Friday, April 24, 2015

Beached Whale -

There is a giant sperm whale washed onto the reef here. And there are these massive shark bites taken out of its tail. I guess after it died the sharks decided a meal of whale fat would be in order. I took the children up there while Shannon worked at the clinic checking out the locals, and making sure they were all healthy.

This village is quite rural, the people eat what they grow, and only a few houses have any form of solar. And of course there are no motorized vehicles, or roads for that matter. There are just little footpaths that connect the different houses. There is not really a town, just a closer grouping of houses. There are only about 200 people here, and they are spread along about 3 miles of coastline.

Our anchorage is protected from the typical SE winds, but not from the East winds that we have now. It is also quite squally making the reefs always seem closer than they really are.

Soon we will head over to Tanna where there is an active volcano, and hopefully go exploring the hot lava.

It has proved to be super to have a refrigerator as we still have fresh carrots and cabbage from Samoa.  Then of course there is the ice cream, which we still are loving!


Aneityum 4-24

We have been having a very wonderful time here in Vanuatu.  The people have been very welcoming, friendly and appreciative.  We had all sorts of governmental regulatory issues as far as immigration and customs because we cleared in a less usual place and the local agent was in Port Vila escorting a suspect out of Aneityum, so wasn't here to clear us in, so we had to wait on our boats for a new plan.  But it all worked out, then we had a formalities meeting with the chief, as is the custom, for his "permission" to come to the village.  I get the sense that the answer is always yes, but it's customary to offer him a small gift, you place it at his feet, and then ask permission to talk.  He will then talk to someone else who will tell us what he says.  Strange to us, but traditional and normal for them and all went well.

The first two days we were in Anghowat, Aneityum Island.  It was very interesting as our first time in Vanuatu.  Apparently, they are quite well off due to cruise ships that come to Mystery Island.  Then everyone from the island goes and sells their crafts and skills to the tourists.  So they get money to buy from a couple of local "shops", so they have more western foods and influences than other towns.  But since the cyclone, Mystery Island took a good hit and a representative told them that it was not suitable for cruise ships yet.  Every day pangas full of building materials are going many times back and forth to Mystery Island to get it back up and running.  It is the livelihood of much of Aneityum.  This morning we went to see it, it is very cute with many huts set up to "stamp your passport" or to show shells and weaving and carving for sale.  Also snorkeling tours, and cultural island tours.  Half of the island has a traditional village built, which I think is where they give the tours.  Also they have a Kava hut and I think they do Kava ceremonies (for a price I'm sure).  There was also a big pot labeled "Cannibal soup" which was funny.  We heard as late at the 1970's there was still cannibalism here.  Not sure how you'd confirm that, but needless to say, we took pictures in the pot.  The island had many men working, lots of debris that probably needs burning, some buildings standing, others with just frames, but they've certainly been working.  The toilets were a big concrete building (western toilets).  I think if I were nearby, I'd have gone to the toilets to weather the hurricane; it was the best building there.

We did a clinic for two days in Anghowat with a nurse, Roger.  He was such a wonderful and welcoming man!  He really takes care of him community with what little resources he has available.  He has not been paid by Ministry of Health since December.  So he's just been volunteering to run the clinic since then and shows up every day.  Twice while we were there he was up at night doing deliveries also (including a 7 month old gestation).  He ran a vaccination clinic also.  MoH gives him medications (some, no recent supplies, last ones were a month before the hurricane), but has no money to pay staff.  He says if it were not his village, he may have left, but since it's his village, he stays and helps them.  The clinic was very interesting, a lot of musculoskeletal complaints, so it was GREAT to have Kim (my cousin) onboard with us who has training and experience in such treatments.  I was kidding that I was merely triaging for Kim's clinic . . . But in general we were seeing chronic complaints that Roger had been addressing previously and was doing well with.  

He was appreciative for the help of getting so many patients seen, which relieved him some.  Then we were able to resupply him with our medical aid package.  Probably the biggest help for him was that he'd been given a bunch of "aid" medications 2 weeks after the cyclone from New Caledonia (French).  He couldn't read it and had no idea what it all was, so was going to give it to Tanna, the provincial center, since he can't use what he doesn't know.  Elinor (a Swedish pediatrician) and I sat for 3 hours sorting out his box of things, translating the names, dosages and indications into English.  Then I made him an alphabetized spreadsheet that he can refer to.  It was a wide variety of pain medications, antibiotics, eardrops, diarrhea medications, inhalers, creams, etc.  Strange collection, including lyrica and neurontin and lovenox, but only one box of each, which is nearly useless because these are long term medications or nothing.  But some of the stuff was quite useful.  No one really understands the genesis of who or why this random selection was donated.

Roger is the only person on the island who can give injections and he does all the birth deliveries for the island.  Nelson proudly runs a lab.  Further questioning shows that he can make and read a malaria smear as well as prepare TB slides with stains.  He sends the TB slides to be read, but hopes to learn to read them some time this summer so he can do both malaria and TB.  Incidentally, the last positive malaria was in 2005 and that was a tourist bringing it, not a local.  That is the extent of his lab.  Most of his time is spent volunteering in the clinic.  He too had the MoH contract, which ended in December and is hoping for something in the summer (but there's no back pay).  If Roger has a delivery and thinks the woman is anemic, he can give her iron pills, then have her come in the morning that a plane arrives (usually twice a week), draw her blood, then send it to the hospital with the plane.  He then has to call them repeatedly for the results. 

Now after the hurricane, there is one satellite phone in town provided by the government for the whole town, so he'd have to borrow that from the chief if it was necessary.  If he wants to air evacuate a patient, same plan, wait for the twice-weekly plane.

He told me a story of an 18-year-old asthmatic he cared for earlier this year who came in very bad.  He gave a steroid injection and puffs of an inhaler.  He has no nebulizer or oxygen.  He said the boy came on the wrong day; it wasn't a plane day.  The boy ended up dying.  Roger has been asking and very much wants a nebulizer.  The cruise ships organized a fundraiser and just in December 2014 finished building a clinic with 4 exam rooms that Roger works at now.  It has solar and 2 batteries, so he can now finally use that nebulizer.  I am going to put out requests to boats that have said they are coming and are asking what to bring to see if I can help get him one.  He is quite competent if he could be given and taught with new materials.

We gave Roger some clothes for his 2 year old (Valiant's old stuff) and for his new coming baby.  We will also give Nelson some clothes as I just learned he has 6 kids.  At the end of the clinic, they presented all of the caretakers with a gift of a beautifully carved wood walking stick with a snake in relief and a skeleton head and writing under a polish.  It was really nice, made by the father of one of the nurse aids (who again is working voluntarily at this point).

We met two Peace Corp girls there also.  They came to the boat for an evening, and then one girl took us up to see her house and the river.  It was a beautiful walk through the tropics.  We saw the new crops starting to grow and some of the damage, but this village had faired relatively well.  The river is a great source of fresh water for the village, but their main supply is through a spring.  She showed us her house, outhouse, and shower facility.  There is a building for everything.  They also have an outdoor, but sheltered, cooking area where they cook over fire.  The Peace Corp girl had a propane stove provided for her by her family, but she was out of propane and there was no telling when it was going to be available again, so she told her host father she'd like a place to cook over a fire, he built her an enclosure next to her house.  Quite accommodating.

Overall the experience there was wonderful, the people are great.  No one is starving or dehydrating, which is good.  They have replanted and are rebuilding, so things are not normal by any stretch, but they are making it and on the road to recovery.  There does not appear to be a dependence on aid, although there is room for it for sure.

Today we moved up to the north part of the island, Port Patrick, which was hit quite hard.  The men presented the chief with a gift and we were welcomed onshore.  We ran an afternoon clinic, but the village had 237 people and is very spread out, so word will pass to them and tomorrow we anticipate a bigger clinic.  The waves came up quite a distance, to the clinic, but left the clinic standing (it's a "post", small square building with a front waiting area, a consultation room and an exam room in the back half of the building).  The walls are made of woven bamboo, you can see out through parts of them, but the roof is corrugated steel.  There are a solar panel and a battery, even a wire running to a light socket, but no bulb, so I don't know if the power actually works.  The people here were not terribly hurt, no one died.  There is some "hurricane house" that she showed like an A-frame construction that is very strong and many people went there to weather the hurricane.  Daisy, the CNA who runs a clinic at this post every M, W, F for 11 years (again no pay or contract since December) weathered the hurricane at her parent's house so she could be close to the clinic in case people needed her.  She said they were not hurt at the house, but the roof blew off. I said, "so it was OK then?" and she said "no" with a very flat affect.  It was very interesting.  So, while one month later houses are still leveled, the community is eating what they have and looking after each other, feeding each other, housing each other (or making do with temporary lean to shelters), what they went through was definitely distressing!  Everything looks better than I had expected it to, but they are still in somewhat shock and recovery mode.

Steffan on S/V Salsa with us met a man onshore today who lost everything.  He has 4 small children, his house is gone as well as everything in it.  It was below the tidal surge line.  We saw him in the clinic, all of his muscles are sore from so much clearing and building work this month.  Steffan was asking what he needed, but he said he was asking for nothing.  Steffan asked if we gave him hammer, nails, or machete if it would help.  He said they have 2 hammers, but nails and machete he would not ask for (but we think he could use).  Also there is a chainsaw, but the pull rope is broken along with other issues.  The men are going to find him tomorrow and give some supplies and try to help tune the chainsaw and see what they can do with the building or food or otherwise while the two women run a medical clinic and the kids run wild on the beach (and check out the dead whale in the mouth of the river).

Our third boat, Chez Nous, is waiting in Anghowat for a large donation of food aid from Samaritan's Purse.  They have 1.2 tons for Port Patrick and were going to try to bring it all up in little pangas along the coast (2 hours one way).  We offered to help transport and they were so happy!!  The supply boat didn't come in at 3 today as scheduled, so we will wait to hear tomorrow how that is all working out.  Yesterday we offloaded all of Chez Nous' aid supplies so they'd have room for the new stuff, so we are getting a little crowded on our boat now with what we brought from American Samoa as well as what they brought from Fiji!!

Incidentally, we are not finding as much need for food aid as we believed initially.  Maybe because they are resourceful, maybe because that's what everyone brings.  Sadly they had to harvest all their bananas before the hurricane (the only wise thing to do) and you can eat brown coconuts, but the going rumor is that you cannot eat the green coconuts right now because of all the wind shaking them up.  I don't understand that for sure, but the Peace Corp girl said it's a staple of their diet and they won't touch them now.  I asked Nelson today and he said the green ones will give you a stomachache and/or make you sick right now because of the shaking.  I'm curious if there's anything to that or if it's an old wives’ tale.  It's a shame to eradicate any food supply right now and it seem that coconuts of all things are hurricane proof!!

So we are all finding things to do and ways to make ourselves useful out here while getting a chance to really get integrated quickly into a community, which I find, is the best way to learn about a culture and a people.  It was been really great and interesting and we are all enjoying ourselves!


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Great People -

The hurricane was pretty minimal here, and most buildings escaped unscathed.  The winds were primarily blowing out of the north, so we are heading up to a village on the north cost that had waves breaking right into the village.

Once again this is a totally different culture. After getting permission to land from the government, you go and see the local chief, and bring a small gift that you lay at his feet. He pretty much accepts whatever you give him and gives you his blessings to visit and explore his village. He also does not speak to us, but rather has a friend who he tells his answer to, and his friend tells us what he says.  He also does not make eye contact.

And the adventure continues.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

First Impressions - So Far So Good

Well, shore looks pretty good from here.  A police boat was nice enough to come by with 9 big guys (not super official looking) and make sure we didn't disembark until customs and immigration came to clear us.  Well, apparently there was a snafu in our plan.  The immigration guy was flying in for a 1 pm appointment, but the flight was canceled, so there is no immigration here.  The police boat came by at 3:30 and asked if we'd be here Saturday to take care of it.  It is Tuesday the 21st.  We are supposed to run a medical clinic here, then hit a few more ports and be at the island of Tanna to resupply (another issue) by the 26th.  So we can't wait 5 days to clear in (and after 14 days on a boat, we can't wait 5 days to hit the shore!)  So phone calls were made, but no decisions were.  We had pre-approval to land and clear in here on this date thanks to Sea Mercy, so now we just see how it all plays out.

In the meantime, we are re-distributing our loads, trying to get the "life units" and "medical units" organized as units for distribution.  We did hear that this village has rice and food, but needs medical supplies, so we are tentatively thinking that we'll keep a life unit for another more needy village, but we'll run a medical clinic here if we can get to shore.

Port Patrick was the worst hit village on this island as we've heard, so we are looking at if/how we can land there, apparently it's a small entrance on the windy side of the island.

This village is in a well-protected anchorage.  The outlying island looks more browned and cleared off, but the mainland has concrete structures with intact roofs.  Even some thatch roofs are intact.  The trees are all funny-looking half trees, like a child's drawing, with leaves only on one side of the trees.  You can see where the brunt of the winds blew and in what direction.

We were supposed to resupply in Tanna, but apparently that plan also took a turn.  The resupply didn't come in due to cyclone Solo that just passed through here and delayed our trip.  We are going to remain flexible and do what we can.  Maybe the extra life unit that isn't needed here can be useful if Tanna doesn't get the supplies in.  It's going to be interesting because we of course need to follow all the regulations and requests of the Ministry of Health, while at the same time trying to provide the most useful help in the most needed areas.  I have lots of kid's clothes to give, but apparently there were some rules involved with that.  I will not give them as part of Sea Mercy because I don't want to disrupt any of their reputation here, but maybe as person to person onshore to a "friend".  I have no idea what the rules are, making it even harder, but we'd like to offload the clothes and we understand them to be in need of clothes, so it seems like a no brainer to me . . .

Life is good, we are anchored and calm, we are in for a great adventure, and we had an excellent fresh Dorado dinner.


Arrival Vanuatu -

We made it in!!  Great night's sleep last night and happy to be in after 13-14 days!!  We did a bunch of clean up, our buddy boats both arrived this morning after we'd had breakfast.  Knowing they'd been out all night and we had plenty of leftovers of our pancake breakfast, we invited them over for a meet.  Both groups came over, a couple and a family with 2 kids, we had a nice pancake breakfast, met about our logistics, exchanged flags, shared "Sea Mercy" T-shirt uniforms so we can present onshore as a cohesive group, and the women had done some shopping for each other.  We got sliced ham and canned tuna that they couldn't find, they got popcorn and BBQ sauce that I couldn't find, and so we exchanged our goods.  Shared stories of our passage and caught up on each other's boat and cruising histories.  It was lovely; everyone recessed back to their boats to rest up until hopefully 1 pm when we will have our meeting with customs and immigration.  A police boat loaded with 9 locals (not looking too official) came by and made sure to tell us not to disembark until we were officially checked in.  It was a little funny because clearly they were not all representing the police department.  Maybe they borrowed it to go fishing?

We are not totally used to waves breaking over our hatches, especially not all the way up to our roof.  Although it's happened before, it's not commonplace. Maybe because we don't lay on our side to make our way??  We also won the fishing tournament of the group with our 4-foot Dorado, which will make an excellent dinner now that we have our appetites back.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Waiting for Check in -

We finally met up with the other boats of the Sea Mercy fleet. Wonderful people.  We are now waiting for the authorities to arrive to check us in.  And if this happens soon enough we will also be able to go to shore today and scope out what we will be doing over the next few days.

The palm trees still have some of their leaves, but they are all just on one side as if the wind is still blowing.  Some people who shall remain nameless thought all the trees would be blown down. Of course it has been a little over a month, but the trees are a healthy green, and the island looks like a tropical paradise!

The crossing was not easy on the other boats, as one of them decided to dump his fresh water to lighten the load. It is nice being tucked into a snug harbor!!


Approaching Vanuatu -

On our first day we caught a nice sized Dorado, maybe 4 feet?  It was a little struggle to slow us down since we were moving nicely under sail.  We put our new gaff to work and have a lot of nice fresh fish meat now.

After a relatively bumpy ride, we are finally approaching our destination.  We will arrive later at night tonight and may heave to until morning light.  The wind is finally starting to come along behind us, so the waves are fewer broadsides and more angled from behind (smoother).  We’ve taken some pretty big waves over the roofs, woken a few sleeping children on the living room couch because the hatch is open for airflow and a wave breaks in.  I've cleaned the new solar panels a couple of times, but they are covered with salt again.  We are in need of some good rain now to wash all this salt off the boat!  On our first day out from Fiji a big wave popped up our pulpit seat and threw it overboard.  The stainless steel pulpit is still fine, but the plastic seat is gone.  Courage has hopes of making on out of one of my cutting boards.  He made the last one too, so we are optimistic we can repair it.

After 13 days out from American Samoa, we are so excited to be making it finally to Vanuatu.  Can't wait, counting down!!  Going to have a lot of cleaning up to do once we arrive, many things have fallen from their heights, as gravity is prone to do to things.  Fortunately we've otherwise sustained minimal damages.  Our bananas are turning yellow and Valiant is very excited by that prospect.  Cuties (tangerines) and bananas seem to be his favorite every fruit!

Our two buddy boats are about 40 miles behind us.  They plan to go over the north side of Aneityum to check out a harbor for later distribution, and then meet us down on the south side of the island for our official check-in.  Most things are worked out nicely with customs and immigration, but apparently there's a guy from immigration that would like us to charter him a flight so he can meet us in Aneityum and check us in since it's not an official port.  Have to see how that works out after we arrive.

So, one more day and things should get interesting!


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Varied Weather Crossing -

We had another wonderful night.  Should be nestled in a nice anchorage by tomorrow morning. This has turned out to be one of our most varied weather passages, with the calms and swimming, to the high winds and breaking seas.

This morning we had 3 flying fish on the trampolines, which have been carefully carried into the cockpit for closer examination.

Does anybody know how long you can have a boat in Australia without owing VAT? I believe that you have to pay it after the first year, but if you leave before the end of the second year you get it back.

Pancakes tomorrow!


Sailing -

Had a great sail yesterday. Even with the mainsail reefed all the way down and the Genoa reefed as far as it goes, for a total of 5 reefs, we were still humming along. The wind was 25 to 30 with gusts in the low 30's. The waves were breaking on top and every ten minutes or so going over the decks. The wind has now reduced to the low 20's and the waves are more spread out, making the
sailing quite pleasant.

Just as the wind was piping up yesterday we caught a 4.5 foot Dorado!  Shannon wound him in and we all watched the colors change from blue to green, to rainbow.  We put the Dorado right on the new cockpit floor on Mamas new carpet. While trying to get the fish off the carpet he shook off the gaff, and flopped down the stairs right into the living room. Shannon got it all on video!

It looks like we are in for a great sail for the rest of the