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Captain Log ID: 220
Title: MARC: The flotilla leaves Port Vila for Ambrym
Boat Name(Id): Rivendel II ( 781)
Sailor Name(Id): Henk Meuzelaar ( 1499)
Geo Region: Port Vila, Vanuatu
Date of Occurance: 2001-06-09
Latitude: S 17º   44.399'
Longitude: E 168º   19.199'
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Dear all,

Tomorrow the June 2001 team -- the first of all Project MARC teams -- and its small flotilla of sailing vessels will leave the protection of Mele Bay (Port Vila, Efate) and set course for Ambrym, the giant, smoke-belching (and occasionally ash- or lava-spewing) volcano rising out of the ocean some 100 NM north of here. The roughly triangular volcano harbors groups of small villages on the ridge lines between its southern, northeastern and northwestern flanks. The flanks themselves forbid nearly all passage on foot along the shores due to the sharp, fragmented lavarock, thereby effectively separating the three communities.

Our destination are the Northern ridge line villages which have no airstrips nor sheltered anchorages and therefore are in many ways isolated from the rest of the world, particularly after Vanuatu (formerly the British/French Condominium of The New Hebrides) became independent in 1980 and the whole infrastructure of western transportation and communication technologies collapsed. Only in the lee of the north ridge is the sea calm enough to allow our sailing vessels to anchor in the wide open roadstead off Ranon's black sand beach or in one of the small rocky coves close to the "kastom"(traditional) village of Ranvetlam. On the east-facing slopes, however, the thundering surf propelled by the strong trade winds discourages all attempts at anchoring and even in the Ranon anchorage one has to be alert to the possibility of a sudden windshift changing the beach into a treacherous lee shore. Right at the foot of the Northern ridge line a few coral-encrusted coves are rumored to be occasionally used as anchorages by local copra boats. However, the half submerged rocks marking the entrance to this area suggest that we will need to take our time to explore and chart these potential anchorages by inflatable raft before turning our bows in that direction and making our vessel stand into "clear and present danger".

Our three small, oceangoing sailing vessels represent an improbable cross-section of sailing technologies as well as human affiliations and avocations. The 43 foot Wharram-designed catamaran "Flying Angel", built in New Zealand out off plywood and fiberglass, is skippered by owner Jim Fitch, accomplished ocean sailor, ranch manager and gourmet cook, born in Ireland from US parents and living all over the planet ever since. With original crew members Jaime Fernandez and Daniel Fischer Jim has guided "Flying Angel" safely through 50 - 60 knot winds on their long and tough passage from Auckland, New Zealand, to Vanuatu some 10 days ago. His first mate Jaime Rodrigo Fernandez hails from Chile and tops off his uncanny abilities as a free diver and surfer plus knack for mechanical problem solving with a dazzling smile that has weak-kneed adolescent females around the waterfront following him like the pied piper. Brand new crew member Don Koons, who replaced Daniel after the latter joined "J'Arrive", is a first year medical student from Delaware who has an impressive resume of medical skills acquired as an EMT and former Eagle Scout and definitely knows his way around computers.

The fifth person on board of "Flying Angel", Ruben Hang-Hang is a native of North Ambrym (and the brother of one of the chiefs of Ranon) who has helped us build a sturdy floor for the outpatient clinic over the forward trampoline area of "Flying Angel". We already met Hang-Hang in North Ambrym last year, where he proved himself to be an adept organizer of special events when our former crew members Andris and Dror wanted to surprise Nelleke with a traditional Melanesian pig roast party for her birthday. To our great surprise and delight, Hang-Hang suddenly showed up a few days after our arrival in Port Vila and explained that he had been trying to find work there but would be happy to accompany us to North Ambrym. Soon he became our local carpenter and indispensable contractor for the services of a wide range of other merchants and craftsmen as we tried to get Flying Angel ready in spite of the missing supplies and equipment.

Accompanying "Flying Angel" is Dutch-born skipper Kees Gorter on "J'Arrive", a 40ft steel sloop with aluminum superstructure built in France, who set out to sail to The Philippines with a load of toys and presents for his 12 adopted children there but has had to scale down his sailing itinerary for 2001 because of a series of mechanical and personal setbacks coupled with the desertion of his entire crew after the first rolly passage from Fiji to Vanuatu. As a tour operator living in Germany before his retirement a few years ago, Kees has traveled the world and also lived in New Zealand for quite a while. Swiss crew member Daniel Fischer is a young social worker who is traveling the globe in what appears to be a last defiant fling before being tied down by the clockwork procedures of Swiss society and is excited to be able to join us on our expedition inside Vanuatu after showing his mettle in the hard passage from Auckland to Port Vila aboard "Flying Angel".

The two other crew members aboard "J'Arrive", Dennis Breed and Jere Lancaster are both DOs (Doctors of Osteopathy) from Granbury, Texas, who know each other since medical school a few decades ago and are semi-retired in daily life. This is the second time they have tried to join our medical expedition but last year the coup in Fiji just left them with unused airline tickets and a sense of disappointment. Dennis is an ER physician -- not a TV actor but a real one -- who splits his time between his horse farm in Montana and various sailing adventures and will be directing our catamaran-based outpatient clinic. Jere is a radiologist who used his marine corps stamina to lug a 150 lb. "portable" X-ray machine all the way from the USA to Vanuatu by plane and is now trying to organize what is probably the first mobile X-ray facility ever operating in North Ambrym (if we can get our generators and inverters to produce enough power). They both have charming wives who do not quite share their enthusiasm for rough-and-tumble island expeditions and have given them leave to spend a month in Vanuatu.

Finally, there is "Rivendel II" (Hunter Legend 43, hull #1), our gracious, trusty seahorse that has seen us safely through many a blue water adventure for more than a decade. Co-skipper Nelleke and I, the coordinators of Project MARC (Medical Aid to Remote Communities), not only do take pride in our sailing vessel but are thrilled to lead the June volunteer team to the mysterious, fog- enshrouded shores of North Ambrym. The team is capped off by George and Peggy Kornreich. George, an early retired ear surgeon (ENT specialist) with a yang for flying and sailing, and Peggie, a former special ed teacher who has proven to be a great cook, have their own Hunter 430 in Galveston, Texas, and thus feel easily at home on Rivendel II. Both have given us their unwavering personal support throughout the false start of 2000 as well as the new beginning in Vanuatu this year and even helped us sail "Rivendel II" from Fiji to Vanuatu, almost two weeks ago now.

George has volunteered to be our malaria specialist and clinical laboratory operator in June (for lack card carrying members of these professions on the team) and has trained himself to prepare and analyze malaria blood as well as TB sputum slides. Unfortunately, our microscope (plus nearly 2 tons of other equipment and supplies for the mobile outpatient clinic) are still in New Zealand and are only expected to arrive by freighter in Port Vila around the 18th of June, thereby severely crippling our diagnostic capabilities as well as our ability to perform small surgery and other more demanding procedures.

A further setback is the late arrival by air of nearly 100 lbs. of drugs and supplies from the UK. Fortunately, these will be brought to us by no less than 3 other cruising boats: the big 50 ft US ketch "Awestruck" with Lori and Lewis from California, accompanied by the 35 ft US sloop "Ingrid" with newlyweds Jennie and Chris and by dapper 25 ft sloop "China Moon", singlehanded by German-born Canadian Willie. They are all coming to North Ambrym towards the end of the week to share in some of the work and the rewards. It is probably a long, long time ago that North Ambrym has witnessed the arrival of no less than 6 sailing vessels within one week and we hope that our little flotilla will be able to help lift people's spirits and show them that they are not as alone and forgotten as they appeared to feel when we first visited them last year.

Finally, we have had to hang around several days in Port Vila until the unusually strong trade winds and heavy seas outside Mele Bay have subsided somewhat. now, everyone is rearing to go and to make landfall in North Ambrym early Monday morning. Chief Tokon Sam of Ranon, another friend who we first met last year in North Ambrym but is now working temporarily in Port Vila to earn money for his children's school fund and who has been instrumental in making us decide to start the 2001 season in Ranon told us that the villages were being cleaned in anticipation of our medical team. In fact, Hang-Hang has let slip out that the villages are preparing "a program" for our arrival and we are all excitedly guessing whether that means listening to long speeches in Bislama or to community singing. Perhaps there might even be "kastom" dances or the sharing of "lap lap", the traditional and tasty finger food which is being eaten from pandanus leaves mats while sitting in big circles. Probably, it will be a mixture of several different things and our imagination is running wild.

Tomorrow morning we are finally setting sail for Ambrym !!
Henk Mele Bay,Ambrym,New Hebrides,Ranvetlam,Flying Angel,Hang-Hang,pig roast,J'Arrive