View of Prague
View of Prague

We traveled by train to Prague from Berlin on November 11 (Tuesday).  We stayed in a cute flat in a classic building in the Vinohrady district, one block from the tram and the metro.  We had tickets for the Czech State Opera a couple of hours after we arrived from Berlin, and we barely got organized in time to get there. We ended up walking to the theatre which really was not too far… maybe a 20 minute fast walk from the apartment. We had great seats (10th row center) for a very good price, and enjoyed a very well done Barber of Seville.

We spent the next couple of days just walking around the town, taking trams and the metro and enjoying the beautiful architecture. The restaurants in our neighborhood were all cute, trendy and reasonably priced. The best find of all was a restaurant called Parlament, closer to the center of town, that served real Czech food.

On Friday night we went to another opera, Rigoletto. This time we were in the third row center and enjoyed it even more.  Saturday morning we left for Vienna.


Mark at the Parlament Restaurant
Mark at the Parlament Restaurant
On the famous bridge over the Charles River
Hebrew words on crucifix on the famous bridge over the Charles River
Old Jewish Cemetary.  Oldest tombstone dates to 1439.
Old Jewish Cemetery. Oldest tombstone dates to 1439.
Old Jewish Cemetery.  Oldest tombstone dates to 1439.
Old Jewish Cemetery. Oldest tombstone dates to 1439.
Food van on the street in Jewish Quarter
Food van on the street in Jewish Quarter


We spent three days in Berlin with our sailing friends Michael and Britta of “Vera.” The most special part of our short stay was participating in the celebrations commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We also shared great meals, toured around, and then Laura and I saw a great concert by the Vienna Philharmonic on the last evening. We then took the train to Prague. More on that later.


Brandenburg Gate illuminated during the 25th anniversary celebrations. The lit white balloons represent the actual location and height of the Berlin Wall.

Balloons representing the Wall near Potsdamer Platz.
Balloons along the river.
Posing with Michael.
Touring the Kaiser’s palaces at Potsdam.


Sculpture in Berlin.
Chocolate feast at Fassbinder & Rausch.

Waiting for our ride

Sixteen of the seventeen boats that the Thorco Svendborg will carry to Turkey are now arrayed on her deck, sitting in cradles welded to the steel deck plates. The only boat left is Sabbatical III. We are spending our third night at anchor waiting to bring her alongside.

The wind and sea came up strong last night and persisted all day, slowing the loading process. By 5 pm only two boats had been loaded today with two to go. The third boat of the day did not get lifted aboard until dark (we think). Even if they could get to us, the steep waves would make it impossible for a rigger to work at the top our mast taking down the triadic stay and rigging runners. The peculiarities of our ketch rig necessitate these actions. We are the only ketch coming aboard.

To get out of the waves, we moved behind Ko Nakha Noi island. It is much more comfortable than last night when we were on the eastern side of the island, facing the freighter.

We hope to move alongside the freighter at 0630, but that depends on the sea state. It seems to be calming,so we are hopeful. There is little left to eat except canned goods. Fear not for we are still plump and healthy.




We are in Kuala Lumpur. The US Embassy was very efficient this morning and Laura already has 24 new pages in her passport. We had a very nice lunch at a nasi kandar restaurant and are now back in our deluxe hotel room at the Royale Chulan which was upgraded for free to an executive suite. I know this will be a controversial statement for most, but we prefer Malaysia to Thailand for eating. Just to be certain, over the next few days we will sample lots of different restaurants in KL, including some duck places.

The photo is a partially obscured view of the famous Petronas Towers taken from the KLCC park.


Phang Nga Bay with Ben: Part II


Wedding guests party on Sabbatical III anchored in Rai Le Beach

After spending most of the month of December at the marina in Phuket doing boat repairs we left the dock on December 28th to start heading across Phang Nga Bay to Krabi Province to pick up Ben.   Krabi is only about 32 nautical miles away as the crow flies, but you can’t go directly there because of all the islands in the way between Phuket and Krabi.  There are also several areas in the large bay where the water is too shallow to cross except at a higher tide, so the timing of each day’s passage had to be planned out.  We spent 4 days sailing through Phang Nga Bay stopping each day to drop anchor and explore the many spectacular islands that rise almost vertically out of the bay. The steep cliffs of these islands are famous for their many beautiful hidden “hongs” which are caves that are burrowed into the mountain, often opening into dramatic enclosed lagoons with emerald green water.  Access to the hongs is typically by kayak, and  sometimes the openings into the hongs are so small that you can only swim in.   The mountains of Phang Nga Bay, as well as the hongs, are famous and you would most likely have seen them in many of the travel brochures or other ads for Thailand.  There was even one featured in an old James Bond Movie (“The Man With the Golden Gun”) and it is now known as James Bond Island.  Although James Bond Island was a bit underwhelming to us, compared to the other islands in the bay, its name has made it one of the busiest tourist destinations in the area.

We began at Koh Hong island where, in addition to the large hong, we were offered fresh prawns early each morning by fisherman on longtails.  After spending a quiet New Years by ourselves in a beautiful anchorage 15 miles west of Krabi (Koh Kudu Yai) we sailed east towards Krabi in winds that often topped 30 knots. We arrived in Rai Le Bay (near Krabi) on January 1st.   As soon as we pulled into the beautiful bay we got a phone call from Ben.  He was on the beach and had watched us drop anchor.   He and his large group of friends, all visiting Thailand, were all anxious to come to the boat.  They had all attended the wedding of two of their Brown University friends in Bangkok (Sunissa and Nat) and were extending their celebration at the low-key backpacker resort area at Rai Le.    Ben arrived on our boat at about 5:30 p.m. via a longtail boat ( the name of the noisy local  wooden boats that carry tourists and just about anything else you can think of back and forth)  with a half dozen of his friends.   Soon after another 2 longtails arrived dropping off another 10 friends and we had a wonderful party onboard Sabbatical III.  It was such a fun celebration to have Ben with us again, and then to be part of the celebration for his fantastic group of friends.

That night Ben went back to shore to spend one more night with his friends.   Poor guy got hit with either food poisoning or the flu and was up sick all night.  By the next day he felt better and he and his close friend Nathanial and his wife, Stephanie all came out to the boat. We had planned to take them all out sailing for 2 days, but by the time we had dinner it was clear that it was Nathanial’s turn to be sick so he and Steph headed back to shore where they knew they would be more comfortable.  They both ended up being sick, as did many others in their group. It must have been quite a contagious flu, but neither Mark nor I got it.

Rai Le Bay was beautiful, but way too noisy with dozens of longtails zooming by in the anchorage all day long, so we were happy to lift anchor, with Ben on board and proceed to one of the nearby anchorages (to “Chicken Head Island” ) where we could enjoy the beauty of our surroundings.   We then spent the next 6 days sailing back towards Phuket with Ben, stopping in all of the beautiful places we had discovered on our way to meet him, and finding several more.    I am providing detailed notes on these anchorages later in the blog to aid other sailors.   Highlights of the trip included watching thousands of fruit bats rise up out of the trees on a mountain near us and fly directly overhead as they crossed over to some distant island, swimming everyday in the emerald green water (always on the look-out for jelly-fish), exploring the “hongs” or inner lagoons of many of the islands (to enter the hong you usually have to paddle through a narrow entrance either on a kayak or a dinghy – in some cases you can only swim in), admiring the sheer beauty of the sea mountains and all the strange shapes of the stalagtites, watching monkeys on the shore, watching Ben climb up to the naturally carved  walkways formed on the outsides of the cliffs and leap off  (sometimes via a swinging vine), sitting on the deck every evening watching the clouds and stars, eating lots of mangoes, watermelon, bananas, mangosteen, rambutan, longan (Ben’s favorite).  Eating too spicy curry.  Making fruit smoothies. Being surrounded by natural beauty every single day.  Having the anchorages all to ourselves at the end of the day when all the tourist boats would leave.

We arrived back at Phuket on the evening of the 8th and pulled into our marina slip on the 9th.  On our last day on the boat together Mark and Ben had a chance to talk research and statistics and then we went to Nai Yang Beach where Ben and I were able to get a Thai massage at one of the 30 or so massage parlors that line the beach (they were great).   The airport is just 5 minutes from the beach and we managed to get Ben there just in time for his flight back to Bangkok and ultimately back to New York.  It was a great trip.



Party on Sabbatical III
More partygoers


Party on Sabbatical III





Leaving Malaysia

Well, it’s November 27th , the day after Mark’s 63rd birthday, and we are planning to leave Malaysia tomorrow.  We have been in the same marina since October 25th.   (Rebak Marina on  tiny Rebak Island near the larger island of Langkawi on the west side of Malaysia)    It was unusual for us to spend so much time in one place.   There are lots of other sailors here and we had a nice little community of friends, old and new. We are neighbors with two Australian boats who are very friendly…. Soul and Investigator II, and we also have good friends down the dock on the boat Revelation.   Intiaq was here for a while, as was Freeform and Dedalus.  Lots of other friends are here, all waiting to head up to Thailand.


I was doing yoga and pilates in the mornings with a group of other cruisers until I threw my back out one morning. Since then, I have just stuck to swimming in the resort pool which is lovely, especially in the late afternoon.  Our marina, as we may have mentioned before, is kind of a showpiece for a 5 star resort which seems to be a popular honeymoon spot for Saudi’s, Indians, as well as many westerners. It’s a great mix of women in burkhas and women in bikinis.


We get decent internet here so we have been able to catch up on the news everyday and have been able to talk to the kids and my mom on a regular basis through either Skype or Google voice.  Cell phone service is cheap, but the reception here is kind of spotty and we find we do much better with the computer options.


Since we are on a small island which is a few miles away from the main island of Langkawi, we have to take a ferry to get to town.  We have gone in about once a week to get groceries.   It is relatively easy, but still a major undertaking. The day before we go to town we have to contact a Mr. Din by phone to request a car. He is a Malaysian guy who rents out very crappy cars for about 50 ringgats ($15) a day to cruisers.   We hop on the ferry that is run by the resort (several crossings every day) and take the 15 minute ride over to Langkawi.  Mr. Din is always there with a lineup of dented, much abused, but still running cars.  You just pay him the 50 ringgats and he hands over the keys.  No paperwork- no insurance. The only rule is that you have to leave two bars of fuel in the car (hence the nickname 2 bar Din)   Once in the car it is about 10 miles into town, but along the way there are lots of different places to stop and shop for whatever you want.  It is not a very attractive place, but is well stocked since it is a duty free island.  The sailors love it because you can get booze very cheaply, along with whatever else you need.   We are not exactly big drinkers, so we didn’t benefit so much from the cheap booze, but did find some delicious duty free chocolate which we will have no problem eating over the next few months.   The only hard part of the excursion is that once you have collected all your groceries and cans and bottles and returned the car to the dock you have to load everything onto the ferry boat, and then when you get back to the marina you have to unload it and carry it up one dock and down another and then onto the boat, and then down the companionway stairs.   It is always so hot by that time of day that we are absolutely pouring sweat and once we get home and get everything put away we have to collapse for a while.   Makes life interesting and makes you appreciate whatever food you have on board.


There is a restaurant here for the cruisers called the Hard Dock Café and we meet there pretty regularly with friends.   Service is incredibly slow, but the food is good.  There is also a lovely place to have breakfast at the main resort – a delicious breakfast buffet that we have tried to take advantage of at least once a week.


Our trip to Cambodia ( November 6th – 14th)  which was by airplane, not by boat, was an interesting excursion, but since we have already posted pictures of that trip on the blog, I won’t talk about it here.


It is only 24 miles to the Koh Lipe, our first Thai island.  Just a few hours by sail.




We have spent our time at the Rebak Marina working on the boat and spending time with friends who are here working on their boats.  Most everyone is also waiting for the unsettled weather to end and for the northeast monsoon (the dry season) to settle in before moving north to Thailand.  We have had late afternoon and evening squalls almost every day, typically with plenty of lightening and strong wind gusts.  The forecast is more of the same as the southwest (rainy) monsoon lingers.


The big issue on Sabbatical III is the water maker, which is still inoperative.  I have been communicating with a technician in Spain and have made some progress.  We have ruled out the water maker pumps as a source of the problem and are now focusing on the logic board that regulates the process and monitors water pressure and the like.  I may need some parts sent to me from Europe to get the water maker working again.  Langkawi is a good place for that as it is a duty-free island with an international airport.  I have already received a box of parts from the US (for an unrelated issue) that arrived quickly and without trouble.   Maintaining and fixing one’s boat is really a big part of cruising and my repair skills are not nearly as good as many other sailors.

Later today we are flying to KL (Kuala Lumpur) in order to catch an early morning flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia.  We found a great deal on Air Asia, which flies out of Langkawi.  We will spend 3 or 4 days in the Siem Reap area (where Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are located) and then take a boat down river  to Phnom Penh, spend a few days there, and then return.  All of our friends who spent the wet monsoon season in Malaysia have done similar “land” trips up to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar while waiting for the sailing season to begin, and they all speak glowingly of their experiences.

This is a photo taken at the Halloween party.  Laura and I came as “Floridians” with big glasses.  Drew from “Revelation” is Lance Armstrong (note the syringes in his arm), and his wife Lili came as the “galley winch” (that’s a winch handle on her head).  It was a great party.  It was held in the open pavilion adjacent to the marina and organized by Rebak resort.  All the waiters and cooks were dressed as ghouls and the like, the desserts were served out of caskets, and the table clothes and decorations were all appropriately themed.  The food was great and there was live music and dancing.  We ate char kway teow, our favorite noodle dish from Penang, skewered prawns, barbecued lamb, and ABC (mixed fruit ice).  We also won the prize for best dancing couple which entitled us to a free meal at the resort restaurant.

We will try to send reports from Cambodia.



Passage to Bangkok

December 12, 2010

To paraphrase an expression used by cruising sailors “Nothing goes to weather (upwind) like a Boeing 777.”  It was an easy “passage” on Thai airlines from Brisbane to Bangkok.  The boat was hauled last Monday and we had been living on the boat on the hardstand for four nights.  It was up and down the ladder to use the bathroom.  We had lots of work to do under the boat but got it done just in time to leave for the airport.

Here are some photos of Bangkok, plus one of Sabbatical III getting hauled.  Click to enlarge the photo:


Long weekend in Auckland with Kelley

Early Friday morning we flew to Auckland, New Zealand to spend three and one-half days with our dear friend Kelley Smith.  Kelley worked with me at Brown for years and, starting in June, was managing a research project in American Samoa.  She took ill there and was medically evacuated to Auckland where she is undergoing treatment.

We had a great time with her in Auckland.  Friday night we celebrated my birthday at a nice restaurant in in the Takapuna beach area. The next morning we took a boat to the island of Tiritiri Matangi, which is a preserve for birds.  The weather was perfect and the scenery was beautiful.  Sunday we went to the farmers market and walked on Takapuna beach along with Jesse who had just arrived from the States to help Kelley through her treatment regimen.  We also had the chance to spend time with Kelley’s parents, Gary and Judy. Gary was also our gracious chauffeur, turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal, as I also tend to do in countries with left-hand driving.

There are some photos of our trip to Auckland:

Birthday meal in Takapuna Beach (on the North Shore of Auckland)
On the ferry to Tiritiri Matangi
Laura and Kelley hiking on Tiritiri Matangi
Tiritiri Matangi
Laura at Tiritiri Matangi
Kelley and Mark
Tiritiri Matangi


Some new photos from Vanuatu

These are some new photos from our time in Vanuatu (June – September).  We are only now getting around to sorting through all the photos we took this past season.  The video will probably have to wait until we return to the US. — M.

(Click on first photo in a group and then click forward through the group.  There are two groups of photos.)

Group 1:

Group 2:

Back where we started: Scarborough Marina

Yesterday, we left Dockside Marina in downtown Brisbane and sailed the 30 miles to Scarborough Marina, where Sabbatical III will live until next April.  We will remain in the water at a berth until the first week of December at which time we will have Sabbatical III  hauled.

These are some photos of the local fauna taken at two of our favorite parks in Brisbane — the Roma Street Parkland and the Botanical Gardens.

Iguana poses with the statue of an iguana: Roma Street Parkland, Brisbane
Kookaburra: Botanical Garden, Brisbane

Enjoying Downtown Brisbane

Brisbane Skyline

We have spent the last few days at Dockside Marina, right across the river from the central business district of Brisbane. We really like this town. We bought a weekly ferry pass but wind up walking most of the time. The summer heat has not yet kicked in, and this is a town built for walking. We continue to engorge ourselves with fruit — mostly mangoes, stone fruit, and melon — to make up for their absence in our diet for the past few months. As we walked into the Botanical Gardens adjacent to downtown last night (Saturday), there was a growing horde of people walking with us, all about our age or older. It turns out that there was a big concert in the park — Peter Frampton, Brian Wilson, Chicago, and America, each doing a 45 minute set. It was sold out and tickets where $128 – $168. We were able to hear Frampton as we strolled through the park, over the river on the Goodwill Bridge, and back towards the marina at Kangaroo Point. Lots of 50ish and 60ish people without tickets had set up chairs and food baskets on the other side of the river to listen to the concert.


Photos from Huon and Chesterfield Reefs

These are a few of the photos from our visits to these uninhabited reefs. Click on the first photo to enlarge and to continue to the next.

Wombats, Crabs, Sharks, Eels, and Us at the Reefs

Turtles at Huon Reef:

Birds on the Reefs

M. & L.

Departing for Brisbane, Australia

We will leave the “Trois Ilots” anchorage at Chesterfield Reef at 0600 local time tomorrow morning (Saturday, October 23) heading for Rivergate, Brisbane. The passage is about 550 nautical miles on a heading of 216 degrees true. The forecast calls for fairly strong winds of 22 – 25 knots from the east-southeast during the first day, declining to 14 – 18 knots on the second day, and then 6 – 12 knots on the last day. Seas are forecast to be 3 meters the first 12 hours, then declining fairly quickly. We hope to be at the Customs Dock at Rivergate, Brisbane before 6:00 pm on Tuesday (October 26).

“Wombat of Sydney” with Mike and Lynn aboard will be leaving when we do, although they are planning to make landfall at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales, before proceeding on to Sydney. The course to Coffs Harbour is quite close to the course to Brisbane.


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Clouds of birds

Chesterfield Reef is quite a beautiful place. Although there are turtles mating and nesting on the tiny small islands of Chesterfield Reef, as on Huon Reef, the highlight here is the birds. The island across from where we are anchored has a perpetual cloud of birds over it. Going ashore makes the cloud even larger as hundreds of birds take wing and squawk at the interlopers. A thousand more of the smaller birds stay on the ground guarding their eggs or fledgings. Unlike Huon, there are “trees” on most of the small islands. They stand only 5 to 10 feet tall and are filled with gnarled branches, perfect for the nests of larger birds who fear that the crabs will eat theirs eggs or babies. Frigate birds and boobies of an unusual variety (tan heads, blue beaks, pink facial coloring, and bright red feet) nest in the trees. The attached photo is of one of the boobies.

Frigate birds nest in only a handful of places in the world (we visited their nesting site in the Galapagos) and they are incredibly acrobatic flyers. However, it would be easy to despise them. They live only by predation. They cruise slowly at a higher altitude than the boobies and terns, and when the other birds dive into the water and catch a fish, the frigates dive and attack them in a vicious fashion. They go for the wings, forcing the attacked bird to drop its catch and sometimes breaking the wing of the victim. Breaking a wing is certain death. When the victim of the attack drops its fish, the frigate catches the fish even before it hits the ground. The frigates even look evil up close. They have a beak like a vulture and, except when they are still chicks in the nest, they lack the pleasant demeanor of the boobies and terns. Yet, boobies and frigates nest in the same trees, just feet apart.

It has been very windy since we arrived, consistently in the 25-35 knot range. Along with “Wombat of Sydney”, we have been unwilling to anchor close to the islands and fringing reef because of the prevalence of coral bommies. The consequence is that we have about 2 miles of fetch, that is, there are two miles of open water between the nearest protection from waves and where we are anchored, and a considerable wind chop builds up in those 2 miles. The islands with birds are less than one-half a mile away, but they are not in the direction that the wind is blowing.

We were the only boats here when we arrived, but to our amazement, a boat called on the radio the night before last asking for help getting through the pass and into our anchoring area. Entering this place in the dark is just not a reasonable risk in our opinion. Chesterfield Reef is barely charted — almost the entirety of the lagoon area is greyed out in the charts, meaning you are on your own. In the dark, one cannot keep a watch for the coral bommies that litter the area. A boat has to come straight into a 30 knot wind and a steep wind chop to get here from the pass. Sabbatical III, a bigger than average boat, pounded up and down in the seas for the 8 mile trip and averaged less than 4 knots coming into the wind and seas. If a boat pounded onto a coral bommy in these conditions, she would surely be holed. The entering boat was very lucky that Mike of Wombat was willing to guide them to safe anchorage via VHF radio by providing a course into our anchorage that avoided the coral bommies we encountered during our trip in. We tried to follow the boat’s progress on radar but could not pick it up. Turns out it is a small wooden vessel with almost no radar return.

It is now one month since we left Noumea and headed out to uninhabited places. So we have not reprovisioned our food supplies in all of that time, except for the wahoo I caught during the passage here. The wahoo is now gone after providing 5 meals for the two of us. We are down to our last 2 oranges and then it is just canned fruit for us. Still have lots of canned food and frozen meat. Also lots of rice, crackers, chocolate, yogurt (in packets that we make every few days with a yogurt maker) and cereal.

We are looking for a weather window for the trip to Brisbane, Australia. As of now, it looks like Saturday is a good day to start that 3 and one-half day passage. As I write this blog, the wind has fallen to only 20 knots, although the seas are still in the 3.5 meter range outside the reef.


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Passage to Chesterfield Reef and the boiling batteries

We arrived in Chesterfield Reef yesterday at about 4 pm after a 53 hour passage from Huon Reef. The passage was longer and harder than we expected. The difficulty was not just with the wind and seas, which were more contrary and uncomfortable than expected, but also with some serious electrical and mechanical issues with Sabbatical III. We have been at Chesterfield Reef for 24 hours now and the electrical issues with the boat have been resolved thanks to the expertise and generous assistance of Mike of “Wombat of Sydney” who spent three hours with me this morning resolving our battery charging issues. The mechanical issue turns out not to have really been an issue. Last night I went to bed exhausted and anxious about the boat and that was an improvement from the night before when I was more concerned about the condition of the boat than at any other time since we have sailed. Now I am feeling pretty relaxed — and I have not been drinking.

The story, in brief, is this. We have had a battery charging problem with our 100 amp charger for nearly two weeks. A defect in a new high pressure hose of my watermaker caused a spray of salt water in the area next to the charger. Although the charger seemed fine after the salt spray incident, the voltage regulation circuits must have been damaged. The charger put out more volts than it should. Once I detected the high voltage (I have an in-line voltmeter on the batteries), I stopped using the charger and reverted to using my backup 30 amp charger. But the damage to the batteries had already been done. On the second night of the passage to Chesterfield Reef, the wind died and I ran the engine. At about midnight, six hours after starting up the engine, I noticed that the battery box was very hot and that the alternator on the engine was putting out more amps than it should. I opened the battery box (under the sea berth) and found that one battery was boiling acid and was grossly deformed and that another had a crack, at least two had vented, and all 12 sealed AGM batteries were very hot. I quickly shut down the engine and moved a fan to blow on the batteries. There was no wind and we were drifting. There is no on/off switch for the engine alternator — when the engine is on the alternator provides power to the batteries, and can provide lots of it — up to 175 amps at 24 volts. Clearly, some or all of the batteries were “cooked” by overcharging, and the overcharging was probably due to a short or other failure in one or more of them. The batteries were not coming up to charge and were accepting unlimited amps from the alternator and turning it into heat, melting cases and lead plates and causing the acid to boil. Not a good scene.

Laura got up from sleep to watch over things while I went into the engine room to take the alternator off-line by removing the two belts connecting it to the engine. It is not difficult to unbelt an alternator, but I was frazzled and tired, and it was hot and dark. It must have been 150 degrees or more next to the engine, and the alternator was extremely hot.

The boiling batteries were not the only thing to make me frazzled on this awful night watch. At the start of the evening, our fridge suddenly went out. I could not get the compressor to come on, even when I switched to a different thermostat. We have a second fridge which was not on, so I turned it on and moved all of our food to the second fridge. More concerning was our slow progress. We were only making 4 1/2 knots over the ground (according to the GPS) even though I had the engine powered up at higher rpm’s than usual. There was no wind but there was a misty fog unlike anything I have seen in the tropics. We were burning precious fuel at a faster rate than I thought prudent, and it did not seem likely that we could enter Chesterfield Reef before dark the next day, which would mean a third night at sea in a uncomfortable roll. I could not figure out why we were making such slow progress. It might have been adverse current but my knotmeter was gummed up with coral growth and not working. After I unbelted the alternator after midnight, I decided to check the engine transmission, and, using a flashlight in the dark, I saw seawater in the transmission (the connection between the engine and the propellor). Seawater in the transmission means that the seal around the prop shaft was damaged and sea water was replacing the lubrication oil. That would explain the slow speed. There was nothing to do but motor on, but at a slower rpm so as to reduce the chance of breaking the transmission. Laura took over and I collapsed in bed for four hours of sleep. I did not even hear the squalls with lightening that blew by in the night.

In the morning, I called Mike on Wombat of Sydney on the sat phone to report on our problems. He was by then 25 miles ahead of us, but Mike was willing to turn around and take us in tow if that was necessary. We had not come to that yet. In the light of day, I checked the transmission oil again and it looked much better. In fact, there was no water in it at all. The flashlight in the dark, and my being tired and frazzled, just made me think I saw sea water in the transmission oil. So that worry was gone — the engine would still be able to turn the prop. Although the batteries were still hot after eight hours without a charge, the voltage was getting low so I started a routine of running the generator for 45 minutes every two hours to keep some power in them so we could run our navigational instruments and autopilot.

It seemed unlikely that we could make it to Chesterfield Reef before dark,a unpleasant prospect,unless the wind went from 2 knots to 20 knots very quickly. And then the wind suddenly came up around 9 am and in minutes it was blowing 20 – 25 knots on the beam and the boat took off at 7.5 – 8.0 knots. One more problem solved. Unfortunately, we left a hatch partly open and when the wind picked so did the seas and sea water drenched the forward head. Plus the toilet seat broke off. But these are minor issues.

Once at anchor at Chesterfield, Mike advised me over the radio to take the damaged batteries off line right away to avoid a variety of problems they might cause. The batteries were still hot, and I was too tired to pull 75 pound batteries out of the case and rewire the remaining batteries. I checked the individual battery voltages with a multimeter and found that the voltages were all over the map — no wonder they kept sucking up power from their charging sources.. Instead, we turned off the fridge and freezer, which are are biggest draws on battery power, and kept lights off. Laura cooked up some of the fresh wahoo fish that I caught the day before, and we ate 3 servings each of coconut sorbet before it turned to goo in the warm air, and we slept for 12 hours.

In the morning, Mike came over to help. Mike is a problem solver and he soon identified four batteries that had to come off line, and quickly got the remaining ones appropriately paired and wired. Some of them are in marginal shape, but should get us to Brisbane without too much trouble. He also found a broken voltage sensing wire at the alternator. We got the reduced battery bank to take a full charge without generating heat using the backup charger (the main charger is dead), and then rebelted the alternator and got it back on line, although we are not sure it is working properly. Everything in the freezer — steaks, chicken, wahoo, veggies – was still mostly frozen when we the power came back on. I even got the dead fridge working. The firdge must of died when Laura pushed a big hunk of fresh wahoo in an already full fridge, the pressure accidently disconnected a wire from the thermostat. Once I reconnected it, the compressor came back on.

So thanks to Mike and some luck, Sabbatical III is in decent shape again. We have not been to shore, or even set up the dinghy yet. All this fixing took much of the day and all of our mental energy. Chesterfield Reef looks like a beautiful place from the boat and tomorrow we hope to have a closer look.


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Leaving Huon Reef tomorrow

We expect to leave Huon Reef tomorrow at about 11 am local time and make the 284 nautical mile passage to Chesterfield Reef. Light and shifting winds are predicted and we expect the passage to take 44 – 48 hours. Chesterfield Reef also belongs to France (New Caledonia) and is an important nesting site for turtles and sea birds. Our permission letter from the French Ministry of the Environment includes Chesterfield. More on Chesterfield once we arrive there.

A storm came through here on Tuesday and Wednesday, so we did not go to shore on either of those days. We saw the storm coming more than a week ago in the GRIB weather charts. Along with “Wombat of Sydney”, we decided that the safest place for us to be was right where we are. All we did is reposition the boats a bit to get more protection from the island, and put out almost all of our anchor chain. The waves were 15-18 feet outside the reef (but just wind chop inside the reef) and the wind was consistently above 30 knots gusting to 40 knots on Tuesday night, but we were comfortable onboard Sabbatical III. There was a report of 57 knots in the anchorage at Noumea. It was not the best sleeping weather with the howl of the wind and the sound of the anchor chain and snubber straining. The good thing was the driving rain that cleaned the bird droppings off of the deck. It was the first rain we had seen in at least a month.

The seas are coming down rapidly and during our passage the wind will be clocking around to the north, then west, and back to southeast, so it is a good time to leave. Huon only provides protection from the southeast quadrant. The east-southeastly trade winds should be re-established by the time we get to Chesterfield. Chesterfield reef has only a few sand islands, and our entrance to the reef complex is located at about:

S19 degrees 49.3 minutes
E158 degrees 23.7 minutes

The course is 248 degrees true from Huon Reef.


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My theory on boobies

The first day of the Huon Turtle Survey conducted by Wombat of Sydney and Sabbatical III counted 48 egg-laying turtles as having crossed the line we drew above the high tide mark. This line only covered the southern 1/5 or so of this mile long island. We still await the data from day two of the turtle survey.

Sabbatical III continues to be extremely popular with the boobies despite vigorous efforts to dissuade them from roosting and pooping on the boat. We cannot sit out at night and watch the stars for fear of falling guano coming from the birds that sit up in the mast speaders (cross trees). In addition, they wake us up early in the morning with their chatter and squabbles over turf. There is a beautiful island where no one bothers them just a 100 meters away, so why do they insist on sitting on our rails, spreaders, anchor snubber, and other parts of the boat? I have a theory.

The boobies get tired of having sand always clinging to their big, blue webbed feet and their legs. When sand sticks to you, it just gets annoying after awhile. There are only a couple of protruding rocks on the shore, and those rocks are filled with boobies sitting 10 abreast or more. There is never room for even one more booby on the rocks. However, the rocks are filled with booby “dung”, and I presume that the advantage of having no sticky sand on the rocks is offset by both the crowed conditions and by having to stand in the droppings of the one million boobies that stood on the rock before you did. So what’s a booby to do if he/she wants to keep their blue feet clean and dry for even a little while?

From the perspective of the booby, Sabbatical III is the ideal roosting station. She has a steel rail all the way around her, and she has flat mast spreaders 35 feet and 50 feet above the deck if the rails get crowded. Best of all from the booby perspective, there is no sand to stick to your blue webbed feet, and if you need to crap, a need which boobies seem to feel every 10 minutes, all your droppings fall to the deck so the rail stays nice a clean. Sabbatical III is the perfect “Pitt toilet” if you will. So what if the human inhabitant shout and wave their arms, hang CD’s from strings, put scary shapes on the halyards, no harm seems to come to the boobies and the human wash the deck clean every day. And there is none of that bird guano odor that permeates the rocky outcroppings of the island.

So the first boobies to alight and crap on Sabbatical III have told their friends and now Sabbatical III is the most popular meeting place within a hundred miles. The preferred location is the bow pulpit where boobies can act out “Titanic”, hanging on tightly with their blue webbed feet, while lifting a wing to get some fresh air through their “armpit”. If the bow is full, boobies either knock off a current inhabitant, or go up in a spreader where they get a good view of their droppings falling 50 feet to the deck. I am not sure how they will entertain themselves once we are gone.


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The Huon Turtle Survey

When I wrote the French Ministry of the Environment requestion permission to visit Huon Reef, I offered to assist in their turtle survey. Yesterday afternoon at high tide, along with “Wombat of Sydney”, we began the survey by drawing a line in the sand just above the high tide. This afternoon, we will count the number of turtle tracks that have crossed the line. Turtle tracks here are not dainty footprints in the sand. These are huge, lumbering creatures that are built to swim, not to walk on land. Late in the afternoon, the females drag themselves slowing up the beach leaving tracks that look like they were made by a tractor. They then find a place they like, and start digging. The hole they dig is 3 to 5 meters wide and at least 3 meters deep. They then lay 15 – 24 eggs, partially coverup the hole, and then leave. The beach area is littered with hundreds of these holes, one next to the other, so that they look like bomb craters.

Yesterday, Mike, Laura and I went swimming with the turtles at a place we call the “turtle swimming pool.” It is an area of shallow sand to to the west of a sandbar that is above water only at low tide. It is only 100 meters from where we are anchored. From the boat you can see a dozen or more turtle heading for the swimming pool around low tide. Many beach themselves, probably to warm up. Even at sea, green sea turles like to bask on the surface. Two sea turtles have become our favorites, and so we have named them. We named the girl turtle Kamakshi, but we call her Amou for short, and the boy sea turtle Adithya, who we call Adi for short. Pretty names for such beautiful creatures.


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Some mighty big turtles

What a fascinating place Huon Reef is. We have seen dozens of gigantic sea-turtles here – swimming by the boat, sunning themselves in the shallow water by shore, lumbering up onto the beach, digging big holes in the sand with their flippers in order to nest. It’s hard to know how many turtles are here -but it must be in the hundreds. They are immense – anywhere from 200 to 500 pounds. Many of them are mating in the water and we watch the strange coupled pairs floating by us (for incredibly long periods of time) – often with a lonely male following the couple hoping for a chance to push off the other male and do what nature is telling him to do. Then there are the seabirds – thousands of boobies flying, sitting on their eggs, watching over their chicks, and watching us as we walk down the beach watching them. Other birds are here too – frigates and terns and others we don’t recognize. We see and hear them as they make their strange call from the railings of our boat and make the term “poop deck” very appropriate. The beach is also filled with innumerable crabs, all scuttling around, with the smaller ones crawling around in a multitude of beautiful shells. Big clusters of them are found under the hunks of driftwood on the beach. Then in the tidal pools there are lots of small and very beautiful black tipped sharks. We are having a great time – pure National Geographic type experience. It is also great to be here with Lynn and Mike (Wombat of Sydney). They love walking along the beach with us for hours just watching all the wonders of the island, picking up shells, taking photos, and marveling at the beauty of the place. It is also great to be here with another boat – it is just so far away from civilization….hundreds of miles away from any inhabited island.
Nice place…..we’ll stay here at least a few more days before heading further south and west..en route to Australia.
P.S. The photo is of me and one of the turtles here on Huon Island. He is mid-sized compared to some of the giants we have seen here. (I am the one in the pink shirt)

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Safe arrival at Huon Reef

We arrived safely at Huon Reef this morning after a very good 25 hour (170 nautical mile) passage from Puom, in the company of “Wombat of Sydney”. As tired as we were, we still put the dinghy in the water and spent a few hours ashore. The long thin sand and coral island has no trees,
rises to no more than 3 meters above the sea, and has grassy patches away from the beach. There are hundreds (thousands?) of sea birds which nest here. Large boobies flew out to greet Sabbatical III some miles from the anchorage, trying to catch a ride to the island. Once we were anchored, they roosted all along the bow — cackling and pooping without end. On shore, the boobies sit on their eggs (at most two), or on the newborn chicks. Fluffy feathered fledgings wait for their parents to feed them. Male and female adults do their synchronized mating dance, oblivious to our presence.

The big attraction to us here is the green sea turtles that come from thousands of miles away to mate and nest. Green sea turtles are the largest of the hard shell turtles — adults weigh 200 to 500 pounds. We saw lots of them on shore and in the water. The beach is covered with turtle tracks leading to the holes that they dig for their eggs. More on this later.


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Our recent passage and our next passage

October 3, 2010We arrived at Poum yesterday late in the afternoon, and had planned to continue heading north to Isle Pott today. But the wind came up very strong this morning — gusts to 30 knots — so we stayed on the boat all day. We left our nylon ballooner sail furled on the headstay with the big genoa yesterday, and this morning it seemed like a real liability. There is no way we could unfurl this sail along with the genoa in such a blow, and that meant there was no way to get it down. At 4 pm today, the wind suddenly dropped to less than 10 knots and we used the opportunity to up anchor, unfurl the two sails from the headstay, and drop the ballooner and stuff it in its bag, and return to the anchorage. Now we are good to go.

Tomorrow we will sail all the way to Huon Reef — a distance of 170 nautical miles and 25 hours of sailing — in the company of “Wombat of Sydney”, which is anchored right next to us. Huon Reef, which is uninhabited, is hard to find on a map. It is part of the D’Entrecasteux Reefs well out in the ocean to the northwest of New Caledonia (almost 400 miles of sailing from Noumea). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and visitation is prohibited as it is a very important turtle nesting site, as well as popular with boobies and other sea birds. We have permission from the French Ministry of the Environment to visit. We will write more about Huon once we get there. The coordinates of Ilot Huon, the tiny sand island at the east side of the atoll is:

South 18 degrees 02.89 minutes
East 162 degrees 57.17 minutes

As I reported yesterday, our sail to Poum from Ilot Tenia was not good at all. The good winds that were forecast were hardly in evidence — we spent the first 5 hours burning diesel. Once a bit of wind came up, a nasty sea came up from a distant weather system in the Tasman Sea almost 1000 miles away. We had the big genoa set on a pole to port and the nylon ballooner on a pole to starboard — which is a much sail area as we can possible put up — but made slow progess. It was not the slow speed per se that made this a rather unpleasant sail. The wind was directly from asterm — the most unstable point of sail for a boat — so we rolled miserably in the swell. When the boat rolled deeply, the wind spilled out of the sails and they started to collapse, and when we came out of the roll, they snapped back with a boom. The shock loads of spilling wind and catching it again made the rigging shake — I could see the steel cable holding up the mast bend and tighten. The roll was so bad in the middle of the night, the poles dipped into the ocean and were at risk of breaking. The poles are set about 12 to 14 feet above the water and extend out 14 feet in each direction from the mast.

Sabbatical III sails with two poled out head sails

Shark Story

Things improved with the sunrise yesterday but we still worried if we would make it into Poum before sunset. At midday the roll diminished enough for me to put two fishing lines in the water (at Laura’s urging — my wife like fresh fish). It only took three minutes for the biggest mahi-mahi I ever hooked to take a lure. Given the size of the fish and the roll, I decided to let him tire himself out fighting the latex shock absorber for 20 minutes before I began the job of hauling him in. I use a handline to fish — 60 meters of 210 pound test line coiled on a plastic spool called a yo-yo — and wear thick leather work gloves when handling the line. It was hard work hauling him in. When I had him halfway to the boat, we suddenly saw a second “fish” alongside the mahi-mahi. It took only seconds more before we saw the distinctive fin a a very large ocean shark. The shark wanted my fish. I was sure he was going to just go and take him at once, but he did not. He swam circles around the mahi-mahi, darted away and disappeared below the surface, then quickly return and repeated the process. The mahi-mahi, weighing about 40 pounds, was thrashing wildly trying to get off the hook and away from me and away from the shark, and it seemed the shark was reluctant to strike at him. So I hauled in the fish a fast as I could. The shark, big enough to make an easy meal of a 40 pound mahi-mahi, kept darting in but was unwilling to take my prize while it was thrashing. If he did, he would have my fishing gear too.

I always bring fish onto the boat off the stern. It is by far the easiest place to land a fish. Laura strongly insisted that I try to bring the mahi-mahi on-board at midships, suggesting that if I fell in, the shark would have me for dessert. It seemed a sensible suggestion at the time so I stayed at midships. Just as I started to pull the mahi-mahi out of the water and onto the boat, at the point that his huge head was pointed skywards and the lure clearly visible, the shark struck. In an instant the mahi-mahi and shark were gone. The lure was pulled free so I retained my fishing rig. My arms were shaking from the effort of pulling in the fish at double-time, and I felt badly for the mahi-mahi. For some reason, I feel he would have a less gruesome end on the deck of Sabbatical III than in the jaws of a shark.

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Heading north

We will be leaving within the hour for the Passe de Poum and the northern most reaches of New Caledonia. It is 176 nautical miles from where we are (Ilot Tenia) to the Passe de Poum. The route takes out of the lagoon via the Pass de Saint Vincent and then outside the reef to Passe de Poum. We will either anchor out near Poum or continue north to the Isles Belep about 50 miles further north. We are accompanied by Mike and Lyn of “Wombat of Sydney”. Weather forecast is excellent. The sail to Poum will take about 24-26 hours.


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Update: Puen and Noumea

September 27, 2010We have been in New Caledonia for a bit more than three weeks. After arriving in Noumea, we spent a week at the dock at Port Moselle. We then sailed out into the lagoon and spent 5 nights at Ilot Mbe Kouen, a place we also visited last year. We were joined by Mike and Lynn of “Wombat of Sydney”, who we first met in Bora-Bora three years ago, and by John and Shauna of the Australian vessel “Destiny V”, who we met just this year in Vanuatu, and by “Desire” with Ian and Emma, a young couple also from Oz.

We returned to Noumea last week to get some work done and to attend the 4th Melanesian Arts Festival. The Festival draws dancers and artists from all of the Melanesian countries — Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua-New Guinea, and New Caledonia. The dancing was varied and entertaining. At the festval, Laura fell in love with a necklace made from a nautilus shell, so she got a late birthday present. Both “Destiny V” and “Desire” then headed back to Australia, but the American catamaran “Gota Go” pulled into the berth next to us at Port Moselle, and Lei-Ellen and Paul have joined our little group. They and the Wombat’s and us will join up at the far north of New Caledonia in a few days time.

Sabbatical III left Noumea last Friday heading first to Ilot Moro for a night, and then to Ile Puen for two nights. Tonight we are at Ilot Tenia. The trip to Ile Puen was memorable as we were lucky enough to catch up with the Schall family, who were so hospitable to us last year. We hoped they were be at their weekend home on the island as it was the end of the two week school vacation period. Not only were Christophe, his wife Laurence, and their children Aurelien, Anthony, and Thibault there, so were Laurence’s sisters (Catherine and Mireielle) and their children and spouses, and parents, and Christophe parents (Joel and Michelle), plus assorted cousins and friends. It was a big party and we were invited. Food was cooked over an open fire. There was fried manioc and pumpkin, wahoo (tazar) battered and fried, huge quantities of barbecued venison, plus home grown salad. The venison came from a deer that Christophe shot on the island, which has many deer. Joel, Christophe’s father, is also a hunter and has hunted game in Africa on numerous occasions and has an apartment in Noumea full of trophies. Last year, Christophe and Luarence told us how much the family loves Nutella, a chocolate-hazelnut spread that is unavailable in New Caledonia. Remembering this, Laura and I brought them a large jar that we bought in Australia in May with them in mind. We will post photos
when we get internet access in Australia early in November.

The next morning many of the Schall family came out to Sabbatical III for a quick tour. In the afternoon, everyone got into their own small powerboats and headed off to home on the mainland leaving the island

We will hang out at Ilot Tenia for a few days waiting for the wind to come up for the 170 mile trip to Poum on the northwest tip of Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. Ilot Tenia, which is uninhabited, has good snorkeling but lots of sea snakes, and has a nice beach for walking.


Added on Nov 14:  photo’s of the Schall family:  (click on photos to enlarge and see caption)

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New Photos: Fran and John Visit Sabbatical III

September 12, 2010

It took awhile for us to find good internet, but we finally have. So now we can post some photos of the visit of my sister Fran and her husband John to Sabbatical III last month.

We are still in Noumea trying hard to get some things done and organize ourselves to venture into the New Caledonian lagoon, Soon, we hope.


Safe arrival in New Caledonia

We arrived safely in New Caledonia yesterday after a very good 44 hour passage from Port Vila. The wind and seas forecast was spot on — strong winds (and relatively large seas) to start, then moderating during the second day. This was certainly our best trip from Port Vila to New Caledonia in the past three years. The two previous trips both had some ugly parts. We are anchored in Baie Ire of Ile Ouen in the Wooden Channel, about 25 nautical miles from Noumea.

There were only one glitch. I lost a beautiful yellowfin tuna overboard just 2 miles from where we are now anchored in the New Caledonia lagoon. We have wanted sushi all year, and today in particular any fresh fish would be better than anything we had onboard. My impatience to land the fish led to him coming off the hook just as he was lifted on deck in the flat calm waters of the lagoon. Laura has not forgiven me yet.


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Small world

Small world story in Vanuatu:
We are back in Port Vila – the biggest city in Vanuatu. We went to shore today carrying one of my woven baskets from the island of Pentecost. Pentecost is the island where we spent quite a bit of time during this trip – it is only about 150 miles north of Port Vila, but is about 10,000 miles away in terms of lifestyle. When we were at Loltong Village in Pentecost we were invited to a local wedding and ended up having a wonderful experience watching both the Christian style wedding in the church and then the traditional wedding celebration complete with a dozen pigs and local woven marriage blankets (but no pigs in a blanket) exchanged as gifts between the families. This was the wedding that we had noted the bridegroom seemed completely zonked by kava both on his wedding night and the following couple of days.

Anyways, as I was carrying my little Pentecost made pandamus shopping basket into town today we made a shortcut through a small restaurant. A young man who works at the restaurant greeted us and said he recognized the basket as being the kind they traditionally make at his village. When I told him I got it in Pentecost he said that is where he is from and that his sister had recently been married up there. He told us his sister’s name and would you believe it but hers was the wedding that we had attended!. He said he never met the bridegroom as he had been living in Port Vila for years. We had taken photos at the wedding and given them to the bride and groom for presents so tomorrow we will print out some more and give them to our new friend… What a fun coincidence …

Fruit stories:
Now that we are back in Port Vila we actually have to buy fruit. I was thinking today about how important the acquisition of fruit has been on our journey. It is most often our primary conduit to friendships with the local people – much more so than in any other place we have visited. Some examples:

Lamen Bay, Epi Island: We meet Winnie – an older widowed woman who after a few minutes of conversation with her on the beach invited us over to her house. We sit on her tiny veranda and and she presents us with a large pamplemousse with apologies that she has nothing else to give us. We bring her magazines and books, reading glasses, and warm socks (which she asked for).

Loltong Village, Pentecost: A charming old guy named Patrick who lives right near the beach asks us if we have any extra engine oil that he can use for his small generator which has not been working for some time due to lack of oil as well as fuel. We bring him the requested oil. Next time we see him he brings us a basket of passion fruit and a bunch of bananas.

Wandering around Loltong we make a little detour through a path that leads to a beach. Woman name Eliza comes out to ask if we need anything. We explain that we are just looking around. She leads us back to her house and gives us bananas. We continue to receive fruits from her throughout the trip. We meet Eliza’s husband, another Patrick, who offers to walk with us (Fran and John were with us then) up to the top of the steep mountain road that leads out of their village. We are exhausted, but exhiliarated by the views. The walk is a piece of cake for him. At the top is his amazing garden where he and Eliza cut fresh green coconuts for us to drink.

Gilbert, from Labultamata village to the north of Loltong, gives us a tour of his garden and describes his innovative plans for improving the village’s horticulture and as we proceed he continuously cuts samples for us to bring back to the boat- island cabbage, sugar cane, papaya, pamplemousse.

Evie and Dickie, a young couple with 3 kids offer to get us fruits and vegies from their garden. We exchange these for children’s clothing, books and chocolate.

We accumulate so many pamplemousse that we start marking them with magic marker to remember which village and which person we got them from. The pamplemousse last for weeks so they are the perfect boat fruit.

Lolowai, Ambae Island.
Celia, the young woman who runs Celia’s restaurant (the only one in the small village) offers us ginger, bananas, papayas, coconut and local vegies (shu-shu). Rachel, another woman who runs a small shop there insists on giving us fresh peppers, local apples, tomatoes – just because she seems to like us. She also insists on giving us one of her handpainted paraos (a cotton wrap you can wear when it is too hot for other clothes). We have to insist on buying something from her shop or she will just give it all away.

Narovorovo, Maewo Island
We befriend Kelley, a young hip man who shows us around the village. Stopping to meet one of his many uncles on the way – an older guy with grey matted hair,a beard and few teeth. The uncle immediately calls to one of his children and within minutes presents us with a pamplemousse. Next time we see him he does the same thing. We return with fish hooks and lolly-pops.

Port Olry, Espritu Santo Island
Village market – this time we have to buy our fruits, but once again it becomes an event. We ask if there are bananas and an older woman runs off to gather some from her own trees. Young coconuts are cut open as drinks and we sit and visit with the ladies running the little fruit cooperative. We take pictures and promise to mail them back to the village when we get home.

Hog Harbour, Espritu Santo Island : We walk to the local cooperative – run by friendly women who have apparently made many improvements to the store since taking it over from the men. The little village is filled with pamplemousse trees all dripping with large ripe fruits, but there are none for sale in the store. When we ask where we can buy some, she points out the window to a group of young people sitting across the square. She tells us to go across the street and tell her son Billy that his mama wants him to climb a tree and pick us some fruit. We go and her cute, shy son scrambles up a tree, walks across the roof of the house, over to another tree and proceeds to pick and toss fruit to us until we tell him to please stop as we have more than we can carry.


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Leaving for Port Vila

We have been in Oyster Island, off the east coast of Espiritu Santo, for about one week. Tomorrow (August 26) morning at about 6 am local time we will leave here for Port Vila. The 170 nautical mile passage should take us roughly 25 – 28 hours in the forecast conditions that call for 11 – 12 knots of wind from the east and moderate seas. The moon will be nearly full and the skies clear. Can’t pass up a weather window like this if you are looking to head south.


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Oyster Bay

Fran and John left on Friday the 13th and we stayed in Port Olry for another 3 days. Their pickup truck to the airport showed up at the beach just as scheduled, and they climbed into the rusty and decrepit back seat with their luggage strapped onto the truck bed. Lots of hugs and kisses goodbye and we were back to just the two of us again.

That same day the wind died down to nothing and it was hot! Not a breath of wind on the boat and the only respite was to get in the water. Luckily the water there was beautiful and the snorkeling was terrific. Saw a spotted ray, a couple of turtles, an eel and the normal kaleidescope of colorful coral and pretty reef fish.

On Monday morning we went into town to give the French secondary school the remaining pile of French text books we had on board. The place was deserted, but the office was wide open, with the keys in the door, so we just deposited them on the counter with a note. We sure hope they get used.

Tuesday morning we decided to start moving south and had a nice short sail (about 8 nm) to Hog Island. This unappealing sounding town is well known for its famous “Champagne Beach” – a sparkling white sand beach that is a “must do” for the occasional cruise ship as well as for sailors like us. We had never stopped there before, hearing that the anchorage was rolly, but after 5 days of no wind and much reduced seas, we thought it might be a good time to try it out. So glad we did as it was a very lovely spot. The beach itself was dazzlingly white and pretty, but quite small. The beauty of it was the incredible aquamarine water in front of it and the terrific coral reefs scattered along just a bit offshore. The water was really about the nicest we have seen on this trip. We had planned to stay only one night, but ended up staying there 3 nights, enjoying the fantastic swimming and snorkeling and the coolness of the breeze that started blowing again. Only on day 3 did we end up getting company, in fact, it was a whole flotilla of boats. Nearly a dozen of them suddenly showed up having sailed up from Oyster Bay with the Island Crusing Association rally (out of New Zealand).

Yesterday (Friday) we sailed a bit further south – this time to Oyster Island, a very protected anchorage which is extremely popular with sailors. It is famous for its Blue Holes – which we are going to visit this afternoon. There are about 15 other boats here – most of them also from the Island Cruising Association rally. We have limited internet access too so we are finally going to have a chance to catch up a bit on news and e-mail.

Love L

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Please be kind and keep your replies short.

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Travels with Fran and John

August 12, 2010

I need to get the blog up-to-date on events since I last wrote. On August 7, my sister Fran, my brother-in-law John, Laura and I sailed to Loltong, Pentecost Island from Asanvari, Maewo Island. The channel between the islands typically has big seas and enhanced wind, but this time it was almost gentle. We had good wind on the beam almost the whole way and it was an excellent sail. We went to shore late in the afternoon in order to visit Patrick (actor/politician Patrick, rather than older bearded Patrick) and arrange some kind of trek up to the high plateau. Last time Laura and I were in Loltong, Patrick told us that the high plateau and the east coast of Pentecost were among the most beautiful places in Vanuatu. One needs to charter one of the two four-wheel drive pickup trucks in order to get to the east coast, and Patrick offered to talk to the trucks’ operator. The truck trip turned out to be too expensive and required that two of us sit in the bed of the truck. So we passed.

The next morning (August 8), accompanied by Patrick and his wife Liza, we walked up to the top of the plateau. It is a hot, sweaty trek up a steep path but the views were spectacular. Once at the top, Patrick and Liza took us through a jungle path to their family “garden” — the place where they grow their food. In the garden is a simple hut, a cistern for collecting rain water, and some chickens. Scattered around the extensive property are plantings of taro, yam, chilli, kava, coconut, and manioc. We shared the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we brought from the boat with Patrick and Liza, and they provided us with coconuts to drink and eat. After lunch we toured their gardens and then visited the agricultural extension station further north along the plateau.

Added on August 15:

The walk back down to Loltong was almost as difficult as the walk up. After parting with Patrick and Liza, we went directly back to the boat to cool off with a swim, and then drank voluminous quantities of water to rehydrate. The next morning, Laura and I left Fran and John on the boat and went back to Patrick’s house with some gifts. Walking through Loltong we ran into Darrel, the bridegrooom at the wedding we had attended three weeks earlier. At the wedding and for two days afterward, Darrel seemed unfocused and disinterested — kava-ed out. But on this day, he was a whole different person. He greeted us very warmly, thanked us for the wedding photos we took, and was alert, focused and congenial. Perhaps his bride has gotten him to spend less time at the nakamal (kava bar).

Later that day (August 9), we left to sail back to Asanvari. We did not go back to Asanvari to visit, we went back because it was the only place nearby that I felt could be safely left in the dark. I did not want to try to navigate through the narrow gap in the reef at Loltong in the 4 am darkness, but Asanvari is wide open to the sea. The 4 am departure was required by a change in destinations. Instead of sailing to Oyster Island as planned, we decided to go to Port Olry, further north on Espritu Santo Island. We learned that the Island Cruising Association (of New Zealand) rally was coming to Oyster Island from Fiji with 25 or so boats just when we planned to go there. That is way too much commotion for us, so we deviated to Port Olry. The extra distance required the earlier start.

As we approached Asanvari, a pod of 20 to 30 dolphins came to greet us. They zig-zagged across the bow of the boat, and leaped into the air. Sabbatical III turned a couple of big circles in the water to keep the action going.

At 4 am on August 10, we left Asanvari for Port Olry. It was a great passage for the first 8 hours, made better by the mahi-mahi that I landed early in the morning. The seas became confused and ugly around noon and stayed that way until we came into Port Olry about 3 pm.

The morning of August 11 was spent recovering from earlier mishaps. The evening before I dropped our boat brush mounted on an aluminum pole overboard into 30 feet of water while scubbing fish blood off of the transom. The next morning, my wet suit was blown off the back of the boat and floated out before sinking in 40 feet of water. I was able to free dive for the brush and pole but 30 feet is the absolute limit of by free diving ability, and that effort hurt my ears. We retrieved the wet suit by dragging a grapnel dinghy anchor until it snagged it. All of this took most of the morning. It was not much of a hardship in the aquamarine water under a sunny sky. In the afternoon we went into the village to arrange a truck to take Fran and John to the airport in Luganville two days later.

On August 12 we returned to Port Olry to drop off some of Fran and John’s luggage with our contact in the village and to have lunch at the only restaurant in town. We were late for lunch and the cook had gone home for siesta, but John, the restaurant owner, prepared an island lunch for the four of us on his own. It was our only meal out for the whole time Fran and John were with us.

On Friday morning, August 13, we took Fran and John to Port Olry in the dinghy. As the truck waited, we said our goodbyes. We had such a great time with them, filled with a succession of adventures.


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Fran and John come to visit Sabbatical III

August 6, 2010

My sister Fran and her husband John joined the boat at Lolowai two days ago. We waited at the simple airport at Longana for their 20 seat Dehavilland Twin Otter prop plane from Luganville. The plane taxied to a stop but kept one engine running. Two Vanuatan’s hopped out, but after a few minutes Fran and John had not appeared. I asked someone who was joining the flight (it proceeds on to a number of islands) to go in the cabin and ask for Fran and John. That got results — they jumped out. The captain never turned off the seat belt sign, never announced where they had landed, and did not stop one of the props, so they did not think that they should get off or that this was their destination. If they had gone on to another island, we might never have caught up with them.

We went to the airport from Lolowai in the fanciest pickup truck on Ambae Island. It was driven by Jim, our new friend and a volunteer from New Zealand who, along with his wife Linda, are helping develop tourism in Penama Province. We also became friends with the other white folk on the island — Ed and Beth, a husband/wife team of Peace Corps volunteers, and Billy, another Peace Corps volunteer who works up-island. The people of Lolowai were so very friendly to us. On our first day (before Fran and John arrived), we looked into a little shop run my Rachel. A bond quickly developed that was certainly aided by Laura’s almost fluent French. Rachel gave us gifts, then we gave her gifts, and then more of the same until we said heartfelt goodbyes. On that first day we also went to Celia’s little restaurant next to the John Still store. We immediately hit it off with Celia and had an exchange of gifts. We had Celia, her son Steven, and her little daughter, over to the boat for lemonade and cookies. Celia is such a charming, earnest, and affectionate person. Her restaurant has only one dish on the menu, so there is no menu and no need to order. Just sit down and you get served with rice with susu (a vegetable), beans, and a little bit of minced beef on top.

Her brother John runs the John Still store next door. Outside the entrance are barrels of gasoline, diesel, and kerosine. There is a fence to keep out the pigs. Inside the small dark establishment there is an amazing array of stuff — including bread and sweet rolls, rice, flour, vegetable oil, plastic buckets, cigarettes, Coke, lanterns, rope, and much more. People are constantly coming and going. Lolowai is the provincial capitol (actually Saratamata next door), and has civil servants, a police post, a hospital (with no doctor), and at least a couple dozen motorized vehicles (but no electricity). One has to look before crossing the unpaved road. There is an establishment that calls itself an “internet cafe” but there is no internet (there was some internet for a while more than a year ago) and they do not serve food.

We left Lolowai at high tide yesterday (Thursday, August 5) and went to Asanvari, Maewo Island, one of our favorite places. We came with 10 kilos of flour as a gift for Vivienne, the wife of Nickson, the son of Chief Nelson. Today we walked around the local villages and then snorkeled into the rock fissure nearby (described in an earlier blog). It is one of the most beautiful snorkeling locations we have experienced, and we are glad that Fran and John were able to experience it as well. We then proceeded to the waterfall where we bathed in the cool, fresh water in the pool at the base of the falls. Just before sunset, we returned to Asanvari village to have kava in the nakamal with Chief Nelson and his son Nickson. All four of us drank kava. Chief Nelson and Nickson related to us the creation myth of kava, so now we understand why kava is a “she.” Nickson is a very congenial guy

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Big Water and Vanuatu Independence Day

July 31, 2010

We have not blogged for a few days. We do get sort of busy on the boat. On Wednesday (July 28), we went to the famous “Big Water” cascades at Naone. It took about 70 minutes by four-wheel drive pickup truck to go the 10 miles from Narovovoro to Naone. We had our friend Kelly from Talese village along, and went in his brother-on-law’s Walter Toyota pick-up. It was a very pretty, if bumpy, ride.

The “Big Water” cascades, although unfortunately named, are quite amazing. We started in the small village of Naone, at which we paid 1000 vatu each (only for us gringos) and got two women guides. The village is trying to make money out of the cascades, although our guides told us that we were only the third group this year to visit. Naone is very hard to get to.

After a walk through the forest and then the water taro fields (sort of like rice paddies), we arrived at the base of the cascades. It is difficult to describe the place. We took lots of video with our little Kodak “flip-like” video camcorder, which we will edit and post when we return to the US. The remarkable thing about “Big Water” is that you can walk up these cascades all the way to the top. The guides led us to areas of the cascades where the incline is less steep, and we walked up through the rushing water which was typically ankle deep. It seemed too steep from below, but the volcanic rock was rough and our shoes gripped the rock well. At places where the incline was too steep, steps had been chipped into the rock. Our guides brought their children, including a babe in arms, and two other small children. They just scampered ahead, and would peer over precipices without a word of warning from their mothers.

When we returned to the pool at the base of the cascades, Laura wanted to swim and one of our guides jumped in to join her. Aside from her concern about the giant freshwater eels that live there, Laura had a refreshing dip.

On the drive back to Narovovoro, we stopped at Kerembei village, which was having an agricultural fair. There were about 200 people at the fair, which is a mob in a place like Maewo Island that has no urban centers and a low population density. We ate some sweet yam and a noodle-egg dish from food stalls, and I had a cup of strong kava. Laura bought some woven pandamus bags, and we watched volleyball games. And, remarkably, it did not rain. We also stopped to admire the view from the cliffs at Navenevene.

Thursday marked the start of the two day Independence Day festivities, marking 30 years of Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides) independence from England and France. Narovovoro was hosting the celebrations Thursday and Friday (yesterday). A portable generator was installed to power big speakers, an amplifier, a DVD player, and a TV. They played reggae, rock, and local string band music at full volume, and played the occasional music video. There were volleyball and soccer tournaments, but only a limited supply of prepared food. We missed out on the Friday events because it rained hard almost all day. The rain did not seem to bother the local inhabitants, although Laura and I did not go ashore. They had prizes awarded to biggest yam and biggest taro root, best rooster, and a few other things, plus loud music until 5 am along with kava and a locally brewed palm wine. The amplified music was even quite loud on Sabbatical III as it is anchored very close to shore in order to stay of the the ocean swell.

The weather improved today but very few adults were out — many were tired or hungover from last nights party. We walked to Talese village to leave some children’s books with Sandy Su, a Peace Corps volunteer from Virginia, who is helping at the school. We went over to Kelly’s place to say goodbye, but wound up hiking up to Tom village with him, on a plateau up on the cliff. The recent rains made the mud path a bit treacherous. Kelly came back to the boat with us for a quick, and very late, lunch and some cold Coke.

We will leave this delightful place at 6 am tomorrow morning, heading for Lolowai on Ambae Island, only 10 miles to the west. We will meet my sister Fran and her husband John there on Wednesday. The wind and seas are finally abating after 10 days of wildness. We look forward to their visit.


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Narovorovo and Kelly

July 27, 2010

Two days ago (July 25), we sailed north along the west coast of Maewo Island and anchored in Narovorovo. There is only a small rock outcropping to provide protection from the swells. It became so rolly after a few hours, that we re-anchored closer to the rocks. The wind shifted overnight, and when I looked out early in the morning, we were uncomfortably close to the rocks. So we re-anchored again, further away.

After re-anchoring, we went to shore to meet people from the village and took a walk north on a dirt road on the narrow coastal plain between the ocean and steep cliffs. We came across some men shoveling black sand into large bags on the beach, and stopped to talk. They were friends and relatives from the village of Talese helping to build a house. In this group, we met Kelly, a man of about 32, with an interesting background. His father, a native of Talese, is a “politician” in Port Vila, the nations capitol and largest city, and Kelly was brought up in Port Vila, attended college (secondary school) in Santo, and then went to the University of the South Pacific for two years. In college, he played basketball and then was point guard on the Vanuatu national team, competing in the South Pacific Games and traveling with the team to tournaments in nearby countries.

Kelly told us he got tired of urban life and was happier back in his ancestral village. The home that was being built was for his father, and Kelley was supervising the construction. However, his major effort is in starting a freshwater prawn farm. He studied fishery science and has support from the government for this effort to help his neighbors earn money from prawn farming for school fees and the like. He expects his first prawn “harvest” in December.

We met Kelly’s 90+ year old grandmother, who has skin that is quite light. We then met his cousin who skin is also light. Kelly subsequently told us that his great-grandfather was a French missionary who married a woman from Vanua Lava Island in the Banks Islands (which we visited last year). His grandfather was the first Anglican priest of Maewo Island, and assisted the US Navy during World War II. Kelly, although religious, is a bit of a rasta. He only recently cut off his dreadlocks (his cousin Mark still has his), and the portraits of Bob Marley and Haile Selassie adorn the front of a family home. Kelly offered to take us on a hike to a couple of waterfalls the next day.

Winds and seas picked up considerable during the day yesterday. We were in a “squash zone” arising from an intense area of high pressure coming off of the Australian continent. The new forecasts called for 28 knot winds and 16 foot seas. Although the seas are nothing like that behind a big island like Maewo, it was a very uncomfortable night of rolling, and listening to the sound of everything that was remotely loose on the boat knocking around. First thing in the morning, we re-anchored again, and then again, moving the boat as close to the beach as we dared so as to get more in the wave shadow of the rocky outcropping.

After that re-anchoring, we rowed our dinghy to the beach in order to walk to Talese village and meet Kelly. We rowed because the large swell made it impossible to safely move the outboard engine from Sabbatical III to the dinghy. When we met Kelly, we asked me if I would be willing to talk to an assembly of students at Sulua Centre School. I agreed, and a few minutes later there I was, speaking for about 30 minutes to an assembly of sixth through eighth graders at the K-8 school. I talked about sailing, places we have visited, how GPS works, the lift effect of sails, and other things that came to mind as being interesting and somewhat scientific. Afterwards, with Kelly, we walked a mile or so north in the direction of the waterfalls until Kelly’s brother-in-law came by with a pick-up truck. We sat in the truck bed with a few others and a got a ride to the first waterfall. We also visited a second waterfall and a cave before hiking back to Narovorovo and the boat.

Maewo is the rainiest island in Vanuatu, and has a very high interior, and so is locally famous for it’s waterfalls. It rains on and off throughout the day — and this is the dry season. The grandest waterfall of all is “Big Water”, which the people of Maewo consider one of the wonders of the world. Tomorrow, Kelly will join us as we take the pick-up truck driven by his brother-in-law north to Naone to see “Big Water”.

Sabbatical III’s new position tucked up close to the beach and the rocks seems to have helped the roll. Perhaps our fifth anchoring position is a good one. Hopefully, we will sleep better tonight, and look forward to an adventure tomorrow.


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A Day in Asanvari, or How to Recharge Your Cell Phone in Vanuatu

We are quite a bit behind in our blog. Maybe tomorrow we will catch up. Maybe not. But lets talk about today.

This morning at 7:20 we heard the quite voice of Christopher Columbus outside our boat in Asanvari Bay, Maewo Island. Mr. Columbus rowed over in his dugout canoe to sell us two loaves of bread he had just baked. After breakfast, we took the dinghy to Asanvari village to do a gift exchange with the chief’s family. We brought over bags of flour, sugar, and cocoa, as well as children books and some clothing. In return, Laura got to pick out three woven bags and the promise of fruit later in the day.

We walked around Asanvari for a while and then hung out with Chief Nelson and Russell, an Australian who runs Australian Medical Missions. Russell has recruited Australian doctors, nurses, and dentists to come out in shifts to provide medical services to underserved communities in Vanuatu. The doctors actually stay in the village, he uses his boat Chimere to transport them from one coastal village to the next, and after their two week stay has concluded, take them to grass airfields to meet planes for so that they can return and the next bunch of doctors and boxes of medical supplies can be picked up. We first met Chimere in Pentecost Island. At the time we thought it odd to see so many people on one sailboat, some of them in button down shirts, not looking anything like sailors. Russell ferries them and their supplies to the beach in his dinghy immediately after dropping anchor, and in 30 minutes the whole team is working in the church as people stand in line to be treated. Diagnosis are made, ailments are treated, eyeglasses are provided, and teeth are pulled. The next morning they are off to the next place. Russell, with no medical training, teaches villagers how to make bricks from mud. He also fixed the Chief’s boat.

After lunch on the Sabbatical III, Christopher Columbus, who had been in Asanvari to attend an event at his son’s school, came back to the boat. He had heard that we needed to recharge the pre-paid minutes on our Vanuatan cell phone. If we would take him to his home across the bay, he could sell us scratch cards with minutes. So he tied his little dugout to the back of Sabbatical III and we hopped into our dinghy and took off for the one mile crossing to the far end of the bay. We landed on a black sand beach overlooked by steep cliffs covered in thick greenery. He led us through a path into the forest. Mature kava plantings were scattered about. We came into a clearing and where his very substantial family compound is located. He took out a key and opened a large closet that he calls his “shop” and dug out five cards with pre-paid minutes. We also bought a dozen fresh eggs– hard to find outside of Port Vila. He is not numerate, so I had to tell him how much it all costs. We then returned through the forest to the beach, and took the dinghy back to the boat. We have never had such an adventure recharging a cell phone before.

In the afternoon, we snorkeled on the west side of the peninsula that forms the southern part of Asanvari Bay. There is a fissure in the volcanic rock that opens into a beautiful cave/canyon. You can only enter near high tide, and the opening is quite narrow. In the afternoon sunlight, the canyon sparkled with coral and fish and the aquamarine color of the water. It was such a magnificent place, we repeated our swim in and out of the canyon about six times. We then took our dinghy to the base of the waterfall at the east end of the bay, and jumped into the cool, fresh water flowing from the base of the waterfall. No need to rinse our wetsuits or shower on the boat with a waterfall nearby.

For dinner, we had traditional laplap with the Chief’s family. There was a choice of taro root or yam laplap. The root is pounded into a paste, rolled flat, cooked in the ground in banana leaves, and topped with coconut cream A bit starchy for our taste but the company and view was delightful.


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Wedding Day in Loltong

July 16, 2010

Yesterday there was a wedding in Loltong to which we were invited. Two important families from two different “tribes”, one from Loltong and one from the east coast of Pentecost Island, were joined. The festivities began even before we arrived and are still on-going. People came from villages all over north Pentecost. The bride received a very large pile of goods from the groom’s family, including a large sack of rice, clothing, bedding, a TV, and boxes filled with stuff. The groom received 13 pigs and 40,000 vatu in cash. The cash was in a sealed envelope on a post next to the largest pig — a highly desirable pig with tusks that had curved back into a complete circle.

The ceremony was in the church with a male choir singing beautifully. The church is simple, lacking both pews and glass in the windows. The bride wore a simple white gown and there were bridesmaids. The groom showed no emotion, even during the receiving line when family and friends came to wish the new couple well, and slap the bride and groom with talcum powder. I took a video of the event that came out great, and took still photos of the couple outside the church. Laura and I were the only foreigners at the event.

After the ceremony, the bride disappeared and we have not seen her since. She stays out of sight with family. The festivities go on without her. In front of the nakamal (the men’s clubhouse where kava is drunk), where the pigs are tied up, the heads of both families gave speeches, as did the paramount chief (Chief William). Then the brides extended family, about 20 men and women, walk in circles around the groom, who stands next to the largest pig and the post with the cash, and a dozen specially woven pandamus mats, inspecting the goods. They make five complete circles, while the groom just looks at the ground distractedly, touching the mats and the envelope with cash. Then the mats at folded up and go to the bride’s family, and the pigs are led away for the groom’s family. Everyone is dressed simply, with the chief of the bride’s village wearing a sweater with “Polo Ralph Lauren” emblazoned in large letters across his chest.

At this point, the drinking of kava, which has been going on for at least a day prior to the wedding, began in earnest — but only for the men. There is a “wedding nakamal” set up across from the regular village nakamal, with enormous quantities of freshly prepared kava, and piles of kava root yet to be prepared. It is reminiscent of an open bar at a wedding in the West. I had only one cup of kava as a way of saying “mazel tov” to the newly married couple. Men kept cycling through the nakamal to get another half-coconut shell filled with the strong, pungent kava of Pentecost Island.

It became quite dark, so Laura and I left to return to the boat. All through the night, the men continued to drink kava, and to sing and dance. Their songs were more like chants performed by a chorale, with the effect heightened by the steep cliffs above the village. We printed some wedding photos for the bride and groom on the boat, and returned to the village in the morning to leave them with family. In the morning, men were lying and sitting around the wedding nakamal, still under influence of kava, and we were surprised to see the groom sitting among them, somewhat zoned out, so we gave the photos directly to him.

We proceeded through the village to the home of Dickie and Eva, a couple we had befriended last year when we were in Loltong with Hannah. Dickie is a body builder and was an amateur and professional boxer, having traveled around the South Pacific for bouts. We brought them a big bag of gifts plus photos of them and their children that we took last year. They gave us a big load of fruit and drinking coconuts. We also met with Dickie father Jeffrey, who we also know from last year. Jeffrey’s father (Dickie’s grandfather) migrated to Espritu Santo Island in 1942 to work as a laborer for the US Navy, building the large naval facility and air base that turned into modern day Luganville. It was apparently a life changing event for the family, and the grandfather had only the highest regard to the Americans.

Dickie led us up a rather steep (for us) path along the cliff to Vulumanu College, a secondary boarding school. At the wedding, we had befriended Frazier, an extremely knowledgable and articulate teacher at the school. Frazier had worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Port Vila for some years, and accompanied the first Prime Minister (Walter Lini, from Pentecost) to the United Nations in the late 1980’s. Vulumanu College has 107 students in grades 9 through 13, who come from Pentecost and nearby islands. Vulumanu refers to the creation myth of Pentecost. Vulumanu was a giant bird (dragon) that lived on the precipice at the far north of the island and ate every person who dared to live on Pentecost Island. Finally, a woman arrived and bore two childen who slew Vulumanu, enabling the island to be populated. Something like that. We toured the school and met the principal, Reginald, who urged our return so that I could talk to the students about economics. On the way back down to Loltong, Dickie suddenly stopped and asked me if he could ask a question. He asked: Are there are still dragons alive in the world?

We were pretty tired when we returned to the boat in the afternoon, and had no further plans for the day. As we lay resting in the forward berth, we heard the squeals and laughter of small children. We had become friends with the little children who play under the banyan tree on the beach, giving them all lollipops and letting them help push our dinghy in the water. Perhaps this was their laughter? But our boat was anchored at least 1/4 mile from the beach — too far to hear children. I stuck my head out of the companionway to see if there was a boat nearby and saw nothing, and went back below. Then we heard more laughter, and much to our surprise, a gaggle of eight small children were treading water against our hull. They were the beach children, who swam out for a visit all by themselves. The youngest were six years old and naked, the oldest wore underpants and were no more than 11. They were shivering and tired. We put our boat ladder in the water and had them come aboard to rest, warm up, and eat cookies. When it was time to leave they just jumped off the back of the boat and started dog paddling to shore. We worried about the little ones, so we followed in the dinghy. I guess we should not have worried – we have seen six year old children walking around with machetes bigger than they.

We made one last trip to shore at sunset. Men were sprawled around the wedding nakamal, enjoyed their kava high. Us two gringos have quickly become familiar sights in Loltong, and we got only small friendly waves from the men — the groom still among them.


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Passage to Loltong

July 15, 2010

We left Port Sandwich at 6 am and arrived in Loltong Bay, Pentecost Island just after 3 pm local time yesterday. The first half of the passage was slow as we had a very strong adverse current as soon as we left Port Sandwich. We were consistently losing at least 1 1/2 knots to current and could barely do 5 1/2 to 6 knots. At that speed, we would not be able to make Loltong before it became too dark to find the entrance though the reef. I looked for other possible destinations

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Leaving Port Sandwich

July 13, 2010

We are still in Port Sandwich on Malekula Island. It has been so comfortable here that we could not bring ourselves to leave. We have worked on my boat projects, some academic work, and some reading. We have not left the boat, nor seen another vessel. We did see a few people in the distance in the one pickup truck that goes in each direction once a day. You could say it has been quiet.

Tomorrow morning we will sail to Loltong on Pentecost Island. It is a 60 nautical mile passage. The winds should be moderately strong and on the beam, with seas to match. Should be a fast sail. We will leave at first light (5:45 am) so we have plenty of daylight to navigate through the reef into Loltong.


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Update from Vanuatu – July 12, 2010

Our last night in Lamen Bay was kind of rough – the winds started switching to the southwest and we knew that would mean that we would start getting a swell in the anchorage. It was so nice there, however, that we decided to take a chance and stay one final night – and hope that the swell would not get too bad. It did get bad however and the boat swayed and rocked all night long – real uncomfortable night – it alternated from feeling like we were in a washing machine to just being swung back and forth on a pendulum. We were glad to pick up anchor and head out first thing in the morning. We had been incredibly lucky to have almost 4 full days in Lamen Bay without the infamous Lamen Bay roll – but now that we have felt it we can say that it certainly is a bear.

It also turns out that there are tiny jellyfish in the crystal clear water that we were enjoying so much- and they must have been stinging me while I was watching the dugong (finally got the spelling right). I spent the whole night enduring the roll and trying not to scratch the itchy welts. Normally I swim with a full wet-suit, but I hadn’t put it on for my last swim and that was a big mistake.

We forgot to mention that on clear nights you can see the red glow from three large volcanoes in the distance – one is on Lopevi Island (12 miles away) and the two others are both on Ambrym island (about 20 miles away).

We left Lamen Bay yesterday morning and sailed 35 nautical miles northwest to the island of Malekula. It was much windier and the seas were rougher than predicted and we had a very fast sail. About an hour out Mark caught another mahi-mahi – this one was about twice as heavy as the first one – and we will be feasting on that for a while. He has had such good luck with fishing this year – combination of increased skill, good luck and the right lures.

We are now in Port Sandwich, on the island of Malekula which is a very protected anchorage – considered the safest in all of Vanuatu (safe from wind and seas that is). The wind can howl from any direction at all and you are nice and calm and protected here. To get here you have to head six miles up a little fjord like river (with the unfortunate name “Murder River”). Unfortunately it is not so safe in other respects such as you can’t swim here as it is famous for having had a fatal shark attack here some years ago. It is hard to know exactly when or how this attack happened as each person who tells the story has a little different twist to it, but no matter what the details are… we are staying out of the water.


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Big birthday in Epi

Today was my 57th birthday – it’s really fun to have your birthday in strange, exotic places. Here are some of the highlights of my day: up early to go to the local market, bought fresh young coconuts to cool off with (drinking the lovely cool coconut water inside), bought a big pile of bananas and yams (and that was about the extent of what was available at the market), visited with Winnie – an old Vanuatan widow that has befriended us here, hopped off the boat into the crystal clear and calm waters of the bay and found our friend the dugang right away. He let us swim over him until we got tired of it – what an amazing creature that is – try to find a Youtube video of one if you can. Swam with three gigantic sea turtles. Made friends with 4 young people who are doing some volunteer work here in a nearby village, but who had come out to swim with the dugang. Towed them to shore from a rope on our dinghy because they had tired themselves out from swimming so hard. Later on dug out 2 frozen ice-cream bars that have managed to survive in our freezer until now (don’t worry Fran and John we are saving a few for you as well). Got a birthday call from my mommy and several birthday e-mails from other family and friends.
No cake, but who needs cake when you have a dugang around?

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Showtime in Lamen Bay

July 9, 2010

We have been in Lamen Bay, Epi Island for more than two days and have a most entertaining time. The greastest source of entertainment has come from the marine life. This afternoon, for example, we sat on the aft deck of Sabbatical III watching three large sea turtles diving nearby, predatory fish leaping into the school of small fry that hide under the boat, a dozen dolphins putting on a show of synchronized swimming, and one large, slow moving dugong coming up for air every four minutes as he dined on the sea grass 30 meters away. All we did is point and exclaim to each other as each animal in turn did its tricks seemingly for our benefit. The dugong, a cousin of the manatee, got so close to the boat late in the afternoon, I jumped in the water to get a better view. He is an odd looking creature who looks as if he weighs 1000 pounds, and who seemingly vacuums up the sea floor, while four remora fish hang on to his flanks with their suckers. He sticks his huge, fleshy face into the soft sand and sea grass and slowly moves forward sucking in the bits that he likes, leaving a cloud of grass, sea critters, and sand beind for small fish to pick through. He seemed totally unpertubed that I was swimming over him in 5 meters of water, but I made sure that I was not in his way when he surfaced for air.

Perhaps the most surprising display of animal life came yesterday as we were returning by dinghy from Lamen Island which lies about two miles away from where Sabbatical III is anchored. Two schools of small dolphins merged around us, numbering perhaps 25 to 30, and started to play with the moving dinghy in the same way that dolphins have played with Sabbatical III on numerous occasions. The effect is so much more dramatic in the dinghy where we are inches over the water and the dolphins are zig-zaging in pairs and triads just a foot off the bow of our little craft. Every so often, one would leap clear out of the water, which was always followed by one or two more doing the same thing. We just motored around Lamen Bay for 30 minutes watching them and taking some video with our little digital camera. We finally got too much sun and went back to the boat, leaving the dolphins to continue on without us.

Every two weeks there is a market day in the village, and that day is tomorrow. We will go in early and get Laura some birthday bananas, yams, and peanuts, the later being Epi Island’s most famous product. Lamen Bay, which is known for its sea life, is also known for its rolly anchorage. Except for a few hours the first night, we have been very lucky as the boat has been comfortable. The wind and swell will start to come up on Sunday, so we will likely leave for Pentecost Island with a stopover in Malekula Island.


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Emae Island to Epi Island

July 7, 2010

Our night anchored behind Emae Island, the night of July 5/6, started off with a clear sky full of stars and very mild conditions, but changed into squalls after midnight. We heard the anchor chain groaning in the gusts of wind and expected the squalls to pass by morning. They did not. We were glad that we had not spent another night at Cook Reef, where squalls would be unsettling and the morning rain would have made extricating ourselves from the reef much more difficult.

Not knowing how long the squalls and rain would last, after some discussion, we decided to leave for Epi Island as planned. Aside from the occasional rain and the larger seas, it was not too bad a sail. The winds were stronger and were more from the south, so we had a fast downwind sail. With the large swells, we decided that Revelieu Bay would be a better choice than Lamen Bay as the latter has a reputation as being rolly even in calm conditions. We were in Revelieu Bay last year and it was quite pleasant. It was not so yesterday. The swell had no problem breaking over the reef and into the anchorage. It was not comfortable.

Just after leaving Emae Island, I put the first of my two fishing lines into the water. Before I could get the second line in the water, the first line was hit hard by a fish. The shock absorber on the line stretched way out and then snapped back and line started to come off the spool. We saw a fish leap and struggle in the distance behind the boat, but in the dreary conditions and large swells, we could not see what it was. I was able to cleat the hand-line spool (yo-yo) to the stern cleat before the spool would have been lost, and then let the fish tire itself out for a good 15 minutes before pulling it in. (Hey, I am not a sports fisherman. I fish for food.) It was a nice gold and green mahi-mahi (dorado), about 3 feet (1 meter) long — not that large for a mahi. It was a chore to cut fillets from the flanks of the fish in the pitching seas. I am not that nifty with a fish knife, and tried to be very careful. Laura also had a chore cooking the fish up in the rolly anchorage at Revelieu, but the fish was delicious. It was delicious again today, and will likely be as good tomorrow.

This morning the weather had settled down considerably so we made the 9 mile sail to Lamen Bay. We are the only boat here. We saw the dugong, but not from up close, and plenty of turtles. We kayaked around the bay and had a long swim. Tomorrow we will try to swim with the dugong, plus take the dinghy over to nearby Lamen Island. Epi Island is famous for its peanut, so will will try to buy some peanut stalks.

Well it is almost 7 pm. Time to check and weather and think about going to bed.


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Cook Reef

July 5, 2010

We are now anchored at Emae Island after having spent a day and one-half at Cook Reef. Cook Reef is a partial atoll covering quite a few square miles. Only a couple of coral rocks are visible at low tide, and nothing at high tide. Our digital cruising guide claims that there is a small notch in the northeast corner of Cook Reef that can be a place to anchor but only in perfect conditions and only during the day, and fails to provide a waypoint for the notch. We arrived in near perfect conditions and, with Laura sitting up on our downwind pole installed on the mast, we could not find the “notch” in an hour or trying. As we werre giving up and heading away, we saw a narrow gap in the reef and wound our way in very slowly until we entered a sandy basin with 8 meters of water that was just big enough for one boat to anchor.

The snorkeling was great. The water was extremely clear in the basin and reef around the boat. We saw sting rays, a turtle, grouper, and large vibrant mounds of coral. The weather was so settled, we decided to stay the night. The boat hardly moved in the flat seas and calm winds. This morning we took our kayak out to another part of the lagoon where the water was only 2 to 4 meters deep and there were many smaller tropical fish. Early in the afternoon, with the sun high overhead, we threaded out way out and sailed the five miles to Emae Island in 10 – 12 knots of wind. Tomorrow we will head up to Lamen Bay on Epi Island to visit the dugongs that live there. Dugongs are very much like manatees.

It is good to be exploring in the islands rather than waiting on weather in Port Vila or Noumea. The stars are shining brightly tonight, and we are going to go out and have a look from the deck.


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