From one side to the other

Thursday 6 July 2017
Williams Bay (aka Dillons Bay), Erromango Island

At 4:00am this morning it was pouring with rain, the wind was howling and Chimere was rolling more than normal, tied as she was stern to the bank and two bow anchors set mid-stream in the river.

It was still 90 minutes before the scheduled pickup of the volunteers, Bob, Morinda and Dick, on the nearby rocky shore and I was having visions of them coming aboard drenched and somewhat less than content.

I’d written a text to Bob and Morinda suggesting we defer the boarding one hour till 6:30am, but in the end something inside said “don’t send it” … which was fortunate because within an hour conditions had abated and the “miserable” situation had improved to a bearable “dreary”.

The pick-up went to plan and then it was a case of undoing the two shore lines and retrieving the anchors in a step-by-step manner in order to stay in control at all times within the confines of the narrow river entrance.

We’d heard word yesterday that a trading vessel was due into the river entrance today, and after asking the same question what seemed a dozen different ways, the consensus view seemed to be that [if it came] it would be after lunch, maybe 3pm, but maybe the next day.

“Will our boat be in the way?” I asked … “Yes” came the answer “no problem…”
“Show me where the trading ship anchors … is there enough room for him to turn around?” I persisted. “E drives against the shore, lowers a platform at the front, on the other side of you, so plenty room, e-gud”

Having seen these trading ships in action around the islands you would understand my apprehension, but this particular ship was supposed to make its first stop at nearby PotNarvin, so it seemed [almost] clear that a 6:00am diesel-fumed-song-and-dance arrival in this particular river mouth port was not happening tomorrow.

As the sun appeared over the horizon and with all lines and anchors retrieved, Gerry slowly and steadily piloted Chimere out into the open sea making sure not to sink the bow (and thereby cover the foredeck with water) into the inevitable steep and troublesome waves that linger in such places.

Once clear of the rocky headlands we bore away north with the east-south-east wind on the starboard stern quarter moving us along at 6.5 knots under jib alone with the engine just ticking away in the background at low revs
As a designated “travel day”, today was always going to be about comfort and relaxation … despite the early start. There was a plan to make it the 40 odd miles around to the other side of the island in time to run a half-day clinic, but at the very least we should set up the clinic ready for a full day tomorrow.

The lush, rugged and mountainous terrain on our port side was bathed in morning light, made even more idyllic owing to the steady breeze and (largely) calm seas.

Antonio … our multi-talented dentist of Italian origins revealed more of his super-powers by remaining in the galley for what seemed like hours today; much to the amazement of all, given he was “affected” to some degree by the ship’s movement a week ago while sitting in the breezy cockpit. But there he was, cutting and creating his way through an ample supply of local produce – taro and manioc I was told. Plus there were kidney beans, herbs, spices, an assortment of green-stuffs, plus amazingly … delicately cut and prepared croutons, (made from the bread we baked last night) prepared in a traditional Italian manner … just like Nona used to make … I think.

Admittedly, sea conditions favoured time in the galley – today of all days – and it must be said the results were impressive, quite apart from being extremely tasty, satisfying everyone’s need for lunch around 11:00am. Talk about “Iron Chef” mixed with “Survivor” mixed with “Big Brother” … Antonio’s performance today has gone straight to Chimere’s equivalent of the “pool room”; the makings of a whole new TV reality show genre !

The Erromango coast line truly is impressive and with breaching whales once more drawing our eyes to the distant blue we wished we had more time to stop and explore.

Internet access came and went, with a communications tower being seen on the top of the tallest inland mountain, which still is amazing given just how remote this place really is.

Williams Bay (aka Dillons Bay) was reached around 1:00pm and after anchoring on sand in around 7m of water – just north of the river entrance, we were met by David in his dugout canoe, owner, founder, manager and no doubt Commodore of the Williams Bay Yacht Club.

After his official welcome and invitation to come to dinner tomorrow night David joined us aboard for a cup of tea … and vegemite on fresh bread. I also pulled out the laptop again and showed David pictures of when we last met during our last visit here.

Next it was a trip ashore to allow Bob, Morinda and Dick to organise the accommodation for the medical and dental volunteers, while the large bulka bags of equipment were not far behind. A large group of volunteers seemed to appear from nowhere and very soon all the gear was inside the nearby hall being set up for action.

With everyone ashore, some walked up the river exploring, others checked out their bungalow accommodation, others swam – including Antonio who quickly befriended a local fisherman with an enormous spear gun that looked like it could bring down an elephant, and was last seen swimming out to sea with him and another man escorting them in his canoe. The weather was glorious and so just sat around chatting to the locals, with the lush river banks and sweeping pebble-beach of the bay giving this a Garden of Eden look about it.

There was also a chance for us to gently motor the dinghy up the river as far as the rapids and what I recalled from last time to be the village “laundromat” … and sure enough once again there were the ladies and children pounding their washing on the rocks, while clothes lay around on grass, branches and rocks drying in the sun. This is the point at which freshwater from the interior tumbles over several acres of rocks and pebbles to meet the tidal flow from the sea. It’s also the place where many come to collect their household water; mostly with the aid of 20 litre drums aboard dugout canoes as we observed.
It was good to renew acquaintances from my earlier visits and to also discuss the latest news about the appointment of (Presbyterian) Pastor Obed Moses as the new President of Vanuatu, following the sudden and unexpected death of the previous much-loved President, Father Baldwin just a few weeks ago. In talking with many of the men, as we sat on the grass overlooking the bay, I mentioned that I’d been in Port Vila for the very solemn funeral procession of the President through the main street of Port Vila and was able to pull out my trusty iPhone in order to share the footage.
This led to me suggesting we hold a movie night – tonight – so we could show everyone the footage of the Presidents funeral, plus of course a major feature … Finding Nemo.

This idea was well received, and was also well attended, although at 7:00pm, with just a few hardy souls in the room I ventured to ask … “yu think many come tonight” … “yes” came the reply, the ringing of a loud bell not appearing to achieve the desired results. “Once people hear the generator they will come” … the logic being that no one would dare waste fuel and so once the generator starts, proceedings are bound to commence soon after. And sure enough, after a couple of short warm-up videos I looked behind me while inserting the Nemo DVD and the place appeared packed. My biggest challenge was to then remain awake, or at least fall asleep discreetly without falling off my seat

There is one other yacht anchored in the bay – way down the other end – and it was pleasing to learn from the local men that a damaged yacht with two Germans aboard had also anchored in the harbour yesterday and departed for Port Vila this morning; accompanied by another yacht.

We were informed that the German yacht had a make-shift rudder mechanism on the stern and there’s no doubt the locals were impressed to hear the story of the rudder’s making, the patching of the leak in the hull and our rescue of the yacht 10 days ago in Port Resolution; read earlier Ships Log entries for detail!

Tomorrow is the last clinical day of this first Medical Mission for 2017 and is shaping up to be well attended ! I also look forward to chatting with the men some more about low smoke stoves; something I did in 2010 but maybe this time there’ll be more action arising !

Smooth seas, fair breeze and from one side to another

Rob Latimer

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