Category Archives: Vanuatu 2009

New photos and new destinations

We have been in Port Vila for almost a week. We have visited with friends, old and new, and worked to get the boat ready for our next passage. We plan to leave tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday, 8 Sep) for New Caledonia. Our route takes us just east of Lifou Island in the Loyalties, and then into the lagoon of New Caledonia via the Passe Havannah. We expect to enter the pass early Thursday morning and then anchor to rest before proceeding to Noumea.

These are some photos from the past two weeks.

M.

Laura checks out woven bags in Asanvari, Maewo Island

Laura checks out woven bags in Asanvari, Maewo Island

Chopping kava root, Asanvari, Maevo Island

Chopping kava root, Asanvari, Maevo Island

Straining kava, Asanvari

Straining kava, Asanvari

Pouring kava, Asanavari

Pouring kava, Asanavari

Drinking kava, Asanvari

Drinking kava, Asanvari

Waterfall, Asanvari

Waterfall, Asanvari

Freshly killed pig, Asanvari

Freshly killed pig, Asanvari

Freshly cooked pig, Asanvari

Freshly cooked pig, Asanvari

Our hiking guide Meery, Asanvari

Our hiking guide Meery, Asanvari

Meery and Violet with Laura, Asanvari

Meery and Violet with Laura, Asanvari

Meery and Violet climb the root of a banyan tree, Asanvari

Meery and Violet climb the root of a banyan tree, Asanvari

Meery, Violet, and Mark, Asanvari

Meery, Violet, and Mark, Asanvari

View towards the anchorage, Asanvari

View towards the anchorage, Asanvari

Laura navigates a stream, Asanvari

Laura navigates a stream, Asanvari

Sailor in Vanuatu Navy on leave, Asanvari

Sailor in Vanuatu Navy on leave, Asanvari

Ken, Thomas,and Tom.  Brothers from Rivelieu Bay, Epi Island

Ken, Thomas,and Tom. Brothers from Rivelieu Bay, Epi Island

Church, Rivelieu Bay, Epi Island

Church, Rivelieu Bay, Epi Island

Port Vila mooring field (Sabbatical III is visible)

Port Vila mooring field (Sabbatical III is visible)

What we did in Asanvari

We had a great time in Asanvari Bay, Maewo. We arrived there on Monday, August 24, and had a fun time catching up with 3 very special boats – all people we like very much and have known for some time now. They all had to leave on Tuesday morning, but there were a dozen other boats in the anchorage that were part of the Island Cruising Association Rally of New Zealand. We got to know a lot of them over the next few days, and were included in all of the ICA rally events. There were a lot of really nice people there – a good mix of boats from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand for the most part. We know the leader of the ICA from last year, and he (John) and his wife Lynn are extremely friendly and outgoing people. They arranged for a lot of “events” between the yachties and the locals. Normally we enjoy doing this ourselves, but it was a nice change to be part of a group.

The village of Asanvari is well known among yachties because of its extroverted chief, Chief Nelson, and his very charmismatic son, Nixon. The whole village was in mourning, however, because of a terrible tragedy that had just occurred two weeks before we arrived – the death of one of Chief Nelson’s sons. It was apparently the third of his sons to have died. They say it is all due to “black magic”. It was so sad, and somewhat awkward, to be there as a tourist at such a time. Somehow, however, the village still wanted to continue with many of the planned festivities between the yachts and themselves. I think they count on this annual visit for a fair portion of their income and perhaps they could not afford to forgo it.

It sounds a bit corny, but the ICA arranged with Chief Nelson to have a little ceremony on Wednesday where each boat was officially adopted by a village family. The families came dressed in their best outfits and presented us all with gifts of fruit and weavings, and even dresses for some of the women – a consistenly unflattering dress called the “mother hubbard” that was introduced to the islands by the missionaries a hundred and fifty years ago. The yachties all brought gifts to their adopted families over the next few days and got to know each other. Our “family” consisted of a husband and wife (Maurice and Katherine) and their children – we were never sure exactly how many children they had, but we did get to know their 12 year old girl Meery, and their 25 year old son, Paul a bit. Meery and her friend Violet accompanied us on a hike up to the top of the hill overlooking their village, and over the top of the beautiful waterfall that flows down to the sea. Meery and Violet were barefoot while Mark and I trudged along, slipping on the rocks, even in our hiking boots. We sang songs to each other and had a wonderful time.

The next day there was supposed to be a dance put on by the locals – a kustom dance – with traditional costumes and very primitive instruments. The young men who usually dance were mourning the death of their friend and did not dance. Only 2 adults and 3 young boys danced – and only for a few minutes. Then they made us a feast – consisting primarily of a very large, and very well cooked pig that they had killed that day. The pig was roasted in the ground for the entire day. Mark and I had actually heard the poor guy squealing his head off just before they disposed of him earlier in the day. I am not too keen on pig – particularly large boars with their heads intact – so I just filled up mainly on rice and some vegetables that were also served. Everyone else was pretty happy about the pig meal. The village arranged for a local “string band” to play and the yachties and the village kids spent a very enjoyable evening dancing together. They offered kava to everyone as well but after trying a cup of the very potent brew the first night, most of us declined altogether on night two.

Besides the village activities, Mark and I spent a lot of time snorkeling there. The water was about the clearest we have seen in Vanuatu and had some beautiful crevasses carved out in the rock by underground springs. The boat was sitting in about 60 feet of water and you could see to the bottom as if it were just a few feet deep.

We decided to leave on Thursday evening as we have to start heading back to Port Villa – which is about 150 miles to the south – and we saw that the winds were right to make at least the first leg of the trip – as far as Epi – an island about halfway between Asanvari and Port Villa. We left at 5:00 p.m. – on an amazingly beautiful evening – and as we sailed away from the island of Maewo, where Asanvari is located, we could understand why some people consider it one of the most beautiful places in Vanuatu. We had a great sail, going past the island of Pentecost and then past Ambrym whose active volcano was clearly visible belching up lava during the night. Mark was on watch and said it was beautiful (I was down below trying to get some sleep). In the morning we sailed into our current bay – on the southern part of Epi. It is a black sand bay, but the water is crystal clear. We thought we would just stay one night, but now we are ending our second day here and will probably stay a third. It is quite lovely. Three guys from the village nearby paddled over today and asked to see our boat. We had them on-board and had an interesting time talking with them. Once again, we received fruit in exchange for clothing and other goods. We had a little train set on board which we gave them for their kids and they were thrilled.

Our big activity today was changing our sails – we had to take down the large genoa and put up our much smaller blade jib. It is not a bad job, except once you take the sail down, you have to fold it up on the deck and put it away. It is so big and so bulky that it seems impossible to do. Leon and Ricky once helped us do this when we were together in the Caribbean, so they can understand how hard it is. Somehow we managed to do it however, having a good schvitz in the mid-day sun, and now have the correct sail for heading south.

L.

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Departure for Epi Island

We have a small weather window for heading south so we are leaving here (Asanvari on Maewo Island) for either Epi Island (Revelieu Bay) or Port Vila on Efate. How far we go depends on wind and how we feel.

 We will depart in less than one hour (at about 5 pm local time, Aug 28) and head south along the west coast of Pentecost and Ambrym Islands. We are expecting east winds of about 15 knots.

 M.

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Surunda to Maewo

August 25, 2009

We ended up spending 4 nights in Surunda Bay. It is a pretty little bay whose main attraction for us was that it had free internet. We took great advantage of that, catching up on some work related stuff for Mark as well as enjoying seeing the NY Times and finding out what was happening in the world( after reading the news we decided it is better not to look).

Our friends Mike and Lynn from “Wombat of Sydney” were at the same anchorage and we spent a couple of nice evenings with them. Mark and I met a pleasant 14 year old local boy named Gaston who was selling soft drinks from his family’s tiny store by the village of Surunda. (The sign outside advertised ice-cream, but we were not lucky enough to find any in stock). He took us on a little walking tour of the town, including a trip to his family’s garden, where he climbed trees to pick us vegies growing from tall vines as well as an assortment of fruits. At the edge of the garden were the remains of a plane from WWII. Surunda was a U.S. airbase during the war.

On Sunday, the 23rd, we decided it was time to go and with a pretty good weather forecast we headed out to our next destination – the island of Maewo – about 60 miles to the east. We had been waiting for the winds to switch around from the prevailing SE to the south so we could get a good angle for our sail. Friends had headed out on Saturday, and instead of finding south to southeasterly winds at 10-15 knots, they found winds coming much more from the southeast and blowing at up to 32 knots. That makes for a very nasty sail. We ended up being quite lucky as we still had an upwind sail, but the winds were much lighter (about 10-12 knots) and we had a good enough angle to sail almost all the way.

The tricky part about leaving Surunda was that the anchorage was inside a protective coral reef opening up to the east. The reef had an opening that was easily wide enough for a boat to pass through safely, but without good light you could not see exactly where the reef ended and the clear water started. There were also many coral bombies sticking their nasty little heads up here and there even in the opening. To leave Surunda and get to the next island before dark you had to leave very early , but the problem was that to leave the reef you had to sail east, directly into the rising sun which blinds you from seeing the reef. In addition, at high tide the reef is totally covered with water so you can not even see breakers on it, and there was a morning high tide for the few days around when we wanted to leave.

We are very cautious with reefs (for apparent reasons), but could see no way to leave Surunda in the conditions we would optimally wait for in that situation: i.e. mid-tide, sun overhead or at our back, so the day before we planned to leave we went out in our dinghy with a portable GPS and mapped out exact locations through the pass that would be safe. We double-checked these marks against our RayMarine Chart Plotter and felt pretty secure about leaving through the pass. At 6:30 a.m. when there was enough light to see, but not too much glare in our eyes, we proceeded slowly out of the anchorage, and safely through the pass (bet you thought we were going to hit it). It was a bit hair-raising.

We ended up having a terrific sail, and Mark even landed a small, but much desired yellow-fin tuna late in the afternoon. He also caught a mahi-mahi, but it ended up snapping itself right off the hook when Mark tried to pull him into the boat. Those guys are hard to catch. We decided to spend the night at the island of Ambae which we had to pass to get to Maewo. Ambae is a huge volcanic island that you can see from Surunda Bay, and is apparently the island that was the model for James Michener’s Bali Hai. Michener was based in Surunda Bay during the war.

There were 13 boats in the anchorage just around the corner from us in Ambae- all part of a rally put on by the Island Cruising Association (ICA) that comes up from New Zealand every year – and they were all headed to the same anchorage we were going to on Maewo. We are actually members of that association, having joined a year ago so we could join them for a sail between Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We decided to get up really early so that we could get to the anchorage early and secure a good anchoring spot. It is the first time this year that we have been with so many boats. We left the anchorage at first light (about 5:45) and had a bouncy ride the 12 miles into the anchorage at Asanvari – strong wind on the nose, big seas. We were delighted to find three boats here already that we know and like very well – Intiaq (Swiss), Cardea (American) and Mondavi(Italian).

There are 3 mooring balls in the anchorage here in Asanvari, put up last year by the ICA and because we got here so early we were able to secure one . Normally we like to anchor rather than tie up to a mooring ball, but the anchorage here is very deep and filled with coral on the bottom, so we were happy to get a mooring ball. There are now about 12 boats in the anchorage. Many people consider it the most beautiful in Vanuatu. We can’t say that, but it is, indeed, beautiful, with very blue, clear water and a waterfall running down the steep cliffs and into a deep pool just behind us.

Both Cardea and Mondavi were planning on leaving first thing in the morning, so we had a small party on our boat with them last night which ended up being a lot of fun. Lorenzo (Italian) and Candia (German), the couple on Mondavi, are extremely outgoing and talkative and very funny and between them and Jim on Cardea we had a wonderful time. I made pizzas and everyone drank wine and told hysterical sailing stories. All of the bad and strange things that happen when sailing end up being terrific stories, especially when told by other sailers, whom, we have learned, all have a tendency to exaggerate!

L.

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Photos from Port Orly (Espritu Santo) and the Banks

We are now in the Surunda anchorage at the southern end of Peterson Bay on Espritu Santo. We came here because it is fairly close to Luganville and we had to go to Luganville to get a visa extension and renew our “cruising permit.” That has been successfully accomplished.

We have some internet access here and so use this opportunity to post a selection of photos taken at Port Orly on Espritu Santo Island and at Gaua (Santa Maria) Island and Vanua Lava Island in the Banks group of islands.

View from the beach at Port Orly

View from the beach at Port Orly

Market House, Port Orly

Market House, Port Orly

We donated prescription medicine to this clinic

We donated prescription medicine to this clinic

Our chartered pick-up with driver Chief Joseph and his grand-daughter plus our jerry cans and supplies (Oyster Island)

Our chartered pick-up with driver Chief Joseph and his grand-daughter plus our jerry cans and supplies (Oyster Island)

With Karin of Intiaq in Port Orly

With Karin of Intiaq in Port Orly

Laura causes a sensation in the school yard

Laura causes a sensation in the school yard

Catching sardines, Port Orly

Catching sardines, Port Orly

Sardines,Port Orly

Sardines,Port Orly

Fisherman makes Laura a gift

Fisherman makes Laura a gift

Making watermusic, Lacona Bay, Gaua Island

Making watermusic, Lacona Bay, Gaua Island

Children watch watermusic

Children watch watermusic

Chief Nixon, Waterfall Bay, Vanua Lava Island

Chief Nixon, Waterfall Bay, Vanua Lava Island

Chief Nixons wife

Chief Nixon's wife Linda

Two of Chief Nixons children

Two of Chief Nixon's children

Lovely Port Orly

Some notes on Port Orly

 After spending two weeks here in total over the past month, Port Orly has become one of our favorite spots in Vanuatu. Here are some notes to remember for future visits:

 Snorkeling is excellent by the small island as well as in the middle of the bay behind the reef with the wreck on it. Some turtles and rays as well as beautiful coral and the normal Vanuatu tropical fish. (one shark)

 You can anchor safely in a large sandy area between Bucephale Island and Thion Island. There are numerous coral bombies, but most are low and it is easy to find a spot to anchor.

 The water is aquamarine, warm and fantastic for swimming.

 If you take the dinghy all the way across the bay to the west you will find that it leads into a river which is easily navigable by dinghy. You can also kayak once you get inside the river. Up the river about 1/2 a mile is an adorable restaurant, just being completed while we were here. If the two toothless Vanuatu grandfathers who are building it are able to pull it off, it will be a really fun destination for any future visits.

 The anchorage faces Thion Island which has a beautiful little beach that is walkable at all tides – some great shells wash up there.

 The locals sometimes fish nearby, but do not venture close to the boat.

 The village of Port Orly has one restaurant in operation, owned and run by Rosina – worth a stop, even if it does cost about $9 a person (a fortune here). No menu, they just serve you what they have that day.

 The villagers seemed unfriendly at first, but after walking through town a few times we discovered that they are actually very sweet and friendly, especially the kids. A small amount of conversation in French earns many smiles.

 Behind the school is a little cantine where you can buy local fruit and vegetables during school hours. They will even try to get you things you ask for if you order it the day before.

 There are a few tiny stores – they just have some old tinned food and fly covered bread snacks.

 There is a local health clinic which was very greatful to take all of our old medications – their supplies are almost nil and one woman does everything by herself.

 The sandbar near town is great for anchoring the dinghy, but only at high tide. At low tide it is totally inaccessible, being filled with broken hunks of coral.

 The alternative to the sandbar is a nice sandy beach about 1/2 a mile away by dinghy – towards the west – right next to a broken down jetty. The fishermen who hang out there will be happy to share their fresh sardines with you.

 Getting back to the boat from the jetty can be a bear – a chop tend to form in the open water between town and the anchorage. You have time your visits to town carefully.

 Very nice place……. pretty close to paradise in fact.

 Tomorrow, however, we have to move on…. heading a little south.
L.

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Heading South: Back to Port Orly

In our last blog we wrote that Chief Nixon of Waterfall Bay had sung us a welcome song and a farewell song that he composed just for us. We thought that the farewell song was premature, but it turns out it was not. The weather turned nasty and the next day (Aug 12) we left just at sunset. Heavy rain and squalls ended at about 3 pm and the weather forecast was good for going but not staying, so we left.

 We had a better than expected sail south and arrived in Port Orly early in the morning. The hot and rainy weather that we have been experiencing for the past two weeks has been replaced with strong southeasterly tradewinds and lots of sunshine. It has cooled off and the humidity has plummeted. I am wearing a light sweatshirt as I write this, and we have light blankets at night. The chop in the bay from the winds makes the snorkelling less good. Instead, we have explored the town of Port Orly, hiked a bit, and canoed up the river at the far end of the bay. The Australian catamaran Ka Pai that we met in Tanna last year came in for a day and we had a pleasant BBQ on their boat.

 We will likely remain here only a day or two more before making our way further south. Waterfall Bay in Vanua Lava Island turns out to be the furthest that we will get this season. The remaining passages of the year all get us closer Australia.

 M.

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Chief Nixon of Waterfall Bay, Vanua Lava Island, Banks Islands

We are now in our 4th day at Waterfall Bay on the island of Vanua Lava in the Banks Islands of Vanuatu. As you may guess there is a big waterfall in this bay. It is only about 40 feet high, but it is wide and the water absolutely thunders over the top into a big pool before running into the sea. It is not the kind of waterfall that you can stand under – like those you see in French Polynesia. This would would probably crush you if you dared stand right under it. We aren’t about to try. It is pretty spectacular to see though.

We met up with some friends here (from the boat Priscilla) that we have been trying to rendezvous with since leaving Australia 3 months ago. We left the marina in Scarborough, Australia in May, just a week or 10 days before them, with plans to find each other in Vanuatu but it took until yesterday to actually overlap at the same destination. Unfortunately they were only here for two days and they are already sailing north as they want to sail up to the Solomon Islands before heading west to Australia and we are heading back south through Vanuatu and then New Caledonia before heading back to Australia (or maybe New Zealand)

Waterfall Bay is beautiful and we have been lucky enough to have a few days of brilliant sunshine (not too common up here). We have also befriended Chief Nixon – one of several chiefs in this very low density place. It is actually hard to meet a grown man here who is not a chief or at least a chief’s brother. Chief Nixon is quite an engaging personality and has a lovely family of three small children. Their home (a large and clean thatched hut) is on an otherwise deserted stretch of beach that is backed by a steep, richly foliated cliff wall. We have enjoyed exchanging gifts for fruit with him and his family. They have brought us large loads of bananas, papayas, yams and drinking coconuts and we have given them childrens books, crayons and large bags of clothing (mostly for the children). They are extremely appreciative of the gifts we have given (which is not always the case). It is fun for us as we still have a lot of stuff on board to give away and it is nice to have a family that we want to give it to. It is often dificult to really have a conversation with the locals as our worlds are so very different – with no newspapers, magazines, stores, electricity, running water or other modern conveniences – they are extremely isolated. Chief Nixon, however, is a very intelligent guy and we have really enjoyed getting to know him a little.

Many of the other islands of Vanuatu have a supply ship that comes once a month with rice, sugar, oil and other supplies, but they only get a ship once or maybe twice a year. Fortunately the sea is full of fish and lobster here and people do not go hungry with all the fruit and yams that they grow. They even have beautiful fresh spring water flowing out of the rocks near the seashore.

One of the boats that was here the last few days with us is also a friend from previous sailing years and they are the only boat we have met that is not a sailboat. Their powerboat is called Special Blend (he sells fertilizer!) and Jim, the owner, and his wife Martha are avid fishermen. Jim caught a couple of huge fish as he sailed in here and presented them to Chief Kerely – who is now his friend for life. Rivalry between the chiefs is a bit of a problem here. When yet another chief (Chief Jimmy) heard about the big fish that Chief Kerely got, he rowed over to Special Blend and asked for a fish too. Jim is a really good guy and actually pulled up his anchor and went out of the bay and started trolling the reef outside for a few hours until he could bring in a suitable fish for chief #2.

Several boats have come and come since we arrived here 4 days ago, but right now the bay is empty except for us.

Very cool. Chief Nixon just paddled over to our boat with his old guitar and sang us two songs that he just composed for us. There was a welcome song and a farewell song for Mark and “Flora”. It was so cool – we have it on video and want to post it to the blog when we eventually get somewhere with internet.

L.

PS That is Mark and his wahoo in the photo,assuming the photos makes it to the blog.

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Waterfall Bay ,Vanua Lava Island

We arrived in Waterfall Bay, Vanua Lava Island in the Banks Islands today. We stayed an extra day in Gaua Island as the weather was atrocious yesterday. The problem with all of the Banks Islands is the lack of even a single protected anchorage. We anchor in just a little dent on the west side of an island. When strong squalls came up yesterday morning at around 4 am, the seas built and Sabbatical III was just pitching around in an uncomfortable manner. The forecast is pretty good as far as seas state goes for the next few days, so we are hoping for more comfortable anchoring.

 Waterfall Bay has two large waterfalls cascading down to the sea, and a small village perched below steep cliffs. Our arrival here brought together the same set of boats we were with in Port Orly waiting for a weather window to head north – Flame (Australia), Kaiterete (New Zealand), Miami (Switzerland), and Sapho (Germany).

 We have not been to shore yet but have already made an arrangement to get lobsters tomorrow morning. We will likely spend a few days here before heading to Reef Island to the northwest.

 M.

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Wahoo and Watermusic

We are in Lakona Bay (Ptetewut), Gaua (Santa Maria)Island, in the Banks Islands. We had a better than expected sail here yesterday. Right after we cleared the bay at Port Orly in Espritu Santo Island we turned off the motor and sailed all the way to Gaua Island in 10-12 knots from the ENE.

 My experience fishing this season has been mediocre — a few smallish fish. I had not been able to land a big fish capable of feeding us for several meals until yesterday. Just as we were clearing out of Port Orly, passing to the south of Lathi Island, something big struck my lure before we had even set the sails. It was a big, toothy wahoo about 4 1/2 feet long.

 Wahoo are voracious predators that swim at up to 50 knots and have a mouth full of sharp teeth. Fortunately, I had 2 meters of stainless steel wire leader connecting the fishing line (210 pound test) to the lure or it would have bit right through. There is very little waste in this fish — its pretty much all edible white meat. He yielded about 24 steaks of 3/4 to one pound in weight each.

 Today we toured two village in the bay and traded for fruit. While on the boat, people are always paddling up to Sabbatical III asking for something or offering to trade. We gave away a lot of stuff but it got tiring after a while. The women of this bay have a unique form of musical expression called “watermusic”. Eight or ten of them wade out into the river and make music by vigorously slapping the water in different ways to achieve a surprising range of tones. Laura and I are the only visitors in the bay, so we were the only “paying” customers, although all the village children came out to watch.

 Tomorrow we are heading north to Waterfall Bay in Vanua Lava Island, about 35 miles away.

 M.

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Leaving for the Banks Islands

We have been in Port Orly on the island of Espritu Santo for one week now. Today was the first day it did not rain in the past five days. On some days it rained 18 or 20 hours and came down hard. We have hung out here waiting for some wind to come up and the rain to slacken.

 Tomorrow seems to be the day. There is not much wind forecast, only 10 knots, but that beats the forecast of 2-5 knots for the rest of the week. We will leave before 6:30 am and head for Pwetevut Bay on the southeast corner of Gaua (Santa Maria) Island. It is about 50nm from here and should take us 8 or 9 hours in light winds.

 There is no cell phone service in the Banks Islands — indeed, very little communication at all. Supply ships come come and only a handful of yachts visit each year. We will,of course, still have satellite email. We are looking forward to some adventures.

 M.

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Port Orly

We are up in Port Orly – a beautiful anchorage on northeastern Espritu Santo Island about 30 miles north of our previous anchorage, Oyster Island. Before we left Oyster Island we spent a day in Luganville (the main town in Espirito Santo) trying to prepare ourselves for the next leg of the trip. We wanted to extend our visa – which expires September 9th – and had been told that we could do so in Luganville – but the authorities there said we could not extend it yet. They said it was too soon to renew it and that we should just come back in a few weeks. They don’t understand how difficult it is to just “come back” to Luganville with the sailboat after we leave to sail north. We tried our best to talk them into renewing it, but the supervisor was just not interested in helping us out, so we will see how things go over the next few weeks.

 We plan to sail north to the “Banks” – a set of islands in the far north of Vanuatu (about 50-60 miles from where we are now) – and then start working our way back south again. We may have to stop back in Luganville to extend our visa, or we may go all the way south to Port Vila to do it. Anyways, it was an interesting day in town. We drove there with Joseph, a chief in the little village near the Oyster Bay Resort. He has a nice pick-up truck that accomodated the 7 fuel cans we brought with us as well as all the fruits, vegetables and food that we bought while we were in town. It was an all day affair to do our shopping, but well worth it, as we have re-stocked on all the important things we need for the next few weeks. We even found apples which was a big treat – there are just so many bananas a person can eat! On Monday, after 10 days in Oyster Bay, we left – heading out of the shallow pass at hight tide with just a foot of water under the keel again – and sailed up to Port Orly. This is a very beautiful spot – and we were very excited to find our good friends from Intiaq here. They have already been up to the Banks and were headed south again – and we were fortunate enough to rendezvous here for a few days.

 It is always a gourmet affair with Karin and Jean Francois as she is an amazing cook and always invites us for terrific meals onboard their boat. They are a lot of fun. There are 3 other boats in the bay as well – 1 Australian (Flame), 1 New Zealand (Kaitorete), and one Swiss (Miami). We know them all from meeting them in other anchorages over the past few weeks. The two kids onboard Kaitorete know Hannah and talk about her all the time.

 We had some lovely weather the past few days, but today it is grey and rainy and it is expected to stay that way for a while.

 L.

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Still in Oyster Bay but without Hannah now

It has been 5 days already since Hannah left (we miss her!) and we are still in Peterson Bay anchored outside Oyster Island Resort. When Hannah left we had a couple days of terrible weather – grey skies and too much wind . Then it calmed down and the sun came out again. What a difference weather makes around here. We were extraordinarily lucky with weather during Hannah’s visit – lots of sunshine, not too much wind, and a few cloudy days – but nothing extreme.

We had planned to go to town yesterday ( Friday) to renew our Vanuatu visa, but as we got in the cab the driver told us that all the government offices would be closed that day for International Children’s Day. We decided to wait until Monday to go to town – it is a half an hour drive from here and we will just go in once, re-provision, get our visa renewal, and hopefully head north on Tuesday. Oyster Bay has been a nice spot to hang out.

The most interesting and beautiful thing we have  discovered here are the “blue holes” . These are deep pools formed from underground freshwater springs that carve themselves over time into expansive swimming holes over the underlying limestone rock. The color of the water ranges from an aquamarine to a deep velvety blue – and they are terrific to swim in . There are two blue holes with rivers that run into our anchorage, and both involve about an hour of kayaking each way. The rivers are very narrow and shallow – too shallow to go up at low tide even. They are lined with rich dense foliage , including some huge banyan trees, and when you kayak quietly you hear dozens of different birds. We have enjoyed the blue holes so much that we have already made 5 or 6 trips up and down them. Tomorrow we are going to treat ourselves to a big Sunday brunch at the resort! That will be a nice change from the Special K we have been eating every morning of the trip to date.

L

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Some random photos from Vanuatu during Hannah’s visit

These photos are from Hannah’s visit to Sabbatical III. Higher resolution versions are on our Flickr site (just click on any of the photos). — M. 7-20-2009

With Paramount Chief of North Pentecost, Chief William, and his wife.  Loltong, Pentecost

With Paramount Chief of North Pentecost, Chief William, and his wife. Loltong, Pentecost

View of Sabbatical III at anchor in Loltong, Pentecost Island

View of Sabbatical III at anchor in Loltong, Pentecost Island

Hannah with bananas and naked little girls peering out of their houseHannah with bananas and naked little girls peering out of their house

Dickie and family, Loltong,Pentecost Island

Dickie and family, Loltong,Pentecost Island

Mark with Chief William, Chief of Tomman Island

Mark with Chief William, Chief of Tomman Island

Laura with wife of Chief, Tomman Island

Laura with wife of Chief, Tomman Island

Hannah drinks kava (Southwest Bay, Malekula)

Hannah drinks kava (Southwest Bay, Malekula)

Hannah checks out huge cucumber (Dixons Reef, Malekula)

Hannah checks out huge cucumber (Dixon's Reef, Malekula)

Father and daughter prepare to explore Dixons Reef, Malekula

Father and daughter prepare to explore Dixon's Reef, Malekula

Laplap supper after the Kustom dance, Banam Bay, Malekula

Laplap supper after the Kustom dance, Banam Bay, Malekula

Women dance, Banam Bay, Malekula

Women dance, Banam Bay, Malekula

Men dancing, Banam Bay, Malekula

Men dancing, Banam Bay, Malekula

Change comes to Vanuatu

Change comes to Vanuatu

Longhead, Tomman Island

"Longhead", Tomman Island

Dinner on Intiaq (Karin and Jean-Francois) with the Bahatis (Nat, Betsy, Cameron) and Sam, his wife, and baby Jackson

Dinner on Intiaq (Karin and Jean-Francois) with the Bahati's (Nat, Betsy, Cameron) and Sam, his wife, and baby Jackson

Hannah with Jim from Cardeaat Lamango Ranch, Malekula

Hannah with Jim from "Cardea"at Lamango Ranch, Malekula

Solomon and Rita and their family, S.W. Bay, Malekula

Solomon and Rita and their family, S.W. Bay, Malekula

Hannah

Hannah

Lobsters in Banam Bay, Malekula

Lobsters in Banam Bay, Malekula

Chief Saitol, Banam Bay,Malekula

Chief Saitol, Banam Bay,Malekula

Hannah and schoolchildren, Loltong, Pentecost Island

Hannah and schoolchildren, Loltong, Pentecost Island

Village on Tomman Island

Village on Tomman Island

Masing performs for us aboard Sabbatical III at Banam Bay,Malekula

Masint performs for us aboard Sabbatical III at Banam Bay,Malekula

New Zealand boys bring their kill in for butchering, Lamango Ranch, Malekula

New Zealand boys bring their kill in for butchering, Lamango Ranch, Malekula

Hannah and Laura in front of the Au Bon Marche Nambatu, the best supermarket in Port Vila.  Nambatu refers to radar station number two of the US Navy during WWII.

Hannah and Laura in front of the Au Bon Marche Nambatu, the best supermarket in Port Vila. Nambatu refers to radar station number two of the US Navy during WWII.

In the dinghy

In the dinghy

Hannah and Chief Saitol, Banam Bay,Malekula

Hannah and Chief Saitol, Banam Bay,Malekula

Intiaqs rat get only a small taste of salami before the end comes

Intiaq's rat get only a small taste of salami before the end comes

The girl loves paw-paw

The girl loves paw-paw

Children at the dinghy, Loltong, Pentecost

Children at the dinghy, Loltong, Pentecost

Hannah looks for coral bombies

Hannah looks for coral bombies

Hannah reporting from Vanuatu again

Hannah and Chief Saitol, Banam Bay, Malekula, Vanuatu

Hannah and Chief Saitol, Banam Bay, Malekula, Vanuatu

Hannah’s blog: A review of the past few days, starting with July 15, 2009
On our first full day in Loltong, the enchanted-looking bay with encircling green hills, we went ashore with the two other boats in the bay, Midnight Sun and Sorcery, both from New Zealand. After a quick jaunt to see the village chief, Richard, we got back in our dinghies and zoomed over to the far end of the bay to a neighboring village. Unlike others we have visited in Vanuatu, this village was built way up on a hill. As we huffed and puffed and schvitzed our way up, a few school children, heading back to school from lunch break, offered to show us the way there. The school was up on the top of the hill, with beautiful views and a much appreciated breeze. There we met two Ozzie volunteer schoolteachers who showed us around the place. Although they’d only arrived two weeks before, they already seemed jaded about the way the school was being run and their ability to make much headway. It’s got to be difficult to get kids engaged when the former  schoolteacher had a habit of writing lessons up on the board in the morning for the kids to copy down, and then calling it a day. As the new teachers put it, school starts whenever the kids arrive, and it ends, well, when they leave. The kids do enjoy school, however, and often stick around until 6 or later in the evening. After watching all the kids do warmups on their sports field, Mom, Dad and I split off from the other couples and did a short walk up a forested footpath leading out of the village. Along the way, we ran into various ni-Vans– chopping kava, carrying massive bundles of banana plants, two very elderly ladies watching little naked toddlers. We spent the rest of the day swimming and kayaking, and enjoying our scenic little cove.
The following day, we went ashore again to take a better look at Loltong village. What I like about this village is that the kids are more precocious than in other places. Whereas in most places we’ve been the kids look shyly from afar, in Loltong, each time we beached the dinghy, a little posse of cute partially-clad kids would crowd around. They played an impromptu game of tag, with me constantly being “it”. They also took to shooting us with little seeds blown out of hollow papaya fronds. We walked around the village and met the paramount chief, William and his wife, Beth. They were a very friendly couple, with kids who have moved away to become doctors and businessmen in Fiji and the US. Afterwards, we took a longer, steeper hike up a path that climbed up a ridge overlooking the bay. We met a 75-year-old woman, truckin up the path in flip flops, twirling an umbrella to keep the sun off her face. She turned out to be extremely outgoing and sweet, the wife of chief Richard, and she talked and laughed with Mom and I all the way up the extremely steep path (which, by the way, she walks up every day, nearly an hour each way, to tend to her vegetable garden). After a while we bade her farewell, and headed back down.

Laura is taking over now – poor Hannah is tired. It is 7:00 P.M. and this is about the time she starts to fade here. Too much heat and too much sun! Anyway, to continue the saga, on the edge of the village we met Jeffrey, a very warm and friendly man whose father worked for the U.S. navy during WWII. Jeffrey was very positive about America and was disappointed to hear that we were leaving the next day. Just a few minutes later we met his son, Dickie, as warm and hospitable as his dad, who offered us fruit to take back to the boat. He climbed up the tree next to his house and started tossing pamplemousse down to Mark. He apologized for only having a small bunch of bananas and a single papaya for us (in addition to all the pamplemousse he had just picked for us). Luckily we had brought along some gifts in our backpack and could repay him with children’s clothing and books (for his two sons). That night we had made arrangements to have dinner prepared  by a local woman and listen to a string band. When we came to the village in the evening (with our friends from the two other boats), we found that the string band had been called away to play at a funeral in the village up the hill. Dinner, however, was still on, and we were greeted by songs and smiles by Mary (our cook for the evening), and several village children. It was a terrific dinner – with all sorts of local dishes – and continuous singing by the children. Some of our favorites were “Satan is the loser man” and “We are one big family”. The kids were just so pleased to be singing all their Sunday school songs for us that they didn’t want to stop singing, even when we all said, it was fine for them to go out of the little hut where we were having dinner.

The next morning we left very early to make the 55 mile run to our next anchorage on the island of Espirito Santo. It was a totally windless day so we had to motor, but it was sunny and pleasant. We sailed past the island of Ambae which has a huge volcano on it. We wanted to stop there for a night or two, but we had to keep going as Hannah leaves so soon. We arrived in Peterson Bay, Espirito Santo at 4:00 p.m.on Friday, bumping lightly into a coral head as we entered the anchorage. It is a beautiful place, but somewhat unprotected in the outer anchorage. There is a terrific protected anchorage just around the corner with a small resort, the Oyster Island Resort, that we will move to tomorrow at high tide. The pass to get in is just a few inches deeper than our boat at high tide so timing is important if you don’t want to get stuck. July 18: Collin, and his wife Mary, the owners of the resort, came out in their skiff to guide us through the narrow and shallow pass into the inner protected anchorage in front of Oyster Island. It was a bit nerve-wracking and we went through with only a few inches of water between us and the bottom. It is such a terrific anchorage, totally protected from swell, but with a nice breeze. The resort is very small (8 bungalows) and extremely low key. We went there for dinner and ended up sitting with Collin and Mary, and Collins father who is visiting from New Zealand. It was a lot of fun. They are sailers, and just have this resort as a kind of hobby. They also have a farm in New Zealand (where they raise sheep) as well as run a vineyard. There is still a lot to write, but now it is Monday morning and Hannah leaves tonight so we are off to organize her trip to the airport.

H. & L.

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Banam Bay, Malekula to Loltong, Pentecost

It’s Hannah, here, reporting to you from Banam, a lovely, wide bay in eastern Malekula Island. We arrived here two days ago after a smooth sail from the Maskelynes. Despite the gentle weather on Saturday, a low pressure system brought thunder, high winds, and sky-illuminating bolts of lightning the night before. Fortunately, our anchorage, nestled between two very green, lush islands, kept us protected.
After setting anchor in Banam, I inflated the kayak– first riding with Mom, then with Dad. As the sun set– one of the most magnificent I’ve seen yet in Vanuatu– Dad and I met some young boys heading out on wooden canoes to the reef to catch Longmouth (aka Barracuda, the same fish we ourselves caught and ate earlier this trip…yum). The next day we took the dighny out to a reef that extends from the edge of the bay to check out the snorkling. As we swam up to the drop-off, falling from 2 to nearly 100 feet, I almost chickened out and headed back to the dignhy. Even with the reassurance of our guide books and of the locals that there are only “nice” sharks here, I must admit that I find it of little comfort when actually faced with a bottemless blue abyss. But I couldn’t bear to wimp out in front of my fearless, seafaring pirates… I mean parents. So I forged ahead, and the beautiful coral and vibrant sealife, including a very bizzare looking cuddle fish spotted by Dad, made it worth pressing on. I did see two sharks slinking gracefully along the coral, roughly 6 feet each. Go figure.Two other boats who had been at the Maskulyne anchorage with us, Flame from Australia and Kaitorete from New Zealand, sailed into Banam Bay in the afternoon. Kaitorete had caught a giant yellow fin tuna just a few hours before, and were nice enough to give us a huge hunk of it. We seized upon it as soon as we got back on board, eating half as sashimi, and half quickly seared with olive oil and ginger. Unbelievable.

Saturday night we had Kaitorete and Flame over for sundowners, along with Steve from Irony, who came in after us on Saturday. It was a very lively gathering, and I spent most of the evening playing with the two adorable kids from Kaitorete, 4-year-old Megan and 7-year-old Matthew. This morning, two young men from the village brought us 3 lobsters (actually, crayfish, to be precise), a sack of lemons, and a bunch of bananas. The lobsters were huge, and made for another fresh and delicious lunch. Before that, Mom and I worked up our appetites by swimming out to meet the kids and Annabelle from Kaitorete, and Diana from Flame, who were puttering around the coral bommies near the shore, spotting fish.
In the early afternoon, a young boy came by, carrying a guitar in his canoe (which he somehow managed to keep meticulously dry). Masint is 18 years old with very good English and the sweetest, most genuine smile. After a few minutes of chatting he came aboard so he could play some songs for us on his guitar. He performed three songs in Bislama, played guitar very well and sang with enormous enthusiasm. Mom and Dad gave him one of the MP3 players they had loaded with reggae and Vanuatu “string band” music. He was very pleased. “Nambawon!” he kept thanking us, always with a thumbs up and a broad smile.

Chief Saitol, founder of the Hefah Sar Culture Club here at Banam Bay, is an 85 year old, white-haired, big-bearded and charismatic chief– a legend among cruisers. He organizes performances of the village’s traditional Kustom Dances for visiting yachties. We organized with Chief Saitol to see the dancing Monday afternoon, and headed to shore with Kaitorete, Flame and Irony. As we distributed a bag full of cell phones, which the villagers had asked us to charged on our boats (no cars, no electricity, but everyone has a cell), two German boats sailed into the bay just in time to join us for the performance.

The villagers of Banam Bay belong to the greater Malekula tribe of the Small Nambas, distinct from the Big Nambas, their former rival tribe. And in their traditional costumes, consisting of a strategically-placed banana leaf, whether or not they are in fact small or big nambas is really for each to judge. About 15 male dancers so attired performed rhythmic steps to the beat of percussion instruments played by Chief Saitol and two other older men, who sang together in chorus. Lucky for me, I got to hold hands with my new friend Megan almost the whole time. Afterwards, women, ranging from children to grandmothers, performed a female Kustom Dance, wearing their traditional grass skirts. At the end of the event, Chief Saitol gave effusive thanks to the sailors for coming, and implored us to tell our friends in American, NZ, Australia, and Germany to come see his village…”Boost tourism!”. We finished with a sort of mini feast: a fresh coconut for each person to drink and a big spread of laplap, the traditional dish of flattened and fried manioc (or breadfruit) and meat, in this case chicken. Although the event was definitely a tourist attraction, given that the villagers would typically only perform the Kustom Dances at special occasions during the year, it still felt authentic and very much Vanuatan.

July 14:
It’s the following day now, Tuesday, and Sabbatical III is safely arrived in Loltong, on Pentecost Island. Phew! We left at 6 am this morning from Banam Bay, and had a whooper of a sail, averaging 7 to 8 knots the whole way. We were feeling great, approaching our destination 2 hours earlier than planned, when a nasty squall decided to park itself over us and Pentecost, effectively blowing straight out of the mouth of Loltong bay. With the rain driving right into our faces, and the wind howling at 25-30 knots, there was no way to make out anything, let alone the markings that supposedly indicate the safe entrance through the reefs. Moreover, Loltong bay, like much of Vanuatu, has not been well charted, so we could not rely on nautical charts. Just as we were about give up any hope of entering safely, thinking instead we would continue on to another island where we hoped conditions would be milder, Midnight Sun, a boat anchored in Loltong, offered to guide us in via VHF radio. Following his instructions, we safely approached the narrow break between two reefs that flank the sides of the bay. Now that we are anchored close in to shore, it is hard to believe it is blowing so hard just a half mile out. This anchorage is unlike any other I’ve seen here: the water is glassy and deep aquamarine, reflecting the green hillside that drops sheer down to the water and encircles the bay like a towering, vine-covered ampitheater. There are frequent rainbows, including a fantastic display that showed clearly against the hillside from end to end.

After a random assortment of snacks and water-guzzling all around, Mom and Dad have collapsed into their front berth for a very well-deserved nap. And now let me say what Dad would never say about himself: he is an outstanding captain. He is competent, responsible, and ready for anything that the sea, wind or weather might bring. Thanks Dad!
On that note, I’ll sign off. Our position is …

Hannah

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From Southwest Bay to Awai on Laura’s B-Day

We are now anchored off of Awai Island in the Maskelyne Islands, a group of small islands that lie to the southeast of Malekula. As predicted, the wind shifted to northwesterly from southeasterly during the night (at 5:05 am to be exact since the 180 degree turn of the boat set off the anchor proximity alarm). When the wind has west in it, anchorages on the west side of islands become uncomfortable and possibly dangerous. So we set off for Awai which is nestled between three islands and is pretty much protected from all directions.
 
As this is Laura’s birthday, I promised to catch her a tuna. This put a lot of pressure on me, but I was able to deliver 5 1/2 hours into our 6 hour sail. The tuna was quite small but tasty. Hannah made pina coladas and we toasted Laura as the rain pelted outside accompanied by flashes of lightening.
 
Yesterday we did not do much. Hannah needed to rest after our kava drinking, so Laura and I did a short snorkel at Ten Stick Rock. Later in the afternoon, Rita and Solomon and four of their children paddled out in their outrigger canoes to visit us. We befriended them last year and we were all happy to get together again. They brought us another load of fruit and we had special gifts for them that we brought from the States. We chatted in the cockpit until the sun was about to set. Right after they left, Scott, the son of the “Lamangoe” ranch owner who was so hospitable to us the previous day,and his pal, also named Scott and also from New Zealand, came to Sabbatical III for sundowners and snacks, as did Jim of Cardea. We had a great time with them, sampling various non-kava beverages, among them the “Q. F.”, a drink whose full name cannot be spelled out in this blog.
 
We will probably head up to Banam Bay on the east coast of Malekula tomorrow, weather permitting.
 
M.

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Goat killing, bumpheads, and kava

Goat killing, bumpheads, and kava

Since our last blog we spent a couple of very quiet, but nice days in the anchorage near Dixon Reef, and then sailed down to Southwest Bay yesterday. Dixon Reef turned out to be an amazing place for snorkeling. The reef is very expansive, with gorgeous coral formations and tons of colorful fish. For a while we just kept seeing lots and lots of beautiful, but small fish, but then we were rewarded by seeing a large school of bumphead parrotfish. They look just like the name would indicate – huge fish (up to 4 feet long), with a tremendous long face topped by a great big bump. They look more like a cartoon than a real fish. They travel in schools and we happened upon about 10 of them feeding on the reef. They let us follow them for quite a long way. It was a real thrill. We also saw a few white tipped sharks and a sea turtle. The village of Dixon Reef is not near the anchorage so we did not have much interaction with the locals, except on Sunday when we walked to town. The anchorage was beautiful, but a bit uncomfortable as it was not well protected from the ocean swell. The only other boat there was Cardea, with our friend Jim on it.

We have just spent our first day in Southwest Bay anchored outside the village of Lembinwen. We were here last year and enjoyed it very much so we wanted to bring Hannah here. We have had quite an adventure today. As a matter of fact, Mark and Hannah left the boat an hour ago to go drink kava on the beach with the locals. It was a rainy day and we almost did not leave the boat this morning, but I am so glad we did. First we went to the village where we walked around and met some of the villagers. People here are friendly, but extremely shy. A few people remembered us from last year.

There is a small river that runs by the edge of the village and empties out into the ocean and on the other side of it there is a very large ranch owned by a New Zealander. The ranch has sheep, goats, cattle, chickens and a few riding horses. It is very large, covering over 200 acres of land, and it has the only western style home on the island as far as we can tell. We had caught glimpses  of the lovely ranch from the water, and had even visited the grounds last year, although the owner was not in the country at that time. The ranch sells their beef to markets in Vanuatu, exports some to Australia and New Zealand, and gives away a lot to the villagers. This time, when we went to visit, we were very lucky, as the owner’s 22 year old son was there. When we walked up to the house we saw him and a few other white boys near the shed where they process and store meat and eggs. We went to say hello and realized they were right in the middle of butchering several goats. There were severed heads and entrails sitting in a huge pile on the ground, and a lot of blood.

The owners son, Scott, is an extremely friendly, outgoing and generous young guy. He spends several weeks a year here, and the rest of the year in New Zealand where he owns his own butcher shop. His dad apparently owned about 50 butcher shops in New Zealand and just fell in love with Vanuatu and decided
to build a ranch here and now lives here about one quarter of each year. Scott explained to us that a client of theirs had just put in an order for 10 goats and so they were in the process of killing and butchering the animals just as we arrived. It was not a pretty sight, but extremely interesting. Scott slung a rifle with a scope over his shoulder and we followed him out to the lovely meadow where the goats were grazing. He felled three more goats with a single shot between the eyes (from 50 meters) as we watched and then two of his friends ran out and slit their throats (anyone hungry yet?). It does sound kind of horrible, but it really was so interesting. Two of Scott’s friends are young New Zealanders who are in Vanuatu teaching English to some of the kids in the next village over (about a mile away). Another of his friends is an engineer who comes out to Vanuatu once a year or so to repair equipment on the ranch. Scott asked if we would stay and have lunch with them. It was a hard invitation to refuse. The home is not ostentatious, but is very lovely, with a huge veranda overlooking the bay, the palm covered hills, and the beautiful water. Small outriggers paddle back and forth across the bay with fishermen. All of the local people love Scott and his family because they are apparently quite generous and are continuously doing things for the villagers – including paying for the rebuilding of an entire village after a hurricane several years ago, giving away meats and eggs, and employing many of the locals on the ranch. Scott insisted on preparing lunch for all of us – 7 guests in all. He grilled meat (of course), prepared potatoes and salad and bread (baked by a local woman) and insisted on giving us several steaks to take back to the boat with us. Then he asked us to meet him in the village to drink kava at his favorite kava bar. Mark and Hannah and Jim all went – but I was too exhausted to leave the boat. Hope they get back soon so we can hear all about it!

L.

This is Mark now, just back from 2 1/2 hours of “kava crawl” though the kava bars (nakamals) of Lembinwen village. This village of 300 persons has 6 nakamals. The first nakamal Hannah and I visted was in a thatched hut and the second (“Gideon’s”) was outside a hut (the rain had stopped) further from the beach. We sat on plain wooden benches. One typically drinks kava standing up, taking the whole portion without taking a breath, and then spits afterward either onto the dirt floor of the nakamal or outside. We were with Jim of Cardea, the four Kiwis, and two Vanuatans who work on the ranch. It was very mellow and Hannah and I had several cups of kava over two hours.

Kava makes conversation easy and makes it comfortable to just hang around in the nakamal being thoughtful, or at least that is the perception. The kava drinking was still in full swing when Hannah and I left for the boat but we thought Laura might be worried about us. I ran into Solomon whom we know well from last year and invited him and Rita, his wife, to visit us in the mid-afternoon tomorrow. At five in the evening, we will have our Kiwi friends and Jim over for beers and snacks. So our social schedule is quite full, in spite of the rain.

M.

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Dixon’s Reef

We are now anchored at Dixon’s Reef on the west coast of Malekula Island. We arrived here yesterday afternoon after a 4 hour passage from Millipe.
 
We spent our last full day at Millipe snorkeling, reading, and talking with local people. We were presented with even more pamplemousse, coconuts,bananas,passion fruit, and papaya. So much that its consumption seems impossible.
 
An hour after arriving in Dixon’s Reef, we got a radio call from our friend Jim on Cardea who had just anchored in Southwest Bay, 8 miles to the south, after a trip from Epi Island. He picked up anchor and came up to join us in Dixon’s Reef. There are no other boats here nor did we see any others in Millipe on on our passage north.
 
Jim came over for a fresh fish dinner. I caught a strange looking fish just outside the reef on the way in. It was long and thin, with a very elongated mouth full of many sharp teeth. To be sure it was safe to eat, I took a photo of it’s head and brought it to shore where we met a local man loading wood onto his dugout. He said it is a “longmouth” and was perfectly safe to eat. My kava buddies in Millipe had said that they ate “longmouth” but I did not know what that looked like.
 
Anyway, the fish was delicious and more than enough for the four of us. Hannah made a frozen rum drink for us to enjoy before the meal — fresh passion fruit juice, coconut milk, frozen banana, mango, and a healthy dose of rum
 
Today we will snorkel on the reef. The water here is very clear. The seas are way down and the sky is almost cloudless, so it should be a great day to see the coral and fish.
 
The location of Sabbatical III is S16 degrees 21.011 minutes E167 degrees 22.968 minutes.
 
M.

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Millipe Bay, day at Tomman Island

July 1, 2009
Millipe Bay, day at Tomman Island, Population 300
 
In the morning, a man paddled by with a canoe laden with wooden planks. I learned he was chief WIlliam of Tomman Island. We told him we’d be there shortly, and he said there would be activities for us to see on shore, including a football (soccer) match, and a man with a long head. One of the reasons Dad was keen on coming here was to see the “long-heads”, as they’re called, an old tradition of elongating childrens’ heads that was stopped by the missionaries.
A lot happened today, so I decided to write it in bullet points:
-Chief William and wife Annie greeted us on the white beach of Tomman Island, which is across the straight from Millipe Bay, where we are anchored
-At their lovely, flower-filled compound, William took out a clay bird, made by an elder family member, and dictated the village creation myth while a daughter translated into French. According to the myth, 5 brothers in Millepe sent a bird to kill a large clam in the ocean. The bird planted a tree in the clam, from which Tomman Island grew.
-WIlliam and Annie guided us through the village, showing us water sources, a primary school, churches, and the dance ground for the island’s traditional ritual dances. Only members of Chief William’s family can dance, and they do so to the drumming of large tamtams, a special kind of Vanuatan drum.
-Evidence of a confused colonial history: Although they are right across the bay, young people in Tomman Island speak French while people in Millipe speak English. Even crazier, in Tomman, the older generation speaks English while their kids speak French.
-I talked a lot (in French) with a young girl named Marilyn. Since neither of us speak French very well, there was a lot of miscommunication, and just nodding and smiling. What we did understand we high-fived to– figuring out we are both the same age, both un-married, and both prefer the village life to Port Villa, the capitol.
-Annie told an interesting story about the “Hidden Time”– what they call the period in thier history before missionaries arrived. In the hidden time, people from other villages would often come and kill women and children in Tomman, so the village moved. “Then we learned about God”, Annie said, “and now, no more” she shaking her head.
- They took us to see the last remainining long-head, an old man with what seemed to be an especially accentuated forehead. This used to be done by binding the heads of babies. He claimed to be 95 years old, born before missionaries and before WWII, during which he worked with the US Navy. He had a full head of hair, and a toothless smile.
-Finally we came to the village’s big sports field, ringed with palm trees. Today was the football match between Tomman and Southwest Bay, and everyone was out cheering, including fans from Southwest Bay and Millipe.
-Girls were playing volley ball on a court next to the field, and although no one was watching, they were pretty good!
-We drank coconut milk from green coconuts Annie cut for us
-William expressed his appreciation for Dad’s friendship profusely
-We bought coconut crab from William and Annie, who gave us a long demonstration of how to kill, cook, and remove “his mess”, and we also bought the clay bird and a clay mask from the elder man
-After lunch and a short nap, Dad went to drink kava with Chief Holland, Bill and Newman of Millipe in the Nakamal (a special place for men to drink kava)
-They made fun of him for coming exactly at the time they had agreed on– very American, they said
-After about 7 shots of kava, Dad stumbled back onto the boat, high as a kite
-Dad sat on deck, completely zoonked– don’t worry, I captured it on film
-Bill and Newman came over in canoe to help us cook coconut crab
-As we waited for the pot to boil, Bill and Newman explained the different methods by which they catch crabs, lobster, flying foxes (bats), squid, octopus, etc
-They also pointed out good locations to snorkel in the bay, but warned of a taboo area, inhabited by a dead man’s spirit
-They explained the Vanuatan “grade-taking” tradition, whereby men, who have the intention of becoming chief, attain higher social ranks by ceremoniously killing pigs
-We then enjoyed “Nambawan!” (say it phoenetically) coconut crab on deck while the sun set
-Bill and Newman said so long, as they paddled back to shore for more kava-drinking
-Dad burned reggae CDs for Bill, a self-proclaimed Reggae Man, and chief Holland
-Mom and Hannah made delicious babganoush and were generally domestic as Dad lay down, waiting for his kava buzz to wear off
~Hannah~

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Paradise.

Paradise. I think I’ve finally found it. I’m sitting in the main salon, swaying in the gentle roll of a small, shallow bay, fringed by a white sand beach where the local fishermen keep their wooden outrigger canoes. The sun just set pink and purple over the palm and banyan trees that cover the low-lying island.
How did I get here? Just a week ago, I was in Evanston, IL, running through the torrential rain that punctuated the end of my graduation ceremony from Northwestern; then I drove across country with my friend Hannah to NY where I embarked on a marathon of flights: from NY to LA, from LA to Brisbane, Australia, and then from Brisbane to Port Villa, Vanuatu, where Mom and Dad were waiting at the airport.
We spent the first two days in Port Villa, the bustling urban capital of this island nation, population 210,000. We stocked up on food at the “Nambatu” grocery store (just say it phonetically and you’ll get the meaning) and the open-air market, walking around (and shvitzing our heads off), and sleeping what seemed to me to be absurdly long hours (although to cruisers, 11 hours is standard). On the second night we had “sundowners” with the couples of three other boats. We drank wine and toasted to our various accomplishments, including my graduation, two recent wedding anniversaries, and the successful capture of a wily rat that had been eluding our good friends on Intiaq (he had just sunk his teeth into a nice piece of salame when the trap sprung and, well, that was that).
Yesterday we did a mini-sail over to another bay for an afternoon snorkel, before heading out for an overnight cruise to Malekula and Tomman Islands. Although I planned to be a good crew member and stay up as long as I could, a combination of jet-lag, fresh air, and an anti sea sickness pill made it physically impossible for me to keep my eyes open. I did manage to get myself on-deck for Mom’s 1:30-6:00 AM shift, and I watched the stars and then the sunrise through intermittent naps.
A long, slow sail paid off when we arrived here at Millepe bay, protected by Malekula on one side an Tomman island on the other. Almost as soon as we anchored, villagers began tentatively canoeing out to say hello. A boat of young boys brought eight pamelos, a boat full of girls brought bananas and grapefruit. We gave them toys, lollipops, and t-shirts in return. Soon after, we went to shore to pay our respects to the chief and see the village. The young chief greeted us, as did the same young girls who had paddled up to our boat. One of them spoke English particularly well, and they all guided us through what we learned were actually three separate villages, but which they refer to as Millipe. Although there are only 100 inhabitants between the three villages, each has a church of a different denomination. They took us to the Seventh Day Adventist church in the first village, with beautiful wood carvings and gardens with engraved stones in front of the thatched praye
r house. An elder man showed us inside the prayer house, and donned the ceremonial church sacraments, including a wooden crown, spear and sword (we aren’t sure this is exactly how the Seventh Day’s do it in the US). We walked along a beautiful path between the villages, swept clean and lined with manicured bushes and flowers. It was as if we were in a tropical garden. Along the way, the girls and a growing party of children and relatives pointed out the island’s bounty: lemon, guava, grapefruit, pamelo, banana, pineapple, papaya, mango (not in season!!!!), all kinds of tubers, cocoa nuts, coconuts, green vegetables, fresh chicken eggs—they offered and we gladly accepted.
We finally arrived back at the beach where a group of men were preparing kava, a special intoxicating drink enjoyed by the men in Vanuatu. In fact, Malekula is known for its particularly potent variety. Dad was invited by the chief for a kava session tomorrow afternoon—“chief and chief” he said, smiling.
A beautiful sunset kayak ride with Mom rounded out this ridiculously amazing day, and now its time to get my 11 hours.
Allay! (Goodbye in Bislama)
Hannah
(PS Our position is S16 degrees 34.722 E167 degrees 29.545)

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Ripped genoas and Devils Point

WWII Museum:  Havannah Harbor, Efate Island, Vanuatu

WWII Museum: Havannah Harbor, Efate Island, Vanuatu

It is Tuesday evening, June 23, and we just returned to Port Vila to be sure we were here and ready for Hannah’s arrival on Saturday. The 3 day Government festival in Mele did, indeed, turn out to be a 3 day festival – going on non-stop all night and all day. It did not make for a peaceful setting for the boat with all the amplified music coming from shore throughout the night, but we were kind of stuck there because of the weather. The winds picked up on Friday and Saturday and it rained and blew hard. No matter how hard it rained, or how the wind howled, the party onshore just kept on going – much to my chagrin. We were guessing there must have been a lot of pretty drunk or kava-ed out government officials out there by the third day.

Food Booth at Mele Festival:  Hot Tuluk (Yam and Meat Pie)

Food Booth at Mele Festival: Hot Tuluk (Yam and Meat Pie)

School girls:  Mele village

School girls: Mele village

When we finally left on Saturday morning the weather had improved quite a bit and we were able to sail up to Havannah Harbor – about 25 miles away. It is a fairly difficult sail as you have to go around a point of land known to local sailors as “Devils Point”. It is a well deserved name as the wind just pours over the hills there and kicks up turbulent seas and big waves. The wind was gusting up to 35 knots and we had to reef in our sails. Just after we rounded the final nasty portion of water and were heading into the smooth and protected waters of Havannah Harbor, we heard a loud “ka-ching” and saw that we had ripped the genoa (the front sail). There is a large metal ring sewn into the clew of the sail and reinforced by hundreds of stitches that holds the jib sheet. It must have weakened without us knowing it, and the strong gusts must have helped the stitches just rip apart, so the entire metal ring ripped right out of the sail. Unfortunately, while this left the sail itself in pretty decent shape, it was unusable since there was now no place to tie the sheet and thereby harness the sail. We rolled it up and just sailed with the mainsail into the bay.

There are several anchorages in Havannah Harbor and we selected one about 2/3 of the way inside the bay (maybe 5 miles from the mouth of the bay) to be sure we were in a calm place and also because we knew two other boats there. Even though it was still quite windy, it was well protected from swells and after anchoring the boat it was just as peaceful and calm and quiet as possible. The two boats that were there – Betsy and Nat from “Bahati” with their 19 year old crew member Cameron and Jim from “Cardea” – have been friends of ours for some time now and we spent a couple of days there together – taking turns at having pot-luck dinners on our boats. The weather finally cleared and we were even able to do some swimming and snorkeling. There is a cute little town nearby with a brand new road being built through it. The road is sponsered by the U.S. and all the locals were very happy to tell us about it. There are only a few houses, and a school along the road right now – no stores – but maybe things will change once the road is completed (too bad). It is going to be a nicely paved road and will eventually go around most of Efate island.

There was one very interesting little museum on the road – the “Havannah Harbor WWII Museum”. It is just a 10 by 20 foot shack filled with coca cola bottles, beer bottles and some old wreckage from WWII. There is even a wing of an old Corsair fighter plane propped outside the door. The museum is owned and run by a very friendly Vanuatan man, Ernest, who has been collecting and displaying his stuff for the past 34 years. He has coca cola bottles from over 350 different U.S. cities – all dated before 1945. Each one has the name of the city it came from and the year it was manufactured right in the glass on the bottom of the bottle. He managed to pull one out for us from Providence, RI when we told him where we are from. Everything in the museum was left behind by the U.S. navy which used Havannah Harbor as a staging point for the war in the Pacific. There were more than 80 naval vessels in the bay here during the war – starting in 1942 – and it was the major staging point for attacks in the Solomon Islands (Guadalcanal) and New Guinea – both of which are nearby.

Ernest shows us the Providence, RI Coke bottle circa 1944

Ernest shows us the Providence, RI Coke bottle circa 1944

Providence bottle

Providence bottle

To get back to Port Vila (and points beyond), we had to have a jenoa sail up, so Mark and I put up the new large genoa that we had built for us in New Zealand last year. Thank goodness for that! Our sail back to Port Vila was even harder than the sail to Havannah Harbor, with winds and seas at and around Devil’s Point leaping all over the place. A very uncomfortable ride. Luckily the whole sail back here from Havannah Harbor was only 6 hours – with the two hours before Devil’s Point being calm and pleasant. We were glad to reach Port Vila and tie up to a mooring ball in such a nicely protected, calm place once again.

World War II Museum, Havannah Harbor, Vanuatu

World War II Museum, Havannah Harbor, Vanuatu

Tomorrow we will try to get the ripped genoa fixed.
L.

Mele, Vanuatu

June 18th, 2009

We left Port Vila on Monday and sailed just a few miles away to Mele Bay – it is a quiet little anchorage outside the village of Mele which is the 2nd largest village in Vanuatu with 6,000 inhabitants. Because it is only 10 minutes by car (and one hour by sailboat)from Port Vila, it is quite modern, and although poor by western standards, quite wealthy for Vanuatu. It is clear that most houses have t.v. and everyone has a cell phone. Lots of simple thatched houses, but also lots made from tin, or even whitewashed with real windows. Lots of people hang yams outside on lines and at first we thought they were rows of sausages. This might make sense as besides yams, the other popular household item is pigs – lots of them – and really huge ones as well as many piglets. Mark and I walked around the village when we arrived and it was clear that we were in a neighborhood that is very used to tourists. No one gave us a second glance. It has been nice getting out of Port Vila. The water here is very clean and we have been able to swim every day the last 3 days and take walks on the long beach.

It has not exactly been a quiet anchorage though. The province of “Shefa” which we are in is apparently celebrating 15 years of being in existence and there has been nearly non-stop music and festivities being held at the large soccer field which is quite close to the anchorage. Last night the music and amplified prayers started at 7 p.m. and seemed to go on almost without stop until this morning at 7:00. We walked over to the field today to see what was going on and it looks like this government holiday is going to continue for a full three days! It was fun to be there – lots of dignitaries (including the president of Vanuatu!), rugby tournaments, comedians (who we could not understand), games for the kids, Vanuatu string band and reggae competitions, and best of all -food booths. It was nice to hang around and watch everything. For the last 3 nights there have been 5 or 6 boats with us in the bay – all of them from New Zealand. One night everyone got invited to “Midnight Sun” – a boat built by an Australian man, but sailed out of New Zealand. When he built the boat it was a 40 footer, but after twenty years of sailing he decided it was not big enough and decided to just add 10 more feet at the back. It made for an excellent party boat with more deck space than any other boat we have been on. Today all the boats left and we are tring to decide whether to stay here a few more days,head north to another anchorage, or head back to Vila to get good internet access (always important). The weather is pretty terrible – lots of clouds and some rain. It is really beautiful when the sun comes out, but that has not happened more than a few hours every day. Happy 31st anniversary today to us!

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Saturday June 13, 2009

We are still in Port Vila. A local theatre group is performing in town for a week and we decided we would walk up the hill to watch them. It was to be performed at the Chief’s Nakamal (meeting house). We took our little foldable chairs and trudged up the hill with some friends (along with some mosquito spray) to see the show. When we got to the nakamal we heard wailing and moaning and saw groups of people sitting somberly outside the thatched house. Mark and our friend Nat went inside to see what was going on. Much to Mark’s surprise there was a dead body laid out on a table with women keening over him loudly. It turns out that a very big chief on the island had just died and they were holding a wake for him in the nakamal. Needless to say, the show did not go on. Mark has been busy doing lots of boat prep (still) – working on some problems with our water pump, replacing the VHF radio, changing our propane tanks and other essentials for the boat. Our friends from Intiaq are moored right beside us. We had not seen them for almost two years. They are great people and we hope to see them a lot while we are both together in Vanuatu. We are having pretty quiet days, but seem to socialize with one boat or another most every night. We are anxious to get out of town and sail to a nice, clean anchorage, but are still not quite ready. We promise more exciting blogs soon…… L

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June 10, 2009 : Officially checked in and ready to roll

We ended up spending a full week in Vanuatu before we were able to actually go ashore. It is not exactly life in the fast lane here. We never made it to shore at Aneityum, the first island we stopped at in Vanuatu. We were a bit nervous about getting off the boat there since there was no way to officially check in and we had read that if the wrong person happened to see you there you could get a big fine and other penalties. We contented ourselves with sleeping a lot and seeing a few visitors – first a local guy, Joseph, who came by in his outrigger, and then with two boats that shared the bay with us over those few days. Probably overly cautious, but we did not want to risk our ability to stay in Vanuatu this year. After an absolutely glorious overnight, full moonlit sail from Aneityum we dropped our anchor on Sunday morning in Port Villa. We were stuck on the boat all day Sunday because customs and immigration don’t work week-ends here and they
 are quite strict about observing the “stay on the boat until checked in ” rule. On Monday morning the quarantine boat came by the anchorage and, after taking away all of my remaining fruits and vegies ( exactly 2 onions and one garlic clove), we were free to go to shore to complete the check-in with customs and immigration. Unfortunately we could not get our dinghy engine to start up and it was too far for us to row the dinghy to shore (it is a big, tubby inflatable). We did, however, move ourselves over to the mooring area with all the other boats. We ended up right next to one of the boats that was with us in Aneityum, as well as Lorna, another Amel Supermaramu (same boat as ours) who we were very friendly with in New Zealand a year ago. Bo, the Swedish man on Lorna, saw us having trouble getting our outboard started and offered to help diagnose the problem. Within minutes it was purring like a kitten and Mark and I hopped onboard and took care of
 customs and immigration. It felt great to walk on dry land and we took care of some necessities – like getting money, a sim for our cell phone , eating lunch out (a thrill at this stage) and finally, for a highlight of the day, stopping at the huge vegetable and fruit market and stocking up on some oranges, bananas and sweet, huge, pamplemousse. We finally feel like the trip is starting. It has certainly been a big setup time – 3 weeks of preparation in Australia, 1 week at sea, and 1 week on land before we are back to our new “normal” life. L.

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Safe arrival in Port Vila

We arrived safely in Port Vila about 8 hours ago (11 am this morning). The winds were good, the seas were calm, and there was a full moon in a clear sky. All in all, an excellent sail north.
Tomorrow we will get formally checked-in and move over to a mooring. There seems to be good wireless in the mooring field now, so perhaps we will get ourselves an account and be able to use Skype and check our email accounts. More tomorrow.
 
M.

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Resting in Aneityum

This is our second day here in Aneityum and we have not left the boat yet. It is really windy and we are too lazy to think about setting up the dinghy and engine. Maybe tomorrow. There is one other boat in the bay next to us called “Sunstone” We invited them for tea today. (One of my favorite parts of sailing – inviting people over that you have not even met – you just see them on their boat a few hundred yards away and they look sympatico). Really interesting couple – they are originally from England – but the man grew up in the States, served in the US Navy, became a teacher and then a school principal. She was also a teacher. Both are avid sailors and racers. They have sailed around the world 1.5 times in the past 12 years – spending long stretches of time in New Zealand and Australia. They have a classic Sparkman&Stephen’s centerboard sloop made of wood. They are leaving tomorrow for Port Vila (the capitol of Vanuatu) and we will probably catch up with them again there
.
We have heard from several very good friends of ours and all of them are coincidentally in Tanna right now, the next island up the chain. We will all meet up in Port Vila next week and there will be lots of i socializing. How fun.
The island here looks lovely and is supposed to have excellent snorkeling with a huge protected reef – but it is very windy and quite cool so I don’t think it likely that we will get in the water. Aneityum is cool because it is the southernmost island in Vanuatu. In the winter the temperature ranges from 60 degrees to 74 degrees. There are no ‘kustom’ (traditional) villages or ceremonies anymore. The missionary who came here 150 years ago converted almost everyone to Christianity within a few years, although it is said he could not easily stop the custom of strangling wives on the husbands’ death. Women apparently insisted on this right. We expect that this has changed by now.
L.

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Safe arrival in Aneityum (Anatom) Island, Vanuatu

We are currently anchored in the sheltered bay of Anelcauhat, on Aneityum (Anatom) Island, Vanuatu, having arrived about 3 hours ago. Our position is:
S 20 degrees 14.4 minutes
E 169 degrees 46.6 minutes.
 
The wind came up up three days ago. It was later than forecast, but to make up it’s tardiness, it blew harder than forecast. We had 25 knots for much of the time and seas rose to 12 to 15 feet. We sped along but it was not very comfortable. Our friends on Priscilla, who left Australia three days after us, decided to return to Australia after two days out. They did not have as good an angle to wind as we did, so they probably did the right thing. We had the wind aft of the beam the whole time it blew since we had done so much “easting” in the previous days.
 
It was squally when we approached Aneityum but the entrance to the bay was not difficult. There is one other sailboat here. The wind is still blowing hard and it is raining on the slopes but it is well protected in this bay.
 
We have already had a visitor aboard. Joseph, a teacher in the secondary school, paddled over in his outrigger. He will help us to arrange a formal check-in sometime during the next few days. There is a barge/dredge and tugboat that just came up from New Caledonia, and a Customs/Quuaratine/Immigration crew will fly out from Port Vila to check them in, and we hope us as well.
 
For now, all we want is to catch up with sleep and clean up all the sailing gear strewn around the boat. Laura, in particular, is happy not to be out in the rough sea for another night. She says she has reached he limit.
 
M.

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