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

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