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

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Ripped genoas and Devils Point

WWII Museum:  Havannah Harbor, Efate Island, Vanuatu
WWII Museum: Havannah Harbor, Efate Island, Vanuatu

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

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

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

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

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

Ernest shows us the Providence, RI Coke bottle circa 1944
Ernest shows us the Providence, RI Coke bottle circa 1944
Providence bottle
Providence bottle

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

World War II Museum, Havannah Harbor, Vanuatu
World War II Museum, Havannah Harbor, Vanuatu

Tomorrow we will try to get the ripped genoa fixed.

Mele, Vanuatu

June 18th, 2009

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

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

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Saturday June 13, 2009

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

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

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

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Safe arrival in Port Vila

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

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Resting in Aneityum

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

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Safe arrival in Aneityum (Anatom) Island, Vanuatu

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

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