Ocean Racing Club of Victoria
Steb Fisher

2014 Vanuatu Humanitarian Aid Effort - TryBooking: Port Havannah Primary School

In 2006 I was very fortunate to be part of the first ORCV Ocean Race from Melbourne to Vanuatu.  The preparation, the race and the shore time spent in Vanuatu with the locals and the crew will remain in my fondest memories forever.  Many boat owners, crews and their families contributed to a variety of items which were all sent in a container ahead of the boats for that first race.  I did not contribute anything at the time and regretted it immediately we cleared customs after the long race.  

The people of Vanuatu are totally unforgettable.  We left the country envious of their unfailing optimism and seemingly unending happiness with their ‘lot in life’.  They simply never stop smiling.

Returning to Vanuatu in 2014, this time not to race but to be bring TryBooking back to Australia we, as a crew, were determined to pack into the ORCV container heading over, some gifts for a group of school children and their teachers which we planned to hand deliver prior to sailing away back to Australia.  We each decided on different items which we would gather.  I put together things that had meant something to me which I would be happy to give knowing they would be left there in my favourite country.  These included some large pieces of quality material that my mother had gathered on her many travels during her lifetime which I had kept after her death, some soft toys that my now grown up sons used to love, items of my own clothing, about two dozen tennis balls from the Australian Open which had been used by the players and finally a lifesize Koala hand puppet which had been given to me by my husband 25 years ago.  In addition, we were tasked with distributing several other boxes that had been sent over in the container which included reading books, writing pads, diaries, pens, pencils, folders, clothing, make-up, soft toys, toothbrush and toothpaste kits, shampoos and soaps.

We flew in to Port Vila and it didn’t take us long to start enquiring about the primary schools where we could leave our gifts.  We decided that we would sail to the north to a primary school which was not far from the water in Port Havannah.  We arrived in Port Havannah on a Saturday morning and went ashore to find the local village chief, Chief Andrew, who encouraged us to come back on a Monday when the primary school would be open.  After cruising a number of islands around Port Havannah, we returned, anchored and after several trips in our dinghy, the shore party transported numerous boxes ashore.

We found that all the children were at school playing in the yard but there were no teachers.  Chief Andrew, who greeted us as arranged, told us that the principal had slept in and the other teachers were running late!  I already had my koala (Nelson we named him after a friendly local from Lelepa Island who rowed out to sell us bananas a few days earlier) cradled into my arm with my hand working his face and paws.  The looks on the children’s faces as they tried to work out how we had brought a real koala with us was priceless. Even after patting him they didn’t seem sure if he was real or not.

The teachers soon turned up and after lining all the children up they sang to us a very uplifting song which we captured on video.  The boxes we had brought were opened and they were then free to gather what they wanted.  The young boys went off bouncing and throwing the tennis balls and came running back to tell us that they were “really high bouncing ones”.  Some of the others picked the soft toys and even the teachers (both women) started going through the material and clothing. At the end of our short visit I handed “Nelson” over to one of the teachers so that he may perhaps be used as a teaching aid in some way. Anyway I was sure he would love his new life in Vanuatu whatever he ended up doing.

As a thank-you, the children sang us the following song:

"We're happy today" Port Havannah Primary School. https://youtu.be/V6FiljP-j0U

Some images of Port Havannah Primary School:

2014 TryBooking01 HumanitarianAid Container

Humanitarian Aid, boxed up and ready for the Container


2014 TryBooking02 PortHavannahNeslon Lelepa Island

Nelson from Lelepa Island, who rowed out to offer us some fresh fruit.


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Lelepa Island


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Port Havannah - Lelepa and Moso Islands


2014 TryBooking07 PortHavannah Rowing Aid to PrimarySchool1 IMG 1997

Shore party investigate, including offering to local Chief for permission to anchor in his village's harbour


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Anchored off Port Havannah


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Port Havannah


2014 TryBooking08 PortHavannah4 Local wearing M2H cap The school is over there P7191439

The Chief lives over there.  Ray, one of the locals, was wearing an ORCV Melbourne to Hobart Westcoaster cap that another visiting yacht had given to him.


2014 TryBooking09 PortHavannah Rowing Aid to PrimarySchool2 IMG 3171

One of a few trips to take Humanitarian Aid ashore.


2014 TryBooking10 PortHavannah Cheif Andrew P7211583

Chief Andrew


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Port Havannah Primary School


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Port Havannah Primary School.  An ex-pat from the USA, who's teaching at the school for 2 years, looking through the reading books.


2014 TryBooking PortHavannahPrimarySchool Aid4 Tennis balls a big hit IMG 7036

Port Havannah Primary School - the Australian Open tennis balls were a big hit


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Port Havannah Primary School


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Port Havannah Primary School, gotta love those smiles.


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Port Havannah Primary School


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Port Havannah Primary School


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Koala puppet "Nelson".  


2014 TryBooking PortHavannahPrimiarySchool Koala puppet2 Teacher IMG 7039

Koala puppet "Nelson" with one of the teachers.


Annie Schaefer, TryBooking Delivery Crew 

2014 Vanuatu Humanitarian Aid Effort - Escapade’s escapades in the New Hebrides.

Following the 2014 Melbourne to Vanuatu race, Robert Bradley and his crew aboard Escapade engaged in a program of distributing educational materials and some medical aid.
“After we loaded up in Port Vila there was 800kg of educational related supplies on board including reading books, exercise books, pens, pencils, marker pens, chalk, erasers, scissors and sharpeners plus one fibreglass canoe and 4 sails.

Suffice to say Escapade was loaded to the gunnels - certainly not her usual racing trim!

We distributed it to 4 secondary schools, 8 primary schools, 3 Kindergartens, 1 public library and 2 youth groups as follows -
o Port Vila Scout group (canoe), Efate Island
o Havannah Harbour Primary, Efate Island (via proxy in the form of Trybooking.com)
o Nguna Island Kindergarten
o Emae Island Secondary school
o South West Bay Primary and Secondary Schools, Malakula Is.
o Torres Islands Primary Schools x 2
o Vao Is. Primary School
o Loone Primary School, Ambae Island
o Port Olry Secondary School, Santo Island
o Lonkar Primary School, Santo Island
o Tasiriki Primary School, Santo Island
o White Beach Primary School, Tutuba Island
o Palikuloa Bay Primary School, Santo Island
o South West University Library, Luganville, Santo Island
o Northern Councils Youth Centre (Sails)

Donating sails to the Luganville Youth Council
Distributing goods at Port Olry
Port Olry - School with a view!
Robert at White Beach Primary with a box of crayons for donation
Everyone loves a football!

2014 Vanuatu Humanitarian Aid Effort - Canoe donation to the Imere Scout Group.

In 2014 the ORCV were given a canoe from Graham Candy as part of the Humanitarian Aid sent to Vanuatu.

Nick Woodley was instrumental in handing this over to Many Sael from the Imere Scout Group in Le Me village and at the time gave us an insight into the ceremony that took place.

“Many is known by his scout name as Tafura. The handing over was celebrated with ceremony- flag raising, food, paddling and “sealing the deal” with Kava. The Scout group was RAPT!! They will use it for fun, fishing for fund raising and transport among other things. Some of the group have previously attended a jamboree in Australia, so fund raising is an important activity. We managed to purchase a couple of paddles to go with the canoe which came in handy as part of the ceremony was paddling from around the point and arriving at the village shore to a welcoming committee.”

  Arriving at the Imere Scout Group

2014 Escapade jumps aboard the Vanuatu Crown of Thorns Starfish Control Programme

Crown of Thorns Starfish are a problem across many coral reefs in the South and North Pacicifc oceans. Whilst in Vanuatu, race entrant Escapade, will be doing some volunteer work to assist the programme by providing sighting information to help control the outbreaks. 

How Cruising Yachties could Assist with Vanuatu's COTs Control Program:

The Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTs) is eating out coral reefs right across the South & North Pacific oceans, from the Cook Islands to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Vanuatu has also seen infestations in different areas, usually starting around areas of mankind habitation causing: effluent outflow; over-fishing; logging or large scale agricultural usage: or following large port dredgings or massive cyclone damage to reefs. ie: where the immune system of the oceans has been compromised by mankind or nature in some way. Small numbers of COTs in such areas take the advantage of spawning millions of eggs and the subsequent larvae are not being eaten by the weakened, unhealthy corals or a depleted fish population. Once an aggregation is underway, it is most difficult to stop and several generations of Starfish could remain in an area for 10 or so years, reducing the coral cover dramatically and thus affecting the whole marine food chain. The GBR has lost half its coral cover in just the last 30 years. Likewise for Vanuatu, partially due to cyclones but more recently due to COTs.

Since 2005, Scuba Operators and village communities have been active in culling COTs infestations, especially where they impact on healthy reefs which visiting Tourists wish to see on snorkelling or scuba diving tours.
We have developed several COTs-culling techniques, depending on whether they are used by snorkellers or divers at different depths.

The hook and flourbag technique is useful for divers or snorkellers to gently hook the COT from under corals and feed them into the flour bag which can take about 12 large ones, or 20 smaller ones, before tying off the drawstring at the top and leaving the bag in the water for 1 day. The COTs require water flow over their bodies to absorb life-giving oxygen. So, inside a bag they quickly die from oxygen deprivation, as do any spawn released during their dying moments. The next day the COTs can be released from the bags for fish to eat.

For very large aggregations, where the COTs are roaming the reefs by day or night, GBR scientists have developed a *one shot* injection system, using acidic chemicals which kill the COT within one day, due to changing the internal pH value of the COT. Ox-bile-salts are the most recent injection liquid used on the GBR, but this is difficult to obtain in Vanuatu. French scientists have come up with an alternative which is equally effective, cheap to obtain and which doesn't affect other marine life nearby.

How can visiting cruising yachties help in this COTs control initiative?

The Department of Fisheries is setting up a Database of COTs sightings throughout the islands of Vanuatu. If yachties are sailing around the islands and doing some snorkelling here and there, if they see signs of actual COTs or white coral skeletons which indicate COTs have fed there in the past week, then this information could be passed on to a Database within a new Fisheries website being constructed.

If this Database is not up and running by July, then yachties could email or phone the information to Peter Whitelaw @ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,  Tel: (678) 23802 or 7723802 (mob) and he'll manually pass it on to Fisheries for the short term.

Info needed, includes Position (Lat & Long or which Island and closest village); Depth seen in; Size range of the COTs measured across the flattened critter; How many seen per 50m x 50 m square; were they on coral rubble or healthy, colourful reef? Hiding under corals or openly feeding on the top of reefs?

The idea is to determine where the COTs are at present, what sizes, and in what quantities. We could then target COTs-SWAT teams to go in and significantly reduce numbers before the next spawning season, Oct - Feb.
We can't hope to protect all the islands, but Tourism-sensitive or especially healthy reefs could be protected by active cullings by villagers, scuba operators and possibly yachties, especially those with scuba facilities.

The Vanuatu Tourism Office is currently having a Yachties' microsite compiled by Kiwi yachties, the aim of which is to provide useful info for incoming yachts, including a list and details of cultural events planned for each year in the outer islands. We also expect to have a segment in the website, whereby yachties can send COTs sightings & relevant details, directly to the Fisheries database.

At the moment (early May 2014), we have a secondary outbreak about to begin on Emao Island, North Efate Is. and some residual mopping up to do on Moso Island.

But major infestations were seen in 2013 in the Maskelyne Islands, Southwest Bay on Malekula Is. and likely travelling up the West coast of Malekula and emerging at the offshore islands of South Espiritu Santo. eg; Aore, Malo, Bokissa and moving up the East coast of Santo.

During the winter months, the COTs are mainly in hiding by day and don't eat too much by night. But as the spawning season approaches and the tradewinds drop, seas calm down and warm up, the COTs put out pheromones (chemicals) which alert other COTs in surrounding areas to aggregate together to increase chances of fertilisation of the millions of eggs released. Only about 10% of eggs are thought to be fertilised and of those larvae so produced, probably only 10% survive predation by healthy corals and fishlife. Many more larvae survive if the reef systems have been degraded by previous outbreaks. The larvae eat algae and nest in the coral rubble for about 18 months before emerging as juveniles to start consuming the coral polyps of healthy plate or staghorn or scelecterian corals. And so the cycle continues until there is virtually no live coral left.

Extreme care must be taken in handling COTs, as their spines are poison-tipped. You really do not want to get pricked. It is very painful. Hot water and bleach can neutralise the poison, but the sharp spine-tip breaks off under the skin and can fester if not removed early on. Hence, use of gloves is recommended and people who are a bit clumsy underwater should not even attempt to collect COTs by snorkelling or diving.

 Mama and juvenile COTs, showing 50cm long hook-stick used to remove them from coral.
COTs often hide under corals by day, but are nocturnal and roam the reefs by night to feed.

Around 16 legs and hundreds of suction-pad tube-feet allow the COTs to climb anywhere. Stomach is extruded through the central hole, overlaying the coral and absorbing the polyps.

As the COT is removed from the coral, it curls up to protect its undersides and can then be slipped into a flour bag, which would take 12 large ones like this.

When full, the bag is tied off and left in the water for one day, after which the COTs have died from lack of oxygen. Bags are then emptied and fish eat the freshly-dead COTs from the underside.
Approaching the spawning season, the COTs aggregate in a *love-fest* to increase chances of fertilisation of millions of eggs ....
A typical COTs-SWAT team with hooks, gloves and bags, geared-up for a culling session.
New system for large aggregations = simple plastic sheep drench gun, with nozzle & needle attached. Use I.V. Drip Bag or larger squeezable bottle in BCD pocket. Blue dye (as an indicator) is mixed with chemical.
The COT is held down firmly by the hook-stick, whilst 2 or 3 injections of 5ml are made, equi-spaced into the *shoulders* (upper base of arms).




























2010 Vanuatu Humanitarian Aid Effort - Precious Cargo (Stevie Wonder)

Signed, Sealed, Delivered - It's theirs. Given we've just had Van Halen, The Pointer Sisters and Ian Dury and the Blockheads on the site, it seemed appropriate to stay musical, even if I did have to change the song title a little...

Now there are literally hundreds of people to thank when you have a project like this, so let's start by thanking anyone who came anywhere near Robyn Brooke's baby.

Thank you, everyone.


(and we’re really sorry if we missed you – send an email and we’ll add it hastily!!!)


So, thanks to the Hunters and Collectors (boom, boom - and it was Robyn that added this band to the story) of the ORCV yachting community and Rotary International for sharing the secret about the magic that happens at your Donation In Kind warehouse. Specific appreciation goes to Bill Dagg and Laurie Fisher, who are the resident magicians that make it all happen out there, at the back of Woolshed #40. They have an amazing band of volunteers too - "How about those computers and student kits. What an operation...", said Robyn.

"By the way, don’t forget them, if you or your mates have obsolete stock, a change of logo or a computer upgrade at work. Also, time spent at the DIK warehouse is a real eye opener. Volunteers are always welcome on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to help sort and pack the donations for the various international projects they have on the go", Robyn mentioned.

Back to the big thank you and we have the regular volunteers at the DIK Warehouse - John Gordon, Rick Westcott, Dawn and Jack Watson and the rest of the talented IT team. They worked up the computers and flat screens donated by APC Logistics, the Child Safety Commissioner and Sandie O'Connor, into a networked computer lab for the school, complete with modem, hub and printer.

The Rotarians from the clubs of Brighton North, Kew, Woodend and Melbourne, some of whom just happened to be there on loading day and many others who were involved with the project. Trevor Nink from Melbourne was a quiet achiever (and boy could the company that had that as their tagline do with some nice PR right now), slipping in the last minute with a cool 27 cartons of books for Sarah Village in Epi. Virginia Turner worked tirelessly to collect science books for Isangel school on Tanna and for the Lamen Bay book project.

Huge thanks too for Hobson’s Bay Yacht Club for celebrating the fact that they have a Party of Five crews participating in the race. The evening generated even more donations, including that roll of paper (see pic below) - thanks to Vaughan from Norske Skog Boyer and K&S Freighters who donated the delivery of the hefty roll. Holly Fletcher’s raffle raised an additional $300 for the schools. Thanks too for the HBYC engraved garden rakes, which came about from the ‘recks for rubbish’ story. Thanks also to Colin Leake for donating the Hull Scrub, as first prize and gto HBYC for donating the wine.

In total, 590 cartons of school supplies and equipment were collected. The donations will be distributed to schools both on the main island of Efate, as well as Tanna and Epi. 62 cartons of mixed supplies will be distributed amongst the yachts that are going cruising after the post race for them to deliver to the more remote areas they visit. In a letter of support from Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education to the ORCV, they acknowledge the difficulties in servicing these more remote schools, which also happen to be some of the most disadvantaged as a result of their isolation.

The loading party got underway thanks to Kim from M2V entrant, Turbo. He hitched up the light tower to his car and using the boarding planks as a ramp, drove the generator straight into the container. Once that was secured, the crew quickly formed a human chain to unload the 25+ pallets of stock, finally creating a mezzanine for the lighter cartons and fragiles on top.  Thanks to the superb work of Greg Cleaver, Trevor Nink and the rest of the team, it all happened very quickly and at 11.45 the snags were on and the beer was cold. Robyn Brooke commented, “It wasn’t exactly in the right order and the projects weren’t quite kept together, which was my mandate from our friends at Port Vila who are receiving the container, but nothing was left behind. In fact, some big tubs of craft glue, additional diaries, exercise books and some PJs were somehow found in the Store to finish the last layer”.

A very special thanks to Sue Clinnick, our human Trevi Fountain, who must have made a million trips to the warehouse with all the gear and people she arranged and to Holly Fletcher, who we now understand Robyn stretched way out of her comfort zone, by getting her to go begging for donations. The two of them were the scribes on the day and it wasn’t an easy task keeping track of the cartons going flying by.

To the many suppliers who gave so generously, we owe you a huge thank you. Thanks also to Justin Watson who is donating four bags of tools and three months of his labour, in order to help build a dwelling for the community on Epi.  Thanks Joanne O’Donoghue for the tennis gear, Christian Rossow for that huge delivery from the Jedi Mind Trick mob, Tony Wheeler from Regent Sporting Goods and to Russel from NGT marketing for the diaries.

To all of our anonymous donors, especially our Wish upon a Star – thank you to those preferring to smile in private. Also thanks to the many schools that made donations - St Helena in Eltham, Athena School in Newtown NSW and the ones who dug deep, from Melbourne Uni to Kilvington Girl's School.

Thank you, too, if you opened your wallet and gave some folding, which helped to cross a few more items off the Wish List and to fund local port fees in Vila. This included Michelle and Roger Wale from Pretty Woman, Transcend Networks in Tassie, Carole Dunphy from Sydney, Tracey Kamens from Bayer and the list goes on...

Thank you to Nick, Adam and Eddie from The Age, who made sure far more people than just the yachting community knew of everyone's efforts to assist those people who have so little. The piece, Precious Cargo, appeared on the back page, no less, on Monday 21 June.

Now it all would not matter a cent, if our super wonderful friends at APC Logistics did not arrange for the 20 Footer to get to Vila in the first place. Also, if our new pals at Extra Transport had not given us a lift and made the container miraculously appear and then disappear from Rotary's warehouse to get it to the ship in time.  Interestingly, Extra is now owned by Toll, who move ORCV Mobile (the van) to Tassie and King Island for us. We love Toll.

On to some pics, then. Now, it is thanks to Holly Fletcher that we have an array to view - from empty to all sealed up!


ORCV Commodore George Shaw surveys the (almost) empty container... The generator section of the light tower from our anonymous, Star donator, is already in there.


Bill Dagg adds a 10Km roll of paper (WOW!!!!!!) donated by Norske Skog Boyer... The light fittings from our 'Star' anonymous donor are wrapped up in the corner there.


The team pile in a whole lot of diaries - many thanks to Holly Fletcher and her new friend Russell at NGT Marketing.


Don't think Mr Creosote wants the 'wafer thin' after dinner mint here.... (I'm full).


And then our Robyn Brooke seals the container with Richard Potter from Rotary, Brighton North.


The Loading Team - or part thereof… On the far left would be our Human Trevi Fountain, Sue Clinnick, next to her is busy Rotarian, Virginia Turner, Robyn 'no job too big' Brooke is next and then Petra Brewer from Rotary Brighton North (RBN). Behind Petra is her husband Russell, then Richard Potter, the RBN project coordinator. Standing to the side of the container are yachties Greg and Pauline Cleaver (from Mr(s) Bojangles and one of our current women in sailing poster girls), Phil Rowell (RBN) and Trevor Nink from Melbourne Rotary. Missing from camera are Holly Fletcher, Grant Hocking, John Green and their buddies from their sister clubs of Rotary Woodend and Kew.

Now Robyn was almost out of breath after it all, but made one last effort to get some names out. “I want to add my personal thanks (and in no particular order) to the participating yachts, crew, land support teams and especially the skippers of Slinky Malinky, Mirrabooka, Scarlett Runner, Gusto, Ingenue, 51st Project, Samskara, Turbo, Tevake II, Garisenda and The Secretary.”

“There’s also the Rotary Clubs of Brighton North, Kew, Woodend, Melbourne, and those wonderful souls at the Rotary DIK Warehouse. Special mentions to Virginia Turner, Sue McDonald, Sue Donald, Richard Potter, Jim Mitchell, Phil Rowell, Petra and Russell Brewer, John Green, Grant Hocking, Grant Ryan, Jim Pocock, Trevor Nink, Bill Dagg, Laurie Fisher, Dawn Watson, Jim Watson and Rick Westcott.”

“Finally, to all the extended friends of the Rotary and yachting communities - Sue Clinnick from Team Audacious, Joanne O’Donoghue, Lynda Brayton, Pauline and Greg Clinnick”, she said.

Robyn’s probably missed one thing. Now, we know that all of the beneficiaries in Vanuatu from the North Vila School to the remote villages in those outlying island want to thank you. Whether you’re named here or preferred to stay silent, there’s one thing that cannot be missed and that’s the quantum of the wonder that is now on its way to Port Vila aboard the Tasman Endeavour.

Well done to all…



By John Curnow





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3 Aquatic Drive, Albert Park VIC 3206 Ph. 0493 102 744 E. orcv@orcv.org.au