Merelava to Gaua – And finally stepping foot on Merig

It was now time to negotiate “the Merig landing” in earnest. And as I approached the rock ledge over which each wave rose and spread, I called out to Adam and by now a gathering of men and boys, “does the boat go right up onto the ledge?!” Read more…

Tuesday 3 Sep 2013

Departing from Merelava turned out to be something of a textbook exercise in anchor retrieval and quiet, early morning exits; the team of Cathy, Matt, Dave and yours truly are now a well oiled machine!
In large part the medical team remained in their bunks throughout the procedure and maybe asleep, although the sound of the engine, anchor winch and the winding in of 100 metres of chain is hard to muffle or sleep through.  Although as Oscar Wilde would have said, … “there is only one thing worse than the sound of a noisy anchor winch at 4:30 in the morning and that is NOT hearing the sound of an anchor winch”  … as only those who have had to manhandle 300kg of chain aboard one metre at a time, when the anchor winch has died, can attest.

I should also mention that we picked up an extra passenger at Merelava – her name was Fiona and she was suffering from an undiagnosed eye condition that, at the age of 20, has prevented her from remaining a teacher.  Cathy kindly donated her pilot berth in the workshop – affectionately known as “Bunnings” and amidst much sadness from family (mother in particular) Fiona came aboard the night before in the late afternoon light, having dinner aboard with us.

Of course the 35 mile hop to Gaua and the village of Losalava was going to take us past the island of Merig – a wee dot of a rocky outcrop covered in green vegetation of all types.  We’d heard that 20 people live on the island and for us there was a certain amount of disappointment in not being able to stop and offer medical care on the last two occasions we’d passed by – 2009 and 2010.

In 2009 I’d asked Richard Tatwin, how do we know whether there’s a medical issue on the island and he’d said … “if there was a problem they would have lit a fire”
In 2010 we’d sailed very close to the island and even made motions to drop anchor.  We’d been close enough to see the young lads on the jagged coastline jumping from rock to rock in the direction of the “landing spot”.  We then had borne away and headed for Gaua as time constraints and the practicality of it all became apparent.

So as we approached the island I began to get the feeling that 2013 would be our year.  We’d attempt a landing.  Quickly we got together a selection of the donated goods we’d taken aboard – some from Santo Rotary club, some from North Ringwood Uniting Church and some we’d just bought for the purpose – fishing gear, books, clothing, sports equipment, flippers, goggles, snorkels caps, medical supplies … there were several bags!

As we came into the lee of the island and the sea levelled out we lifted over the smaller of the dinghies and made a preliminary dash to where a man was standing high on a rock, the sea swell coming in and out below his feet.  There was Bob, Gibson, Dave and me aboard and hovering just back from where the waves hit the rocks Bob explained to the man we would come to know as the Chief – Chief Adam – why we had come and that we had a few things for them.  And were there any medical or dental issues needing attention.  The answer was … “yes, one old lady with a sore hand and a range of other smaller issues … nothing too bad though”

After handing over the bags of goodies to Adam, who seemed just so pleased that someone had stopped at his island (islet really) we returned to Chimere to get “The Doctor”.
More medical supplies were quickly bundled up and we returned, all the while with Matt at the helm of Chimere quietly keeping her hovering in the one place, stern to the wind, with the engine in reverse at low revs.

It was now time to negotiate “the Merig landing” in earnest.  And as I approached the rock ledge over which each wave rose and spread, I called out to Adam and by now a gathering of men and boys,  “does the boat go right up onto the ledge?!”    The answer seemed obvious, YES, but having always avoided situations like this in the normal use of a dinghy, I must have been seeking some final confirmation.   Picking the next wave I lifted the motor to half position and gunned the revs just keeping in front of the advancing wave.  Bob threw the bow line to the men on the rocks as the wave and dinghy came to rest high on the rock ledge.  We each clambered out as the dinghy was quickly manhandled forward; the wave retreating off the rock ledge underneath us.

I must say, a brief thought occurred to me … “how are we going to get this thing back into the water”.  Then I noticed one of our ships fenders in the water, drifting away on the waves.  I tried to reach out for it, but everyone was yell … “No No No … the boy will get it”.  I then looked behind to see a young lad, maybe 13 race past and leap from the rock ledge into the crystal blue sea – something he’d probably done many times before – maybe not for ships fenders, but this guy seemed as natural in the water as on land.  Fender retrieved and the boy back on the rocks, there was more laughter, handshakes and back slapping all round.

As for Gibson, he’d remained on the island from our last visit and somehow fell under the front of the dinghy as it advanced forward – partly from the force of the wave and partly from the men pulling the bow rope, and as I jumped out and looked under the dinghy there was Gibson madly trying to clamber backwards with hands and feet, legs splayed wide looking up at the centre-line of the dinghy aimed right up the middle of him.  Something like the scene from Toy Story when the truck wheel stops just over Woody the cowboy doll; just short of crushing him.

After joyful introductions all round we made our way over the amazing rock formations, then down onto of all things a white sand beach, totally hidden from view, then through the jungle to the village clearing.
The goodies we had brought were well received and while Bob did a “caring for your teeth” presentation and Gibson checked eyes, Dr Graeme worked his way through the sore hand, pulled muscles, blood pressure testing and drug explanations.

I asked an old man, Absalom – father of Chief Adam – when the last boat came to the island – he had to think hard – “maybe March” he said  (6 mnths ago)  And when will the next boat come?  I asked … “Maybe 3 months” came the reply.

One man said he’d come for Christmas … 2012 … and was still here 9 months later – no chance to get off, and he only lived at Gaua, our intended destination, 20 miles away.  When I mentioned this later, back on Chimere, Cathy asked … “did you offer him a lift?”  and I had to admit, it never occurred to me.  Then I think Ruth said … “he would have asked if he wanted a lift off the island” … which I’m sure is true.
Our time on Merig was all too brief.  After an hour or so, we began making the usual good-bye signs, but not before Chief Adam made a heart-felt speech, “tanking us Tumas”… many times… for taking the time to visit and offer assistance.

It was with sadness, but a real sense of achievement that we made our way back to the dinghy.  They were also heart-felt good-byes with a feeling that we’d known these people for a long time even thought it was little more than an hour.

The boys easily slid the dinghy back into the water on an advancing wave and while it hovered between waves Bob, Gibson, Graeme and I quickly clambered aboard and motored clear of the next wave.
Back onboard Chimere Matt had maintained a ringside seat for everyone by keeping Chimere in the sheltered lee a couple of hundred meters offshore.

The dinghy lifted onboard, the horn sounded and we were once again on our way.
Arriving at Gaua, Losalava late morning, we entered the coral entrance to a wonderful anchorage and ferried all the gear ashore in time to conduct an afternoon clinic.
It was here that we had rebuilt the stairs to the clinic back in 2009 and judging by the look of things not a lot of maintenance had been done since.  A list of repair requests was drawn up including tanks, gutters, solar wiring, decking and yes, new stairs … which in 4 years had sadly all rotted – refer to gutters above (or there adsence).

But all that would have to wait till tomorrow

Smooth seas, fair breeze and finally stepping foot on Merig.

Robert Latimer

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2 thoughts on “Merelava to Gaua – And finally stepping foot on Merig”

  1. This reads like a boys own adventure story. But it’s real. What a blessing all of you are to these isolated islanders

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