Farewell to the Medical Team

Wednesday 16 June 2010 11:59pm Luganville

Our busy day yesterday involving the wedding and mud brick making was over and we turned our minds to the our task; picking up the medical team and transporting them to Lambombou. Richard wanted to be at Lambombou by midday so we called up a half six start. During the night the wind blew with increased strength and rain showers passed through. The forecast was for a head wind. It wasn’t looking very promising for a pleasant trip. We got up at about 6am and the wind suddenly died down. The sea state on the horizon outside the bay had a distinct lumpy look. Was the drop in wind strength just a lull before the change? We didn’t have time worry because the local fast boat didn’t turn up to bring the team aboard so Martin raced ashore in the dinghy and did multiple pickups of bags, people and equipment.
Once under way there was a community effort at providing breakfast for the 15 people on board. The menu was: cups of tea and coffee and egg sandwiches. The sea rapidly reduced and we happily motor sailed along. The wind dropped altogether again so we took in the sail and steamed along. Rain periods along the way became challenging and those who got wet soon got cold. That was the first time anyone had felt cold on this trip to Vanuatu. We had a one knot current with us so we made good time and arrived at 11:30am.
Lambombou is a bit like a smugglers bolt hole. A little inlet set into the coast, barely 100m wide and 400m long. The remains of an old wharf were visible on the north side. Rocks lined the edges of the inlet and up ahead were just under the surface according to the cruising guide. The cruising guide advised any yacht to clear out in the weather we were having. But just at that moment the wind was light and sea flat. We brought up in the middle of the inlet and anchored in about 4m.
A few local boats were visible on the beach at the head of the inlet and soon after arriving a local 4wd drove to the wharf and the driver got out and started whistling. We thought he was whistling to us at first but later found he was picking up an eski load of fish from the local fisherman. We quickly got the dinghy afloat and started ferrying all those going ashore. We noticed an ominous swell starting move in to the inlet so we started to hurry our departing travelers. Everyone was drenched by the end of the operation and the swell continued to get bigger. It was a shame to have such a hurried departure from all our friends in the medical team plus Martin from the sailing crew who also had to leave at this point.
The local boat came past and urged us to anchor a bit further away from the rocks. We waved and told him we were leaving (right now). The anchor came up without a hitch and we steamed out of the inlet, by now climbing up the face of each swell and plunging down the other side. It was a relief to get out of that place. We didn’t stow the anchor until well away, in case something went wrong.
Once outside we set our course to initially head west to clear around the top of Melakula then we would head north. We had not really planned this part of the trip. If the weather had been good I thought we could take our time to get to Luganville, the main town on Santo. However, in the conditions nothing seemed safe and most destinations would take longer to get to than the day light available. We all discussed the options and decided on heading straight for Luganville. This presented some challenges because it would be a night arrival. We called Rob in Australia who had sailed through the channel from that direction last year. Between us we couldn’t think why we shouldn’t give it a try (in spite of the daylight only directions in the cruising guide).
The swell was large and coming from some disturbance further south somewhere. The wind increased to about 20knots dead on the nose. Still the trusty engine which has had a new lease of life since all work done on it in Port Vila just purred away. We took 2 hour watches and Paul cooked up dinner in his off watch. Grant took over the helm for his second watch just as we got to the beginning of the pilotage into Luganville. The sea had dropped and the current was now about one knot against us. We were setting up for all of us to take on a job for the last leg. In the bow (Carl and Paul) using visual and aural senses (and a big spot light if necessary), Grant on the helm and me jumping up and down from the deck to the nav table to check if the radar was agreeing with the chart plotter. Just before we were all organized, Grant called up Paul with the light and confirmed what he thought was a local fishing boat with no lights. The occupants shone their touch at us and our light briefly lit them up. We safely passed by. The little boat didn’t stop shining his torch at us for a fair while. Just to be sure, to be sure.
A little while later we changed course to enter a narrower channel. The current was now with us. Visibility was actually quite good. Obviously it was night time but the land seemed to be silhouetted against the sky and the shapes corresponded to the radar and chart plotter.
At around 11:30pm we dropped anchor in 20m off a little village, just short of Luganville.
I am finishing this log off on Thursday morning and a little while ago a boy paddled out to us. I could hear a soft voice making calling sounds so I went on deck to find a 15yo boy, Daniel, who had borrowed a canoe to see who we were. He asked if we needed fruits or coconuts and has now paddled off to procure what he can to trade for Christine’s hat (Yes, Christine knows, we didnt trade her hat while she was a sleep. She woke up at the right time though). In the last 2 years he has lost his mother and father. He used to live on Melakula but now lives here with his Uncle but there is not enough money to keep him in school or buy clothes.
Earlier, when I first got up, I had that lovely experience of looking out onto the place we came to in the dark. On both sides of the channel the land is fairly low and heavily vegetated. Ahead of us some huts are visible belonging to Daniel’s village. We can hear the sounds of the day starting, roosters asserting themselves over their dominion and children laughing.
Fair winds, smooth seas and farewell to the medical team.

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