Stret no more

Wednesday 2nd August 2017
Liro, Paama Island

Well, actually a couple more stresses to go. We have to get the anchor down safely in Craigs Cove not a noted anchorage and we’ve got to get on the wall without getting on the wall if you know what I mean, at Yachting World in Port Villa.

Generator on at five this morning and picked up the shore party before 6am. Todd returned with the shore party plus Elder Morrison from the Liro Presbyterian Church and another young man who had come to help on our mission to Utas on the south east corner of Ambrym Island. The windy side of the island.

So with 15 on board we lifted anchor and motored north with a 2 metre swell on our starboard bow for about an hour. As we neared Ambrym a local boat came out to meet us and yelled “follow me”, well that’s what I was told he said. He led us along the coast until there was a little bit of shelter from a reef with just a one metre swell. We followed the boat in and dropped anchor in about 6 metres in very rolly conditions. So the anchor was down with a breaking reef in front, the shore to port 160 metres away, rocks less than 200 metres behind and an active volcano off the starboard side. With no depths showing on the chart, we spent the day rocking and rolling carefully watching that Chimere’s anchor was holding tight.

With heart in mouth and a great deal of athleticism due to the lumpy water we swung one bag of goods that were needed for the clinic into the banana boat. With four Ni-vans on board they headed a long way east through a narrow bit of water behind the reef to Utas. While away we decided to drop our dinghy and it traveled with the banana boat on its next trip so as they would only need one trip back. It turns out the Pastor from Utas was on the banana boat helping. So good to know that the church in Liro and the church in Utas were working together to help us get our medical team to their village.

The medical team had another successful day seeing 46 people with again many extractions. The transfer back to Chimere was much more sedate as the wind and sea had died down. As we headed back across to Paama Island we could see the Paama airstrip and decided we are with the Tuesday guy from yesterday. It really is short; the golfers claimed that if they put a couple more bunkers in it would make a very nice par 3. Doesn’t look more than 200 metres up hill straight off the sea, would be very scary aiming your plane straight at the mountain, then just as scary coming down the hill to get off before you reach the water.

The final clinic is done, we are all very tired tonight after a 5 o’clock start this morning. Tomorrow we sail for Craigs Cove at the western end of Ambrym Island. We have great photos of the most perfect shape active volcano from our anchorage today and tonight out the back of Chimere we have the glow of two volcanoes on Ambrym Island.

Unfortunately still no internet, its quite strange that we can make phone calls but no internet data.

Fair winds, smooth seas and stret no more.

Phil Wicks


Getting to know your local, neighbourhood, just-over-the-hill,  volcano … (Ambrym Island)

Here’s a website you’ve probably never visited …  and here’s a link to a map and assessment of the volcanic history and risk presented by the Ambrym volcano on the island where the medical team is currently working …

Some 1800 years ago, a gigantic eruption modified the relief of Ambrym and formed the caldera which crowns the island (a caldera is a big crater. 13 km wide in the case of Ambrym). During the last centuries, Ambrym volcano has experienced many eruptions.

Three activity levels have to be considered:

Normal (or weak) activity : Lava lakes are present in the craters of Marum and Benbow: ash outbursts are dangerous only in the immediate surroundings of the active craters.

Intermediate activity (1863-64, 1871, 1914, 1962, 1968, 1972, 1986 and 1988- 89 eruptions): Explosions may provoke important ash clouds, several kilometers high, whose ashes, carried by the trade winds, commonly fall over the northwest slopes of the island (red elipses A). Due to the small quantity of ash in the plume, the hazard is not great, but acid rain is probable. Ashes may fall elsewhere on the island if other wind systems are present. During such an eruption lava flows may cover a limited area of the caldera floor. Due to the intense fall of ashes and small blocks (lapillis) near the vents, and the high probability of pyroclastic Hows being emitted from the craters and flowing over the caldera floor, the access to the caldera area must be strictly prohibited.

Strong activity (1820, 1888, 1894. 1913, 1929, 1937 and 1942 eruptions): High ash clouds are responsible for important and/or long lasting ashfalls which may affect all ol the island if the trade winds are not strong. The thickness of ash deposits may reach 50 centimeters or more within the area delimited by the 8 circle and a few centimeters to a few decimeters within the C circle. During this type of eruption, lavas may overflow the caldera wall. Other lavas may erupt, along the great fracture line which cuts the island. Lava flows restricted to the valleys, reach the sea and threaten coastal villages. If strong ashfalls are accompanied or followed by rains, all the valleys of the island as well as the coastal plains near their mouths may be ravaged by mudflows carrying trees and blocks. Such mudflows are extremely destructive (purples arrows D). 

Lastly, magma-seawater interactions may induce very dangerous explosions at the western and eastern extremities of the island, both onshore and offshore (blue circles E). If an eruption occurs at one of these extremities or spreads from the caldera towards it, it might be necessary to evacuate the populations. A plan for the evacuation (by sea) ol these populations should be beforehand prepared. The northern part of Ambrym is safe in case of a strong eruption: however, some ashfall may occur if southern winds are blowing.


Then there’s Lovevi …

Just a short distance down the road, or more correctly, upwind a few kilometres over the sea … is the volcano-island of Lopevi; 1,400m high and an island with no inhabitants since 1960

Lopevi also has its own website …

Lopevi is the most visually impressive volcano in Vanuatu. It’s steep stratovolcano shape rises steeply from the Pacific Ocean (1413 metres) southwest of Ambrym Island. Lopevi is one of the most active volcanoes in Vanuatu and is rarely visited.  Lopevi volcano previously had two villages but the island was evacuated in 1960’s due to ongoing volcanic activity.

Lopevi volcano is noted for the periodic eruptions which produce a wide variety of eruption types. The island is not inhabited, but ash eruptions may deposit ash on the neighbouring islands of Ambrym, Epi, and Paama.

2017 Unrest
On 13th January 2017 Lopevi volcano was raised to level 3 alert (on scale of 1-5).

Lopevi is subject to cultural restrictions which prohibit women from climbing the volcano. 

John Search

Volcano Adventurer, Filmmaker, and Scientist

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