On The Edge - Some Good Bits
29 June 2018 | The Duff Islands, Temotu Province, Solomon Islands
I was dumb struck when I realized that only ten days has passed since our last blog update, as so much has happened in that time. After completing our clinic at Tanga we moved onto the main village on Fenualoa, Toa, and spent another hectic day there. We had the help of several volunteers whose contribution is sometimes of questionable value, often their efforts were melded with that of being a fashion model. Our "venue" was a shelter with temporary walls to restrict access from three sides and on the fourth side they had created a "boom gate" arrangement (their idea) that, in theory, limited the number of people at the sunglass table to two at any one time. Everyone knew the rules but assumed that they were to be applied to everyone else - except them of course.
We had hoped to reach the Duff Islands at some stage, 60 miles to the north east but weren't confident it would happen due to weather. Though, as luck would have it, a short window opened and we sailed overnight to time a morning arrival in order to give us the greatest chance of finding a suitable anchorage. We managed to catch a good sized wahoo along the way. There is effectively zero information on the Duffs, other than there is no anchorage there. The charts have no depths and so our only source of information were satellite photos which showed an extremely small lagoon on the north western side (the protected side). The surrounding barrier reef (a couple of miles offshore) turned out to be one of those rare sunken ones that offers no protection at all from the open ocean, having a general depth of 15 metres, but of course we didn't know that at the time. Upon arrival, we would use our depth sounder and the ever reliable visual navigation in clear waters to find our way.
Taumako, the only inhabited island is rugged, beautiful and lush. It never ceases to amaze me that the connection between lush and wet weather seems to be lost at the time of initial sighting but which later becomes obvious. After arriving we motored past the village (3 kms from the anchorage) to announce our presence and spoke to a fisherman in a dugout who told us that everyone was expecting us. Excellent! We had asked John at the clinic at Tanga to contact the nurse at the Duffs (via HF radio) and let him know we were coming - apparently he had succeeded in doing so. There are no phones at Taumako and their only contact is via the infrequent trade ship and OBM's that undertake the risky voyage from Lata when the weather is favourable. A very isolated life indeed.
We anchored outside the lagoon in 20 metres and did a reccie with the dingy and portable depth sounder and it turned out to be plenty deep enough, 8 metres at the entrance and 15 metres inside but very little room once inside. Within a couple of hours we had a visit from a person who ended becoming a very good friend, Father Leslie, the local Anglican Minister. He arrived in the biggest outboard powered dugout we have ever seen. He said we were welcome to anchor inside the lagoon if we so wished and so we planned to, figuring it was too rolly outside to anchor any more than a night. Later on, with the help of another visitor, the Honorably Stanley, the local MP, we entered and moored using three anchors, planning to start our clinics the following day. Mind you, it was impossible to set the anchor in the coral rubble on the bottom and after several failed attempts we ended up hooking the three anchors around coral bommies. If the weather stayed reasonable then I would be happy with mooring in the lagoon for a few days, but of course the weather didn't stay reasonable.
There are around 600 inhabitants on the islands in several villages close together on the South West corner which include three smallish artificial islands surrounded by man-made vertical rock walls. The following day Father Leslie arrived in his huge outboard powered canoe and off we set in the pouring rain, loaded to the gunnels with glasses. In the main village, with the help of the two nurses, Chris and Alfred, we spent a hectic day at the local partly openair, community hall where we managed to assist the majority of people on the island. As you can imagine the sunglasses were like treasure but with Chris and Alfred's help we maintained a level of order bordering on the good side of mayhem. The noise level is truly difficult to imagine, Frances sometimes had to almost shout to be heard by the person she was attending to. Reading and distance testing and dispensing were going like a well-oiled machine, more or less.
To us, it is a wonderful sight to see an old lady put on her first pair of sunglasses and look around with a huge smile on her face.