"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29: 11

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Guinea, Benin or Wherever but Canary Islands for now

The ship is down there somewhere!

Summer vacation is over and we are back onboard. We rejoined in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria just as the ship was finishing the shipyard maintenance period. Personally I felt a little guilty leaving during shipyard, however I knew from experience that the family and I needed a break from the ship and a vacation to re-charge our batteries. We had a great holiday in Europe and have come back refreshed and positive. It has also been fantastic to witness all the other returning crew so upbeat as well.

From Gran Canaria, we sailed across to Santa Cruz, Tenerife to complete preparations for the next field service. However, as I am sure many of you are aware, there is currently a severe outbreak of Ebola Virus in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. This is the first outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, and to date, the worst in history. Guinea was to be our next field service but this was switched to Benin in April due to the outbreak. Now due to the proximity of Benin to Nigeria and the porosity of the borders, the leadership of Mercy Ships have delayed our departure from the Canary Islands whilst the situation is monitored and assessed further.

Much as it pains us not to deploy, we agree with the decision. We are a hospital ship but one equipped for specific surgeries, not for treating Ebola. If we deployed to West Africa, we risk being a magnet for infected people.  As we are not presently equipped or staffed to manage this disease onboard, it would irresponsible to our volunteers, our home countries and most of all, to the patients, for us to travel into affected areas.

Alongside the sailing delay, we are experiencing a technical delay. During shipyard, both shafts were removed to renew the stern seals. In addition, both Controllable Pitch Propeller (CPP) Oil Distribution (OD) boxes were overhauled. Well, starboard CPP and shaft is working fine but the port shaft and propeller have not been responding correctly since leaving the shipyard. Several contractors are assisting with repairs and it looks like the problem is one or two failed seals within the servo piston. So there is a complex in-water repair to complete in the Astican shipyard in Gran Canaria.

For me (Mick), work does not change much. I was back rebuilding a sewage transfer pump last Friday night and have a backlog of maintenance work orders to complete. There are still systems to operate and maintain whether we are berthed in Africa or the Canary Islands. 

For the boys, the new school year has commenced. Jack is now in grade 7, Mark  in grade 4 and Harry in grade 2. Jack turned 13 two weeks ago and Mark turned 10 this week so we have had a couple of parties and a trip to Siam Park. Tammy is also starting a new job as the Transitions Co-ordinator, helping families and individuals transition onto and off the ship. 

Sailing was originally planned for Friday 15 August. As such, we had completed all our annual shopping for clothes, presents, toiletries and a few treats we can’t easily buy in Africa. Now we just need to be intentional about our spending and stick to our budget whilst enjoying the Canary Islands a little more. Last week Mick did a couple of awesome bike rides into the hills behind Santa Cruz and then we all rode to a local beach for a swim – good cost conscious activities when on a budget!

At times like this, it is really easy to get focussed on what we have no control over.  And there is a certain level of stress that goes with delays and uncertainty.  As we have prayed over this, two verses continue to come to mind:

"We can make our plans,
but the Lord determines our steps" - Proverbs 16:9


"Be still and know, that I am God" Psalm 46:10

As we wait patiently to find out the way ahead, please pray for the four Countries affected by Ebola, for clear direction for the AFRICA MERCY and for peace in this time of transition. 

The official Mercy Ships press release on our current delay is as follows:

"Collateral hardship from the Ebola epidemic now includes a delay for Mercy Ships, which operates the world’s largest civilian hospital ship in ports on the West Coast of Africa. Already with one cancelled deployment to Guinea, where Ebola first broke out last December, the Mercy Ship now waits in the water with crew and staff, pending an end-of-August decision on field service in Benin.

The Mercy Ship was due to sail for the port of Cotonou, Benin, for its 10-month field service last week but has delayed that sail pending further assessment due to the virulence of the outbreak in neighboring Nigeria.  Earlier, in April, Mercy Ships made the difficult decision to cancel the hospital ship’s planned deployment to Guinea, where the Ebola outbreak began last December.

Currently docked in the Canary Islands, following the vessel’s annual maintenance phase, the 16,500-ton Mercy Ship is designed to deploy specialized surgical expertise and educational support. It is unequipped to treat viral epidemics, according to the charity’s president and founder Don Stephens.

“Multi-bed wards and limited isolation facilities, close proximity to crew accommodation and dining for families and children are but a few restraints,” Stephens said. “We also hire 200 day crew in each port as part of our training and capacity building for Africa.”

Stephens said the organization is closely monitoring the situation on the whole of the African continent.

“Africa is and remains our priority, but crew safety drives every decision,” he emphasized. “We request prayer as we consider all options to manage the risk, including deployment to other unaffected nations.”  This ship’s crew of 400 represents 40 nations, with up to 60 children onboard at any time.

Following the US Center for Disease Control recommendations, Mercy Ships has banned crew travel to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. Likewise, crew guests and day crew may not board the Mercy Ship for at least 21 days after they have visited one of the four affected countries.

“Mercy Ships has many, many friends in West Africa,” Stephens said. “In the meantime, our prayers go out to all those affected by this terrible epidemic, especially those in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria.”

Docking in an African port, the ship brings high-tech equipment, state-of-the-art facilities, highly skilled doctors, free specialized surgeries, healthcare training including instrument sterilization and disease prevention, agricultural training and more.  Mercy Ships provides many types of surgeries:  maxillofacial, plastic reconstructive, orthopaedic, and general.  The organization also offers dental care and eye care, and it works alongside local government and healthcare providers to improve local healthcare delivery systems.

Since the first arrival of a Mercy Ship in 1991 to Togo, 23 of the 35 years of Mercy Ships service have been focused in Africa.  For more information go to www.mercyships.org."

The view further up the valley on Tenerife

Sunday, August 17, 2014

UK Vacation 2014

We spent two weeks of our summer vacation in the UK visiting family. Not many words but plenty of pictures. Bristol first staying with my cousin Jo and her husband Jim and their three kids - Millie, Elliott and Lexie. Day 1 - a walking tour of Bristol. We did about 8 km without one complaint from the boys. At M shed the Wallace and Gromit exhibition was free for the one day of the month we were visiting - bonus!

Nails where business was done in Bristol

Public House where press gangs would collect a few extra crew

Volunteer - that's me!

Half price is good, free is better!

Good boy Gromit

Wallace and Gromit exhibition

Say Cheese!

We don't know where he gets it but Harry is a talented artist.

Harry, Millie and Millies' friend in front of SS Great Britain

We took a day trip to Cadbury at Bourneville. Still in awe of what the Cadbury family started in the Nineteenth Century.



 We borrowed bikes and caught the train to Bath, then rode back to Bristol along the Rail Trail - about 20 km.

Bath to Bristol Bike Trail

Tam on the Bristol to Bath Rail Trail

Photo bomber!

My Aunt and Uncle - Jo and Jack - took us for a day trip on their beautiful canal boat - Kottingham. All three boys had a steer and helped with the sixteen locks we did. After dinner I rode the death trap folding bike back to the car to come and collect the family.

Lock workers.

Jack as a very serious helmsman watched closely by the Master!

Child labourer!

Mark has the con!

Jack supervising Harry closely

Mick riding the most unstable excuse for  a bike he has ever ridden.
Should have chucked it in the canal and done Jack a favour.

After Bristol we moved onto Caversham where we stayed with my other cousin, Katie and her husband Angus and their two daughters, Ella and Tabitha. Jim offers me the chance to go waterskiing at his wakeboarding and waterskiing club, not something I anticipated doing on holidays in the UK. I think it was 12 years and two broken collarbones since I last skied. I got up on my third attempt to enormous whooping and hollering from the boat by the boys who were very impressed by what their old Dad could do!

How long since I last water skied?


I'm knackered!

Whilst staying at Caversham we visited ex-Bayside Community Church friends - Sheridan and Merryn Voysey - now living in Oxford and were lucky enough to also coincide our visit with Ian and Deidre Willis, also from Bayside and visiting UK on holiday.

Bayside gathering in Oxford.

 We took a day trip to the Roald Dahl Story Centre at Great Missenden, where Roald Dahl lived for about forty years and where he wrote most of his published works.

Mmmmm - chocolate!

Willy Wonka!

BFG footprints

 Katie and Angus arranged a day at Legoland getting us a great discount.

Cousins at Legoland

Jack, Mark and Mum selfie

Mini London

Star Wars Lego = heaven

Harry, Mark and Emmett, the guy from the Lego Movie

Finally we stayed in Ash, Somerset with Jo and Jack. Day 1 we lucked in again as the Yeovilton Fleet Air Arm Air Show was on. We had seen this before in 2008 but it had been a windy wet day whereas this year it was beautiful sunshine all day. The highlights were many including Pitt aerobatic biplane, Vulcan bomber, F-16 and F-18 displays and Sea Hunter doing low passes.

Yeovilton Air Show - with a Junglie Seaking

Mick and Vulcan bomber - awesome, the bomber, not Mick

Jack and Vulcan bomber

Mick, Jack and Harrier

The following day we attended the Lowland games which are a bit of a send up of the Highland games. Events included raft races - down a river about the size of a large irrigation ditch - running races, terrier racing, bale racing, ferret racing, wife carrying and mud wrestling. Mark entered the running race and came third. Jack assisted with ferret racing.

Raft Racing

Raft Racing

Raft Racing

Mark lining up at for Lowland games running race


Jack with ferrets

Jack assisting with ferret racing

Who will be teaching this pair to drive in a few years?

Mark found someones dog to adopt for a while - pure joy for him.

Wife carrying at the Lowland games

All in all we had a great break, reconnecting with family. Thanks to Jo & Jim, Katie & Angus, all the kids, Jo & Jack and to my grandmother Betty who left me some money in her will a few years ago that allowed us to have a holiday in Europe this year.