Journey back to sight

Losolava, Gaua.  14  12.43 S,  167  34.16 E

Thursday 8 July 2010

First, an apology for missing last night’s Ships Log.  We’ve been so flat out “doing stuff” that we haven’t had the time to document it.  I was very close to sending a message off last night, but tiredness took over about 11:00pm and I was no use for much at all.  I was up early this morning in an attempt to catch up but these Ni-vans start early with activity largely based around when the sun comes up and goes down and pretty soon I was back into the day’s activities, with no time to sit at the computer.

We arrived late yesterday afternoon here at Losolava on the island of Gaua (aka Santa Maria) after a very pleasant 6 hour run from Mere Lava.  On the way we came in close to the very small island of Merig.   We’d hoped to drop in at the island last year, however at the time we were evacuating a very pregnant Linda and her mother Rose.  This year we were evacuating Martin … and, I was going to say … an old man in his 50s in need of two eye operations … but who said people in their 50s were old.  Anyway, time was against us, but I was intrigued to look closer at this rocky wee speck in the ocean.

Merig lies about half way between Mere Lava and Gaua and,  part way along our journey, after observing the display on the chart plotter, there was a cry from the cockpit – from Dr Robyn in fact, (our resident doctor who will join the main medical team next Monday) … “there’s a rock in our path … can you check this? … it says here there’s a rock awash right in our path”.  I then had to explain that the rock in question was indeed Merig, which kind of tells you how obscure this place is.

So after closing in on the island we curved around the sheltered northern coast line where we observed another big painted anchor on a rock which in a strange way appeared to beckon passing vessels to please, please, please come and stop a while.  It was around this time that we spotted two young lads standing lookout on a big rock and as we changed course to come in close and run parallel to the sheltered side they began to run towards the big rock with the painted white anchor.

You could almost sense them yelling … “visitors!! Visitors!!” as they clambered across rocks, so familiar that they could probably have done it blindfolded.  If ever there was a case of raising expectations, this was it.  After conferring with Martin’s guide, Daniel, who was very much a local lad it was clear that a landing would be problematic in our rubber dinghy and after counting the hours till sundown and considering again our primary task of getting Martin to Gaua and negotiating his transport to and from Santo, the decision was made.  We would not be stopping at Merig.

A half turn of the wheel and in an instant our course was set for the NE corner of Gaua as we bore away from Merig.  The two boys on the distant rocks had stopped running by now and we all felt the sense of disappointment they must have felt and considered out loud whether it was better to raise hopes and then dash them, or to keep well clear on a passing course and never have raised hopes in the first place.  Lainie finally put a positive spin on it by suggesting we just made those kids day, to see a boat so close and the excitement that it would have brought to an otherwise average day.

We dropped anchor at Losolava around 4:00pm and had the dinghy in the water a short time later then were off across the reef a couple of kilometers with Martin and his guide Daniel aboard to a place where it was just a short (relatively) walk to the airport.  It was also close to where Martin’s family lived and pretty soon we were outside their hut with an emotional reunion in full swing.  As enthusiastic handshakes were given all round one woman, who I was told was his sister-in-law, attached herself to Martin’s arm crying and sobbing for a good 5 minutes.  After a round of conversation which we could only catch the occasional word, Gibson told me that this was Martin’s first visit to Gaua, in fact his first trip off Merelava!  Not bad for 50+ years.

A short walk on in the direction of the airport and who should we meet coming out of his “driveway” on a small motorbike but the doctor we had heard so much about, the Australian Dr Mark Turnbull who has an aeroplane (dubbed the Red Baron on account of its colour) and is known to make regular evacuations to Santo and Pt Vila (and back again) for little more than a small donation.

We introduced ourselves and had a good chat.  He seemed happy to fly Martin to Santo in the next week or so.

The flying doctor Mark, who moved here from Australia with his wife Naomi and family about 5 years ago didn’t seem to want much money, other than to cover cost.  So after a bit more discussion we agreed that the flight to Santo would cost 3000 vatu (about $40) and the return flight was a bag of rice (a big bag obviously, which was arranged by someone else and cost 4500 vatu about $55)

It was a wonderful result all around and all done in enough time to enable us to motor across the reef and back to Chimere before dark.

With an hour to go before dinner, Robyn and I dropped over to the other yacht anchored in the bay and were quickly invited aboard for a drink and some nibbles by husband and wife cruising couple, John and Wendy.  They had a lovely 50 foot yacht, Midnight Sun and we talked on for ages about places and people and how after 8 visits to Vanuatu they never tire of coming back.  We seemed to have so much in common, except perhaps  for their stunning ability to catch fish!!.  A freezer overflowing with fish and the fact they caught 4 big fish just outside the bay on their way in; most of which they share with the villages they visit.

One impressive fish story entailed a 10 foot tiger shark.  Not that they were hunting specifically for sharks, but one thing led to another and the trevally they caught was eaten by a reef shark, which in turn was devoured by a monster tiger shark.  So how do you land a 10 foot (who knows how heavy) thrashing, angry and obviously upset shark?  I suspect it’s a case by case proposition, but John managed to get a rope around its tail by way of the dinghy and the attached this to a halyard and winched it up the mast much like you would a sail.

This made the shark even angrier and it took bites at everything it could on the way up.  It obviously didn’t end well for the shark, but one shark’s loss was one village’s gain!! We wish John, Wendy and their yacht Midnight Sun well on their latest journey around Vanuatu and for their return to New Zealand later in the year where they currently call home

Back onboard Chimere, Gerhard cooked up another storm in the galley which very much hit the spot.

It was then off to sleep as we reflected on a big day’s activity and Martin’s first step along the path of restored eyesight – in a matter of weeks.

We also give thanks for our “chance” encounter with Dr Mark and for his and his wife Naomi’s calling to do what they can, with what they have, to help alleviate the incredible transport difficulties facing so many here amongst the islands.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and spare a thought for Martin

Rob Latimer

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