September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye


September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation


September 01, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing


August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez


August 01, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind


July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap


July 01, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec


June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico


June 01, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua


May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising


May 01, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica


April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There


April 01, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama


March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money


March 01, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal


February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal


February 01, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific


January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week


January 01, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef


December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2


December 01, 2011
AWAY to the ANDAMANs


November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise


November 01, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question


October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers


October 03, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World


September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come


September 01, 2011
Sailing for Humanity


August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work


August 01, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish


July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books


July 01, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas


June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala


June 01, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise


May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now


May 01, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala


April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas


April 01, 2011
At Last in the San Blas


March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon


March 01, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!


February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2


February 01, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1


January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude


December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane


December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba


December 01, 2010
Stuck in Curacao


November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing


November 01, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks


October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe


October 04, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal


September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing


September 01, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea


August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao


August 01, 2010
Bonaire Diving


July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire


July 01, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles


June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent


June 01, 2010
Right Place, Right Time


May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle


May 01, 2010
To the Grenadines


April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon


April 01, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II


March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1


March 01, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing


February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations


February 01, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands


January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa


January 01, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............


December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing


December 01, 2009
Moving On To Morocco


November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med


November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone


October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol


October 01, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise


September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles


September 01, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well


August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca


August 01, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca


July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast


July 01, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia


June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa


June 01, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails


May 15, 2009
Into Africa


May 01, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia


April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy


April 01, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles


March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling


March 01, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports


February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta


February 01, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2


January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1


January 02, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time


December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear


December 01, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend


November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise


November 01, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz


October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman


October 01, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins


September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta


September 01, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story


August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


August 01, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians


July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca


July 01, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe


June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece


June 01, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey


May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey


April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living


April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip


April 01, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget


March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi


March 01, 2008
Home Sweet Home


February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising


February 01, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World


January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free


January 01, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni


January 01, 2008
About Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Voyage Itinerary


September 01, 2011
Sailing for Humanity

Steve and a couple of health care teams comprised of doctors, nurses, dentists and dental assistants had sailed to a number of villages in south Malekula and the Maskelyne Islands where they had set up clinics.

   You’ve got to love the concept: take well found yachts skippered by decent cruiser types whose sailing itineraries take them to beautiful, remote third world countries. Put aboard those boats caring medical and dental crews who are prepared to volunteer their professional services to help those less fortunate. Add to this a small band of tireless folk who can put the two elements together as well as provide medical and dental supplies and logistical support. Last but not least, find the funds to make it all happen. Taken all together you have the ingredients for a win/win situation- made possible by Pacific Yacht Ministries (PYM).

  While moored in Gladstone Marina in Queensland Australia some years back, we first learned about the PYM program. Aboard his lovely Adams 50 Elvis, Steve Woodward had recently returned from southern Vanuatu where he’d spent part of the winter.

  Over tea and biscuits Steve and his wife Kathy explained how they were able to combine their passion for sailing with their compulsion to do what they can to minimize the suffering among the people of the Pacific Islands. Steve, the program’s manager at the time, is a retired carpenter and keen yachtsman with a long track record for helping people. While previously visiting Vanuatu on holiday, he and Kathy recognized the shocking and immediate need there was for dental and medical assistance. Then and there the seed of a dream was planted: to someday, somehow, be able to fill that need.

Medical services are provided inexpensively to those who almost never have access to proper medical care. The volunteer health care professionals have a working holiday off the well beaten tourist track with opportunities to sail, swim, fish, dive or simply visit with the people they have so generously offered to help. As for the yachties, by hosting and transporting the medical teams, they make a contribution that goes well beyond handing out lollipops, T-shirts and balloons to kids on the beach. Their involvement is much appreciated by the locals, which is reflected in their almost immediate acceptance into village life.


   Steve made numerous trips to Vanuatu after that, to set up mini medical clinics, assist doctors and dentists, deliver medical supplies, facilitate the evacuation of seriously ill patients, and even to build a school. Often, getting to the villages meant relying on inadequate road transport and unreliable or nonexistent interisland freight transport. Teams would have to hike for miles into areas they served, packing the supplies they required. It was an inefficient and time consuming way of doing things.


   For Steve, who has for a lifetime messed around in boats, the solution was clear: do it with sailboats! Sailboats would be reliable and would allow them to come and go freely, safely, and in comfort, independent of transportation foibles. They could pack as much water, food and supplies as necessary and evacuate acute cases. Furthermore, with the team members sleeping aboard the boats, and not in the villages, the risk of contracting malaria would be greatly reduced.


   In Queensland Australia, a small organization called Pacific Yacht Ministries put Steve’s concept into action. They put their skills, time, boats and money where their mouths were and followed their motto: “Sailing for Humanity.” PYM is a non profit, charitable public company that operates sailboats ranging in size from 39 to 62 feet throughout the islands of Vanuatu and the Torres Strait. Their aim is to provide humanitarian aid for the relief of sickness, suffering and distress of the under privileged, regardless of race, religion or creed. PYM has a small corporate membership and operates through a Board of Directors.


   The thrust of the organization is medical and dental care as well as dental and hygiene education. If there is a first aid post in a remote area, it is often primitive and without staff. The PYM program attempts to provide the service needed with the help of teams of voluntary professionals, organizing and co-ordinating each team’s visit and providing transportation, accommodation, and medical/dental supplies and equipment through the use of small yachts.

     The dream became reality with the purchase of the 44 ft. sloop Jacqui in 1999. That same year, 2.5 tons of rice were delivered to Vanuatu, and the first marine based operation began. A small group of Steve’s friends could see the merit in using sailboats and together they started PYM. James Ward, an R.N. with extensive professional experience in Australia, Kenya and P.N.G. became the CEO.

By 2002 they were operational, putting together medical and den tal crews on two volunteered sailboats, the 44 ft. N.Z. registered Regale and the 42 ft. Australian registered catamaran Sidiqui. That season, more than 2,000 patients were treated through the program.

In 2003, Steve’s newly completed Elvis was the only boat used. Minimal available funding meant a shortened season but the teams were still able to treat more than 1,800 Vanuatu people.

    

2008 also saw a shift towards taking NiVan (Vanuatu) medical professionals on board the yachts, which dramatically altered the dynamics. This came as a result of experience in 2007 where a dentist and his assistant joined the team for a tour. With language barriers broken down, and medicos who are accustomed to working with minimal equipment, the patient treatment numbers increased markedly.

  During 2004, two yachts were put into service, the 44 ft. Lavinia and the 39 ft. Windango, owned and crewed by CEO James Ward and his wife Carmella with two six week projects from July through November.


   2007 was the peak year as far as yacht numbers are concerned, with a total of 5 yachts in service, Sidiqi, Another Angel, Drumbeat, Windango,and McDiver.  2008 saw 2 catamarans service the West Coast of Espitito Santo for the first time.  There are no sheltered harbours between the north and south of the island, consequently these were the first yachts to visit this coast in living memory. 

  PYM have established a close relationship with the Northern Health Department and assist with distribution of treated mosquito nets, child immunisation programs, as well as the well established dental, medical and health education programs.

  In 2009, a couple from Busselton, Western Australia, generously donated a sailing catamaran to PYM. ‘Inflight’ is 12.6 Metre (42 foot) long and 6.2 Metres (21 foot) wide, and she is cutter rigged. She has proved herself to be a strong seaworthy vessel.

  A typical project begins in either Port Vila or Luganville where the boats await the arrival of the health care teams who fly in from Australia or the U.S. (at their own expense). After medical supplies and food are taken on board, it is only a day trip to the first village. The work day starts just after dawn. As day breaks, canoes begin to surround the boat. After breakfast aboard, the medical and dental teams head for shore to set up their respective clinics, usually in a thatched hut or on the beach under a coconut tree.

Since toothaches are the most common problem, the dental clinic will immediately develop a long waiting line. Most adults have dental caries and abscesses, resulting in many extractions, as there is little time available for restorative work at this stage. Teams finely timed their procedures to the point that on a good day 200 patients could be treated.

Although the medical teams also treat large numbers of patients, they report some reluctance on the part of the villagers. Cultural issues frequently arise which make it difficult for many women to present their gynaecological concerns to white male doctors. For that reason, the PYM program now makes a concerted effort to include a female doctor in every project.

The usual length of stay in one village is four days, then it’s time to sail away to the next village. The medical teams work tirelessly for a period of two weeks before heading back home. Their selfless contributions are invaluable.

Also, patients needing the facilities of a real hospital often refuse to leave their island homes because they associate Vanuatu hospitals with death. Furthermore, stories abound of patients whom the government transported to the city hospital at government expense, but abandoned after discharge without providing enough money for the return trip. Being stranded and a long way from home, without friends, is an experience the islanders are reluctant to repeat. They much prefer the hospital to come to them.

The health care teams break for mid-morning tea and lunch, which are prepared by the boats’ crews. Fresh fruits and vegetables are supplied daily by the village, and these are given happily, as it is considered a small payment for the services provided. At 2:30 p.m. the professionals are free to leave for the day, to rest or take in some snorkelling, fishing or other leisure activities. But because of the numbers of people in need of care, the teams often work right through until dusk.

PYM is still going strong in 2011, in partnership with the Australian Dept. of Health, with three catamarans in operation in Vanuatu and the Torres Strait. An update to their website has recently gone live, with regular updates posted on their Facebook page (link available on the website). The continued willingness of boat owners and health professionals to offer their help, as well as the generosity of financial donors are crucial to the continuation of the program. At a time of considerable instability among the islands of the SW Pacific, when governments are even less able to provide for their populations than before, the success of this group of seagoing health care providers is all the more critical.

If you are interested in participating in some way, note the following contacts: