I have recently returned from six months on board the medical and training ship YWAM PNG, which operates around the PNG coast providing free health care and training to some of the world’s most remote villages. Last time I detailed the events that led me to be working on board this ship.
My time on board was definitely a life changing experience and a significant milestone in my journey of faith. I would now like to share a bit about the ship’s operations and a story from my time on board.
How it works
The YWAM PNG is based in Papua New Guinea almost year round. It returns to Townsville once a year to refit and restock for a period of around 6 weeks. Whilst in PNG it engages in outreach deployments that are usually two weeks long.
During the two week outreach deployments the vessel is loaded up with about 130 medical staff and equipment. It services a particular area of the coast line with the ship’s medical teams visiting three villages a day on average. Between outreaches the ship then returns to port, restocks and reloads for a week.
We can also transfer patients back to the ship for dental and ophthalmic surgery. Teams and patients are moved to and from the ship using the ship’s fleet of 5 small vessels, which can carry from 8 to 20 people depending on their size.
Everybody serving on the YWAM PNG are volunteers. To operate effectively the ship requires a range of specialized professions including doctors, nurses, dentists, surgeons and lab technicians. Of these professions eye surgeons are the most difficult to come by.
During Outreach 9 last year we were operating the ophthalmology clinic, performing cataract and pterygium surgeries, serving the central province and relying on the services of two PNG national surgeons who had taken time out of their very busy schedules to come and help on board.
We were to have one of the surgeons for the first week of the outreach and then the other to replace him for the second week. The changeover between the two surgeons was to take place in the middle of the outreach on a remote part of the PNG coast line.
The change over
On Saturday morning after doing his post-surgery checks our first surgeon disembarked to start heading back to his job in Port Moresby. The ship picked up anchor to begin the voyage to its next stop on the outreach. We were to rendezvous with the second surgeon during this voyage.
The surgeon had made his way by 4x4 to a small village on a river near to the route of our intended voyage. Due to the conditions on the 4x4 track into the village it was after midnight by the time he arrived at the village.
The conditions out at sea were rough and due to navigation hazards the ship was not able to get too close to the river mouth. The plan was made for me to launch one of the ship’s small boats whilst underway and go to collect the surgeon.
Keep him dry
The small boats that we use are very safe and seaworthy boats but in rough conditions it is possible that the passengers can get a bit wet from the ocean spray. As I was preparing to launch the boat and waiting for the captain to get the ship in position, I thought that I should take a rain jacket for the surgeon to try and keep him dry.
As I was collecting a spare jacket from my cabin the captain called me on the radio to ask that I take a jacket and try and keep the surgeon dry. When I arrived back at the boat launching deck the vessel manager met me there and asked if I was taking a spare jacket.
It was clear that everybody was wanting to take the surgeon back to the ship as dry as possible. It was his first time volunteering on board and everybody wanted to make a good first impression.
Not everything goes as planned
I had one of our deck hands in the boat with me and with the swell running in behind us it was a reasonably dry run into the river. Using torch light, we located the surgeon waiting for us on the river bank. He was dressed smartly in a business shirt, suit pants and fine leather shoes.
We made every effort to keep his shoes dry by driving the boat up onto the bank and helping him in. I welcomed him to our company and gave him the spare jacket. I radioed the ship to let them know that we had the surgeon and in the pitch black headed back towards the ship.
We cleared the river mouth and I steered us toward the distant lights of the ship. Well…. We may as well have been in a submarine. With the swell head on and the rough conditions the spray was covering the boat. Making every effort to evade the waves, we still were all soaked head to toe. The rain jacket that I had given the surgeon had been about as useful as an umbrella in a cyclone.
The surgeon got off the boat with a big grin on his face, I think he had enjoyed it despite the conditions. The captain was not so impressed though and questioned me on why our guest arrived at the ship as though he had swum there.
Despite a wet arrival the surgeon had a very good week with us. He restored the sight of many people who would otherwise be blind. He said that he enjoyed his time on board and has promised to return to the ship again.
Matthew Fryer is a professional seafarer with a love of the ocean. After a career working on merchant ships Matthew has recently ventured into the mission field, most recently serving with YWAM onboard their medical and training vessel the ‘YWAM PNG’. When Matthew is not working away at sea he resides on the Gold Coast with his wife Clara and their two children Harold 6 and Jane 5.