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:

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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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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Nguna Island

We left Port Vila this morning and sailed to Nguna Island, which lies north of Efate. Nguna Island is dominated by a huge volcano and is quite pretty. We had dolphins visit us on the passage north.

The plan is to try to enter Cook Reef, 25 miles to the north of here, and spend a couple of hours snorkeling. If the seas are too large, we will head for either Emae Island or Lamen Bay on Epi Island.


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Rainy Port Vila

June 27th, 2010

We have been having really awful weather here in Port Vila. It’s Sunday now and I think it started raining on Thursday. Up until today is was mostly a constant drizzle, with occasional clearings followed by a quick downpour, but today it poured so hard we felt like we were lucky to be on a boat – since it felt like a biblical downpour – and Noah’s Arc would be the only safe place to be. We managed to get off the boat and over to a new friends’s boat (Shilling of Hamble- an English boat ) at about 2:30 to play dominos (a Mexican version of the game which was a lot of fun) and it poured so hard we couldn’t even think about leaving til almost 7:00. Our dinghy was filled 1/3 of the way up with water when we left – must have been at least 4 inches of rain during that time. It is not just the rain that is keeping us in Port Vila however – it is really that we are waiting for the right winds and seas to head up to the islands. We won’t be doing any real long sails while we are here – most will be somewhere between 4 and 10 hours between islands – but it can still be very tough if you don’t get the winds and seas to go the way you are going. Hopefully things will start to clear up soon. We are counting on having good weather for our guests (Fran and John) in early August – but sure would like to have some decent weather before that as well. Our friends who went up the coast of Australia this year and towards Indonesia are also having tough times – I guess it is just a difficult weather year in the South Pacific. P.S. It is pouring again.


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