s Northern Office to arrange the pick up of a very large pile of boxes they asked us (Skipper Jon and his team that is) to transport up from Port Vila. Not exactly sure what they are, something medical I suspect.

After stretching out the coffee into lunch and sitting in the café long enough to hear the James Blunt CD play through at least 5 times (I know because that’s how many times I heard the song “You’re Beautiful etc etc” come on) I moved on to the Digicell office to get a second SIM card for my iPhone, just in case my existing TVL SIM card didn’t provide sufficient coverage up through the northern islands.

Strolling back to the market, where I figured they’d be thinking about packing up, I met a swag of people I knew. Among them Richard Tatwin, head of PCV Health, Kalmaire from Paunangisu village, plus a lot more I recognised and smiled nicely to, but couldn’t quite remember their names. All these folk were returning from the annual Presbyterian Church Assembly meeting held down the road, a very long and dodgy road as it turns out, (particularly when it rains) at Tasariki in SW Santo.

There was even a Melbourne man named Peter, carrying a cardboard box, who stopped when he read the words on my shirt … “Are you Robert?” he asked quietly. “Ah yes, that’s me” I said … “Oh, I’m on your Medical Sailing Ministries email list and I know the Zurrers who support the Ni-van farm workers who work at KooWeeRup, Victoria, I’m working for 2 years in North Ambae at a school…” I also know the Zurrers, plus many of the other people mentioned during our 10 minute chat … that’s just the way it is here

Back at the market, it was indeed pack up time and I rang Taxi-Solomon who was there in a flash; wheel problems obviously fixed.

The dental gear was all loaded and carted away, with Bob, Annette and Barry heading back to their accommodation. I headed back out of town towards Chimere’s anchorage, but not before having a long chat with Jenny Hamer, a palliative care specialist from Tauranga NZ, finishing up a volunteer-month at the Port Vila hospital with a group called the Butterfly Trust. Jenny was also a sailor and recreational diver and had made it to Luganville for a few days to dive on the sunken American WW2 troop ship at Million Dollar Point.

We met her when she simply inquired about what we were doing and it was amazing to hear of the valuable work she was doing in palliative care and to discover how limited the services, facilities and even awareness, of the issue is here. Dying in pain, with minimal access to suitable drugs, just seems the norm here. Which really isn’t surprising when you think about it I suppose; but far from ideal. It would be great to see Jenny’s work develop further !

It was by now 5:30pm, the brief tropical twilight was at hand and I thought I’d better call Jon aboard, at least to request pick-up from the beach.
“Where have you been? We’ve done our hair, we’re all dressed for dinner, and here you are out all day and coming back at this hour…” whined Jon. “On the beach in four minutes, I replied … “sure thing, I’ll send Mark over to pick you up” returned Jon

So ended my first day as we count the days to the arrival of the new crew and medical team and the start of Mission 4. For Jon and Mark it’s just two sleeps before they take their last dinghy ride ashore … Sounds rather sad when you put it like that

Smooth seas, fair breeze and easing back in the saddle …

Rob Latimer

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