Salute the Good Ship Vega!
Since first hearing of the work of Shane Granger & Meggi Macoun aboard Vega several years ago I’ve followed their work with growing admiration for what two people can do to really make a difference. Vega is a 125-year-old Hardanger-built Norwegian sailing cargo vessel.
The great tsunami of 2004 was the catalyst for Vega‘s humanitarian mission. Shane and Meggi were in Langkawi, Malaysia, when the disaster struck; they undertook to carry food and medical supplies to communities along the hardest hit western coast of Sumatra. What started as a modest effort assisting a single island has grown to the delivery of some twenty tons of urgently needed supplies every year. This is coupled with eye testing and distribution of reading glasses, and other vital work. Since starting their work they have sailed around 110,000 miles to deliver 250 tons of aid to some of the most remote islands in Southeast Asia. They currently provide 122 traditional midwives, 9 small clinics and 18 health posts with equipment, medical supplies and training. They directly assist 34 communities and have an impact on the education of 15,000 young people. Ninety-three percent of the cash donations they receive goes directly into the hands of those who need help in the form of tools, medical supplies and other goods.
I’m delighted Shane has agreed to take time from his busy schedule to answer questions for this Guest Blog.
Can you describe the various activities scheduled for this year
2017 marks the 13th year Vega has been delivering educational and medical supplies to the remote island communities of Eastern Indonesia and East Timor. Although our efforts have been successful – in some cases maternal and natal mortality rates have fallen by over 50% – there is still much that needs to be done. Providing vegetable seeds helps to improve a community’s diet. Environmental education is aiding communities address the growing issue of waste management. To that must be added the fact we need to do serious refitting above deck on Vega this year. This is work that will require some very creative financial efforts since Meggi and I are not wealthy and depend on the good will of others to continue our work.
Our normal yearly schedule is divided into two parts. From roughly mid October until May we are busy between Jakarta, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand doing maintenance, visiting boat shows, and sourcing the supplies we need for our next deliveries. From June to October we are usually out making our deliveries. This year is different. Due to the need for refitting we will be cutting short our delivery period to each island so that the latter half of September and the first half of October can be dedicated to needed repairs.
What are the challenges involved with keeping Vega seaworthy?
Every year the 125-year-old historic vessel Vega sails around 7,500 miles to collect the supplies needed and then deliver them. That means Vega must be kept in serious sea worthy condition. Maintenance is a constant ongoing effort. Supplies needed to maintain Vega, like Stockholm Tar and real marline twine, are often impossible to find and a source of constant anguish.
Without the invaluable help of our extensive group of friends, keeping Vega sea worthy would not be possible. Being retired, Meggi and I are not wealthy and Vega is all we have. When something breaks replacing it is often a stressful experience. That said, it seems every time we find ourselves in another pickle someone steps round the corner, takes a look, and says, ‘Looks like your furbisher tube is discombubbled at the widget joint. Lucky for you my brother’s company makes those things.’
What has been the most rewarding moment or moments for you over the years?
There are so many special moments during our deliveries that selecting one as the most rewarding is impossible. Imagine the smile on an elderly woman whose vision, and profession as a weaver, were restored by a simple pair of reading glasses or a young girl trembling with excitement as she received a new back pack filled with school supplies, or the traditional rural midwife sitting on Vega‘s deck cradling a new neo-natal resuscitator, tears flowing down her cheeks, as she searched through the complete midwife kit we brought her.
Tell me about Scourge…
No traditional sailing vessel is complete without a ship’s cat. Seven years ago while making repairs in Singapore, Meggi found a tiny lost kitten and promptly brought her on board. Eventually we named her Scourge. Since then Scourge has decided Vega is hers, allowing us to empty the littler box and provide her with water and food, until she discovers how to hunt the yellow plastic bags of her favorite cat food. When the seas are rough she first complains vociferously then curls into a snug place and sleeps. An adventurous creature, she once attacked a halyard fast playing out as the sail came down. Launching herself at it she soon had her claws dug in. The first we knew of this was a mournful howl of anguish from half way up the mast.
As a young cat she once fell in the water while we were at dock. One of our crew bravely dove in to rescue her. As he approached she swam his way then clambered onto the top of his head – claws and all. She remained perched there clawing the lad’s scalp until he was safely back on deck then dove down below and wasn’t seen for ages.
She’s a real character: an artist friend of ours is creating a comic book about Vega from her point of view.
Your work now involves training of health professionals. Can you elaborate on this?
Training for traditional midwives and health workers is an important part of improving an island’s health services. Since Meggi and I are not health professionals, we try our best to find Indonesian doctors who are willing to take part in our adventures. Their job is to hold clinic on the islands and provide training for the local midwives and health workers. Often the doctor we bring is the first ‘real’ doctor to set foot on those islands. The entire village turns out, usually just to say they saw the doctor.
Reading glasses are another part of our program where a modest investment provides major returns. Older people are an important resource for these small communities. They are often the most experienced island artisans. As their eyesight begins to fail their ability to contribute to the well being of family and community diminishes. This problem can usually be cured by an inexpensive pair of reading glasses. Over the years we have developed a simple test to determine the proper strength of glasses needed. We teach local health workers how to administer that test, then leave them with an appropriate stock of reading glasses.
Anything you’d like to add?
Vega is small, but highly efficient, ‘Mom & Pop’ charity. There are no big companies throwing money at us. We accomplish what we do thanks to a large network of friends who, like us, want to make the world a little bit better. Those friends are the real heroes who help us keep Vega afloat and provide the supplies for us to deliver.
If you’d like to follow Vega‘s adventures do visit and ‘like’ their FaceBook page Historic Vessel Vega – as well as updates on their work Shane and Meggi have posted many photographs and a number of videos.
Please consider helping their work by making a donation via Paypal through their website
Shane has written a book, The Vega Adventures, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading
Proceeds from all book sales help support their vital work