Farewell Futuna

Tuesday 11 May 2010, Futuna Island 19 30’S, 170 13′ E

There’s no doubt about it, Futuna is an amazing place. One of the fittest population around with towering cliffs and extensive tracks which seem to be trod on a regular basis by everyone.

They say it’s a wonderful place for fishing, but after this morning’s episode I beg to differ. It could have been the presence of Bill, Scott and I in the small aluminum runabout that put local blokes, David, Sam and Alan off their game, but apparently it was not sunny enough to catch fish today.

The medical team ran a clinic in the local village today, while we on the boat attended to maintenance issues.  Scott is now a whizz on the anchor winch, discovering that the brand new solenoid in spares does not work and figuring out how to make the old once work with a “work-around” arrangement, if all else fails.  Bill got stuck into fitting a new bilge pump and Bob hovered from one job to another making sure the ship is ship-shape and tidy-like when everyone comes aboard tonight for the trip NW to the island of Aniwa.

Bill, Scott and I have just come back from the farewell dinner, put on by some of the local island leaders.  The local health worker Jod gave a nice speech of thanks and the meal did include some of the fish caught this morning, but I’m glad we didn’t have to feed the whole village with what we caught.  We off loaded a pile of donated medical supplies at the clinic building, which was down a track in the direction of the airstrip.  After a short while the health worker said to me “I know you”.  I looked into his face and was about to query where we might have crossed paths before and then it came to me … “Dillons Bay, Erromango!”   “Yes, last year” said Jod “I was transferred down here to Futuna with my family a short while ago” he continued.

Jod then asked if we had some fuel we could spare for the brush cutter.  With no trading boat having been here for such a long period of time, there was no fuel for anything, including the brush cutter – although a higher priority might have been building, or re-building, the steps to the dispensary.  In common with many buildings here that are elevated off the ground, the stairs seem to die first, and from then on everyone just seems to make do with a couple of wobbly bricks for stairs.  I’m sure if we were here for a couple more days we’d have given it a go.  Today we had every intention of building some stairs to the community meeting hall but we ran out of time.  Yesterday Tony took photos of the primary and secondary school classes around at Herald Bay and so I spent some time editing, printing and then laminating them.  They will be carried around to the school tomorrow for display on the notice board.

In addition to the donated medical supplies, we packed up a load of donated clothes and hats, which we gave to the church elders to distribute to those of greatest need; a task they perform with much seriousness and sensitivity.  There was also a volleyball (and pump) donated by Donvale Christian School in Victoria (Aust) part of a pack of goods which were originally meant for a school in Efate (the main island on which Pt Vila is located) but they missed the transport.  When it was learned that MSM were going to Vanuatu the bag of balls found their way aboard.  So far we have found a worthy home for three of then.

The bricks we made yesterday are drying nicely and David (the fisherman) and Nigel (the maintenance fellow) promised me they will build stoves and send me a photo when the first one is built.  A group of the guys seemed genuinely interested and keen on the brick idea and so who knows where it might lead.

After the successful overnight sail up here from Aneityium two days ago, the medical team decided they were up for another overnighter, and with seas calm and wind from the right direction, it proves to be another dream run.  This time Aniwa about 40 miles away in the direction of Tanna.  We plan to be dropping anchor at dawn in time to start a clinic maybe at 9:00-10:00am.  Richard Tatwin has been trying to communicate with the island to confirm our arrival time, but so far to no avail.  It’s not a big island, so I suppose word will spread quickly.  As much as Futuna is mountainous, Aniwa is flat, with lots of coral and sand.   If the clinic can be finished in half a day, then we’ll be away in the afternoon, taking the favourable wind to Port Resolution.  If the clinic runs all day, then we’ll stay the night and do the short hop across to Port Resolution (on Tanna) on Thursday morning.  The last thing we want to do is enter Port Resolution in the dark.  In daylight it’s all pretty clear, but even though he have a chartplotter and gps, there is insufficient detail in this region to do an instrument landing.  We stayed a few days at Port Resolution on the first medical mission last year and are looking forward to entering the bay again; one of the many places in the world named by Capt James Cook over 230 years ago.  His reception wasn’t so friendly, unlike ours which I’m sure will be as warm as last year.

The medical team will be flying home to Australia at the end of this week (from Tanna) along with our crew member and dentist, Tony Burke.  Tony has done an amazing job and I suspect he’ll be sad to leave.  They certainly packed a lot into 2 weeks.

A new crew member will join us on Sunday, Matt Bryant, who will be flying in from Sydney.  We look forward to welcoming Matt aboard and hopefully you’re reading this Matt because Richard Tatwin will meet you at the airport in Pt Vila on Saturday and we’ll arrange for someone to meet you at Tanna on Sunday and take you to the yacht at port Resolution, via the volcano if you are feeling lucky.

Then if the weather is good we’ll head north from Tanna on Monday with doctors Ann and Iain Miller aboard to do clinics at Erromango.  Then it’s Port Vila by the end of May and a complete crew changeover for the next medical team who fly into Malekula early June.

But for now we have just 40 minutes before the medical team make their way down to the beach for a dinghy pick-up at 9:30pm.  Bob, Bill, Tony and Scott have all hit the sack for an hour’s rest.  We’ll take it in turns to keep watch through the night, making sure the needs of our medical guests are met … funny, there’s not a lot of food preparation involved.

Till Aniwa …

Smooth seas, fair breeze and farewell Futuna

Rob Latimer

4 thoughts on “Farewell Futuna”

  1. Hi to everyone on board. The word back from my family and friends is that they are really enjoying the details of your trip from reading the daily posts.The entries really are fascinating and delightful reading Rob. Well done and thank you for keeping us in the loop. Nance

    I hope you are leaving a trail of purple caps! Missing you, Luv Nance

  2. Hi dad,
    Sounds tough… No electricity, no fuel and no “new releases”, but they do have school… That sucks!
    Storm did not play well on weekend, i guess it was because it was sunday afternoon.
    Missing you, from Eamon.
    P.S how long is your beard, i need to see.
    Sounds like everyones doing a great job.

  3. Hi Nancy,

    thank you for your note and encouragement. Tony headed off a few hours ago, firstly on the drive across the island to Lenakel where he’ll catch the plane north to Pt Vila. Then on Sunday he’ll be heading home to Melbourne. It was sad to see him go and he really did enjoy the experience and did some great work, both in addressing the immediate dental needs of those that presented at the clinics and in training young Bob and Shirley in the mysterious ways of dentistry. I must admit there have been a few purple Melbourne Storm caps being given away … we unkindly suggested there’s no market for them back in Australia, but Tony is a loyal, welded on supporter who takes the stings and arrows well.

    Look forward to catching up soon and thanks again for your support.


    Rob Latimer

  4. Hi Eamon, Robert here,

    Dad headed off from the boat this morning before he had a chance to respond to your comments, but they were read out to all the crew to great amusement.

    Better watch out when dad gets home because he’s seen the health and other benefits of young people walking to and from school, catching and growing their own food, using no electricity, having no technology and going to sleep when the sun goes down.

    Be afraid … be very afraid.

    His beard is very impressive … not quite in Santa’s league, but getting there.


    Rob Latimer

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