Smooth seas and fair breeze?

Tues 21st July 2150hrs (anchored off Sola, Vanualava)

Sounds quite simple really.  An 8 mile jaunt, east of Sola to the small island of Mota.  The forecast said 25 knot south easterlies which promised to get us there and back without having to tack.  We were assured there was a landing spot on the north side and a temporary anchorage mostly for daylight use.

The overnight squalls and the on again, off again rain was a bit of a nuisance, although the roll of the swell died down early evening and there was even a chance to catch some freshwater off the deck.

Our delivery of the boxes for the eye clinic in Sola was delayed 30 minutes on account of passing squalls but by around 8;30 we were heading out under the small staysail only.

Just prior to leaving Sola I received a call on the VHF channel 16 from a Capt Ian, who was an Australian chap, married to a Ni-van lady.  They have a bungalow on the hill and called to give me some local information on anchorages and conditions in the area. He sad he’d keep a watch on the radio in case we had trouble getting to Mota and back.

Due to being very tired tonight, Graeme kindly offered to write today’s message.  We had a lovely dinner tonight at the bungalow where the medical team are staying.  We got back in the dark, while the wind continued to howl, and all we felt like doing was crawling off to bed.  Except Graeme, who soldiered on!!

But in case Graeme writes anything approaching the truth, which might cause alarm, let me say…  (Actually saying that probably caused more concern, sorry)

  • We had a very small amount of sail up and complemented this with the engine.
  • The seas were surprisingly big in parts when we came out from behind the lee of the islands
  • The deck fitting which broke did not cause any problems to us arriving safety
  • Our temporary anchorage, close in the lee of the island of Mota, was surprisingly still and we kept 3 people aboard to respond if required
  • The sail back from Mota, was again under a small headsail – in this case a small amount of jib, rather than the staysail.
  • Everyone enjoyed the experience and from memory, I don’t think anyone was seasick

So here’s Greame’s account of the day …

Dear MSM viewers and readers,

As I sit here alone in the saloon of Chimere on “anchor duty” in Port Patterson at Sola, on the island of Vanualava, in the nation of Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, in the Southern Hemisphere of Earth, and the Outer Arm of the Spiral Galaxy – sorry I got carried away there – the others are on dry land living it up at a local restaurant with all the crew and both medical teams. But more on that story later…

In Rob’s absence with a well-earned break from duties, I have volunteered, as the Chimere cub-reporter to write this post. [Thus the views expressed herein may not be those of the management, and are more likely to reflect the truth.]

Most of you will be aware that Rob usually ends his posts with the words “smooth sea, fair breeze….” etc. Well, today’s 8-mile sail across to the island of Mota and back here to Sola could be categorised using the relevant antonyms! Rough sea, wild wind … might be a good start.

As Rob himself said initially “Sounds quite simple really.  A 8-mile jaunt, east of Sola to the small island of Mota.  The forecast said 25 knot south easterlies, which promises to get us there and back without having to tack.”

In realty what we discovered were 30-40 knot winds with gusts and choppy 2-3m seas with 1.5m crests (for those who like all the techno-babble) making for somewhat bumpy ride. The strong winds broke the staysail anchor point! We took 3hrs to get there but, with the wind behind us, only 1hr to get back!

In Chris’ words “The seas were angry” and even Rob was heard to use the adjective “horrible”, but no doubt this will be denied. We tossed and rolled over the waves but Chimere took it all in her stride. She clocked a record speed of 10.1 knots surfing down one of the huge waves. Rob was at the helm for the entire return journey and had a smile from ear to ear – except of course for the times when he had to yell out “Hold on!” as we sank to the trough of one wave and then crested the next wave.

But let’s return to the medical team…

We had been assured there was a landing spot on the north side of Mota and a temporary anchorage mostly for daylight use. We dropped anchor and stood off from the coastal village that appeared to be void of inhabitants. Loud shouts and blowing on a hand-held horn produced no response. (Usually our arrival is met by curious children onshore, yelling and whooping.)

Unfortunately a broken radio on the island had prevented them from being notified of the clinic and our arrival date. “Maybe they are all off attending their gardens?” said Richard. Sure enough some 30min later some children finally arrived, and ran off to call others.

The dinghy was launched and the team (Meg, Don, Rochelle, Richard, and Graeme with Jo and Chris for support) was landed safely on (yet another!) rocky ledge with their boxes of equipment and supplies. We trudged up the steep muddy path to one village only to find we were meant to run the clinic at the next village. So along another path through the jungle, down into a valley and up the other side along (yes, you guessed it) a muddy and slippery path to the village in question. In the little church of St Andrew we set up the clinic. The pews were rough benches only 10cm or so wide – let’s hope the sermons aren’t too long!. One or two of the villagers were sent off to spread the message that the eye clinic was ‘in session’.

Whilst awaiting the arrival of more villagers, Meg and Jo and Chris decided to utilise the free services and have their own blood pressure and eyes checked by Rochelle and Richard! As a result of the communication problems only 15 or so turned up for the clinic. As it was we had to be back on Chimere by 4pm so that we could make the return journey in daylight.

Maybe on one of these posts I will get around to writing more about the way these clinics are run? It is difficult to describe expression of joy on the face of Ellen, a 60-year old villager, when she could see clearly once again with a simple pair of inexpensive (readymade) spectacles. It is this reaction that makes you realise there is as much, if not more, fun in giving than receiving. Two patients were also found to have cataracts requiring surgery. The funds raised from the walk4icare ( will be used to help transport these patients to Luganville on Santo for their surgery and follow-up.

In the end we felt this small clinic was worthwhile despite the numbers and other difficulties experienced. On the journey we had three additional passengers: Cheryl a NiVan nurse who runs a Vanuatu cervical cancer screening programme, Marie –  a journalist/photographer for the local news who is following that project, and Elaine – a retired nurse from the west coast of Scotland who just happens to be travelling through Sola and volunteered to join them for today’s trip and help for the day. Thanks to them for their company. They will certainly have a few stories to tell of their sail to Mota and back!

Meanwhile back at Sola, Team 1 set up a clinic in the community hall and saw over 70 patients and a (plaster-check) review of the boy with the broken wrist from yesterday – a fantastic effort. Team 2 will need to lift it’s game and its numbers! I wonder if you can become an island chief by seeing more than 100 outpatients in a day? [See earlier post “The Servant Chief“]

All Team members decided to make the most of the rare opportunity to dine out together. It was also an opportunity for us to farewell Simon, our German surfer and electrical repair genius. His presence will be missed as he returns to Port Vila and the island of Tanna to catch a few tubes before returning home. I am not sure there are too many waves to surf in Bavaria?

What they all got up to tonight I cannot tell you, not because their antics are unrecordable, but because I will have to leave it to one of them to fill us in, upon their return. “Anchor duty” is, I guess, similar to being the ‘designated driver’ only in this case you have to make sure the vehicle (yacht) doesn’t drag anchor and drift out to sea or onto shore as a result of the high winds we are experiencing.

Rob did contact me twice on the walkie-talkie, during his dinner, to check on Chimere, and I was able to reassure him that the parking meter attendant had been past twice and had marked the hull with chalk and reminded me this was only a 2-hour parking zone. Robs reply: “Just roll the car forward a little – it might fool the parking attendant if he comes by again…”  I didn’t have the heart to remind Rob we were diagonally parked in the bay and if I did as he suggested we would end up on the footpath.

Everyone has now returned and headed straight to bed, and I will follow.

So here’s hoping for Rob’s request comes true:

Smooth seas, fair breeze, and ……a good night’s sleep.


In closing, one story Graeme didn’t mention, was the lady who presented at the Mota Island clinic.  She’d come for a routine eye-check and in the course of the initial assessment was asked, “any other medical problems blong you?” … “No” was the answer.  The woman was then passed on to Graeme who was about to do the blood pressure and blood sugar test.  In doing the blood test Graeme asked, “Hand blong you?”,  She presented her hand for the small pin prick and Graeme then noticed one of her fingers was swollen and infected.  “You have sick finger?” Graeme observed, “Yes” said the lady.  “How you do this?” Graeme asked.  She then tried to explain and with the other hand started to make grabbing motions, “You drop something on it?  Caught in a door? (which Graeme thought afterwards was perhaps not the best thing to ask because thatch huts don’t have too many dangerous doors.) It was finally established that she had been bitten by a crab and it had become infected. “Him sore?” Graeme asked, “Yes”, came the response, “Him sore too mus?”,  “Yes”, she said again.  With no treatment, which is what this lady expected, who knows what might have happened, but eventual loss of the finger, or worse was mentioned.  From his bag of medical tricks, Graeme was able to pull a dressing, some bug-killing potions and a course of penicillin tablets.  One more happy customer.

With the wind still blowing hard and everyone having worked hard for the past few days it was decided last night at the dinner to call a lay day today.  It will give us a chance to re-water the boat, get the cans of petrol filled and attend to cleaning and jobs aboard.  It will also give the medical volunteers to do some more eye-screening ashore here in Sola – starting with the local school.

Next stop will be the island of Mota Lava as we head further north.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and I really mean it.


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