BY ALAN LITTLEFIELD
During the annual Louisiade Yacht Rally, many of the villages host feasts or produce displays of traditional dancing and handicrafts competing to tempt the yachts to visit. This is vital as there are literally hundreds of communities and the rally yachts can’t visit them all.
Kamatal, a small island some 25 km from Misima, has a very small anchorage. While picturesque it is difficult to enter because of coral and it faces into the prevailing wind. Anchoring is disconcerting on a lee shore with coral behind the boat and, even in the lightest wind, a skipper does not get a peaceful nights sleep.
The island has no water and, although it has pigs and chickens, grows no crops. What it does have, however, is Chief Jimmy.
With the unenviable task of competing against islands with far more amenities, charismatic Chief Jimmy set about putting his island on the cruising chart. His first action was to research what yachties wanted. He decided that what the Louisiades lacked was a yacht club, so in 2007 the most substantial building in Kamatal was finished and the Kamatal Yacht Club was born.
At a historic meeting in 2008 between skipper and crew of catamaran SY 5 O’Clock Somewhere and Chief Jimmy, the subject of attracting yachts to Kamatal was raised. Rob and Pam Robson from 5 O’Clock Somewhere suggested a swap library where yachties could exchange books, so Jimmy set about extending the club to feature a library.
When I visited on SY Dreamagic during the 2009 rally, there was the yacht club complete with bookshelves but no books. Bob and Pam had said that if Jimmy built the library, they would provide some books. He spent the next year building the library but 5 O’Clock Somewhere didn’t come back until late 2009, when two crates of books were offloaded from rally yachts.
In September 2010, when SY Dreamagic visited again, I was concerned that the book supply would have been depleted by absent-minded yachties taking more books than they gave, so we brought a case of books to donate. However, we need not have worried because the library was going from strength to strength.
Additions that Jimmy has made include navigation marks to make entry into the lagoon relatively straightforward. Another improvement is the jetty at the front of the club. It seems Jimmy decided that it would be nice for yachties to be able to sit and read or watch the sun set over the lagoon, so he constructed a viewing platform.
With no electricity and rudimentary hand tools, the villagers have driven each post into coral by hand and then constructed the deck. It is a testament to his leadership that he has managed to inspire his village to work on something which is of little use to themselves but will be appreciated by the visitors whose trade is so important to the island.
Vaguely reminiscent of those pictures one sees in glossy coffee table magazines, it is hard to believe Jimmy hasn’t a marketing degree in the way he has packaged his island to tempt visiting yachts.
So if you are passing and need to refresh your supply of reading matter, drop in to the Kamatal Yacht Club. You will get a warm welcome from Commodore Jimmy and his wife Jessie. Jimmy tells me that all yacht clubs have reciprocal rights and, for a small fee, he will have his wood carvers make a plaque of your boat name to decorate the clubhouse.