My hero … Leg blong duck duck boy !!

Saturday 16 September 2017

Losolava Anchorage, East Coast Gaua Island


Introduction by Rob Latimer

After two nights anchored at Merelava in less than ideal conditions we headed off to the island of Gaua (aka Santa Maria), getting away a little later than expected, as crew member Martin explains below.

With a 20-30 knot wind from behind and seas in the order of 3 metres with an untidy chop of a further 1 metre, it was a fast, rolly ride.

The entrance to Losolava is through a gap in the outer reef with surf breaking each side, a reminder, if one was needed, that any mistake can be costly.

After dropping anchor and having lunch it was time to go ashore and meet with the local health worker (who was expecting us) and work out specific clinic and survey details for the next two days.

Over to Martin, our carry-over crew champion from Mission 1 and the Voyage over from Australia …


Halo, nem blong mi Martin and today I am blogging.

This morning, Saturday 16th September, between 5:00am and 6am we prepared to leave Merelava Island enroute to Losalava Bay on Gaua Island. A 5 hour sail in 20 to 30 knot South Easters I believe; fortunately the winds were behind us!

While at Merelava we had a bow and stern anchor down to keep us steady from the winds and swell, and it all worked well.

Time to leave! We started winching in the stern anchor line first to drag us out to slightly deeper water. Good idea, as we were anchored fairly close to the shoreline and some serious looking rock formations.

The stern line becomes particularly hard to winch in. That makes sense we thought, after all we were pulling good old Chimere, beam first, out. So let’s put some muscle in and keep winching.

Bad idea!! Broken stern line with now about 20 metres of line plus anchor chain plus anchor at the bottom! So much for our 6am getaway.

We could have just sailed away and put it down to experience. An important, and expensive life-lesson. But that anchor and chain needs retrieving of course so it’s time for someone on board to don the snorkelling gear and go for a swim. So who is the resident snorkeller/diver? Oh wait, that’s me. Me, the one who is so not a morning person.

Not to worry, the water is warm and the anchor can’t be that far down. Plan A, I can easily jump in, swim to the bottom, collect the rope and be back on board Chimere in 15 minutes. Who am I kidding!!

The anchor rope is lying nicely along the bottom, maybe 9 or 10 metres down, probably 2 or 3 metres too deep for this 50+ snorkeller, the anchor itself was further out in maybe 15 metres of water. After a couple of attempts that fall agonisingly short we go for Plan B. Send down a fishing line and lure, hook the rope and bring it up. Success first time. So, now I have the end of the anchor rope in 1 hand, about 25 metres from Chimere and a rope will not be pulled back to the boat.

Plan C , enter team Latimer; Rob and Matt and the dinghy, to take the rope from me and pull it up. Easy solution – NOT! As I swim along the length of the rope and along the anchor chain it is obvious the chain is hooked under a large rock formation and the anchor is up against yet another rock. We are now 30 minutes into this salvage operation. But we won’t be deterred.

Plan D, I direct the dinghy, now with three of our Ni-van team members – a dentist, a dental therapist and an eyecare worker – in the water with me, to go this way and that to get that anchor chain free from the rocks. More success, the chain is free. Matt now pulls up the rope and anchor chain until it is taught, but alas the anchor is not going to let go of that rock. With that Matt decides to gracefully exit the dingy head first with his ever-loving father hanging onto his feet but who quickly realises this is guaranteed to drown his first born, and so he lets go causing Matt to fall completely overboard. With cheers from the yacht with diving scores from 7 to 10, Matt climbs back into the dinghy.

Plan E, we now have 4 young Ni-van boys from the village in the water with us, three wearing swimming shorts and one of about 12 years of age, who either did not have time to put his on or thought swimming naked was more efficient.

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts by me to get down the 15 metres or so to the anchor to free it and more attempts by team Latimer to manoeuvre it free with the dinghy, I see a Ni-van boy of maybe 15 years of age borrow his friends flippers (known as leg blong duck duck in the Bislama language) take one big breathe and swim down. I’m thinking ‘good effort lad but you won’t get down that far and still have breath to free the anchor. But down he goes and yes, he does get to the anchor. Wow, great effort. I’m impressed. But now what, I ask. You are too small and slight to free the anchor and surely you need to come up for some air.

Wrong again!

He takes hold of that anchor, gives it a mighty heave, and sets it free. Now I’m in awe! But he’s still a long way down and must be struggling. I stay on the surface and then watch him as he gracefully powers back to the surface for a much needed breathe of fresh air.

Seriously that was amazing to watch and I am glad I got to see it. Maybe he collects lobster on a daily basis, maybe crab or turtle or maybe he is just one young man with ability, a passion to succeed and one great set of lungs. As he gives the leg blong duck duck back to his friend, I yell to him and clap my hands. He turns, gives me a smile and a wave and swims back to shore and probably off to school. Easy, he’s probably thinking. That was just a bit of fun.

For me I just swim back to Chimere, climb aboard and tell everyone what I just witnessed. What started as a bad morning for Chimere, her crew and I ended up being yet another fantastic adventure in beautiful Vanuatu.

So, until next time good night from all of us on board Chimere.

Martin Burgess

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