It's been a recurrent theme in our blog this year that the weather has not been as per usual. This continues to be the case, and most cruising yachties echo our feeling on that score. It has made planning difficult, and moving around between the islands less easy and less comfortable.
After Matt and Jane flew home, we set out for Epi Island. Our first stop was an overnight rest in Esema Bay, and then a long daysail to Lamen Bay. We arrived at Lamen Bay about 1900, but it is an easy entrance and we had waypoints from previous years, so encountered no issues. Then followed four really top-class days. The sky was only intermittently clear, but the showers were light and brief. The locals were complaining about the cold. By Sydney winter standards, this was a laugh, but by local standards they had a point - we certainly have been using sheets at night for the first time in a while. The principal of Epi High School, Mackin Valia took us under her wing and took us to the big market down the way from Lamen. She also entertained us at her home, where we met a Scottish PhD student doing an anthropological study on the effect of advances such as mobile phones on social structures here. A really nice girl, who fits in well into the village.
Mackin's daughter, Imelda, is a very intelligent girl who was selected to study Medicine under a sponsored scheme by which 17 top high school students yearly are taken to Cuba to study. They spend a year learning Spanish and being indoctrinated in political economy and socialist history, then study Medicine in Spanish for 5 years. Imelda was home for a visit while we were there and we had a nice long chat with her. Although she is enjoying the Latin life in Havana, she really misses home. Another interesting thing medically was a week-long visit to Port Vila Central Hospital by various specialists from Communist China who performed free clinics all of one week and who were praised effusively by local politicians in the media. The Chinese are making great efforts to ingratiate themselves with the local politicians and head men, and we feel some disquiet when we see this. The government here seems to value its fishing rights and other cultural and traditional common property far too lightly.... Why can't Australia get involved in the sort of ground-up efforts that are benifitting Mackin's daughter and the country of Vanuatu? Sure, aid money is good, and Australia and New Zealand give that in quantity, but a lot of it disappears on its way down the line, and a medical education for a local bright-spark is a gift that will keep on giving to the nation here for decades.
We had some useful things for Mackin, including a laptop for her office and some reference books for the school. As well, we had some clothes and school stuff for the primary school a few miles south at Yevali. We visited there last time and the kids there really are poor and the clothing was so welcome.
A few medical issues arose, mainly manageable, and we were able to help quite a few locals with antibiotics, topicals and some advice. But in one case involving the baker Joseph's grandson we found ourselves wishing we could access pathology, microbiology and imaging. We feel so admiring of Andy the local nurse, who copes with all of this all the time and does a great job.
The last night there was awful. The wind turned west and as the bay opens west, the swells rolled straight in - 1.5 metre swells closely spaced rolling and yawing the boats like little corks. One boat, an Amel, was burying its rail port then starboard all night - they must have been totally miserable. At least "Destiny" is more stable than that! Nonetheless we didn't sleep. All the yachts there left at first light - nobody had a wink of sleep all night.
So we turned South and made for Vila again. We are here now and will rest up again for a few days. We have to meet the Japanese Nurse Educator we mentioned previously and will be running through some ideas John has about Outreach from the Foundation at home in Sydney.
There are several superyachts in Vila Harbour at present - including a 4 master leviathan called "Phocea" - apparently he arrived a week or so ago and didn't clear in. When Quarantine came he told them (according to the local newspaper) that he had done it "in their office" and didn't need them. So they got the immigration, customs and police down and the paper says they found large amounts of cash and lots of firearms. The crew are said to have been on dodgy passports and used fake stamps. This is all according to the newspaper - very interesting! The skipper and crew are said to have been arrested and the owner may have been tipped off as he flew out just before the boarding and arrests......
We have a trough passing over today so it is drizzlng rain and quite cool - hoping for better weather for Independence Day on Monday.
We have put some more photos in the gallery - click here.