Tuesday 10 August 2010 Pt Vila, Vanuatu

It’s been a few days since the last Ships Log, but then not a lot has happened; at least not a lot of a Medical Sailing Ministries nature.  With this year’s mission at an end, we are just days away from the latest volunteer crew coming aboard and sailing Chimere back to Sydney.  Hopefully the journey home will be a bit more pleasant than the trip over back in April.

But whilst I’ve been playing the tourist with Linda, Matt, James and Bianca for the past few days, the real purpose of today’s Ships Log is to report that we are all OK after this afternoon’s big earthquake.  And this one was definitely a big one, even by local standards.

After much discussion, planning and pontificating (spread over several days) it just so happened that our little family group was over at the nearby island of Iririki when the earthquake hit; just 2 minutes away (by small ferry boat) from Port Vila and the seawall where Chimere finally secured a spot yesterday.  We had gone there for an afternoon swim and to check out the facilities available to those who come here with bigger holiday budgets than us.  Anyway, there we were frolicking in one of the many beautifully blue and manicured pools – I think James was demonstrating his new patented “swimming” stroke which resembled more the actions of a drowning man – when Matt all of a sudden looked deadly serious and called out “what’s that!”.  We all stopped our frolicking and sure enough there was a rumbling sound, fast getting louder and quickly followed by a sense of things moving.  The pool was moving, the paved area around the pool was moving, the trees and palms were moving and then almost as quickly, the water IN the pool began moving, initially back and forth, then in all directions as the water was turned into violent waves which rode up and out of the pools flooding surrounding decks, paths and gardens for quite some distance.

Standing in the pool while all this was happening seemed surreal and the natural question came to mind – whether to stay put until things stopped, or get out onto dry land?  In the end we managed to get out and stand on the edge of the pool, as the land continued to move from side to side under our feet.   It seemed to go on for some time – maybe 30-60 seconds and soon after people emerged from the nearby apartments and units with stories of moving furniture, swaying walls and emptying cupboards.  There really was a collective sense that this was a serious event and complete strangers easily engaged in discussion about their recent experience.

Matt and I made our way in the direction of the small ferry stop where we could get a view across the small inner harbour to Port Vila and where Chimere was tied up against the seawall.  Nothing had changed.

Returning to the pool things had settled down, apart from the pools being 6-12 inches shallower and out dinners were just being delivered with the instruction that we should make our way to the top of the island – as a precaution.  We followed the instructions, walking up the hill still munching from the dinner plate we carried with us.  However, part of me wanted to get over to the seawall in order to be ready to move Chimere off the wall and out into deep water if required.  In the end we deduced that there’d be no time to do anything anyway and apart from that, the ferry boat had stopped taking people to shore so there was no way of getting there in any case.

My phone began to ring about this time and it occurred to us that a few friends back home might have heard of the quake and might, just might, be interested in learning that we were all safe and well … and so is Chimere.

After the all clear was given we made it back to Port Vila and Chimere we learned of damage in a few places, but as yet the severity of the damage is yet to be assessed.  James spoke to a couple from the nearby highrise swish hotel and casino.  They were being transferred to alternative accommodation on Iririki Island because a crack had appeared in the wall of their unit.  So no doubt we’ll learn about it all tomorrow.  The details I’ve picked up so far can be summarised … 7.5 on the Richter Scale, centred very close to Port Vila and with a 20-30cm tsunami.

I’m sure we’ve felt a few after shocks, but nothing to compare with the big one late this afternoon.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and terra more firma

Rob Latimer