The general consensus of a large expat group gathered at the Beach Bar at Mele Bay on Monday afternoon and evening was one of total disbelief that former professional diver and yachtsman Matt Grimley had passed away.
More than 60 people joined together in the late afternoon sun and an ensuing, especially beautiful, sunset to remember a warm and endearing bear of a man who will remain in the collective soul of many people forever.
It was remarked upon that if Matt had been taken in a freak diving accident or lost at sea in a major storm, there would be nods of assent and understanding. But to be lost in a matter of days to an infection was simply beyond belief.
However, that is the sad reality.
But those of us fortunate to have known and then loved him since he and his beloved wife Tiffany plus family literally washed ashore at Mele in their red catamaran in 2014, this larger than life character has stamped himself on all of us.
The celebration of Matt’s life was organised by Wayne and Rhonda Lance together with NZ couple Rob and Kerry, who have known Matt from pre-Vanuatu times.
There was a memory book on a table for all to sign, flowers and two pots of tea, as Matt was a prolific tea drinker. As the daylight faded and a glorious sunset painted the sky, the candles on a floral wreath were lit and people threw flowers into Mele Bay as a tribute.
The irony wasn’t lost on most people there that the celebration event was being held in a bar, yet Matt was a teetotaller.
Rob was the MC and gave a potted history of Matt’s life, from his move from England to South Africa as an eight-year-old, to the building of his first yacht in his parents’ front yard there, to his extensive travels, and his professional diving course in Los Angeles.
The rapt audience was told that Matt had nearly every bone in body broken, mainly though his love of and involvement in motocross.
At an early stage because of all these injuries, he was told he would never be able to dive.
But Matt Grimley was not a person you told that he could not do something. Before long he went on his first dive in France, down to 35 metres, and he was instantly hooked.
He sailed his first yacht about 5000 kilometres and ended up in Dubai, then he married and the couple had a daughter, Skye Rose.
He sold the yacht and built another that he called Skye Rose. He established a successful marine business, divorced amicably and when he later met Tiffany it was love at first sight.
Eventually they left Dubai and set sail for Vanuatu with Tiffany’s six-year-old daughter Shamma.
Their anchor dragged and they ran aground in Mele Bay and instantly made more than 100 friends as villagers and expats pushed the boat off shore.
As one of the best qualified and most experienced divers in Vanuatu, Matt established a successful marine business here, like he had in Dubai.
This included the unusual but lucrative operation of cleaning the hulls of P&O cruises ships while they were berthed in Port Vila, as well as inspecting boats for insurance, underwater construction, salvage work and more. Through this business, he trained and up-skilled many Ni Vanuatu people, which earned him many friends and much respect.
In the last chapter of ‘Adventures with Matt’, he renovated a French-built super yacht he found languishing in a Queensland river and, with Tiffany, Skye, Shamma and the couple’s two children both born in Vanuatu, Ocean and Savannah, the family left Port Vila just before Xmas 2018, bound for all parts of the Pacific.
They had nearly nine months of wonderful travel and discovery together, arriving eventually in Pohnpei in Micronesia. The rest is now sad, unwanted history.
Maybe it is true… maybe the good do die young.