It rained only once … but for 18 hours

Sunday 23 May 2010 Dillons bay, Erromango

It was a relatively calm night as the rain pelted down.  A few times, however, the wind picked up, but from the wrong direction (south west) causing us to swing around on the anchor, putting our stern a bit too close for comfort to the rocky shore.  But the good ol’ ROCNA anchor held us safe as it has many times before.

It was a lazy start to the day with everyone sitting around reading, sleeping, eating, going back to sleep and reading some more, then eating.

As the wind changed in the night I got up to check the anchor and while I was at it hauled in the fishing lines we’d left in the water before going to bed.  The two foot long shark I pulled in on one line got me back into the fishing mood, so as the rain continued to pour down I got serious about trying to catch some more fish – all to no avail.  After half an hour I went below to dry off before going back to sleep.  The water tanks filled in just a few hours from the rain that fell on the deck and our empty drums were filled throughout the morning from buckets which caught runoff from the deck awning.

The small creek onshore which drained the local valley became a raging torrent by morning delivering muddy water, branches and vegetation out into the surrounding bay, making it very uninviting indeed.

Around 11:30 we pulled up the anchor and headed down the coast a couple of hours to Dillon’s Bay where the Williams River was also flowing brown and fast out into the bay.  The rain finally stopped as we arrived which made a wonderful relief.  With the dinghy in the water, Iain, Ann, Scott, Bill and I made our way into the shore where a big group had formed to greet us.  The beach here is really a mass of rounded river rocks and up from the river mouth the water looked clear and inviting.

There to meet us was Gerry, the Kustom Chief and David the main chief (we think) who explained that their village nurse was down at Tanna and the chairman of the village health committee and the assistant health worker had taken the local fast boat to a remote village at the north end of the island.  In fact we must have somehow passed them on our way around here.

Consequently the clinic was locked up, but they seemed happy to have two doctors in the village and made a space in a community hall for Iain and Ann to set up shop tomorrow.

We were taken for a walk up the lush valley and in the course of our walk I mentioned the idea of making mud bricks and low-smoke stoves.  Chief David seemed very interested and said he had heard of such a thing made out of a drum and cement and explained that they have to walk a long way to get firewood.  Our walk took in a climb up a nearby hill to check out the suitability of … you guessed it … the soil for the making of mud bricks.  It looked really good, which confirmed our suspicions at seeing the colour of the river runoff, but David and Gerry assured us that the clay further up the hill was even better and that we should take the truck  (which I think is the only vehicle on the island) up their in the morning to pick some up.

It’s an interesting fact that Erromango is bigger than the island of Tanna down south but has only around 2000 inhabitants.  Tanna on the other hand has more like 27,000.

On our way back we stopped to chat with Donald who is managing a small, but quite impressive nursery dedicated to growing sandalwood seedlings, which are then planted out across the island.  Donald was eager for knowledge on how to more efficiently grow the small plants which seem the basis of a strong and important industry for the future.

We received a basket of fruit as a gift before making our way back to the boat with promises of returning in the morning – the unique medical mud brick making duo.  One thing we did forget to take ashore were the fish heads and backbones, plus a few smaller fish caught last night.  We raced them back to the shore in the dinghy, (they were warmly received) along with a copy of the mud brick stove manual for Gerry, David and others to look at in readiness for tomorrow.

Back on board ship we were treated to a lovely sunset through the breaking grey cloud and an eerie stillness with the current of the Williams River still racing past the hull, even though we are anchored maybe 400m offshore.

One interesting thing that Kustom Chief Gerry mentioned was that he has been to Sydney and is going again soon to meet with museum curators who have many thousands of items collected back in the 1800s as curios by early traders from Erromango (the world mecca for Sandalwood).  They currently rest in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, most with no cultural information or explanation attached, that’s where Gerry comes in.  After the information Gerry imparted to us in the short time we were together I’m sure he’s the man for the job.

It’s only 7:00pm and most aboard have gone to bed.  After all it’s Sunday, and the day-of-rest idea has really caught on.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and such stillness makes a welcome change

Robert Latimer

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