Monday, 28 February 2011

Spare a prayer for Liberia

"An estimated 39,784 Ivoirian Refugee are said to have arrived in Liberia with 5,000 more arriving at Liberian border villages DAILY as a result of renewed fighting in western Cote d'Ivoire this week. Until mid-week, about 100 Ivoirians were crossing the border daily. But over the past 24 hours alone, hundreds of people have been crossing over into Liberia through the Buutuo, Gborplay and Luguatuo crossing points in Nimba County". Click here for full article.

Nimba County was the scene of repeated fighting during the long Liberian war, with many of the population seeking refuge in neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire, and the remainder subjected to unbelievable atrocities again and again. I think no other county suffered as badly. In the midst of the fighting, only one NGO continued to operate using it's own community health ambassadors: Equip Liberia, who Sally and I worked for in 2006/2007. Now Nimba County is repaying the favour by hosting thousands of Cote d'Ivoire refugees, and Equip continues to be one of the many NGos providing facilities, in particularly water and sanitation facilities (latrines and wells). God bless 'em. Check out or for more info. Please also pray for a quick and peaceful solution to the crises in Cote d'Ivoire, which is threatening the stability of the whole region. Please specifically pray that the UN will give permission for the Nigerian lead ECOMOG armies to forcefully bring peace to the country, like they did in Liberia in 2003 and Sierra Leone in 2001. Olly

Day 1 in Freetown

In no particular order at all: part of the "lion mountains" from Deck 7:

The Police Marching Band at the Africa Mercy's arrival ceremony (I forgot to mention that a very smart Boy Scout helped carry the national flag during the ceremony):

Unloading at dawn: the first of 25 vehicles we unloaded this morning between 6.30 and 10.30, in time for a Customs inspection:

The best African food I've had since we left Liberia over 2 years ago: peppery cassava leaf with a hint of fish, and rice, bought from a lady in the street who sold me one bowl full in a plastic bag for about 40 cents...

...which I had to share with both Anna and Libby:

The pepper is now taking it's toll and my stomach feels like it's full of lead...

Meanwhile, most port workers are on strike today, so little has happened on the dock. We are waiting for the port's big container lifter to tidy the containers that are strewn everywhere, then we can start setting up the dockside once again. Patience, Olly, patience.

Over 30 new crew embarked last night, another 30 will embark tonight and nearly 40 will embark on Friday night, all in time for the big screening on Monday. The place is full of new faces and loud voices.

Bye for now (and happy birthday to my mum), Olly

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Sunday 27th February: Freetown!

We have just docked in Freetown. But first, two photos taken on the last days couple of days of the sail: the engineers in full uniform gathering for a group photo on Deck 8 (click on photo to enlarge):

...and a scale model of the Africa Mercy made by Tim, Sam & Ben out of old soda cans (took six and a half hours to stick them all together apparently, and even features the new pool on Deck 8) - this was the prize for the team who scored the most in yesterday's "olympic" games.

So, to Freetown: dawn over the city:

The poor visibility is down to early morning haze, burning garbage and cooking fires. From well off-shore we could smell the charcoal that fuels the majority of the city's kitchens, which immediately brought back many memories of our time here in 2004. And below, our glorious dock, with new crew and a Gateway team welcoming us in, plus local dignitaries and government ministers:

As you can see, we need to do an enormous amount of make the dock useable, including covering over the holes, sweeping away cement clinker, removing 3 cement clinker hoppers, relocating dozens of shipping containers, and establishing some kind of security fence. Roll on Monday when the port workers will be back after the weekend. More later. Olly

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Saturday 26th February

It's Saturday morning and Sally is locking Libby's hair. We are now off the Liberian coast; in 24 hours we will be docked in Freetown, Sierra Leone. True to form, it is warm and humid and cloudy, and we've even had a couple of specular West African rain storms.

I was looking at the latest UN Human Development Index this morning. Fascinating reading. Out of 169 countries with Norway at the top and Zimbabwe at the bottom, Liberia has risen to 162, and Sierra Leone has risen to 158. And Mercy Ships has invested significantly in each of these countries. (Incidentally, the UK is 26th, after every other country in Europe except Poland and Portugal. Not sure if I completely trust this index).

We should wake tomorrow off the Sierra Leone coast, and be docked by mid morning. Can't wait. I have a busy week ahead of me: unloading all 25 vehicles, 2 trailers and my containerised workshop, then setting it all up on the dock, with power and water and our 20ft x 20ft tent. There are many jobs that need doing on the vehicles that I've been waiting to get a mechanic to do: Lamin Turay (Moses' brother) becomes a crew member on Monday. We will also be hiring a local mechanic, 2 cleaners and 4 drivers. Let the fun begin. That's why we're here. That's why God called us to Mercy Ships in West Africa. To support the amazing work that our medical teams are doing for some of the poorest and most desperate people in the world. Next Monday is our big screening day at the big stadium in Freetown: we are expecting something in the region of 5,000 people to come for medical assistance. Huh. Olly

Thursday, 24 February 2011


Have I mentioned before that I suffer from nyctophobia? I'm scared of the dark. If I wake up in darkness, I really panic. And nothing brings this home to me than when we sail, when I look out of the window at night and see nothing but solid, unbroken darkness. I will be very happy to see the bright lights of Freetown come Sunday! Olly

New family photos

Taken just north of the equator today.

Photos by Jesse Mitchell. Like 'em? Olly

From south to north

We crossed the equator at around 8.30 this morning. Great. ETA Freetown sometime on Sunday. Olly

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

From east to west

On Sunday evening we crossed the Greenwich Meridian, thus moving from the eastern hemisphere to the western hemisphere. Last night we moved our clocks back an hour, so we are now on GMT, which is also Sierra Leone's time zone. The sail continues to be smooth and uneventful. Olly
PS I am constantly amused when I hear people describing the developed world as "the west", when in fact Sierra Leone and Liberia are further west than most of Europe including the UK.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Teachers needed!

The Mercy Ships Academy on the Africa Mercy has the following teaching positions open for the 2011-2012 academic year:
  • Kindergarten
  • 1st Grade
  • 3rd Grade
  • 4th and 5th Grade
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Physical Education

Click on flyer for more details. Olly

Thursday, 17 February 2011


Day 3 of the big sail. Nothing much to report. Sky blue, sea blue, sun hot, no dolphins or whales or waterspouts. Relatively calm and not rocking to much. Good. Already run out of fresh fruit and veg though. Bad. Olly

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

We survived the 'bosch

We couldn't let the passing of our time at Appelsbosch go without having a memorial t-shirt made...thank you Sam, Tim and Murray for organising these apple coloured t-shirts, brilliantly modelled by the survivors of the 'bosch below:

Yes, our 5 months at Appelsbosch was every bit as bad as I expected it to be. I can't think of one good thing about it. It started bad and just got worse, and I am very grateful that we are no longer there and are back doing what God has called us to, where he wants us to be. Olly

Farewell South Africa

We left Cape Town at dusk last night. Goodbye South Africa. Goodbye dear friends. We hope we'll see you all again one day soon.

Our sail out of Cape Town was interesting: we did all kinds of manoeuvres as part of ongoing engine tests, which unfortunately meant the ship was rocking and rolling more than usual. So the tests were accompanied with the sounds of banging and crashing of falling things, crying children and people saying "I'm gonna throw up!" Then the fog rolled in, so the noises were joined by the ship's fog horn sounding until the wee small hours...all in all, we had a very disturbed nights sleep. We're scheduled to be at sea for another 12 days. I can't wait to get to Freetown. Olly

Monday, 14 February 2011

Us and Lisa

We met another old friend today in Cape Town: Lisa. She was with us in 2004 in Benin, and 2005 in South Africa, and 2006 in Liberia. It was great to see her again, but we only had two and a half hours together before shore leave expired, which isn't enough time at all to catch up! Sorry Lisa.


Cape Town

There is no city quite as magic as Cape Town, where the Africa Mercy has docked for 24 hours en route to Freetown. Just the arrival alone is breathtaking, as you can see from the photo below with Table Mountain in the background...

Waiting for us on the dock were dozens of Cape Town-based ex-crew: Carl & ilne & their kids, Henry & Mampu & their bubba, the Myers, Miss Katherine, Lauren Bluck, Beth from HR...remember them?

Once again we are berthed in the fabulous Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, where we are a stone's throw away from hundreds of fancy shops and restaurants: the sights, sounds and smells are fantastic! As we walk through the Waterfront there are concerts, jazz bands and Xhosa buskers at every corner - its all very festive! Photo below of the Africa Mercy at the V&A:

We had a great time talking to Carl & ilne about their close shave in Liberia and their work in South Africa...

And then Miss Katherine, Anna's old Grade 1 teacher, took us up Table Mountain:

A great time is being had by all. It is also a sad time: it may be our last time in South Africa (ever?); and it also symbolises our departure this afternoon from the riches and sophistication of the developed world and our pending arrival in poverty stricken Freetown. Olly

Friday, 11 February 2011

More cool photos

...taken by someone in the pilot's helicopter as we left Durban yesterday. Thanks Murray for making them available.


Thursday, 10 February 2011

Thank you KwaZulu Natal, and good night!

Before we get too far away, I thought I'd list all those who've been a great help to me whilst we were in KZN. I can completely recommend any of these people or companies:

Andries (mechanic) in Pietermaritzburg: 0823 414089

Calypso Dive Centre - uShaka, Durban: 031 332 0905

Caspers Auto Electrics - Wartburg: 033 503 1445

Doug - Holiday Times (safaris etc): 0723 452239

Eagle taxis - Durban - 031 337 8333

Errol's taxis - Ballito - 0822 207538

Giorgio - breakdown service, Ramsgate: 0393 173534

Hennie - Harburg Garage - 0825 571290

Ian Kruger - North Coast Motor Group - 0828 914604

Nissan Rossborough, Durban - 031 451 5333

Johann - mechanic in Ramsgate - 0824 936873

Kishor - Landy Auto, Ballito - 0733 660202

Land Rover Umhlanga - 031 571 2610

Nala - minibuses in Appelsbosch/Wartburg/Pietermaritsburg/Dalton/Greytown - 0827 257278

Nissan Pinetown, Durban - 031 710 9000

Ricky - SCUBA equipment repairs, Durban - 0824 624889

Teddy - towing services in Dalton - 0823 574396

And all our dear friends at Destiny Life Church, Ballito -


Farewell Durban

11am, Thursday 10th February: we sailed from Durban after 5 months, 5 days, 22 hours and 15 minutes. Not that I was counting. Time for Charles to shave his beard off:

Durban is a beautiful city, and we have all found ourselves very much at home there. We love the South Africans and their hospitality, especially that of our dear friends in Ballito, just outside Durban. We love KZN. We love ECR. And we love the Zulus. Photo below of the skyline of downtown Durban on the sail through the harbour...

...which is apparently the biggest commercial harbour in the Southern hemisphere with an average of over 20 ship movements a day...

(Richard, can you see which is the one you're to survey? I couldn't tell, there are so many)...

Anyway, what has been achieved in the 5 months, 5 days, 22 hours and 15 minutes, I hear you ask. Here goes:

Replacement of 6 old, noisy, unreliable and dirty generators with 4 super efficient, more economical and environmentally friendly brand new MAN generators;

Replacement of 2 old and unreliable air conditioning SABRO units with 2 shiny new and reliable Carrier units;

New engine room piping for cooling salt water, fire mains, heavy fuel, diesel fuel, fresh water, etc;

Replacement of engine controls in engine room and bridge;

7km of new cables between engines and bridge;

Modification of electrical switchboard;

New shelving in Deck 6 and Deck 2 food stores;

All lifeboats, life-rafts, and lifeboat davits serviced and all cables renewed;

All fire-fighting and SCUBA equipment repaired/serviced;

New Mercy Ships logo on funnel and along side;

Pool modified with installation of wave catchers;

More sprinklers installed in cargo hold;

Damaged windows replaced with new ones;

Main engines overhauled;

Tons and tons of provisions loaded;

All Land Rovers and Nissans repaired and serviced;

Elevator converted from manual to electronic, with fancy new controls, as modelled by Jesse:

and loads of other smaller jobs that I can't remember.

Thank you for praying for us during this memorable but trying time during which God has been good to us all: it has been a time of refreshment and growth for some, and a time of hard work for others, especially our technical crew.

What's next: we sail for 3 days to Cape Town, where we hope to enjoy 24 hours of shore leave, then we've got a long sail to Sierra Leone, where we should arrive late February. And that's where God wants us!


Monday, 7 February 2011

Collecting lifeboats

Today I went with a team of Deckies to collect Lifeboats 3 and 4 from the neighbouring yard where they have spent the last 3 weeks having their 5-year service. Their return to the Africa Mercy was one of the last major pre-sail hurdles...we are now officially ready to sail later this week. I think.

Actually, what do I know? Olly

Queen Mary II

Today the Queen Mary II came into the port of Durban. Thousands of people from all over KwaZulu Natal flocked to the beach to see her come in...but sadly, this is all we could see of her:

Zooming in:
Zooming in:
It's been a long time ambition of mine to see her close up...and it looks like it will remain a long term ambition. Olly

We love hospital supply

I love what I found on a white-board in the hospital today. Click on image to enlarge. Olly

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Another great photo

...of the Africa Mercy at the Southern African Shipyard (Pty) Ltd's repair berth, courtesy of someone with an airplane I guess...


Bye bye beard

Last night I chopped off my beard, after 2 weeks of growth. Man, I hated that thing, and so did Sally and the kids. Charles is still persevering, and should have a significant growth when we sail next week. In the meantime, here is a photo of us taken after about a week of, what a couple of good looking guys, eh?


Tuesday, 1 February 2011


Here are some memories of late January/early February:

The Africa Mercy, taken from lifeboat 4 during a drill:

The port of Durban at dawn:
The welcome home sign (click to enlarge):

Memories of our long trip home: Nissan 927 broke down again, and had to be carried back to Durban on an AA truck:

Noah's last fire at Appelsbosch, in which he burnt his precious collection of sticks:

A new year: new cooks. Sylvanus from South Africa carving melt-in-your mouth roast beef...

...and Bobbi from NZ (right) with her beautifully displayed fruit:

Weight tests on the lifeboat davits: each yellow bag is filled with tons of water, whilst the lifeboats went around the corner to another yard for their 5 year services:

The best fry-up in South Africa, available at the Harbourside Cafe, 10 Rotterdam Road, Bayhead:

A tornado hits Tongaat as we travel home:

New ice machine on Deck 6 outside Crew Galley:

New air conditioning plant in the engine room:

Our technical crew have worked themselves to exhaustion over the last few months, and words are insufficient to express our thanks to them. The new generators are now working; we have electricity to just about everywhere and shore power is being disconnected as I write. Deck 3 & 4 a/c was switched on over the weekend, and (praise God) the new a/c system for Decks 5, 6 & 7 was switched on last night. The temperature in our cabin went down from 31 degrees to 26 degrees in an hour, and we woke up at 22 degrees this morning. What a welcome relief, as Durban's summer is well and truly established. Olly