Tuesday 16 June, 9.18pm (anchored at Luganville)
There’s nothing like simply hanging about a place to get underneath its skin and begin to appreciate its rhythms, no matter how different they are from those you’re accustomed to. Today Tony, Jen, Jim and I thumbed down a ute to take us into town to have our visas extended. Jim watched us climb into the tray at the back and elected to take the seat alongside the driver. We left Bob to find out where we can refuel the boat and refill the water tanks, neither of which can be done easily when anchored 100m off shore.
It was awfully hot and humid, and after we emerged from the back stairway of the second-floor office of the delapidated building called “Immigration,” it was noon and all we really felt like doing was sitting in the shade. All of a sudden everything closing for two hours over lunch and all those siestas made a lot of sense. We found a pleasant cafe with outdoor seating under the trees, and spent the next couple of hours getting outside very good iced coffee and milkshakes and chatting together.
Each person on this boat is a leader in their own right, yet each works really well as a member of the team, and no-one competes. It makes for an extraordinarily efficient and congenial environment. As in all hierarchies, I suspect it has a great deal to do with Bob’s very relaxed but extremely competent leadership. I’ve experienced some fairly tense moments on board boats, and heard of many worse. In contrast, a good example of the atmosphere here was when we were pulling away from the dock way back at Port Vila. Jen was at the bow, Tony at the stern, Jim was amidships to relay information along the boat, and Bob was heading for the helm. “Shall we let ‘er go?” asked Jim. Bob, with his mouth stuffed full of freshly-baked Anzac biscuit, flapped an assenting hand at Jim and bent down to the throttle, operating the helm from a squatting position. Admittedly it wasn’t a crowded harbour, but the smoothness and accuracy of the operation without even the need for words shows the effortless ease which only comes from extensive experience and ingrained knowledge. Even when things go a bit pear-shaped, which they inevitably do with so many working bits, the same atmosphere prevails. Everyone just gets stuck into it and works together to overcome the problem.
By 1.30 today a lot of the sting had gone from the sun, and we continued on in town with other bits and pieces of business. We swung by the market for a few more vegies and amused the locals by realising suddenly that the funny knobbly bunches of brown things on the ground and in palm baskets were actually hog-tied coconut crabs, trying to wriggle free of their bonds. Two images stuck in my mind are Jim wandering along the roadside with seven corn cobs strung onto palm fibre dangling from his hand (price $1.25 for the lot), and Bob looking suspiciously at what Jen and I call local meat pie, “Tuluk” – beef wrapped in tapioca cake – and trying it anyway. He’s getting positively adventurous!
Just spending relaxed time in town today has peeled away some of the initial impression of dustiness and deprivation. People smile and greet us in the street; they sit about and cruise along in family and friendship groups; there is a lot of building and improving going on – a sense of moving forward. The day has ended peacefully with the foredeck strung with drying washing, honey-soy chicken for dinner up in the cockpit with a gentle breeze cooling us off, and showers under the hose.