South bound to Pentecost

“James Latimer 2” Friday 9 July 2010 (14 26.50 S, 167 38.90 E)

The day started sunny and calm with a warm, steady SE breeze reminding us we were very much in the tropics.  The resident volcano, Mt Gerat, whose recent eruptions had led to the evacuation of the west coast of the island over 6 months earlier began putting on a show with clouds of dirty ash and steam billowing skyward.  Not that it was close, but behind the nearby mountains and still maybe 10km away the columns of cloud looked quite ominous.  Do a quick Google search of words such as “Gaua, volcano, Vanuatu” and you’ll see what I mean.  The one thing that makes this volcano more feared than most others is the fact that it rests atop a very large freshwater lake and it’s the potential combination of water and lava that has volcanologists twitchy every time this particular volcano “wakes up”. And she’s definitely awake now.

Everyone had a good night’s sleep, apart from being woken at 1:30am by a wayward bilge pump which began making a much louder noise than normal – but nothing 5 minutes of blurry-eyed searching and fiddling couldn’t fix.  It was then a case of … “back to your lives citizens, nothing to see here”.

The Ni-van health workers, Bob and Gibson slept ashore with relatives (these guys have relatives everywhere) but a bit after 7:00am the quiet voice of Gibson could be heard on the VHF channel 71, “Good morning, hello Chimere, this is Gibson, do you hear me, Over”  So after nicking ashore in the dinghy to pick them up, the day began to fall into place.

It went something like this:

Bob, Gibson, Gerhard, Robyn, Matt and I would motor across in the dinghy to Aver Bay, where we went yesterday, to pay 7,500 vatu (about $90) for Martin’s transport to and from Santo – plus to given Martin 1500 vatu (about $18) pocket money.  We would also give Dr Mark a bag full of donated medical supplies (complements of Gerhard’s contact- see earlier Ships Logs) along with an ART dental manual, tools and filling agent, plus a mudbrick making manual and 2 brick moulds.

Lainie and Mike would stay aboard and tidy, clean, start making some bread and generally look after the ship.

All went to plan, except that the tide was out a bit more than when we crossed the coral beds yesterday, making for a far more delicate and slower crossing.  Whilst the tide was in considerably after a couple of hours when we came to return, a combination of slight seas and a tail wind meant that instead of crossing the coral bed we went out of Aver Bay, down the coast a short way then into the Losolava entrance.

Instead of taking the dinghy back, Gerhard chose to walk and soon after our return he was ready for pick-up from on shore with a special guest, Chief Etchell Waiting (sp) who is the Kustom Chief of the region.  Once aboard we spoke with the chief about the mud bricks and gave him a manual and mould.  He seemed very eager to introduce this to the village and so it was decided that after lunch we would go ashore and run a “clinic” – a mudbrick clinic that is.

We were joined aboard briefly by John and Wendy off Midnight Sun and then after a lovely spread put on by Lainie and Mike, we all went ashore to find us some quality mud.

But this would have to be a quick brick making clinic because it was already about 2:00pm and our intention was to head out to sea before dark in order to get closer to our required target – the southern end of Pentecost by Monday in order to meet the next volunteer medical team.  There was a hope that we might first be directed to Santo in order to pick up surgical equipment for use on Pentecost by a local Ni-van surgeon, Dr Johnson Kasso.  But it was not to be.  Apparently Dr Kasso has not been able to obtain the required surgical “consumables” in order to conduct operations. Seems hard to believe, but it would seem “Mother Hubbards Cupboard” is bare when it comes to whatever dressings, drugs and extras required for conducting life changing eye surgery.  I suspect Martin will have to wait just a bit longer.

Back to the mudbricks and it didn’t take long to find suitable dirt, just next to the dinghy landing.  It was a well attended, enthusiastic gathering with over 20 bricks being made; enough for one Low Smoke Stove.  Lainie gathered her usual throng of kids around her while some intensive bricking making took place.  Gerhard stayed aboard with Bob and Gibson, preparing the boat for sea as the time ticked by.  There was just enough time for a bucket freshwater shower in a nearby thatched hut and a quick visit to inspect the clinic building where we rebuild the front steps last year.  I’m happy to report that after 12 months the steps are still a going concern – looking good!

As we climbed into the dinghy and made our way to the boat it was a moving scene on the rocks and grass astern, as it seemed half the village was there to say good-bye. We’d been here just on 24 hours and we left feeling like close friends. We bade farewell to John and Wendy off Midnight Sun who will be staying in the bay a few more nights and in 20 minutes flat we had the dinghy aboard, the anchor up and most things stowed and tied down.  Gerhard retraced our steps out of the coral-edged bay and entrance as the sun came close to the horizon in the west.

Once clear of the bay the sails were hoisted and with the engine ticking away in the background we were soon making 6 knots, close hauled (into the wind) with very little pounding as we ploughed through the relatively slight sea.  Ahh it was grand!!

In the fading light, Matt, Bob, Gibson and I, later joined by Robyn, clung tightly to the bow rail and forestay as we rose and fell into the advancing sea, occasionally wetting our feet as the bow dipped low enough to meet the rising waves.  We sang songs in the warm breeze at the top of our lungs, including a new one for Ni-vans Bob and Gibson – Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport – as Gerhard held a steady course with the aid of the autohelm.

Soon after Robyn came good with a noodle meal and the nights watch routine was established – pretty much the same as last time.

At the moment it’s about 11pm  and Gerhard is on till 12:00, followed by me and Lainie, then Mike and Matt.  By morning we hope to be off the top of Maewo, heading south down the west coast.  Apparently there are lots of waterfalls on this island, which is not surprising given they receive nearly 4 metres of rain a year.  We hope to drop anchor somewhere tomorrow night – maybe Lolowai (on Ambae) or maybe some other anchorage along the west coast of Maewo.  It’s yet to be decided.  At this stage we are taking advantage of the lighter breeze with more of an easterly component, as we make our way south; currently at nearly 7 knots with all sails up and no engine.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Pentecost here we come.

Robert Latimer

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