Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall charting our adventures as we sail around the world. This season we spent 5 months exploring Vanuatu and are now on the east coast of Australia.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Cave diving, a small medical drama and a super-friendly superyacht

We arrived at the anchorage at Sawa-i-Lau island ( a towering piece of rock with strata very similar to that in Fulaga) and went ashore with Bruce and Laura from Pacific Hwy to explore the famous caves. The local village control access but, for $10 per person, provide two guides to take you through into the second chamber; at all but low tide this requires a duck underwater for a 10 second breath-hold and a scramble through under the rock until you pop up into an almost pitch-black, echoing cavern. Scary, even with a waterproof torch in hand and certainly not recommended for the claustrophobic!! Graham was very proud of Dianne for doing it as it's certainly not her thing normally. The two guides pushed and pulled you through so we all made it safely and coming back was easier as the water glowed brightly from the sunshine finding its way into the first chamber.



Photos by Bruce from Pacific Hwy
The legend goes that these caves are the start of an underwater passage that ends in the Lau islands, hundreds of miles to the east. Certainly divers have explored for more than an hour eastwards with no sign of the passage ending.

Returning, blinking in bright sunlight, to the surface we thanked our guides and asked about doing a sevusevu ceremony in the nearby village. 'No problem' they said, 'we'll come to your boats.' Sure enough, a 'fibre' fishing boat arrived alongside, we handed over a parcel of yagona, one of the chaps said three sentences in Fijian, we all clapped three times and they were off, all done in about 30 seconds. A sign of the times and the tourist popularity of this place: a drive-by sevuseva.

Our anchorage, of about 8 boats, is dominated by the 240ft superyacht Dragonfly which is owned by one of the Google founders. He's the third owner so got the 6,600hp, 27 knot, 18 crew boat for a bargain US$45 million, allegedly. It also had a twin-engined seaplane bringing in new guests (and you can charter it for 490,000Euro per week according to this site ) so little did we expect to be climbing aboard it the following morning.

The seaplane arrives with new guests
We were contemplating moving anchorages this morning, to the northern most tip of the Yasawas, when we heard a radio call from La Fiesta, a boat we'd met in New Zealand. Dave, the skipper, had somehow managed to get a big fishing hook well and truly buried into his hand as he reeled in a fish. As they came into the bay, Graham ferried Bruce out to La Fiesta so he could help them anchor safely then went to see the locals at the caves to ask if there was a village nurse - the answer was no. Meanwhile, Dianne was reading up her medical notes and preparing to act as medic to try to remove the offending hook; whilst she was ready to put her training into action, we suspected that Dragonfly would have greater skills and facilities so Graham called them on the VHF.

Mike, the Captain (who, we later learned, completed his training in Fleetwood, Lancashire, just down the road from Dianne's home village), was immediately friendly and helpful on the radio and said that they had a doctor on board and that we could certainly bring Dave over for treatment. So Graham, as mere dinghy driver, was allowed to sit on the aft deck of Dragonfly, chatting to the crew, whilst Dianne accompanied the patient, and his young daughter Natalie, up to the bridge where the doctor and the captain snipped the end of the hook off and, with plenty of local anesthetic and a pair of pliers, worked it through to come out of a new, second hole in Dave's hand (the end of the hook had a barb on it so pulling backwards would have caused all sorts of damage). It was about this point he fainted! 

All the crew we met were super-friendly and interested in our boats. Alex, the chief engineer, was from Kingsbridge (15 minutes' drive from our home port of Dartmouth) and James, one of the deckhands, grew up near Itchenor where Maunie was built. As Graham chatted to them, he couldn't help noticing all the 'toys' in the aft locker - 20 kiteboards, scuba gear for 15, paddleboards, two jet skies and two 8.5m RIB tenders. The crew are all allowed to play with all this stuff 'after work' and seem to have a good rota of 3 months on, one month off.

Mike and his crew's immediate willingness to help seems to be typical of their positive and friendly attitude. Mike happily answered little Natalie's endless questions (including the classic "Why are you all wearing the same clothes?" - the skipper and crew all wore understated grey, or pink for the girls,  t-shirts and board shorts) and we learnt that they'd managed to thread this enormous yacht into the narrow entrance at Fulaga and then had donated ten tonnes of fresh water from their huge desalination plant to the villagers who were almost out of drinking water after this very dry season.

Anyway, the good news is that Dave emerged from surgery without complications and Dianne was extremely relieved not to have had to attempt the procedure. The best ongoing advice regarding fish- hooks is not to get one stuck in you in the first place.

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