Monday, September 3, 2012

Still in Fulanga for Another Week

First, I finally discovered in a conversation with a villager that Fulanga is actually correctly spelled Vulaga in Fijian. The pronunciation is the same, except that the "F" sounds more like VF. It is spelled with an F on Google Earth, and on our electronic charts, but Fijians today spell it with a V.

We were making plans to start moving from here on about the first of September, and take the next two weeks to cruise the 200 miles to Savusavu, stopping in a few places . We planned to stop briefly at a few of the Lau islands nearby, and then at a few islands on the west side of the Koro Sea (Gau, Makogai, Ovalau, Namena), arriving in Savusavu about Sep 15.

We are almost out of everything. Dave had started on his last tomato, and I was formulating a "The Last Tomato" post for the blog.

But, as the saying goes, "The best laid plans of mice and men..."

Last Saturday, we made a dive in the pass at Fulanga, and our friend Jerry from Challenger took his speargun to try to bag one of the big groupers that hang out in the pass. (We later found that spearfishing with SCUBA is not allowed in Fiji--oops!). The rest of us were diving or snorkeling and trying to stay out of Jerry's way.

After a little time swimming around chasing fish, Jerry finally decided he needed to sit somewhere and catch a fish swimming by. So he went down to about 80 feet and hung out. Within a few minutes, he had a grouper on his spear, and ascended rapidly, fearing sharks which are also prevalent in the pass. He put the fish in his dinghy and after about 3 minutes on the surface, went back down to about 20 feet to properly finish his dive. Other than a more-rapid-than-normal ascent, Jerry had not exceed the standard dive tables. All but about 10 minutes of his 45-minute dive were at or above 40-50 feet.

But over the next 2 days, Decompression Sickness, or DCS (also known as "The Bends") descended on Jerry, starting with very very mild tingling in his right arm about an hour after the dive, and ending with fairly extensive numbness on his right side, and less extensive on his left side. During Day 1, we conferenced among ourselves and used Soggy Paws' satellite phone to call both a diver/neurosurgeon relative of Far Star's, and DAN's dive emergency hotline. Both phone calls said that the symptoms did not sound like typical DCS. However, by the morning of Day 2, it was clear that things were getting worse and not better. Unfortunately, Jerry was not a DAN member and did not have DAN's 'Dive Emergency Insurance' that claims one phone call to DAN will get you evacuated to the nearest hospital facility.

For a medical emergency, we couldn't be further from civilization if we tried. We are 200 miles of open ocean from the nearest major city, and 60 miles of open ocean from the nearest airport of any size. The only regularly scheduled transportation is the monthly supply ship to/from Suva, which had just stopped a few days before. There is no cell or internet access here, and no airport. Very few cruisers stop here.

Fortunately, there is a government-funded clinic here with a full time well-trained english-speaking nurse. Also, fortunately, we had already become good friends with the nurse, Sera, and her husband Sikeli. We had done a few repair jobs for Sera, eaten lunch in their house several times, and exchanged a few gifts.

So when we finally decided that Jerry's situation was serious, that letting him go to Suva in his own boat (a 36-hour trip) was not a good idea, we got full cooperation from Sera. They had done a few medical evacuations the previous year from Fulanga, and Sera knew the ropes. She said they could either send a float plane or a helicopter.

First thing Monday morning, Dave helped Jerry move Challenger to the village anchorage, for a requisite exam by Sera, and by Monday afternoon, Jerry was on a chopper flight to Suva. By Monday evening, he was in the recompression chamber for his first session. He left Challenger, his dog Cruiser, and his girlfriend Yana in our care. So we are still hanging out in Fulanga. The other boat here, Far Star, sailed to Suva immediately after Jerry left, to provide support for Jerry in Suva.

Well, we could be stuck in worse locations...

Jerry's recompression treatments are continuing... he is now being treated in the chamber with Oxygen once a day for 2 hrs. He is showing improvement with each session, and they will probably continue the sessions until he no longer shows improvement with each session. He is walking fine and most symptoms are gone, but he still has some residual numbness and tingling. But he does hope for a full improvement. We are communicating with him by email, and by phone call and HF radio via Kennedy on Far Star.

Because of his slow recovery, and our need to get moving soon, Jerry has hired a local delivery guy, Curly Carswell, to come get Challenger and take her to Suva. We are providing communications and logistics support for Curly's trip here. Curly will have to fly in to Lakemba, an island 60 miles away, on a weekly scheduled island-hopper flight, and then take a "longboat" (open fishing boat powered by outboard motor) to Fulanga. We are using our village contacts to try to help organize Curly's stay in Lakemba, and the boat trip down to Fulanga.

As soon as Curly arrives in Fulanga, we need to skedaddle straight to Savusavu to get Soggy Paws on a mooring and ready for our flight to the U.S. in late September.
Sherry & Dave
Cruising Fiji for a few more weeks

At 08/19/2012 7:15 PM (utc) our position was 19°09.18'S 178°32.43'W

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